Question about Mindfulness

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Rick
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Question about Mindfulness

Post by Rick » Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:31 pm

This passage on mindfulness is from a text recommended to me by Greg Kavarnos, What the Buddha Taught, by Dr. Rahula:

"Mindfulness, or awareness, does not mean that you should think and be conscious 'I am doing this' or 'I am doing that'. No. Just the contrary. The moment you think 'I am doing this', you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea 'I am', and consequently your work too is spoilt. You should forget yourself completely, and lose yourself in what you do. The moment a speaker becomes self-conscious and thinks 'I am addressing an audience', his speech is disturbed and his trend of thought broken. But when he forgets himself in his speech, in his subject, then he is at his best, he speaks well and explains things clearly. All great work - artistic, poetic, intellectual or spiritual - is produced at those moments when its creators are lost completely in their actions, when they forget themselves altogether, and are free from self-consciousness."

Is this description of mindfulness correct? Particularly the bolded part on losing yourself in what you do. I thought mindfulness was more: Observe the self in action.

Thanks,

rachMiel
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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Seishin » Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:50 pm

Possibly a bad translation of "Forget the self..."

Gassho,
Seishin

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Rick
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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Rick » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:08 pm

To (perhaps) be a bit clearer about my confusion ...

I thought mindfulness entailed a "watcher" observing "what is" dispassionately. (Eventually that watcher reveals itself to be mind and disappears, etc.)

In Dr. Rahula's description of mindfulness, it sounds like there is no "watcher" ... rather pure doing, losing all sense of self in this doing. Am I misunderstanding?
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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by DGA » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:11 pm

In the Access to Insight translation of the most relevant sutta, the practice is described in terms of discernment.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

that is, one discerns or recognizes or is aware of the fact that he or she is doing something. That's a long breath, that's a short breath, &c. This isn't the same as emphasizing the I in "I SURE AM BREATHIN" or overthinking everything one does.

One wonders also if What the Buddha Taught reflects in some ways the time in which it was produced.

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by DGA » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:13 pm

rachmiel wrote:To (perhaps) be a bit clearer about my confusion ...

I thought mindfulness entailed a "watcher" observing "what is" dispassionately. (Eventually that watcher reveals itself to be mind and disappears, etc.)

In Dr. Rahula's description of mindfulness, it sounds like there is no "watcher" ... rather pure doing, losing all sense of self in this doing. Am I misunderstanding?
I've heard of this "watcher" or "witness" idea in some descriptions of mindfulness (often by yoga instructors who now teach in the "mindfulness" patois) but I don't know where they got it from. I wasn't taught that way. Perhaps someone better informed or more experienced than me can set me right on this...?

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Rick » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:15 pm

Jikan wrote:In the Access to Insight translation of the most relevant sutta, the practice is described in terms of discernment.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

that is, one discerns or recognizes or is aware of the fact that he or she is doing something. That's a long breath, that's a short breath, &c. This isn't the same as emphasizing the I in "I SURE AM BREATHIN" or overthinking everything one does.
It seems to me that this is significantly different than "losing oneself in doing." The former calls for self awareness, the latter for loss of self awareness.

What's a poor would-be mindfulness practitioner to do? :-)
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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by wisdom » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:15 pm

In my opinion, mindfulness is like tying your mind to a leash so that it cannot run too far from you. If you let your dog loose, it will run amok. Instead, the dog has some freedom. This freedom is why he is saying not to try to be aware of every phenomena. Not only would that increase suffering, but its not even the point of mindfulness. The point is to not let your mind run amok, biting people, shitting in the neighbors yard, running into traffic...

How do you increase mindfulness? First you create the intention to do so, generating Bodhicitta, you undertake mindfulness for the benefit of all. Then in meditation you examine your mind, where thoughts come from, as well as how thoughts and feelings cause you to want to think and act in a certain way even though you yourself do not want to act in that way. In meditation and in post meditation you accept whatever arises in your mind, since even if its severely negative its a part of your mind and so a part of you, and you can only increase mindfulness through honesty and acceptance (since a lack of mindfulness is an indication that a person has suppressed a great deal of mental and emotional activity into their unconscious mind, which is an act of rejection). You learn what situations trigger strong mental and emotional reactions. You learn not to be reactionary to whatever happens to you. This doesn't mean you must plan and plot and calculate your every action prior to doing anything as that would again restrict your freedom, increase fixation and make you suffer, it just means that you refrain from knee jerk reactions to whatever happens. If someone bumps into you, you take a moment to examine your mind before shouting at them. Instead you just say "Excuse me". That kind of thing.

