4. Importance of Mindfulness

4. Importance of Mindfulness

By Venerable Amatha Gavesi

Dated: 1994

Venerable bhikkhus, brothers & sisters, the subject of the discourse today is mindfulness. Mindfulness plays a very vital role in the development of the person who practices his philosophy along the path to gain his liberation.

We refer to mindfulness as an ordinary term and in compliance to this state of mind, we just be mindful and is not given that due recognition it deserves to be given. You have as a worldling a very very dim past so to say, having been living as worldling for many many many births. You have adopted ways and means in keeping with the worldling life. You have developed ideas, views, habits in conformity with the life you are leading as a worldling. They are natural productions in you now. All your activities in the way of thinking and in the way of committing bodily acts are in accordance with the habits you have cultivated. The very values you have towards life have been developed in you in keeping with the worldly way.

Buddha in his attainment realized this human being when we addressed the human being in a worldly way is not a being as such but a mass of activity committed by the body as directed by the mind. His pattern of existence has been shaped in such a way that he behaves like a being as if somebody in authority is in him guiding him and directing him in all matters connected with his life. And the manner behavior you have adopted is in keeping with that conduct of a worldling. Buddha in his attainment realized that there is no being as such in you. Now this is a discovery very few religious leaders have ever thought of, quite contrary to the existing views and beliefs existed in India at that time. Therefore you can well imagine how much effort you have to make in order to realize that there is no being in you because your entire pattern of behavior has been shaped so to say forged, in the belief that there is a being.  I also emphasize that the so call defilements that you are subjected to are patterns of behavior so to say, adopted ways of conducting yourself in your thought and deed, and those certainly are the qualities of the worldling.

Mental energy is pure. When you create a thought as a result of introduction of a subject to the mental energy, the energy gives the power for you to create the thought. It’s still pure, maybe your thought is not a good one, that doesn’t mean to say that the mental energy that created the thought is also getting discolored as a result of the subject matter of the thought which is bad, no. We take the example of electricity. Now, there is the current, there is energy. We can divert that to many uses, at the same time, it can be dangerous to you. It can even end your life if wrongly used; but there’s nothing wrong with the current; that’s energy, its pure energy. When you misused it and the result is something which is bad or at the same time, if you used it through a proper way, it is of great utility value to you. In the same way, our mental energy is always pure, is only energy. Now that you have used this energy in such a manner to conduct yourself in a worldly way, creating thoughts in conformity with that view, adopting patterns of behavior to promote that view, in other words, social conduct, behavior, all that have been shaped to accept the fact that there is a being in you and your behavior is that of a being whereas in truth, there is no such being in you. That is what Buddha taught, realized. And he proved that truly to you. The philosophy we follow is what Buddha has realized and preached to us and when you follow that path, truth appears before you. In other words, you will realize the truth and then ultimately reach a height when you will agree with Buddha that there is no being in you. But the development needs careful attention and careful practice of the path shown by Buddha. And in that practice, mindfulness plays a very very vital role because mindfulness enables you to exactly know what you are at the time of committing an act. And if you commit that act in the way you used too, that is you have lost mindfulness, on the other hand if you commit an act knowingly and in keeping with the philosophy preached by Buddha, to get rid of this false view of a being been present in you, and that proper conduct of yours is a result of mindfulness. The mental energy now is so diverted that radiated subjects you introduced into the energy creates thought. What are these subjects that you introduce to the energy to create the thought? Subjects which are in keeping with your worldly life, supporting a belief that there is a being in you.  Mindfulness plays a role, a very important role in  always keeping you reminded that these subjects which are promoting the wrong view of a worldling living in you, so that you are always checked by mindfulness. This checking is absolutely necessary, why is it necessary? Because you will if you permit the mind to go to the normal process of reacting to every incident that occurs, it will react in keeping with the habit it has created in the mind. If you react in keeping with the values you have created about life, it will react in agreement with the false views you have adopted. Therefore mindfulness is the thing that help you to check this way of behavior so that you are always put on the right track by the mindfulness in obstructing you from pursuing the worldly way of thinking, the worldly way of conduct, therefore mindfulness plays a vital role.

