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Lions Roar : September 2016
MINDFULNESS IS THE KEY to the present moment. Without it we simply stay lost in the wanderings of our minds. Tulku Urgyen, the great Dzogchen master of the last century, said, “There is one thing we always need and that is the watchman named mindfulness—the guard who is always on the lookout for when we get carried away by mindlessness.” Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening, without judgment and without inter- ference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us con- nected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives. The Buddha also spoke of mindfulness as being the path to enlightenment: “This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearing of pain and grief, for the attainment of the Way, for the realization of nirvana.” We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. But after just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments, and fantasies. This habit of wan- dering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never hap- pened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again. Slowly, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought—that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds. What, too, is the nature of emotions—those powerful ener- gies that sweep over our bodies and minds like great breaking waves? In a surprising way, mindfulness and the investigation of emotions begin to deepen our understanding of selflessness. We see that the emotions themselves arise out of conditions and pass away as the conditions change, like clouds forming and dissolving in the clear open sky. As the Buddha said to his son, Rahula, “You should consider all phenomena with proper wis- dom: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’ ” On the subtlest level, we learn not to identify with conscious- ness itself, cutting through any sense of this knowing faculty as being “I” or “mine.” As a way of cultivating this radical trans- formation of understanding, I have found it useful to reframe meditation experience in the passive voice; for example, the breath being known, sensations being known, thoughts being known. This language construction takes the “I” out of the picture and opens us to the question “Known by what?” And rather than jumping in with a conceptual response, the ques- tion can lead us to experience directly the unfolding mystery of awareness, moment after moment. It is not a question of whether unwholesome mind states will arise in us. Feelings of hatred, enmity, fear, self-righteous- ness, greed, envy, and jealousy all do arise at different times. Our challenge is to see them all with mindfulness, understand- ing that these states themselves are the cause of suffering and that no action we take based on them will lead to our desired result—peace in ourselves and peace in the world. The method is mindfulness, the expression is compassion, and the essence is wisdom. Wisdom sees the impermanent, ephemeral nature of experience and the basic unreliability of these changing phenomena. Wisdom opens our minds to the experience of selflessness, the great liberating jewel of the Bud- dha’s enlightenment. This understanding, in turn, engenders a compassionate engagement with the world. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a great Tibetan master, taught: “When you recognize the empty nature, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns uncontrived and effortless.” Wisdom reveals that nonclinging is the essential unifying experience of freedom. It is both a practice to cultivate and the nature of the awakened mind itself. ♦ JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN is a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where he is one of the resident guiding teachers. 1. WHAT IS MINDFULNESS? Joseph Goldstein • Sylvia Boorstein • Barry Boyce • Bhante Henepola Gunaratana • Andrew Olendzki Mindfulness and the Path to Enlightenment Instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly, what if you set it on the path to awakening? That, JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN tells us, is what the Buddha said mindfulness is really about. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2016 42