Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sunday Practice - The Mahasatipatthana Sutta - The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness

On Sunday evening, we began once more looking at the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, in the Digha Nikaya. The Digha Nikaya are the longer discourses of the Buddha found in the Pali Buddhist Canon and the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, or The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, is considered by many to be the most important sutra in the entire Pali Canon.

The sutra begins with the Buddha stating there is "this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realization of Nibbana (Nirvana): - the four foundations of mindfulness."

Buddha goes on to describe the four practices. A practitioner "abides contemplating body as body, ardent, clearly aware and mindful, having put aside hankering and fretting for the world" and likewise contemplating feelings as feelings, mind as mind and mind-objects as mind-objects.

What does it mean to contemplate "body as body" or "feelings as feelings"? It is simple, bare, clear awareness of the body just as it is without analyzing, associating or judging and the clear, mindful awareness of the arising and passing away of feelings just as they are.

Buddha goes on to describes each of the mindfulness practices. The practitioner "sits down cross-legged, holding his body erect, having established mindfulness before him. Mindfully, he breathes in, mindfully he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows that he breathes in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, he knows that he breathes out a long breath." Likewise for a short breath. She breathes in "conscious of the whole body" and "breathes out calming the whole bodily process". She "abides contemplating arising phenomena in the body" ... "vanishing phenomena in the body" ... "not clinging to anything in the world."

When I first read this sutra, I had already been a meditator for 30 years but, it was the first time I heard the instruction in the Buddha's own words. There was an immediate connection with the Buddha, like a kind of telepathy that transcends time and space and transmits the teaching very directly. All the years of practice were suddenly grounded not only in the tradition of my teachers, Master Sheng-yen and Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw, but the tradition that the Buddha himself originated. I suddenly had such a reverence for the Buddha as the original teacher of the Dharma, his singular importance in world history, and of the teaching itself. How wonderful it is that the Sangha, the community of monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists have preserved this teaching so well for this generation! It naturally makes one want to do the same for future generations.

There is an unfortunate trend in recent times of students of the Buddhist way that reach a certain level of experience and proclaim themselves to be teachers, not of Buddhadharma, but of their own special brand of enlightened insights. Instead of giving all credit to their teachers, the tradition, the Dharma, they place emphasis on their own experience, insights and abilities and rarely, if ever, mention the Buddha. The teaching is often very close to the Buddha's teaching. They teach about mindfulness, about insight, about meditation, about being in the present but without taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the "Triple Gem" that ensures the perpetuation of the teaching. Some proclaim themselves enlightened beings, avatars, or self-appointed gurus. They develop a kind of cult following that rarely lives beyond their own life here on earth. By contrast, no truly Buddhist teacher I have known has ever proclaimed him or herself to be enlightened. All that I have known give all credit to their teacher and the Triple Gem. In this way, they protect against the delusion of self, even of Universal Self, and ensure the longevity of the Buddha's teaching. If any Buddhist teacher ever proclaims to you that he or she is enlightened, you can be sure that he or she is most certainly not enlightened and not a true Buddhist. Buddhists have no need of such designations or identification. Teachers that use the Buddha's teaching as a springboard for their own personal brand may be able to lead their students to a certain level of insight, but whether it is liberation in the Buddhist sense is highly doubtful and they are doing a great disservice toward preserving the integrity of the Buddhadharma for future generations. Be very heedful of such teachers.

Through the Buddha's discourses, we have available the Buddha himself as our teacher and we need no other, yet we are blessed and show reverence and veneration for his Sangha of monks and nuns that are especially dedicated to living and preserving his teaching.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be reading through the Mahasatipatthana Sutta and learning the path to liberation as the Buddha himself taught it.

After our walking and sitting meditation periods, we discussed how as children we were at times naturally able to be very mindful and simply aware with bare awareness to everything around us. Our assignment this week is to remember such times when we had clear, settled awareness of our environment, perhaps feeling the sunshine on our face, the wind flow around us, the warmth of the sidewalk beneath our bare feet or the coolness of grass between our toes, the sound of a bee buzzing, the perfect shape of a cloud in the sky. As children we could naturally see with clear, direct perception. Our assignment is to consider how it is we lost this ability and how we can regain it. We'll share with each other our insights about this next Sunday evening. Hope to see you then!

With Metta,


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