I emphasize the fact that your mental energy is pure, it has no color at all. Its simple energy which you make use of to commit bodily activities by the creation of a thought and to think. If you are mindful always, you will never permit this mental energy to accept subjects that would create a thought in keeping with the worldly way. Mindfulness checks that activity which you are used to and always remind you that that is not the proper thing to be done. The realistic aspect of things are these and point out the realistic way how you should get about. That is the key to our turning in the right direction, brothers & sisters.  If mindfulness is not there, we will be repeating these things in the same way we have done in the past many many hundreds and thousands of lives we led. That is why Buddha emphasized the fact that mindfulness plays a vital role in realizing the truth. In your worldly way, you have not seen that aspect of life which is the true life. You are not care to probe into your own pattern of behavior and find out whether there is substance in what we do and what we think, and that has been done to us by our religious leader lord Buddha. He has made a good effort or big effort, so to say to sacrifice his life and done what has to be done for us for our liberation. And in his philosophy, he points out that the pattern of behavior which we are used to is not a pattern of behavior that will lead to our liberation. That pattern of behavior promotes our continuity in the cycle of births. Buddha in making use of mindfulness helped us to check and stop further activity promoting the cycle of births and directed in us to pursue the line of action which leads to our liberation. Thereby, you can realize the very important role mindfulness plays in this philosophy.

One day, a brahmin approached Buddha and asked for permission to ask some questions from Buddha, Buddha agreed.  So the brahmin said, we have six sense bases, the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind. None of these six sense bases, do they perform activities in the way of enabling us to see, hear, smell, taste, contact and think, These bases ever have participate in these activities in a way of having any benefits as a result of creating such situation?

Buddha said yes. They perform activities like enabling us to see, hear, smell, taste, think and contact but they play no part in that. I agree with you, he told the brahmin.  And the brahmin ask the next question, what is it that helps these sense bases to perform these activities? And Buddha said it is the thought that helps to perform these activities. It is the thought that helps these sense bases to perform these activities, then brahmin agreed with that too. Then the brahmin pose another question, is there any quality in us or anything in us that helps the thought thinking in pursuing the correct line of action instead of getting misled?  Yes, there is a quality of mindfulness which helps the thinking to direct itself in the correct way, mindfulness plays an important role. Then this brahmin asked, now what is the part mindfulness plays, and what is the outcome of being mindful?   Now, this is very important, what is the part mindful play and what is the outcome of being mindful? Buddha said the outcome of being mindful is to create detachment, if you are mindful you are detached.

Now there is a very important aspect one has to consider in that answer.  Now, you being mindful you become detached, if you are unmindful then you become attached.

Isn’t that the worldly way of life? The worldly way of life is that you are always attached to objects and you seek pleasure in them if there is something pleasant or create an aversion if there is something unpleasant because you are attached to the object. But mindfulness plays a vital role there, in reminding you of always the realistic aspect of life. So that you would view any object that attracts the six sense bases in a true manner knowing exactly its nature and that part is played by mindfulness. Your normal pattern of behavior as a worldling is leading you to attachment, to aversion which promotes desire, but it is the mindfulness that checked that the way of behavior which promotes the worldling to continue in this cycle of births and make you realize that the true nature of the object that has attract to the sense base.  And what is that mindfulness?  Mindfulness of the reality of life.  What is the reality of life? Reality of life is impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and the soullessness; anicca, dukkha, anatta. So when you are mindful about anything, that is the true mindfulness you should always possess or bear. The worldly way of looking at things is that is, if an object that attracts you, is something for you to enjoy, if it is something which is not to your liking to create an aversion to that object. That’s the worldly way and that worldly way has led you to this condition today; you are where you are in a mass of suffering.