Another key point of learning mindfulness is that there doesn't ever have to be a such thing as failure. The goal is just to increase mindfulness, and this naturally means that you are not wholly mindful right now. So, naturally you are still going to act out of line, straying from the path of Dharma now and again, harming other beings or yourself in the process. Mindfulness is as much about accepting these slips as it is about preventing them. Its all about simply being aware, not necessarily of every phenomena, but of the general "gist" of whats happening, how you are feeling, your thought patterns, your desires. It doesn't require you to modify any of them, just to increase your awareness of them, of how they manifest, and of why. Mindfulness in this respect is about learning the process of how you lose self control, and learning how to regain it. When you slip up you just admit it to yourself "I messed up" and then you examine your mind and try to increase your awareness of why. Why did that thing that person said make you so angry that you flew off the handle at them? How can you prevent it in the future? Figuring it out, then without guilt you continue your resolve to be mindful in the future.

Eventually you will find that things that you once reacted immediately to, now you can take a measured approach to. You will find eventually that unconsciousness is not forever inaccessible, that you can become aware of subtle impulses in your mind before they manifest into gross thoughts and actions, and that the mind consists of layers and veils.

In essence, mindfulness is the practice of separating your willpower from your thoughts and feelings. It is taking back your personal power for yourself. Rather than letting your neurosis and unconscious mind dominate your reality, rather than letting your karma spread and proliferate like fire burning in a dry wind, you learn to make choices rather than be subject to reactions based on past karmic imprints.

It is not self consciousness because it doesn't require an imputation of self and other at all. In fact mindfulness is just as applicable for someone resting in non-dual equanimity as it is for someone just starting the path. Until all karma is gone and all phenomena are exhausted, there is always the possibility to slip out of mindfulness.

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Odsal » Tue Aug 06, 2013 5:25 am

What I think the phrase "losing oneself in doing." means, is that while a person is engaged in action he/she is so fully aware of and integrated with ones senses and activity that he/she is the action itself. So, "losing oneself in doing" to me means losing ones dualistic mindset while in action, while doing whatever it is you are doing. Losing ones sense that "I am this person doing this activity, Therefor I hope I don't screw up..." or something.
All those thoughts serve to distract one from the present, complicating life and causing confusion. If you are hammering nail's, but your attention is on observing yourself hammering nail's, then you are more likely to hammer your finger, as a result of doing something other than what you are actually doing. Now if you are fully aware of your senses to the point that you are not even distracted by the sense of "I" then the hammer and nail's and fingers have your full attention. That sounds mindful. That sounds like being fully aware and engaged with the reality at hand.
I do think open, brutally honest self reflection is helpful. Sometimes stopping and reflecting on our actions, the circumstances of our lives and how we view the world is very helpful and necessary. I feel like that is a tool we have.
The more time you set aside to reflect and practice relaxing your mind and body and cultivating love and compassion for sentient beings, the easier it is to relax with life. That time spent with yourself begins to spill over into all aspects of life, your relationships etc..
Think about how easy it is to commit negative acts. It is so easy we don't really have to think about it. We are such masters of negative actions that we can accomplish them without even being aware of it. So likewise, if we make a commitment to continually cultivate wisdom and virtue within ourselves then our behavior will begin to naturally fall in line with those thoughts and aspirations. The more that happens the more we are able to trust ourselves in the world and as a result there is greater sense of freedom. There is less of a need to watch oneself to make sure one is behaving properly or meditating properly.

