The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp. 43-55)
Mindfulness of the Body: Clear Comprehension
“Again, monks, when going forward and returning, one acts clearly knowing; when looking ahead and looking away one acts clearly knowing; when flexing and extending one’s limbs one acts clearly knowing . . . when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting one acts clearly knowing; when defecating and urinating one acts clearly knowing; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent one acts clearly knowing.” Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 49).
In this section, the Buddha addresses the need for mindfulness in our daily activities. We pay attention moment to moment to what is. In order to see the “what is”, we need clearly knowing or clear comprehension. If we aren’t mindful in our daily activities, suffering can occur.
As the Buddha noted in his introduction to the Satipatthana Sutta, there are five reasons to practice the four foundations of mindfulness:
- To purify the mind (clearing away greed, hatred and delusion).
- To overcome sorrow and lamentation
- To end grief and despair
- To progress on the path toward liberation
- To attain liberation and the end of suffering
Clear comprehension is a critical factor to aid our practice.
What is clear comprehension? This means, according to Goldstein, seeing precisely or seeing thoroughly. Michael Gazzaniga notes that comprehension implies that one has intent and understanding of what one is doing. It is this understanding that makes human beings unique according to David Dennet, a famous contemporary philosopher. Clear comprehension means that we are aware of all four of the aspects of our activity: purpose, suitability, domain and non-delusion.
Purpose is our intention or reason why we do any activity. Intention is not the same as setting a specific goal or outcome; it is more broadly based Goldstein notes: “When we clearly comprehend the purpose and benefit of our actions, we open the possibility of making wiser choices. “Where is this action leading? Do I want to go there?” Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 51)
We can ask ourselves this question regarding purpose of our activity: “Is the motivation behind this activity, skillful or unskillful?”
Suitability is making sure that our activities are morally wholesome and suitable for achieving our spiritual goals. Bhante G notes the following examples: “We choose a job that gives us enough time to meditate and avoid associating with people who cause harm to themselves or others. We practice right speech and refrain from conversations that interfere with our ability to concentrate. We make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating moderately and not sleeping too much.” p.48
We can ask ourselves this question about suitability of our activity: “Is it useful?”
Domain is setting our boundaries. The Buddha recommended that our spiritual domain (or pasture) can be confined within the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Wandering outside of the boundaries such as seeking sensual pleasures can cause suffering from attachment and lead to addition.
We can ask ourselves this question of our activity: “In doing this activity, am I following the practice of non-attachment, non-addiction?”
Non-delusion is the realization that all activities are impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and are of selfless nature. When we believe the opposite, we are in the state of delusion.
We can ask ourselves: “Do I truly know that this activity is impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfless nature?”
Mindfulness of Clear Comprehension.
How can we practically apply clear comprehension to our daily lives? When we meditate, we can reflect on the four aspects of clear comprehension: purpose, suitability, domain, and non-delusion. When a thought or sensation arises, we can look to see if it is in line with our clear comprehension.
Likewise, off the cushion, we can apply the four aspects to all of our activities and see if the activity is in line with our spiritual path or whether it is unskillful and likely to cause suffering.
Before doing an activity, we can ask”
Examine Purpose: “ Is my intention skillful or unskillful”
Examine Suitability: “Is it useful”?
Examine Domain: ““Am I following the practice of non-attachment, non-addiction?””
Examine Non-Delusion: “Do I know that this activity is impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfless nature?”
All of these questions will assist our mindfulness to see what is.
Clear Comprehension in Daily Life
The Buddha has advised to engage in all of our activities with mindfulness and clear comprehension. We use clear comprehension to guard against attachment and to avoid greed, hatred and delusion.
We can use clear comprehension in our daily activity of eating. We become mindful of our eating and know that our purpose is eat to sustain our body in a healthy way, not to eat for amusement or intoxication. We know that eating is useful (suitability); we keep our eating within the domain of non-attachment. We know that eating an impermanent activity, unable to provide lasting satisfaction, and is of selfless nature. Bhante G. offers some useful points for eating mindfully:
KEY POINTS FOR MINDFUL EATING
- I train myself to prefer healthy and nourishing food and drink.
- I train myself to eat moderately and to avoid junk food.
- I train myself to watch my mind while I am eating to avoid greed, hatred, and delusion.
- I train myself not to overfill my bowl or plate.
- I train myself to take whatever food is offered or available without being picky.
- I train myself not to look at others’ food critically or with jealousy.
- I train myself to move my hands slowly.
- I train myself not to open my mouth before the food is carried to it.
- I train myself not to stuff my mouth with food.
- I train myself not to talk when I have food in my mouth.
- I train myself not to scatter food or be wasteful.
- I train myself not to smack my lips or make slurping sounds.
- I train myself not to lick my fingers.
Gunaratana, Henepola. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English (p. 56). Wisdom Publications.
- Reread this talk and reflect on it.
- Off the cushion, examine your activities and apply mindfulness and clear comprehension. Ask the four question which will help you to choose wisely.
- Eat mindfully following the key points for mindful eating.
- Meditate on the four aspects of clear comprehension and apply them to whatever arises.