We examine the central activity of satipaṭṭhāna, that of anupassanā, or “tracking” experience over time. We do this by unpacking the sentence, “Here a bhikkhu, surrendering longing and sorrow for the world, lives tracking body as body … feeling as feeling … heart/mind as heart/mind … phenomena as phenomena, ardent, clearly understanding and mindful.”
A fundamental principle of satipaṭṭhāna practice is to take what distracts us, what prevents us from practising, and make it our meditation object. Here we look at using the thought-stream as meditation object. We learn how to attend to the process of thinking rather than get caught up in the contents of our thoughts.
Here we explore the Buddha’s concept of vedanā, or feeling, more thoroughly. We see the intimate link between contact (phassa), the immediacy of experience, and feeling. All experience is already accompanied by feeling; or, we can say that we are already moved by this experience. We are moved toward holding by pleasant feeling (sukha vedanā), toward rejection by painful feeling (dukkha vedanā), or toward delusion by neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling (a-dukkha-(m)a-sukha vedanā). Feeling presents us with a world that we have already assessed as requiring response, and have already responded to.
We look at the section in Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta where the Buddha speaks of mindfulness of breathing (ānāpāna-sati). We look at the development of the practice from natural awareness to mindfulness to understanding to training to sensing to calming, and we see how the nature of breathing itself transforms as our relationship to it develops.
This morning we experiment in using breathing as a meditation object. How do we know we are breathing? We find movement in the body, air element (vayo dhātu). We practise precision in our mindfulness of breathing by tracking its location, its length, its shape or form, its clarity, its beginnings and ends. This opens up issues regarding both the nature of breathing and our relationship to breathing.
We introduce satipaṭṭhāna, the way of mindfulness. More than just a meditation technique, satipaṭṭhāna represents a way of practice that is a “one-way street” (ekāyana magga) leading direct to nibbāna. We examine the meaning of nibbāna, looking at it both cognitively and affectively. And we discuss the relationship between the practice of tracking experience over time, and nibbāna itself.
We begin by discussing our relationship to body, how we find ourselves alienated from the experience of body because of our habit of experiencing body from the outside, as it were. We experience our body through our mental images of our body; how we imagine it looks from the outside, rather than how it actually feels from the inside. Then we experiment with the four mahābhūta, or “great appearances,” earth element (pathavī dhātu), air element (vayo dhātu), fire element (tejo dhātu) and water element (āpo dhātu). These represent the elemental qualities of the body, as sensed from inside the body rather than imagined from beyond the body.
We introduce the concept of “mindfulness,” which is the standard translation of the Pāli word sati. Sati literally means “memory,” and mindfulness refers to the act of remembering the present. We find the same meaning in railway station signs that exhort us to “Mind the gap,” to remember to be aware, now. The practice of mindfulness is associated with the felt continuity of awareness, and this is what we are aiming for in our practice.
This morning we examine the nature of meditation itself, seeing it in terms of awareness, attention and method. We explore the nature of awareness, and how attention structures the field of awareness. From there, we look at issues in developing a meditation method.