And Buddha having gone through that life, in order to find out the truth realize ultimately  that this worldly life which we lead is one mass of suffering. And that life we lead absolutely as a result of a false view that we have, borne in mind and that in that there is somebody in authority in you who performed these activities when in truth and in fact, that all your activities are as a result of cause and effect and nothing else and there is no being as such in you. Now that is the important realization we have to build up in us if you allow the mind to work and your body to act in a worldly way, then you are promoting further existence in this life, continuity of the cycle of births. But on the other hand, if you are mindful of all your activities in the way of bodily acts and thoughts that are created in you, you will be always reminded that there is impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and the soullessness in every aspects of life.  With the bodily acts they too are the same, with the mental condition they too are the same and you will not permit the mind to react in the manner it was used to, in promoting that life in that way, that is accepting the false view that there is a being in you. Your mindfulness will always checked you and say, well this act you commit but this is just casually created and nothing else, there is no person as such committing that act. When a thought arises in you, mindfulness will always remind you that this sort of thought will promote your existence in the cycle of births because you are thinking the wrong way. What is the right way one should think?

That everything in this world is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless, you can imagine the part play by mindfulness.  From morning to evening till we go to bed, we are always promoting the worldly way. You may practice meditation periodically, but if you are not mindful, that meditation will not have the effect you expect, because constantly your mind is being diverting the wrong way, to a false belief that there is a being in you and you are continuing in this life and the next life and the next to come. Therefore we must be careful about this, understand the true nature of mindfulness and try to comply with the instructions given by Buddha. We will deal with that aspect later.

Then brahmin asks, I agree with you that mindfulness plays a vital role. If a person is mindful, this brahmin also agreed that he will be non-attached, because he sees everything as impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. If he sees everything is subjected to, in the way of creating thoughts or committing acts in that light that everything is impermanent, unsatisfactory, soulless, he has got the proper assessment of the values existing in the world. That everything in this world is subjected to constant change and once something is constantly changing, there is nothing substantial in that, empty so to say and there is no continuity of that condition right through. Therefore mindfulness of being aware always of the truth, the reality of life that is impermanent, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness is what you are expected to maintain being mindful.

And the next question brahmin ask Buddha, if one is detached, what would be the result? If one is detached, Buddha said, he has freed himself from the crutches; he is free so to say with this wrong view adopted by him in life, wrong view followed by him as a worldling. He had been imprisoned, his mind has been imprisoned in a so to say, an enclosed area and he living in that, continue to live in that. But after he begin mindful about the realities of life, he found that his mind is free now. He has gained his freedom from the wrappings and bindings which has led to this miserable life from birth to birth, free. And then the brahmin asked, yes the mind has won its freedom in that manner, what is the outcome of that freedom?  Buddha said, if one has freed this mind from this pattern ………

See for yourself, in this description given by Buddha beginning from the manner you used your mind, your thinking ability and your activities in conforming with the world, how you have been confined to a certain restricted area, and continuity of that pattern of behavior has led you to this cycle of births. When Buddha at a certain point said one can be mindful of all his activities, that is the turning point in life for his liberation.

One would ask the question what is this mindfulness that one refers to?

In the four foundation of mindfulness, the second subject of meditation is to be mindful the four postures: standing, sitting, walking and lying. Why did Buddha introduce this subject in this manner, to be mindful of the four postures? He introduced this mindfulness in a practical way because you have been right through leading a life in an unmindful manner. And for a person who has been unmindful, who has allowed this mind to stray about in any manner it wishes, it is rather difficult for him to correct his thinking process and be always mindful of what he is doing, or mindful of being aware of realities of life because he has allowed so much of freedom to the thinking process that it catches any object very freely and create thoughts in the manner helpful for your worldly behavior, that is the pattern its used to. Now, we are going to change that pattern by being mindful. Therefore Buddha knowing the difficulty the worldling would have to confront himself with, if he tries mindfulness in the way it should be done, that is always be conscious of the realistic aspect of life of impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness, he will never be successful. Therefore he introduced the mindfulness to four postures which you are committed to, as a worldling.  Sitting is something which you always do, standing is also something which you always, that’s another very common posture, then walking and then lying. By being mindful of these four postures, you have introduced mindfulness into yourself. There you are mindful of four activities, that is a fair introduction to the mind which has had no experience of being mindful in this existence from the time he had a mind to think or a consciousness in him. Then you get used to these four postures and you begin to realize this is mindfulness and again being conscious of the four postures means again a development in the mind the way of thinking. When you are walk you are aware that you are walking; when you are sitting you are aware that you are sitting; when you are standing you are aware that you are standing; and when you are lying, you are aware that you are lying. Four postures you are used to but it’s a mental create, mental frame of mind.

