On Establishing the continuity of Mindfulness

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book, “Mindfulness.” These notes are from the first half of the chapter on Bare Knowing and the Continuity of Mindfulness.

Bare Knowledge is to observe objectively without getting lost in associations and reactions.

One of our missions in Buddhism is to establish a continuity of mindfulness. There are two ways to practice to accomplish this.

  1. Through the momentum of moment-to-moment mindfulness
  2. Through the mental faculty of perception.

Strengthening mindfulness through the momentum of moment-to-moment mindfulness

  • Mindfulness can become spontaneous through repeated practice.
  • Through our own experience, we can observe that knowing and its object arise simultaneously

The first stage of insight we call Purification of View. In this stage we begin to see that there is no “knower” or “witness”. Knowing and the object arise simultaneously. Knowing or consciousness is always preceded by the appropriate causes and conditions for that object to arise. This is a liberating factor of merging subject and object. The knowing faculty is not altered by the object. We can simply be aware of the object without holding on to it.

There is a progression in the cultivation of mindfulness

  • Object-concentration, bringing the mind back to a certain object: breath, heart, love, sound, body sensation and so on
  • As mindfulness strengthens we go on to object-less awareness, choiceless awareness, or shinkantaza- just opening to what is arising in this moment.
  • Progressing further, the awareness becomes more panoramic and more general
    • We move from emphasis on the content of the particular experience to noticing
      • Impermanence
      • Unreliability
      • Selflessness

Strengthening mindfulness through the mental factor of perception.

Consciousness or Knowing identifies an object through perception. Perception is the mental quality of recognition. It picks out distinguishing marks and stores it for future reference

Consciousness simply knows the object like a sound, But perception is the underlying process that identifies and records the object:

  • Recognizes the sound
  • Names it bird
  • Remember this concept for the next time
  • It is a pre-verbal recognition that that particular sound is called the sound of a bird.

But we can use perception also in a different way that can leads us towards the liberation we seek. We can begin to use perception to notice the how of our activity rather than the what or contents.

  • We can cut through identifying with our experience by notice the tone of voice of our noting or the mood that you are in.
  • We can investigate our conceptual over-lay by more subtlety being curious about the layers of perception and how we identify objects.
  • We can notice the hindrances to awareness that our present.

Mental noting is a skillful means but not the essence of mindfulness. The essence is to be simply aware. Eventually we have to even let go of the means.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be serious and grim. It can be graceful like Tai-chi or the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It can express what Zen people call effortless effort.