Mindsprings is not a specifically Buddhist organisation but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the paramount debt we have to the Buddhist tradition in our work. Mindfulness, in its modern manifestation, is a direct descendent of the practice carried out by the Buddha 2556 years ago.
Well, not quite 2556 years, since that was – according to Theravadan calendars – when he was born in Lumbini in Nepal.
The celebration of Wesak on the full moon this week (Friday night) traditionally marks the day of the year when the Buddha was born, when he reached enlightenment and when he passed away. A birth-death-enlightenment day.
The intricacies of the Buddha’s exhaustive teaching over the 80 years of his life are remarkably recorded in the massive Pali canon. Known as the Tripitaka or three baskets of wisdom. The Mahasatipatthana Sutra is the key text when it comes to mindfulness. It is only one of the thousands of sutras looking at other teachings and other practices.
Nonetheless the importance of this “Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness” is massive for meditators. In it the Buddha outlines to his disciples what is necessary to cultivate true, incisive present-moment awareness. It’s basically a road map to ensure that we don’t miss anything out – or semi-deliberately not see things by concentrating too much on others.
“Being alive as a human is a remarkably complicated experience”
The mindfulness of the breath portion is the first part but the sutra rolls on for several thousand words drawing our attention to other places. To “look mindfully”: broadly speaking, the body and its senses, our feelings. The conscious framework that filters those and the mental constructs (thoughts and beliefs) that bob around on top. It is the work of a lifetime to master all these bases but this teaching throws down a mindful-shaped gauntlet.
“Being alive as a human is a remarkably complicated experience,” the Buddha seems to be saying, “Become increasingly aware of what constitutes your human experience in the here-and-now and then you will have some understanding how to use it well.”
Despite the hugeness of the challenge, the crucial part when we come to practice is the sense that we are doing it for a reason. Not just splitting-hairs and analysing tinier and tinier strands of experience. But rather understanding how we create stress and suffering so we can alleviate our own suffering. More importantly – we no longer act out or inflict our suffering on to others.
The Buddha’s final words to his monks when he passed into paranibbana in Kusinara in Uttar Pradesh, aged 80, were: “All conditioned things pass. Strive to understand and liberate yourselves”. That is the ultimate point of all our mindfulness: understanding and liberating.
I’d love to know your thoughts about Wesak. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!
Find out more about The Mindsprings School. A series of courses created by Alistair to help you live a happier life.