After that Buddha says, introduce the proper way one should be mindful. Buddhas reveal to the world three truths, three realities and they are impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness. This is the wisdom you are going to gain in life. This is the wisdom you are developing stage by stage from being a stream enterer, from being a once-returner, from being a non-returner, and finally fully realized these three truths at the stage of becoming an Arahat. Then you can be designated a Buddha. The Sammasambuddhas who are, who revealed this truth they on their own realized this truth, and revealed to the world these truths, preached to the world these truth, therefore they are called Sammasambuddhas. You who have followed the path shown by Sammasambuddhas for your liberation, realized these truths at these four stages culminating in becoming an Arahat, you have also, you become a Buddha. That is the wisdom you are developing and mind you, this wisdom is though we can speak about it, though we can talk about it, it is not something very easy for one to get into the mind. This mind which we possess now is a worldly mind.  What is the pattern of behavior of a worldly mind?  To accept everything as permanent, everything as satisfactory, everything as continuing, opposite to the three truth of anicca, dukkha, anatta. That’s the worldly way of behavior, and you have practiced that forever and ever and ever. So, do you think, by merely thinking about anicca, dukkha, anatta; impermanent, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness that you can make that penetrate right into you and ever be there, clearing all that false views from your mind? Not easy, brothers and sisters. We can talk we can discuss and we can think also, but it will not penetrate to your insight when it can then create an atmosphere conducive to that the three truths. Therefore it has been taken into you as resulting from a mind that has been developed to that degree of understanding.  And what is that mind that has been developed to that degree of understanding?  A concentrated mind.  That is why we emphasize the fact that you must developed your concentration, because these three truths are not truths though we speak about freely, can completely wash away all the belief that you had created in your existence in this cycle of births. They have been powerfully embedded in your mind and your mind always run in that pattern of life which is used to. So it is a firmed mind, developed mind which has got the three realities well planted in that can completely change the way of thinking, that you must bear in mind. The fact Buddha says that the realization of the three truths of impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and the soullessness can only be done by your mind that has developed concentration. It is stated definitely. And imagine these three truths you are going to finally realize that day of your liberation. The first stage you realize this truth will be stream enterer, that’s you have got rid of certain defilements, not all defilements. And once you have got rid of 50% of your defilement of attachment and non-attachment, attachment and aversion, then you have gained only a better proportion in your realization, you have advanced your knowledge, advanced your realistic understanding. And with the 3rd stage of development, when you have finally got rid of attachment and aversion completely, got rid of desire completely, it has reached a very very good standard of realization, so much so that you will not be pushed back to the worldly way again and in that condition if you die, you will be born in a pure abode and there you will gain your liberation never to come back again to the life we lead now. And finally when you gain your liberation, you fully realize what is impermanent, unsatisfactory nature of things and the soullessness, that is the wisdom which you are developing in you, brothers and sisters. In your normal way of behavior, you consider everything that is attracting your six sense bases as permanent, satisfactory and continue to exist, that is the worldly way of looking at it. Now imagine, for you to change this way of looking at things in a realistic manner, always to enable you to realize that everything is impermanent, impermanent, impermanent, impermanent, impermanent, and no attachment, no aversion nothing, all impermanent. For you to see that in its true sense within yourself, how much of development you have to go through, brothers and sisters. That is what is essential. Therefore basically you must have virtue, based on virtue you must developed your mind in concentration and thereby having developed your mind to that state, you begin to realize the true nature of things in the way of impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness, that is the path you are going to follow.  

