Mindfulness, the Gateway to Wisdom

Continuing with notes from Joseph Goldstein’s “Mindfulness” book.

We are working with the section on the four qualities of mind: Ardency, Clearly knowing, mindfulness, and concentration.

Mindfulness is much more than what our pop-culture thinks of it, which is simply something about returning to the present moment. The media often says- this was a Zen moment. They refer to a peaceful, quiet moment. I smile. After studying Zen for 40 years, I know it’s more than just that! And it’s often difficult!

Goldstein presents several meanings and functions of mindfulness:

  • Present-moment awareness
  • The practice of Remembering
  • Balancing the Spiritual Faculties
  • Protector of the mind
  • Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Present-moment awareness is the aspect of mindfulness we are most familiar with. We often call it bare noting or non-interfering awareness. It is the opposite of absentmindedness. It is a type of non-judgmental receptivity or listening to what is actually happening.

The Practice of Remembering reminds me of Ram Das’s book title “Be, Hear, Now!” But actually that’s not the book title! It is “Remember, Be, Hear, Now”. That Remember might be the most important word. Do we remember to be mindful? Or are we on automatic most of the time?

What do we remember?

  • The virtues of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
  • Generosity
  • Ethical conduct

Remembering all the qualities of our practice, helps us to become more confident and self-respecting and allows us to really feel the possibility of awakening.

Balancing the Spiritual Faculties

The Five Spiritual Faculties

  • Faith
  • Energy
  • Mindfulness
  • Concentration
  • Wisdom

We enhance our mindfulness when we notice one of these is in excess or deficient. We can get into trouble if these are out of balance. Too much faith and not enough wisdom can create being a fundamentalist and dogmatic. Too much Concentration can cause us to be lost in states of mind. Too much effort causes restlessness. Too little effort causes torpor. Etc.

Protector of the Mind. I have always taught that we need to have huge strong guardians placed at the entrance of our minds. These guardians have great discernment and can decide if a thought is wholesome or unwholesome. These guardians allow the wholesome thoughts in and prevent the unwholesome from taking root.

These guardians also notice when our habituated habits based on our ego’s desire system are at play. This type of mindfulness: sees a habituated habit and can have the strength and determination to interrupt it with a spiritual action.

In Buddha’s discourse on “The Two kinds of Thought”, he divides our thoughts into two kinds:

  1. Sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty
  2. Renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts of non-cruelty

And Buddha says:

“As I abided thus, diligent, ardent and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me. I understood thus:
This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me. This leads to my own affliction, to other’s affliction and the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties and leads away from Nibbana. ….

Whenever a thought of sensual desire arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.”

And he applied these same thoughts to ill will and cruelty.

With wholesome states of mind, mindfulness takes a different form. We don’t need to be quite so actively engaged. In fact, doing so would only lead to disturbance of mind and body. We find a balance between active and receptive, doing and non-doing.

Fabricated and unfabricated mindfulness

Fabricated mindfulness is our concerted effort to stay mindfulness, sometimes called prompted mindfulness. We are using our minds to stay mindful. After a considerable amount of practice, sometimes this mindfulness becomes spontaneous and continues through the strength of its own momentum. This is called effortless mindfulness.  In effortless mindfulness, sometimes the consciousness of the observer stops and there is no reference point for that which is observed.

Unfabricated mindfulness is our innate wakefulness of the mind’s natural state.

Our natural mind is like a mirror that reflects everything without value judgements. It is not something we create or develop, but something we need to recognize and come back to.

When these two types of mindfulness are in harmony, we bear the fruit of great ease. Our practice is simply let go, relax, and surrender into the natural unfolding.

From the Suttas:

The mind within itself is already peaceful.
When the mind is not peaceful it is following sense impressions and following the moods created by the sense impressions.
The untrained mind gets lost and follows these things, forgetting itself….
Our practice is simply to see the Original Mind