The four foundations of mindfulness

It's always nice to attempt to explain something, or kind of reimagine it so we think we understand it, so I'm going to take a sideways leap away from body mindfulness to look at the four foundations of mindfulness in brief - we're not going to address nitty gritty, just the broad details. This will help inform us (mainly me) on my journey through various stages of ectasy and despair on to somewhere a bit more satisying. The satipatthana suti is like the source code of meditation. It is a remarkable framework to refer back to and an astonishing achievement.

(Maps and guides are useful things and the satipatthana sutta is an amazingly compact guide to mindfulness practice. It's also fairly impenetrable to the uninitiated which is a good thing because it takes effort and patience to understand what is going on - it took me years.)

Enough preamble, on with the post.

There are four foundations of mindfulness: the body, vedana (the feeling of pleasant/unpleasant), the state of mind, and mind objects. They kind of lead from one to the next in increasing levels of complexity while constantly informing wisdom into the meditator.

It begins with the body:
 - the physicality of breathing.
 - establish bare attention and clear comprehension
 - awareness of its true nature (its functions).
 - the cultivation of dispassion towards it.
 - how the body is known in the mind.

This leads on to vedana:
 - pleasant / unpleasant sensations arising from the body .
 - pleasant / unpleasant sensations arising from the practice (other worldly).

[Pause. At this point, we know the body and feelings of pleasantness. These are fairly straightforward to understand. We might like to notice reactiivty in relation to these things and how we are led into the mind.]


This leads us into the third foundation - mind states - citta or consciousness or heart mind. I found this quite tricky as the mind knowing the mind is quite subtle and, in some way, the state of our mind is mostly transparent to us. Anyway:
 -  we get to know the atmosphere of the mind, the sense of its agitation or lack of.
 - we understand the state of mind, like the weather.
 - to make progress on this, we need to experience the range of mind states referred to in the sutta (over and over again).
 - this area of the mind I call the Beethoven mind - his music seems to capture moods quite well.

Now we know the general state of the mind but we have not seen into it's functioning. This is covered in the fourth foundation:
 - how the mind becomes distracted.
 - how the mind creates a sense of self.
 - the arising of consciousness from sensory experience.
 - the natural movement of the mind towards equanimity.
 - the ripening awareness of the three characteristics, dispassion and the path towards cessation
 - the culmination of wisdom in the four noble truths

The aim of this sutta is to leave nothing out. There is nothing we will ever know that is not covered here, which is quite remarkable when you think about it  - yes, even that thought is covered in the sutta.

Now, I realise that this is not for everyone so the take home message would be: you have a body, you experience pleasant stuff, you want more without knowing why, and then you realise that every moment you know is a perfect construction of the multi-faceted mind that is inextricably linked with everything. Job done.


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