Buddha did not ask you to get rid of all the defilements you have developed in yourself, not all. According to descriptions given in the scriptures there are over thousands of defilements in an ordinary worldling but he only ask you to get rid of one and that is desire. I have often explained that this desire is something which you have created in yourself and not something that has been forced into you by some outside force. Because you have created desire in you, you are maintaining that desire as a result of not being mindful of the realities of life but creating an attachment to aversion to all objects that the six sense bases get attracted to. What Buddha said was, be mindful. That’s the term he used and that’s the keyword in the four foundation of mindfulness where he shows you a clear path to get rid of desire. Mindfulness, that’s call the four foundation of mindfulness.  Be mindful, mindful of what?  Mindful of what you see. When you see a thing, understand realistically that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. In the same way when object attracts your other bases, you have to be always mindful so that you will not accept any of those objects and either if it is to your liking to create an attachment to it or if it is not to your liking to create an aversion to it. Treat all objects as impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless, thereby giving no value to any of those objects.  It is a giving of value that has created these two opposite views in you of getting attached to a thing or creating aversion to it. That which you value, you like, that which you do not like, you have no value given to it.  How to get rid of this attitude of mind, this frame of mind of giving values to objects that your six sense bases attracted to?  By realistically analyzing those objects as impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. Maybe the most beautiful figure that may appear before you, your eye may catch that figure, but promptly the mindfulness reacts in you and gives you the impression this is impermanent, this is unsatisfactory, this doesn’t exist but continue to exist. And that truth has been very well planted in your mind and the mindfulness gives you that point, tells you that, the way you have to value this figure. This so call this picture that has appeared before you, would you attached any value to that object or even create a hatred to that object?  No. It’s all impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. That is the role that you have to play, brothers and sisters in your effort to gain your liberation. Always be conscious of, always be mindful of the impermanence. In the impermanence, there is the unsatisfactory nature of things and the soullessness. Therefore impermanence is the key word that has to be always borne by you in your mind. Always maintain that view in you that everything in this world is impermanent. It’s not easy; it needs a certain amount of training in your mind. But as I told you even that attachment or desire you have created is something which you have got put into the mind or in other words, its something which originally did not occur in your mind but you have introduced that manner of behavior into the mind as a result of repetition constantly one after the other.  And what does mindfulness do? Mindfulness checked that repetition, don’t think that way, mindfulness says. The truth about that object that is appearing before your sense base is that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. If you have planted those three realities in your life, naturally the mindfulness will help you to bring that out immediately when you are confronted with a situation where you get subjected to attachment or subjected to aversion.

Take the case like this, a very common example.

You may get used to smoking cigarettes, you have done that for years and years and years and years and you are now subjected to various kind of sickness as a result of smoking too much. This is a great urge in you, when the urge appears then you are forced to enjoy a cigarette.  What have you done there?  You have very very foolishly given to the temptation created in your mind, the attachment to the cigarette created in your mind and give in to that attachment and you start smoking. Whereas on the other hand, in order to get out of this difficulty, you are now practicing mindfulness. Always to be constantly aware that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless, I should not practice this. And whenever you get that urge in you, you think of the realistic aspect of this act of yours, impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. Then the value of that urge, the force of that urge diminishes and you are aware of the truth, the realities of life, all powers that urge that has been created in you, and you with that strength you have gained as a result of the treatment you have given to the object as something unsatisfactory, subject to constant change and there is no continuity or soul in that you have that force that is created in you at that time when this idea dawned to you, it diminishes its force little by little, little by little. And constantly when you are mindful about this, do not permit the occurrence of this, or recurrence of this habit of yours of smoking, always checking smoking, checking smoking, being mindful, mindful of the realistic aspect of life you see go on checking, checking, checking. What happens is the force that has been created in you and that is the desire for smoking, that been not fed by satisfying yourself with a cigarette, it diminishes its force. Little by little, it becomes a weak force, because you are not giving in to that force. Mindfully, you are keeping away from that force. And little by little, one day it will disappear from you mind. That is why I always say, brothers and sisters this so call desire that is in you is a bad habit which you have created. A very strong habit which you’ve created which you can get rid of if you make an effort, and the effort that you can make is the key to that effort is mindfulness, mindfulness of the realities of life.

