The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Teachings of the Buddha: Mastering the Mind and The Four Establishments of Mindfulness

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
November 15, 2013
Fri, 11/15/2013 - 09:30 -- bbodhi

The discourse generally considered to offer the most comprehensive instructions on meditation practice is the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. Two versions of this sutta exist, a longer version in the Dıgha Nikaya, a middle length version in the Majjhima Nikaya. The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta does not recommend a single meditation subject nor even a single method of meditation. Its purpose, rather, is to explain how to establish the mode of contemplation needed to arrive at realization of Nibbāna. The appropriate frame of mind to be established, as implied by the title of the sutta, is called an “establishment of mindfulness.” Mindfulness, in its initial stages, is concerned with keeping the contemplative mind continually on its object, which means keeping the object continually present to the mind. Mindfulness prevents the mind from slipping away, from drifting off under the sway of random thoughts intomental proliferation and forgetfulness. Mindfulness is often said to occur in close conjunction with “clear comprehension,” a clear knowledge and understanding of what one is experiencing.

Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country where there was a town of the Kurus named Kammāsadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:
    2. “Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of beings [56], for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realisation of Nibbāna—namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.
    3. “What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.

(Contemplation of the Body)
(1. Mindfulness of Breathing)
4. “And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquillising the bodily formation’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquillising the bodily formation.’ Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, understands: ‘I make a long turn’; or, when making a short turn, understands: ‘I make a short turn’; so too, breathing in long, a bhikkhu understands: ‘I breathe in long’ … he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquillising the bodily formation.’

From ML 10

To read more of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, click here.

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