Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Do you remember the movie, “Being There”?

It’s about a gardener, named Chance, who is totally illiterate. He can’t read, he can’t write, he can’t even discuss anything unless it relates to horticulture.

He likes to watch television.

Chance is so basic that everyone takes him to be very wise. When he pronounces something such as, “If the roots are cut back in the fall, the flowers will bloom in the spring,” everyone interprets his words as profound metaphors. Chance is thought of as being so astute he is considered as a nominee for president of the United States.

I try not to speak in metaphors. In Zen it’s difficult enough to be understood using simple language. So this evening, instead of talking about being there, I want to discuss being here.

In Zen, being here concerns mindfulness, and mindfulness is the essence of Zen.

In Buddhist literature there is a text known as the Satipatthana, or, to give its full name, The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. This text is claimed to be the record of an original talk the Buddha gave, but more likely it’s something that was cobbled together by scholars long after his death.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the Satipatthana.

There is one way to the purification of beings, for overcoming sorrow and distress, for banishing pain and sadness, for gaining the right path, for realizing Nirvana. That way is the four foundations of mindfulness.

1. Contemplating body as body.

2. Contemplating feelings as feelings.

3. Contemplating mind as mind.

4. Contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects.

How does a monk abide contemplating the body as body, feelings as feelings, mind as mind, mind-objects as mind-objects? He sits down, keeps his body erect, and establishes mindfulness before him.

According to legend, the Buddha said that whoever practiced these foundations for seven years would gain freedom. Then he said that anyone who practiced them for seven months would be free. Then he said that anyone who practiced them for seven days would be free.

The last part of the Satipatthana says that to realize mindfulness, one establishes mindfulness. Isn’t that like describing a cloud as a cloud? Isn’t it like answering a question with the same question?

Perhaps. But remember, once you know what the question is, you’ll know what the answer means.

When you truly observe your body you are conscious of breathing in and breathing out. You know you are sitting, or you are standing, or you are walking. You know you are eating or you are drinking. You are aware of your body, but that awareness doesn’t cause you to direct your body’s actions.

Someone once said of a Zen master, “He walks as if he weren’t walking.”

When you contemplate feelings as feelings, you are conscious of being happy, or sad, or upset, or detached. If you feel uncomfortable because you hit your finger with a hammer, you are aware of the pain. But you don’t let the pain take over your life.

You see pain for what it is.

There are feelings that may be of you, but they are not you.

When you contemplate mind as mind you’re aware of what your mind is doing. It can be doing something or nothing. If you are thinking, you don’t dwell on whether you like or don’t like those thoughts. If you think about thinking, or about non-thinking, instead of simply being aware of either, you will create thoughts that get in the way of awareness.

If I tell you to not think of a green elephant, you will inevitably think of a green elephant.

The trick is to neither think nor not think.

I could tell you to think about that, but I won’t.

As for being aware of mind-objects as mind-objects, this has to do with not separating what Krishnamurti refers to as the observer and the observed.

When you make a snap judgment about something or someone, you invent a mind-object. That is, you establish a preconceived preference. For example, you unconsciously say to yourself, “That woman’s red dress is hideous,” or “I like that guy’s shoes.”

There is you, and there is the “thing,” the mind-object. They become separate entities. After a time there is you, plus a huge collection of your likes and dislikes.

Think of it. Your prejudices are not you, they are mind-objects.

Unfortunately, you can’t cleanse yourself of likes and dislikes. They reach way back into your culture, your inherited characteristics, your life training. What you can do is become aware of mind-objects and see them for what they really are.

To wind this up, let’s go back to the four foundations of mindfulness,

1. Contemplating body as body.

2. Contemplating feelings as feelings.

3. Contemplating mind as mind.

4. Contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects.

This business of contemplating—that is, being completely aware and mindful—does not occur only when you meditate. Direct seeing goes on continuously in your everyday life.

That is being here.


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