Now Buddha clearly stated that desire is the cause of your birth, desire is the cause of your suffering and to get rid of desire, he said I will show you a path consisting of four things.  What are these four things that he spoke about? He said about your body or the body of another. You’re the pattern of behavior you carried out right throughout in your previous births to get attached to that body and you’re attached to the body, that’s the normal tendency in any worldling.  First this is, attached to the body. To get rid of that, he gave you a subject of meditation. In the four foundation of mindfulness, there are twenty-one subjects of meditation covering the entire aspect. When in the treatment of the body to get rid of this desire or attachment to the body, he gave you fourteen subjects of the twenty-one, so that clearly indicates that you’re attached to the body and it is a powerful attachment which needs careful treatment. And fourteen subject of meditation given in order to get rid of this attachment clearly indicate that a good effort has to be made by you. That is why we say always if you are too attached to a thing, that is your weakness. Then you must practice the meditation of the thirty-two impurities of the body about three times a day, then it will reduce your attachment little by little. The most attached thing on this world is your body, you like the body very much; about everything as in the world you like your body. That has to be reduced, that has to be definitely taken out of your mind because if your mind is subject to that attachment, then is no possibility of leading your mind to a pure state of liberation because this attachment is so strong. In order to get rid of that attachment, what you should do is to practice the impurities of the body which is a common subject of meditation to everyone about three times a day by those who are attached too much.

And what did he say there?  This statement must be clearly understood by you.

“Kaye kayanupassi viharathi”, now you are living completely being mindful of your body or the body of another. “Athapi sampajhano sathima”,  whenever a thought arises to get attached to the body, your body or the body of another. “Athapi sampajhano sathima”, “Athapi” means make a good effort, powerful effort. Intelligently understand the true state of things and make use of mindfulness, make use of mindfulness. There mindfulness means everything is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. Make use of mindfulness to check your thought either creating an attachment or creating an aversion, avoid these two things happening in that thought of yours, in that mind of yours. And the only way you can prevent the mind from not getting attached to that object that is the body or creating an aversion to that object because you don’t like that body. To realistically understand the true nature of the object, true nature of that body and that is impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. That is the way you are expect to behave in regard to all thoughts pertaining to your body or to the body of another which arises in your mind.

In the second subject, he asks you to follow it is this; connected with your ear, your nose, your tongue, your body, your mind and your eye, there arises feeling. When the eye sees something pleasant, there is a pleasant feeling. When the eye sees something unpleasant, it creates an unpleasant feeling. Similarly, all experience you gain through your other sense bases you create this attachment or non-attachment. Whenever you are subjected to a feeling like that, always be mindful of the realistic aspect of life and that you can be mindful only with a certain amount of effort, careful understanding of the subject and also being mindful, and thereby prevent the thought or promoting an attachment or promoting an aversion.

I give you an example. I see something beautiful, it attracts me. Now immediately, it strikes me that I must not allowed this mind to get attract to that object. That’s where I explain it, that’s a thought only and the mindfulness makes me realize that that is an impermanent thing, unsatisfactory and doesn’t continue. That is the realistic aspect of that object and by thinking in that manner about that object, that it is unsatisfactory, that is constantly changing, subject to constant change, unsatisfactory and soulless, by considering that object in that manner, I am preventing the feelings arising in me, preventing an attachment taking place in me to that object, while it is not to your liking preventing an aversion taking place in my mind. Thereby, I safe guarded my consciousness from creating a thought of attachment to aversion thereby feeding desire. I checked it. In the same way in regard to object that you see, objects you hear, objects you smell, objects you taste, objects you contact, objects you think, in regard to all these things you must be mindful. That’s the essential, be mindful and do not permit a thought to be created either in the way of promoting attachment or promoting aversion.  Mindful. In regard to thoughts that arise in you, thought of attachment may arise, thoughts of aversion may arise, thoughts of hatred may arise, such thoughts may arise. If you are not mindful, then you will multiply that thought into ten other thoughts and go on and either it is something pleasant, enjoying it creating an attachment or create more and more hatred towards the object that you do not like. That promote desire, so when you create a thought, when a thought arises in your mind, you must be mindful and do not allow that thought to multiply itself by the creation of other thoughts promoting desire or promoting aversion, checked it. There, I can say you’re very mindful of what is happening within you, not allowing stray thoughts to completely upset your mindfulness and lead you along the path for continuity in this cycle of births. Whereas, mindfulness checked that pattern of behavior of the mind and prevented you from creating any thought that would promote continuity but that pattern of behavior which you have adopted, mindfully helped you to gain your liberation.






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