Book of Analysis, the foundations of mindfulness (Vb 7): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(7) Analysis Of The Foundation Of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhānavibhaṅga).

The first major division of the text based on the descending numerical arrangement of the analysis of what constitutes the so-called 'being', and the conditions to which that being is subject, is completed with the conclusion of Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga. It should, however, be noted that although three major divisions of the text are spoken of in this introduction, there is no direct indication of any such system of division in the index. [xxxix] It is only by observing the particular arrangement of subjects, and the different methods of analytical classification in the internal structure of the work as a whole, that this threefold division becomes apparent. The text then continues by reviewing in five consecutive vibhaṅgas the basic essentials of theory and practice pertaining to the entering on that path which is for the breaking up of that system of Causal Relations, the utter destruction of Suffering and the attaining of final enlightenment. This is followed by an analysis of the closely associated practice of mental development and control known as Jhāna, which is particularly directed to the inhibiting of certain gronpings of very tenacious deterrents to progress. The final vibhaṅga of this central section of the whole week deals with an analysis of the moral precepts. The reason for placing this important aspect of practice after those describing the more advanced aspects is that it is dealt with by only two methods of analysis, Abhidhamma and Interrogation,

This, the seventh vibhaṅga, concerns itself with a detailed examination of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The importance of this chapter cannot be stressed too strongly, for as it is so essential to iterate and reiterate, the Dhamma, and particularly Abhidhamma, for all its seemingly intellectual, strongly scholastic, academic and almost mathematical approach to what would ordinarily be called religion, does nevertheless constantly force upon the attention the strong necessity for action and for doing. The world, the universe and all that is in it, with all its apparent beauty, its interest, its so-called attractions, its absorbing occupations, its researches into the multiplicity of phenomena, its scholasticism and its intellectualism, seem to us to be just as they appear; however, all these aspects seem to be what they are only because of the overwhelming root of ignorance (avijjāmūla) which makes it impossible for the untrained mind to see things as they really are (yathābhūtam). With all observation biased in this way, and then coupled with craving (taṇhā) it is unquestionable that beings—those tangles of aggregates, bases and elements—who make no attempt to penetrate, to understand and break that system which is the very bondage of those aggregates, bases and elements, will continue in that constant and eternally self-generating series of rebirth, death, rebirth, —, —.

That a break can be made in this continuity of process is the focal point of the whole teaching of the Buddha. That break was [xl] made by the Buddha himself by virtue of his own discovery of its laws, and his own strenuous effort in terminating their effect upon him. The whole of the remaining years of his life were spent in teaching to all men the practice and the theory attendant thereon of making that break in the continuity of those causal relations. This constituted the essence of his Buddhahood,

Therefore it is that the opening words of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, spoken by the Buddha himself, refer directly and as an introduction to what is to be done, what action is to be taken, the method and the practice by which final release from suffering is eventually to be obtained.

The Buddha says:—"This path, Bhikkhus, is the only course for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the termination of physical and mental pain, for the right method of attainment, for the experiencing of Nibbāna; that is, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness."

The text of Vibhaṅga, as also that of the Sutta from which the above quotation is translated, then states what the four foundations of mindfulness are; thus, Mindfulness of body, Feeling, Consciousness and of Mental States (dhammā). Why did the Buddha choose these four?

The path which it has been stated is the only one to tread for the achievement of the final goal of experiencing Nibbāna is not an easy path, it is not one to be followed lightly, it is not one to be trodden occasionally, it is not a gentle, easy path upon which the traveller may pause in his walk that he may view the countryside, inspect a beautiful blossom or watch the birds flying through the sky. It is a hard uncompromising path full of difficulties and dangers, of obstructions and pitfalls, of many diverging and misleading lanes and byeways. It is a path in the undeviating treading of which mindfulness of every inch of the journey is of the very essence of success. To destroy utterly and uproot the power of craving, and thereby to break the whole course of Paṭiccasamuppāda means that the true nature of all things must be understood fully, When understanding is complete, craving ceases to be, Understanding, however, does not mean scholastic and intellectual knowledge, or what might be called 'book Nibbāna', it means that knowledge coupled with absolute and utter realization of the true nature of all phenomena and their utter emptiness. From this comes the automatic falling away of any clinging to such pheno- [xli] mena, however slight that clinging may be. Again, why did the Buddha choose these four foundations? The reason is that these four constitute the so-called being, these in effect are the aggregates and their associated ultimates, Mindfulness of the body means to know of that body its parts, their relationship with each other, their separateness from each other, their utter lack of permanence, their utter lack of entity. It is to view them in their true light, to realize their lack of beauty, to come to entertain disgust for them and to realize, "This body is not me» this is not mine, herein there is no soul, this is transient, this is of the nature of suffering".

Mindfulness of feeling means to know at all times when there arises either pleasant bodily or mental feeling, painful bodily or mental feeling, or feeling which is neither painful nor pleasant. To realize that feeling is a changing, inconstant phenomenon, that the grasping after the pleasant and the rejection of the painful is a never ending source of discontent and mental imbalance. To come eventually to realize, "This feeling is not me, this is not mine, herein there is no soul, this is transient, clinging to this is of the nature of suffering". This is to realize the nature of feeling.

Mindfulness of consciousness means that the never ending stream of thoughts on this or that object is constantly to be broken into with close observation as to its nature at that time. Thus, "This state of consciousness is accompanied by lust, This state is without lust. This state is dull, is scattered, is concentrated, is free, is not free". In this way the uncontrolled and wayward activity of consciousness as it bonds with other states will come to be realized. With incessant and undeviating practice it will come to be controlled, its associations will come to be regulated and it will become the sharp instrument of investigation by which lower states will be cut away and the higher states cultivated. However, it will also be the instrument by which the transience of its own nature will be realized. It will come to know at its sharpest moment, "This consciousness is not me, this is not mine, herein there is no soul, this is transient, attachment to this very consciousness is of the nature of suffering".

Mindfulness of mental states means a close, constant and precise knowledge of the arising and passing away of those states, those mental factors, those defilements, doubts, fetters, bonds, ties and so on with which consciousness in its multitude [xlii] of continuous changes and different modes is associated and disassociated, To know of these states thus, "These are had states. These are good states, These are states to be rejected, these are to be cultivated," But above all to come to the realization "These states are not me, these are not mine, herein there is no soul, this is transient, clinging to these states is of the nature of suffering". This, as a broad statement, is what is meant by the Four Foundations of Mindfulness,

This vibhaṅga makes a bare statement of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. It analyses them as to the meaning of the various terms by the two methods of Suttanta and Abhidhamma, and classifies them in terms of the Triplets and Couplets of Dhammasaṅgaṇī in the section of Interrogation. In Suttanta the analysis is in plain terms as to what a bhikkhu should be mindful of. In the Abhidhamma section, however, the matter is dealt with entirely in terms of the higher states pertaining directly to ultimate release,

As to the mode or details of practice, it is not the purpose of this particular vibhaṅga to deal with these. It is left to the following chapters to expand the themes implied by this fundamental statement by the Buddha as to what practical and workable course is to be followed to make an end of suffering and rebirth.