The four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana)
Article: Mindfulness, the direct path to realization.
By: Shane Wilson (meditation learning center)
Twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddha addressed a gathering of meditation practitioners and laid out in detail what he explained to be “the direct path to realization”. This statement “the direct path to realization” is alone a very profound statement that the Buddha made in that he is saying that these are the instructions for one to practice and obtain sati or mindfulness, a mental condition that ultimately leads one to liberation and freedom from metal distress leading toward full enlightenment.
This discourse or Sutta has become known as the Satipatthana Sutta; it is interpreted as “The Four foundations of mindfulness” and encompasses most of the meditation and contemplation teachings of the Buddhist Pali cannon, making it a very profound and important teaching for anyone on the path to awakening. Mindfulness is the practice of keeping the mind grounded in the present moment, this being an impotent ingredient in ones spiritual practice due to the present moments role in aiding us be become (as the sutta states) un-worldly beings enjoys an inner joy as opposed to worldly beings or those constantly in search of temporary worldly enjoyments . Whether we look at our path as a personal journey of spiritual enlightenment, or a simple fifteen minuet a day stress release session, we can all benefit by understanding and practicing the four foundations of mindfulness. It is important to understand that meditation becomes meditation when there is a certain degree of concentration involved, without this degree of concentration it is contemplation. In the sutta the Buddha talks of contemplation rather than meditation and in doing so he is stressing the point that this practice is intended to be applied during our everyday activities as well as a useful tool for our meditation practice. Controlled thought or contemplation is an extremely important practice for the cultivation of clear references and wholesome direction of thought that can be use throughout our life.
The mindfulness practices have been referred to by other teachers and writings by other names including Insight and vipassana meditation. Generally when these terms are used, it is referring to the formal practice of sitting meditation using mindfulness as the meditation object with the application of concentration. There for mindfulness can and should be practiced at all times.
The four foundations of mindfulness provide four areas of practice;
1. Mindfulness of the body,
2. Mindfulness of Feelings,
3. Mindfulness of mental states (consciousness)
4. Mindfulness of dhamma (truth, reality, that which really exists, law)
These four foundations can be practiced in many different ways such as in a systematic method or all at once, we may find that one particular object of mindfulness practice resonates with us in such a way that it seems to be the practice that we have been missing all these years, or there may be several that we may find beneficial for us. In reality all four mindfulness objects will always be present but one or two may temporarily pervade over the others.
Mindfulness meditation is the contemplation of an object to such an extent that we can see it for what it truly is, impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. The fact that all things contain these three ingredients is such a liberating fact that it induces a freedom, an unbound way of seeing all phenomena. This is the knowledge of the true nature of all conditioned phenomena. The wisdom that can be obtained by this contemplation and meditation is the knowledge that is able to continually see the rising and falling of all things. Impermanence is all there is, thus the reason we find only temporary satisfaction in anything in this world, this is why it is impossible for anything to be called mine. As all things are impermanent and in a constant change including time itself, nothing exists for a duration of time. Without duration of time nothing ever stays the same, no-thing ever settles down enough to be labeled as something that is truly existent, even our impermanent bodies, ourselves.