The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

of

Ven. U Silananda

The book “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” came into being in 1990 as a result of answers to devotees about meditation by Venerable U Silananda, a well-known scholar yogi in Burma.According to Dr. Larry Rosenber, the book is very clear, thorough, and systematic.It helps the beginners easily pratice Vipassana meditation in order to reach a peaceful mind in such a turmoil of present society, and later on, to walk on the path to salvation.

The book is divided into three main parts:

·Part I :

1.Commentary

2.Introduction

3.Contemplation of the body in the body

4.Contemplation of feelings

5.Contemplation of consciousness

6.Contemplation of the Dhammas

7.Assurance of attainment

·Part II:

The Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness

·Part III:

Meditation Instructions

Ven. U Silananda focusses mainly on meditation and its practical methods to reach Enlightenment and Peace in mind.

Meditation is the psychological approach to mental culture, training and purification.According to Ven. Sri Dhammananda in “What Buddhists Believe,” no one can attain Nirvana or salvation without developing the mind through meditation.Most of the troubles which we are confronting today are due to the untrained and uncultured mind.Meditation is the remedy for many physical and mental sicknesses such as: stomatch ulcers, nervous complaints, depression, gastritis, mental disorders . . . therefore Buddhist meditation has no other purpose than to bring the mind back into the present, into the state of fully awakened consciousness, by clearing it from all obstacles that have been created by habit or tradition.

The first foundation of Mindfulness is “Contemplation of the body in the body.” In this foundation, the Buddha taught 14 different topics to help the practitioners to meditate on the body through breathing observing, postures of the body, sevenfold skills of learning, or nine cemetery contemplations, etc.

In this part, I really focus on “Mindfulness of Breathing,” the method which I have praticed to meditate.Here, the object of meditation will be the breath.Breathing in a long breath, he knows, “He is breathing in long,” breathing out a long breath, he knows, “He is breathing out long.”Breathing in a short breath, he knows, “He is breathing in a short breath,” breathing out a shorth breath, he knows, “He is breathing a short breath.” Practicing this method of breathing meditation, the concentration and knowledge or understanding of the practitioner are said to be deep and thorough only when he can perceive the beginning, the middle, and the end of each breath clearly.

As Ven. Silananda noted: “Breathing meditation can be practiced as Samatha or Vipassana meditation.Samatha meditation means tranquillity meditation which leads to gaining good concentration or jhana, Vipassana meditation leads to eradication of the mental defilements.
If you practice Samatha meditation, you keep your mind on your breath and count each breath neither below five nor past ten.If you practice Vipassana meditation, you do not count the breaths.You just keep your mindfulness on the breath and pratice according to the 4 stages – breathing long, breathing short, comprehending clearly the entire body, and calming the gross breath. You may not see signs or visions in Vipassana mediattion.If you see them, you just stay aware of them as “seeing, seeing . . .” and so on. After some time, you’ll see mind and body clearly, and you’ll progress more and more until you reach the stage of realization.

About body’s postures in meditation, the beginner can sit cross-legged which is called “the full lotus position,” or he can sit in half lotus position which means he put one leg on top of the other but his legs are not interwined.The third position is the “easy position,” which is mostly applied in Burma.The meditator can sit with one leg in front of and not on the other.To some monks or nuns, sitting meditation in any of those three positions makes them easy to control their body in the beginning of meditation session.They think that sitting cross-legged and keeping the upper body erect is a very suitable position to make the mind can unified in meditation and can attend to the growth of mindfulness; however I do not think so strictly like that.To me, the most important aim of meditation is how to control your mind and make it free from all attachments.You can perform in any position which makes you feel comfortable – good physical condition – good concentration – therefore, I follow the meditation’s method of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh: sitting meditation, walking meditation, standing or lying down meditation.The Westerner pratitioners have got lots of success with walking meditation and especially, in the turmoil of Western society, walking meditation has really proved its practical way to help people relax and overcome all psychological problems.Nowadays, may be thousands of Westerners around the world have followed the new method of meditation of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Now, we pass to the section of “Contemplation of Feelings.”

Feelings here must be understood to be mental and man has many kinds of feelings – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.The main key of this contemplation is “Experience, Knowing,” as the Buddha said: “Herein, Bhikkhus, when experiencing a pleasant feeling, the bhikkhu knows, “I experience a pleasant feeling;” when experiencing a painful feeling, he knows, “I experience a painful feeling.” The practitioner has to observe what feeling rises inside them and experience it with full awakening, full alertness.In this level, consciousness of mind is very important and useful for believers in order not to fall into confusion of meditating state.

A Vipassana’s meditator has to notice the nature of impermanence in every single feeling.When he is feeling good, he knows he is feeling good or when he is feeling bad, he knows he is feeling bad – that is not Vipassana meditation.He has to realize that there are different stages of feelings and different moments of feelings, and no one is permanent, no one does last long, forever.Everything is changing, everything is impermanent, continuously transforms.For example, in par. 2, p. 82, Ven. Silananda has expressed the impermanent nature of all dharmas, and when you can see through the real nature of the impermanence of things, you are enlightened. The veil of illusion has revealed: “You also know that this feeling does not last.When you have a painful feeling and you keep noting this feeling as being “pain, pain, pain,” it may take ten or fifteen minutes until you come to see that this pain is not constant.It is not one solid pain.There are different stages of pain and different moments of pain.One pain comes and goes then the next pain comes and goes.You see pain is not one continuous thing.When you can see through the continuity, you come to see the impermanence of things, because the illusion of continuity cannot cover or hide reality.When you think of continuity, you think of things being permanent as lasting for a long time.When continuity is removed, you come to see the rising and fading away, the appearing and disappearing of things.”

