The Origination of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has its origin in 2,600 year ago. Mindfulness was practiced and taught by the enlightened one, the Buddha.

To know more about the origin of Mindfulness and its relation to “meditation”, we here shared a chapter in “What the Buddha taught?”  for those interested to learn more:

The Buddha said : 'O bhikkhus, there are two kinds of illness. What are those two? Physical illness and mental illness. There seem to be people who enjoy freedom from physical illness even for a year or two. . . even for a hundred years or more. But, O bhikkhus, rare in this world are those who enjoy freedom from mental illness even for one moment, except those who are free from mental defilements'(i.e., except arahants).

The Buddha's teaching, particularly his way of 'meditation', aims at producing a state of perfect mental health, equilibrium and tranquility. It is unfortunate that hardly any other section of the Buddha's teaching is so much misunderstood as 'meditation', both by Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The moment the word 'meditation' is mentioned, one thinks of an escape from the daily activities of life; assuming a particular posture, like a statue in some cave or cell in a monastery, in some remote place cut off form society ; and musing on, or being absorbed in, some kind of mystic or mysterious thought or trance. True Buddhist 'meditation' deteriorated and degenerated into a kind of ritual or ceremony almost technical in its routine.

Most people are interested in meditation or yoga in order to gain some spiritual or mystic powers like the 'third eye', which others do not possess. There was some time ago a Buddhist nun in India who was trying to develop a power to see through her ears, while she was still in the possession of the 'power' of perfect eyesight! This kind of idea is nothing but 'spiritual perversion'. It is always a question of desire, 'thirst' for power.

The word meditation is a very poor substitute for the original term bhavana, which means 'culture' or 'development', i.e., mental culture or mental development. The Buddhist bhavana, properly speaking, is mental culture in the full sense of the term. It aims at cleansing the mind of impurities and disturbances, such as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, indolence, worries and restlessness, sceptical doubts, and cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, the analytical faculty, confidence, joy, tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of highest wisdom which sees the nature of things as they are, and realizes the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana.

There are two forms of meditation. One is the development of mental concentration (samatha or samadhi), of one-pointedness of mind (cittekaggata, Skt.Cittaikagrata), by various methods prescrbed in the texts, leading up to the highest mystic states such as 'the Sphere of Nothingness' or 'the Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-Non- Perception'. All these mystic states, according to the Buddha, are mind-created, mind-produced, conditioned(samkhata). They have nothing to do with Reality, Truth, Nirvana. This form of meditation existed before the Buddha.

Hence it is not purely Buddhist, but it is not excluded from the field of Buddhist meditation. However it is not essential for the realization of Nirvana. The Buddha himself, before his Enlightenment, studied these yogic practices under different teachers and attained to the highest mystic states ; but he was not satisfied with them, because they did not give complete liberation, they did not give insight into the Ultimate Reality. He considered these mystic states only as 'happy living in this existence' (ditthadhammasukhavihara), or 'peaceful living' (samtavihara), and nothing more.

He therefore discovered the other form of 'meditation' known as vipassana(Skt. vipasyana or vidarsana), 'Insight' into the nature of things, leading to the complete liberation of mind, to the realization of the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana. This is essentially Buddhist 'meditation', Buddhist mental culture. It is an analytical method based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, observation. It is impossible to do justice to such a vast subject in a few pages. However an attempt is made here to give a very brief and rough idea of the true Buddhist 'meditation', mental culture or mental development, in a practical way.

The most important discourse ever given by the Buddha on mental development ('meditation') is called the Satipatthana-sutts 'The Setting-up of Mindfulness'(No. 22 of the Digha-nikaya, or No.10 of the Majjhima-nikaya). This discourse is so highly venerated in tradition that it is regularly recited not only in Buddhist monasteries, but also in Buddhist homes with members of the family sitting round and listening with deep devotion. Very often bhikkhus recite this sutta by the bed-side of a dying man to purify his last thoughts.

The ways of 'meditation' given in this discourse are not cut off from life, nor do they avoid life ; on the contrary, they are all connected with our life, our daily activities, our sorrows and joys, our words and thoughts, our moral and intellectual occupations. The discourse is divided into four main sections : the first section deals with our body (kaya), the second with our feelings and sensations (vedana), the third with the mind (citta), and the fourth with various moral and intellectual subjects(dhamma). It should be clearly borne in mind that whatever the form of 'meditation' may be, the essential thing is mindfulness or awareness (sati), attention or observation (anupassana).

Source:  Chapter7: “Meditation of mental culture: Bhavana”, What the Buddha Taught? by Walpola Rahula

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