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:03 am

The practice of 'bare awareness' and 'flow' is very influential nowadays, but it ought to be remembered that there are many passages which recommend a much less 'passive' and more interventionist approach:
When evil unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion arise in a bhikkhu through reflection on an adventitious object, he should, (in order to get rid of that), reflect on a different object which is connected with skill. Then the evil unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like an experienced carpenter or carpenter's apprentice, striking hard at, pushing out, and getting rid of a coarse peg with a fine one, should the bhikkhu in order to get rid of the adventitious object, reflect on a different object which is connected with skill. Then the evil unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation)
Vitakka-Santhana Sutta
"What is right effort? Herein a monk puts forth will, strives, stirs up energy, strengthens his mind, exerts himself to prevent the arising of evil, of unwholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; puts forth will... (as before) to banish the evil, unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen; puts forth will... to develop wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; and puts forth will, strives, stirs up energy, strengthens his mind, exerts himself to maintain, to preserve, increase, to bring them to maturity, development, and to complete the wholesome thoughts that have arisen. This is called right effort.
Saccavibhanga Sutta

(Both from Access to Insight.)

I think you're much less likely to encounter those kinds of passages in most Buddhist meditation classes, from experience.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Martin007 » Tue Aug 06, 2013 9:54 am

rachmiel wrote: I thought mindfulness was more: Observe the self in action.
Yes, an important aspect is we'd call "self-awareness" in modern language.

I'd recommend reading the Satipatthana Sutta if you haven't already done so:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Martin007

Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Martin007 » Tue Aug 06, 2013 9:55 am

jeeprs wrote:
"What is right effort? Herein a monk puts forth will, strives, stirs up energy, strengthens his mind, exerts himself to prevent the arising of evil, of unwholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; puts forth will... (as before) to banish the evil, unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen; puts forth will... to develop wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; and puts forth will, strives, stirs up energy, strengthens his mind, exerts himself to maintain, to preserve, increase, to bring them to maturity, development, and to complete the wholesome thoughts that have arisen. This is called right effort.
Yes, mindfulness works with the other path factors, and it includes acting mindfully as well as being mindful.

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by DGA » Tue Aug 06, 2013 4:33 pm

rachmiel wrote:
Jikan wrote:In the Access to Insight translation of the most relevant sutta, the practice is described in terms of discernment.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

that is, one discerns or recognizes or is aware of the fact that he or she is doing something. That's a long breath, that's a short breath, &c. This isn't the same as emphasizing the I in "I SURE AM BREATHIN" or overthinking everything one does.
It seems to me that this is significantly different than "losing oneself in doing." The former calls for self awareness, the latter for loss of self awareness.

What's a poor would-be mindfulness practitioner to do? :-)
I think you're on the right track in posing these questions. But since you asked...

I would rely on the instructions of a qualified teacher first. Next, I would try to plumb the depths of the sutras/suttas, relying on appropriate translations. I wouldn't worry too much about many-decades-old guidance manuals intended for an audience long since gone.

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Jainarayan » Tue Aug 06, 2013 5:34 pm

rachmiel wrote:"Mindfulness, or awareness, does not mean that you should think and be conscious 'I am doing this' or 'I am doing that'. No. Just the contrary. The moment you think 'I am doing this', you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea 'I am', and consequently your work too is spoilt. You should forget yourself completely, and lose yourself in what you do.
Alan Watts said "Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes." For the non-theists, just replace "God" with any other thought. This is called wu wei in Taoism, "not doing", or paradoxically, wei wu wei, "doing without doing". This is all hard to put into practice for sure.
Worthy, wise and virtuous: Who is energetic and not indolent, in misfortune unshaken,
flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273

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Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by dyanaprajna2011 » Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:46 pm

Mindfulness is one of those things that's hard to describe or define, and, sometimes, even harder to describe how to put into practice. Like other teaching in Buddhism, alot of how it's viewed is going to be dependent on which school/teacher one is trying to reference. Mindfulness is going to be viewed on way by Theravada, another way by Zen, and yet a completely different way by Pure Land or Tien tai/Nichiren.

As far as the descriptions given here so far, I've seen it both ways. I've even seen it described both ways just in Zen.
"If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing." -Dogen

Martin007

Re: Question about Mindfulness

Post by Martin007 » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:03 pm

dyanaprajna2011 wrote: Mindfulness is going to be viewed on way by Theravada, another way by Zen, and yet a completely different way by Pure Land or Tien tai/Nichiren.
Interesting point. Could you give any examples of the differences in approach? I've found that mindfulness in Theravada is more internally focussed than in some traditions.

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