The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp. 17-78)
“In this way, in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body internally, or he abides contemplating the body externally, or he abides contemplating the body both internally and externally. Or, he abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of passing away in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of both arising and passing away in the body. Or, mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. From Sattipatthana translated by Analayo
Above is the refrain from the First Foundation of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of the Body. In this refrain, the Buddha notes important ways that we meditate on the body. We contemplate both our body and the bodies of others and that we contemplate all that arises and passes away in our body and the bodies of others. We do these contemplations with a minimum of thinking and keeping independent of attachment.
Below are the five areas covered in Mindfulness of the Body: Breath, The Four Postures, Clear Comprehension, Body Parts and Elements, and Death and Impermanence.
The Breath is the basic foundation for our meditation practice. With the breath we can practice concentration, mindfulness and insight (Vipassana). Just as we might have a daily routine of physical exercise for maintaining the health of our body, we can do the same for our spiritual growth.
The Buddha recommended meditation of the breath. Below is a simplified version from the Sattipatthana Sutta.
Mindfulness of Breath Meditation
- Getting ready: Sit in an erect position with eyes closed with awareness of breath directed to either the nostrils, chest or abdomen.
- Initial Concentration: Start counting 1 in-breath 1 out-breath, 2 in-breath 2 out-breath, etc. Do not control your breath; observe only. Stop at 10 and observe any changes in the breath. Count down to 1 and observe any changes in the breath. Continue for three cycles or until the breath appears finer (shorter in duration, more shallow, less forceful).
- Experience the whole body: Expand your awareness to the whole body including any sensations or thoughts. Take care not to get caught up in any specific sensation or thought, just be aware that you are experiencing the whole body.
- Calming the bodily formations: Bodily formations are what we are experiencing at the moment (sensations and thoughts. We can calm our bodily formations by using mindfulness and stating the intention, “calm” on each in-breath and each out-breath. When our attention is on the breaths and “calm,” our thinking stops.
- Contemplating the nature of arising/passing away: With each in-breath and each out-breath, observe the arising and falling away of sensations, thoughts, memories, and perceptions. Observe and experience the true nature of all conditioned things, the three characteristics of impermanence, inability to have lasting satisfaction, and selfless nature.
- Loving Kindness: End your meditation by giving loving kindness (metta) to yourself and all beings.
The Four Postures
The four postures are sitting, standing, walking and lying down.
There are several postures for sitting in meditation: Any of the postures may be used; consider what is acceptable for your body. We can experience so much from just sitting. You can become aware of the body making contact with the cushion, bench or chair. You may feel hardness or softness and that the sensation changes over time. It may even become uncomfortable. Thoughts about the sitting position may arise. Note that all of these feelings, perceptions, and thoughts just happen and are constantly changing. Mindfulness of sitting reminds us that all is impermanent, inability to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfness nature.
When we stand, just as in sitting, we can be mindful of the sensations and thoughts that accompany this posture. Discomfort may arise which allows us to experience that the postures exhibit the three characteristics of impermanence, inability to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfness nature.
Walking is another opportunity for mindfulness especially when we do walking meditation.
Lying down can be challenging when practicing mindfulness because of the tendency to fall asleep. However, it can be a good technique to use when you want to fall asleep!
Clear comprehension is seeing precisely or seeing thoroughly with a clear understanding. Clear comprehension has four dimensions that we need to be aware of and consider when we are doing or contemplating any activity: purpose, suitability, domain and non-delusion.
Purpose is our intention or reason why we do any activity. We can ask ourselves “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. We can ask ourselves, “Is this activity useful?”
Domain is setting our boundaries for an activity so that we don’t include unskillful activities or get too attached. We can ask ourselves this question, “In doing this activity, am I following the practice of non-attachment, non-addiction?”
Non-delusion is being mindful that all activities are impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and are of selfless nature. We can ask ourselves: “Do I truly know that this activity is impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfless nature?”
Parts and Elements
Our body, as with everything material, is impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and is of selfless nature. It is easy to forget this when we encounter other beings or see ourselves in the mirror, that we are only looking at the external components: head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, and skin. We can truly realize the true nature of the body by reflecting on each part without distortion, knowing that these parts are neither beautiful, nor ugly but simply pieces of an ever-changing process. In the sutra, 32 body parts are named for reflection on this. We can examine the first five parts to explore the three characteristics in each of them. Using mindful clear comprehension, we can see that each body part is always changing, is unable to provide lasting satisfaction and is not our “self.”
Death and Impermanence
Death is inevitable. The moment that you are born, you begin to die. Accepting the inevitability of death is the way to freedom. Otherwise, we become attached to the delusion of not dying (permanence). Practicing mindfulness of death is the best way to overcome fear and prepare for a peaceful death. The Buddha taught three kinds of death. There is momentary death; constant change that is occurring every moment. Nothing stays the same. We age, our blood cells die, our thoughts die, our memories die, etc. In a longer-term sense, there is conventional death when our bodies die. Lastly, there is eternal death when the cessation of suffering need not arise again; this is liberation or total freedom. The Buddha recommended practicing mindfulness of impermanence using the decomposition of the body.
- Reread this talk and reflect on it.
- Meditation of the body is a good way to realize and experience impermanence. Each of these five areas mentioned above when used for meditation offer this opportunity to see things as they really are.
- Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and use it on a daily basis.