This year I’ve been moving slowly through the Satipatthana Sutta. It’s bringing me much joy and enthusiasm for the practice. This Sutta is one of the foundational teachings from the Buddha. Like most teachings, the Sutta wasn’t written down for hundreds of years after the Buddha lived, but it was passed down orally from generation to generation. Beyond the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, I believe this to be one of the primary teachings because it provides specific instructions for meditation. In fact, the sutta uses the term ekayana, which means “one path” in Pali. This has also been translated as “a most wonderful way to help living beings.”
Thich Nhat Hanh translates this Sutta as the Four “Establishments” of Mindfulness. Others have used Four “Foundations” of Mindfulness. Either way, it teaches us how to meditate. At the very base of the practice. Meditation is to look deeply and see the essence of things. We can begin right now. No need to wait. No need to become a monastic. Yes, the teachings were given to monastics but we can all apply this teaching and discover freedom. Mindfulness means to have awareness. Through our practice of meditation, we can establish mindfulness in ourselves. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, and so the Sutta provides guidance in four areas. Specifically, the body, the feelings, the mind, and the objects of mind.
Now, we could practice this teaching in isolation and simply use it for learning to meditate. We see many examples around us in society where meditation can heal. This is good. But I think we would miss so much more – the spiritual nature of mindfulness practice. The ability to take our suffering and transform it to peace and joy. This is the path. A way out of suffering through using the tools of mediation. Meditation is a tool to help us see our thinking. Another teacher, Rodney Smith, said “Buddhanature (to be a buddha) is present in all of us, but it is often simply obscured by our thinking.” We think and analyze a great deal. The mind is constantly active and, for the most part, we’re comfortable there. It’s far easier to sit and think than it is to bring quiet to the mind. It’s not our natural state in the evolution of our species.
I commute to work about 35-miles each day. It’s a lot of time in the car, and it’s a beautiful drive through a mountain pass and along the ocean. Despite the beauty, I am often challenged by those around me as the mountain road is a two-lane curvy road and the freeway along the ocean is often jammed up with traffic. I can be an impatient driver. This is my practice edge and it can (does) cause me to suffer. My thinking says to me, if only I can get past this car in front of me then I’ll be in a much better place. Happier. More in control. My thinking has obscured my ability to be a buddha.
We all probably have experiences where our thinking blocks us from seeing the beauty and touching the joy of living. Meditation is a tool that I’ve used to help train my mind to come back to the present moment and touch the essence of reality right now. Using this Sutta can help us with that training.
The Sutta is very detailed in how to practice with each of the elements – body, feelings, mind, objects of mind.
Because the sutta is long and has many exercises, I’d like to focus today on a small group of guided meditations that work with the 10th exercise of the Satipatthana Sutta. The purpose here is to bring ease, peace, and joy not just to the body, but also to the heart and mind. To be able to nourish the practice of joy. This practice can be used to end agitation, desire, and hatred.
Sitting down in a comfortable and stable position, we bring our attention to our breathing.
- I am breathing in and making my whole body calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making my whole body calm and at peace.
- I am breathing in and feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.
- I am breathing in and feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy.
- I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace. I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.
Let this practice penetrate your entire body. We envelope our entire being with these feelings. Every part of our body; it’s like slipping into a pool of water. The feeling is everywhere. Throughout.
And then, like with others feelings, we know this too is impermanent and we can let go and see the deeper teachings of Interbeing. But that is for another day.
Questions for Reflection
As you consider this short teaching, can you identify an “edge” in your life where you can practice with seeing your thinking as a barrier to establishing mindfulness – to becoming a buddha? If you went through any of the four example meditations above, what was that experience like? Was it easy? Difficult?