In Buddhism, what is the origin of talk of the “present moment”, awareness of the present, the practice of focusing attention on the present moment, and the value of focusing attention on the present moment, etc?
Ajahn Brahm talks about “awareness of the present moment” in his book ‘mindfulness, bliss and beyond’.
“Chapter 1 - The Basic Method of Meditation I
Stage One: - Present-Moment Awareness
Stage Two: - Silent Present-Moment Awareness
Stage Three: Silent Present-Moment Awareness of
Does this terminology of “present moment awareness” have an origin in Buddhist suttas, or is it terminology that is a later creation (in English language teachings, or in teachings in some other language)?
I want to find a Buddhist sutta, if one exists, that talks about the practice of awareness of the present moment, and/or the value of attention on the present moment.
I have two interests.
I want to skilfully develop my practice of placing attention on the present moment.
And I want to quote a Buddhist sutta that talks about attention on the present moment in a philosophy essay briefly comparing Buddhist and Epicurean attitudes to value of the present moment.
I searched Sutta central for “present moment”, and all I found was one instance in a translation for a text from the Chinese language Taisho Tripitaka.
“He meditates on the arising of dharmas and the passing of dharmas in order to arrive at peace and joy. He realizes right mindfulness in the present moment.”
I searched for “awareness of the present” and similarly found one instance in a translation for a text from the Chinese language Taisho Tripitaka.
“When it comes to harnessing the senses, to knowing when one has had one’s fill, to practicing the path diligently throughout the night, striving for enlightenment, constantly aware of the present, in these Nanda is the best.”
(Searching for “present” gives a huge list of suttas, but on skimming the list none seem to be a clear statement of “awareness of the present moment”)
As these are the only occurrences of these phrases in all of the translations on sutta central, I have a suspicion that they are non-standard and idiosyncratic translations that are using phrase that are common in English language teaching, but do not reflect the original language.
I’m not sure if there is anywhere more explicit that mentions present moment awareness, but if you look at MN118 Anapanassati Sutta, the instructions are all ‘in the present moment’, even without using those specific words. It is impossible to do in any way but the immediate present moment. One is observing the processes as they occur, in the present moment - with ‘present moment awareness’ - or just ‘awareness’.
This is an extract from MN118. See the link below for the complete sutta
"And how is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated to be very fruitful and beneficial?
It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut. They sit down cross-legged, with their body straight, and establish mindfulness right there. Just mindful, they breathe in. Mindful, they breathe out.
When breathing in heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing in heavily.’ When breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’ When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ When breathing out lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing out lightly.’ They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing in stilling the body’s motion. They practice breathing out stilling the body’s motion.
They practice breathing in experiencing rapture. They practice breathing out experiencing rapture. They practice breathing in experiencing bliss. They practice breathing out experiencing bliss. They practice breathing in experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing out experiencing these emotions. They practice breathing in stilling these emotions. They practice breathing out stilling these emotions.
They practice breathing in experiencing the mind. They practice breathing out experiencing the mind. They practice breathing in gladdening the mind. They practice breathing out gladdening the mind. They practice breathing in immersing the mind in samādhi. They practice breathing out immersing the mind in samādhi. They practice breathing in freeing the mind. They practice breathing out freeing the mind.
They practice breathing in observing impermanence. They practice breathing out observing impermanence. They practice breathing in observing fading away. They practice breathing out observing fading away. They practice breathing in observing cessation. They practice breathing out observing cessation. They practice breathing in observing letting go. They practice breathing out observing letting go.
Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated in this way, is very fruitful and beneficial."
Don’t run back to the past,
don’t hope for the future.
What’s past is left behind;
the future has not arrived;
and phenomena in the present
are clearly seen in every case.
Knowing this, foster it—
Ajahn Brahm talks about present moment awareness suppressing the 5 hindrances, yet I’ve always assumed kamachanda (sensual desire) to be always necessarily about the future and uddhacca-kukkuca (restlessness and remorse) as always necessarily about the past. That might be incorrect!
To add to what Viveka said, I’m not aware of the term “present moment” in the suttas, but the concept of present-moment awareness is implicit throughout them. The instructions for the four establishments of mindfulness (satipatthana) in MN 10 include the instructions for mindfulness of the four postures:
…when walking, a bhikkhu understands: ‘I am walking’; when standing, he understands: ‘I am standing’; when sitting, he understands: ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, he understands: ‘I am lying down’: or he understands accordingly however his body is disposed.
And the instructions for full awareness of one’s daily activities:
…a bhikkhu is one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent.
For each establishment of mindfulness, the instructions for developing insight would seem to require contemplating them in the present moment:
…contemplating in the body [+ feelings, mind, dhammas] the nature of its arising… its vanishing… both arising and vanishing. Or else mindfulness that ‘there is a body [+feelings, mind, dhammas]’ is simply established in them to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and mindfulness.
Also, from AN 4.41:
And what is the way of developing immersion further that leads to mindfulness and awareness? It’s when a mendicant knows feelings as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know perceptions as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know thoughts as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. This is the way of developing immersion further that leads to mindfulness and awareness.
MN 131 also came to mind, which @michaelh already shared.
Even when a sutta talks of the present moment it is in a context of impermanence, so it is awareness of both present and future condition simultaneously. The first foundation of mindfulness, that of the body (MN 10, DN 22) consists of six exercises, the first three relate to the present and the last three to dissolution of the body. So it can be seen that in the cycle of impermanence there is birth, maturity, ageing and death, and the six exercises on the body are directing awareness to different stages of that context. The meditator needs to practise these to develop skills in both awareness of the present and recollecting impermanence. Knowing that a thing is impermanent is an accurate perception of its reality, and it’s from knowing reality that insight arises.
A further example is mindfulness itself which consists of memory of the dhamma being brought to bear on events in the present, employing right effort to construct a profitable future.
“And what is the faculty of mindfulness? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. He remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.”—SN 48.10
@MitchellStirzaker Also just a reminder if you are not already familiar with this… remember that the other preceeding 6 factors of the Noble 8 fold Path are required to build the foundation upon which successful meditation depends. For meditation to really take off, as in Ajahn Brahms book you cite, one needs to have a degree of non-agitation and a peaceful mind as a base.
All the jhāna practice is attending to present experience. So also is ānāpānasati. One could use mindfulness in other ways, remembering instructions or remembering qualities, but even there, once you remember the quality, you generate it and keep your awareness on the present manifestation of that quality, right?
Also instructions the buddha gave… so far as I remember… about when you’re walking, just walk… things like that? I.e., not to shift your awareness into mental past, i.e. memory; nor mental future, i.e plans or concerns. General mindfulness practice.
Basically the only thing that is not in the present, is thought, or affective memory. If there is discussion of awareness outside of those two categories, then necessarily it will be in the present moment. No?