Phase One: Acquiring a Basic Understanding
Week 1: The Context and Crucial Role of Mindfulness
How mindfulness fits into Buddhist doctrine, and its central role in Buddhist practice
The emphasis this week is on understanding the underlying principles of mindfulness.The study is of the sutta sections 1-61 and the first four chapters of Living with Awareness.You will be examining the structure of the sutta, its definition of the four Satipaṭṭhānas and the qualities of sati and sampajañña.
Review the opening chapters of Living with Awareness
i.e. ‘Beginning,’ ‘Remembering,’ ‘Goal-setting,’ ‘Breathing’ and ‘Living.’ pp. 3-46 – you’ve already read them once.This time reflect as you read and notice what you understand and what you don’t. Let the meaning inspire your practice. Jot down a few notes to use in the group – key points and questions. (There is a copy of the sutta text from Anālayo’s Satipaṭṭhāna in the Appendix below).
Read Anālayo p.17-18 and get a general idea of the structure of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. (Also see the diagram of the structure of the sutta in the Appendix below).
Understand what the four ‘foundations’ are (p.6)2 and try to identify them in your own experience.
Recognise in experience what the Buddha means by sati and sampajañña (e.g.Living with Awareness pp.6 & 19; Anālayo pp.46-8 for sati, p.39 for sampajañña).
Try to grasp these core ideas and look at how they work in your daily experience.
Get a sense of the quality of mindfulness.
For example it is described by Sangharakshita as, “The defining quality of all Buddhist practice.” and as, “The sum total of the ethical and spiritual qualities that a human being must develop in order to reach... Enlightenment” (p.5). The Buddha states (in Soma Thera’s and other translations), "This is the only way.” But can’t there be other ways?
Read the first six sections of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: the preface, the direct path statement, the definition of how to practice each Satipaṭṭhāna, and the breathing of the body, the postures of the body and the activities of the body.
Study and discuss how you have understood the basics:
• The structure of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.
• The definitions of the four Satipaṭṭhānas of body, feeling, mind and dhammas.
• The qualities of mindfulness as, “Diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desire and discontent in regard to the world.”
• Mindfulness as the link between the Wheel of Life and the Spiral Path.
Meditate – connect with the breath in the body as in section 4 of the sutta:
“And how, monks, does he in regard to the body abide contemplating the body? Here, gone to the forest, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, he sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.”
“Breathing in long, he knows, ‘I breathe in long,’ breathing out long, he knows, ‘I breathe out long.’Breathing in short, he knows, ‘I breathe in short,’ breathing out short, he knows, ‘I breathe out short.’”
This text is identical to that in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (the Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing M.N. 118), in which the Buddha teaches the classic breathing meditation. Over the next few weeks the suggested meditation practice will be based on the first eight of the sixteen Ānāpānasati instructions.
Strengthen the resolve to practise:
Dedicate the next six weeks to bringing the Dharma to life through understanding and practising mindfulness. The suggested focus this week is Śākyamuni Buddha, the teacher of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.