The third section is “Contemplation of Consciousness.”

The Buddha taught “Consciousness is a part of the mind,” and “Knowing or Understanding” is the function of consciousness.For example, when we say, “I understand” or “I see” and we have an experience of feeling about something, the experience is captivated by consciousness.When the eye consciousness sees a physical form, we say, “I see the physical form,” and when the mind consciousness experiences happiness or pain, we say, “I am happy,” or “I am in pain.”Thus, when we say, “I experience,” “I see,” or “I hear,” and so forth, it is consciousness that acts as the agent.That which possesses the function of knowing is consciousness.

Let us discuss the form of meditation with regard to our minds.You should be fully aware of the fact whenever your mind is passionate or detached, whenever it is overpowered by hatred, ill-will, jealousy, or is full of love, compassion, whenever it is deluded or has a clear and right understanding, and so on and so forth.Here is no attitude of criticizing or judging, or discriminating between right and wrong, or good and bad.It is simply observing, watching, examining.You are not a judge, but a scientist.When you observe your mind, and see its true nature clearly, you become dispassionate with regard to its emotions, sentiments, and states. Thus you become detached and free, so that you may see things as they are.

When you observe consciousness in this way, you’ll come to see that there is consciousness only and no person or being that is its agent.From that point of view, you’ll notice every single thing rises and fades away in every moment, nothing is permanent and has its subject – since then, you will not cling or attach to anything because you “know and understand” correctly and exactly the impermanent nature of things.Whenever craving, attachment, greed, delusion or any mental factors cannot influence and control your mind, you’ll be free from suffering.

That is the Contemplation of Consciousness.

The last one of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is the “Contemplation of The Dhammas.” 

It is difficult to find an exact English word to translate the Pali word “Dhamma.”We can understand that “Dhammas” are mental factors, mental objects . . . but it is not correctly like that.So, it is better to leave “Dhammas” untranslated, and we try to define it as much as we can.

This section discusses the “five hindrances,” the “five objects of clinging,” the “six internal and the six external sense-bases,” the “ seven factors of enlightenment,” and the “Four Noble Truths.”

The Five Hindrances are:

1.lustful desires (kamacchanda),

2.ill-will, hatred or anger (vyapada),

3.torpor and languor (thina-middha),

4.restlessness and worry (uddacca –kukkucca),

5.sceptical doubts (vicikiccha).

These five are considered as hindrances to any kind of clear understanding, as a matter of fact, to any kind of progress.When one is over-powered by them and when one does not know how to get rid of them, then one cannot understand right and wrong, or good and bad.

The six internal and six external sense-bases:

The eyes are called a sense-base because, depending on the eyes, eye-consciousness arises.The same is true for ears (hearing), for smells, for tactile objects, flavors, and the dhammas.The Buddha said: “Herein, Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu knows the eye, knows the visible forms and knows the fetter that arises dependent on both.” 

When we see them clearly, we are said to practice the contemplation on the 12 sense-bases.

The seven factors of Enlightenment:

1.Mindfulness

2.Investigation

3.Energy

4.Joy

5.Tranquillity

6.Concentration and

7.Equanimity.

The Four Noble Truths:

·Dukkha

·Origin of Dukkha

·Cessation of Dukkha and

·Path leads to cessation of Dukkha

 Assurance of Attainment

When you practice these Four Foundations of Mindfulness for seven years, you can expect one of two results – arahathood or the third stage of sainthood.In fact, meditators who practice this meditation for seven years can reach all four stages of sainthood and become Noble Persons who have realized Nirvana and who have gained enlightenment.No doubt at all. (Silananda, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, p. 166)

Part II: The Great Discourses On The Foundations of Mindfulness:

This part consists of the Buddha’s teachings to bhikkhus how to meditate on the foundations of mindfulness, and Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, memorized and later on passed it to others to write those passages down.

Part III: Meditation Instructions:

Here, Ven. Silananda teaches some important meditation instructions to practitioners.

First of all, you have to choose a quiet and secluded place to be able to meditate long hour.Then, you select which body’s posture is the most comfortable position for you to meditate: cross-legged, half lotus or Burmese position, etc.After you are able to be tranquil to meditate, you focus firstly on Forgiveness, then Loving Kindness, and lastly on Vipassana meditation as explained above. But I feel uneasy about these four last paragraphs of this section:
When you change from sitting to standing . . . keep your mind “getting up, getting up, getting up . . .” when you walk, keep your mind on the foot and be mindful of the lifting, “lifting, lifting, lifting,” “putting, putting, putting,” “stopping, stopping, stopping . . .”

I understand that is the concrete observation of mindfulness, but it is somehow like a robbot, not normal and unnatural way of walking.

Try yourself to walk while meditating like that, it is a little bit ridiculous and awkward.To me, walking or sitting naturally, normally, and comfortably in meditation, always be alert and full concentrate in your breath is the best way to live in joyful harmony and mindfulness.

The book concludes with Ven. Silananda’s sharing merit for all living beings’ happiness and freedom from Samsara.

May the Buddha bless all living beings from suffering.

Summarized by TN Minh Tam