Sutta Study Reflection Theme 3-3-2012

The Middle Length Discourses: MN 10 Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta)

Pages 145 – 155
To be read out-loud: Sections 1- 8

Discussion Theme:

This month we can reflect on the Buddha’s mindfulness instructions. In this sutta the Buddha instructs both what areas of experience (foundations) are worthy of our mindful attention, and also how to bring mindful attention to these different foundations. In the following passage, repeated 13 times in the discourse for each of the suggested objects of mindfulness, the Buddha seems to be setting up three different levels or stages of mindfulness.

“In this way one remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself. Or one remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body. Or one’s mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And one remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world. This is how a practitioner remains focused on the body in & of itself.” (Translation by Ajahn Thanisaro, pronouns modified)

Bhikkhu Bodhi translates the Buddha’s instruction as, “One abides contemplating the body as a body…” compared to Ajahn Thanisaro’s “One remains focused on the body in and of itself…”. In both cases the Buddha begins his instruction by inviting us to practice going beyond the mind’s conceptual habits – how can the mind be inspired to enter into the immediacy of experiencing free from obscuration?

This passage suggests that once the mind is able to enter this world of clearly knowing the foundations of experience as they actually are presenting themselves in the moment, the mind will naturally begin to notice the arising and vanishing factors. With this second instruction, the Buddha emphasizes the importance of recognizing and intentionally attending to the arising and passing of phenomena. Finally, this passage seems to imply that being mindful of arising and passing of phenomena opens the mind to the more simple and powerful practice of non-clinging.

This month:

  • let’s commit to understanding and developing this process of mindfulness.
  • As often as we remember, we can practice seeing the phenomena in and of themselves, not confused by any conceptual overlay.
  • We can cultivate a sensitivity to the arising and passing away of all things.
  • Finally, we can begin to understand how the development of seeing things in their ephemeral nature naturally leads to the experience of non-clinging.

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