It is a word much bandied about when one first
starts reading about meditation and Buddhism. What is mindfulness? How
does it work? Why is it important?
Words can never do justice to the actual experience of something, and mindfulness is a prime example. Yet it is possible to sketch the quality of attention that leads to mindfulness and the concentration and insights that can result from a calm, focused, observant mind.
Below is an excellent discussion of mindfulness by the Western Buddhist monk Ajahn Amaro, of Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA. It is reprinted here with permission from a book of his writings and talks called "Silent Rain." He teaches in a personal, unadorned and incisive way that is quite appealing to Western students of meditation and Buddhist Dhamma. Other chapters of "Silent Rain" may be read on-line at: www.ultranet.com/~cm/silent. The site also contains information about Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, a Buddhist community in the tradition of the great Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah.
By Ajahn Amaro
THE 'OUTFLOWING' OF THE MIND is what one is witnessing in meditation when the mind surges off into sights and sounds, opinions, thoughts or feelings. It is most important to get acquainted with what that is like for the mind: the attention pouring out into different things.
One can see how, first of all, there is just a vague thought of a memory, or a shape that you notice, and it is quite ephemeral; there is nothing very much there, you just remember some event. Then it catches our attention and, as the mind goes into it, suddenly what was just a vague and insubstantial thing comes to life---and our attention has brought it to life. We have breathed life into that thought with the act of attention.
As we give attention to it and it comes to life, then the whole flow of feeling along with that increases and develops---whether the feeling is pleasant or painful or whatever. It comes into being and the whole thing starts to gain momentum. If there is no mindfulness, then that feeling conditions self-centered desire; if it is a pleasant feeling, a desire for more of it; if it is a painful feeling, a desire to get away from it. Then that desire turns into attachment and the attachment turns into what is called 'becoming'---like a wave gathering strength.
Then, as the attachment and the becoming increase, we find ourselves thoroughly caught up with some melodrama and carried away on the whole cycle of birth and death. We are born into a memory, a hope or a worry, born into a piece of music or a feeling; and if we are born into it then we die with it when it comes to an end. Suddenly we find ourselves stranded and lost in another world.
IF, WHEN WE HAVE GIVEN SOMETHING our attention and the thing has come alive, and the different feelings of pleasure or pain are there, then, if there is constant mindfulness and concentration, the concentrated mind will contain the feelings. If there is mindfulness and concentration, the concentrated mind will contain the feelings. If there is mindfulness it will surround and hold that feeling. There is a knowing that "this is a feeling of pleasure" or "this is a feeling of pain", and there is wisdom. We understand it, we know that this is not going to last. "This is just a feeling, it is not me or mine, it is not who and what I am."
So that feeling becomes a basis for liberation: rather than carrying us into a whole cycle of hope and disappointment, the cycle of birth and death, if mindfulness, concentration and wisdom are there, then some feeling will take us to deliverance.
If there is wisdom then we realise---"This is a feeling"--- and we follow it as it goes through its cycle of life. Then, as the feeling fades, there is nothing there creating more momentum around it. The feeling fades like a sound and then there is silence. That condition dissolves into the Unconditioned and there is peacefulness, clarity, the joy of the free mind; this is what we mean by Nibbana. All conditions of mind, all patterns of consciousness end in Nibbana. They will lead us to Nibbana if we let them-- if we don't let them they won't!
The way we let them lead is through mindfulness and concentration--- this is the process we give ourselves to --- learning to recognise the power of attention. Then, even if we cannot restrain our attention from going into things initially, we can still bring our mind to the feelings that have arisen and then let any feeling or experience take the mind to the realisation of Nibbana, the energetic silence, to the quality of living stillness that is the very fabric of this life.
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