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The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Part 2

Listen to the following teachings by generating an altruistic state of mind. The main thing that we have been discussing today is the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness, which is the essential practice on the path of accumulation.

Buddha said that the body should be observed within the body, and one should thus gain insight into the reality of this body. Similarly, we should observe our feelings and our mind and dharma in general, and try to attain a new insight. Attainment of this new insight is the attainment of vipashyana meditation. Sentient beings usually fixate on their body or physical existence in terms of being permanent, clean, happy and having a self. Conversely, the yogi or practitioner of meditation will perceive his or her physical existence as impermanent, without self, with a suffering and empty nature. This is why it is essential to train the mind. Training the mind is lojong in Tibetan. Lo means “mind,” while jong means “to train.”

When we are not enlightened, we perceive our physical existence as a lump, single, permanent and with a self. This misconception generates conflicting emotions and discursive thoughts, which evolve into the accumulation of various forms of karma, which again is followed by misery. Thus, in this way we accumulate negative actions.

But as meditators, we try to perceive our physical existence in terms of impermanence, no-self, suffering, and emptiness. With this correct perception, we lessen the misery, eradicate it at the root, and obtain the omniscient state of Buddhahood.

The second mindfulness is that of feeling. Feeling should be understood in terms of experiencing. Based on the experience of feelings, there evolve disputes, arguments, and quarrels. Nevertheless, we need to understand both the relative and the ultimate nature of feelings. The relative nature of feeling is impermanent; the ultimate nature of feeling is emptiness. When one experiences a certain feeling after meditation, one should try to perceive one’s experience as an illusion.

During the meditation session, while one is meditating on the ultimate nature of feeling, which is meditation on the closed mindfulness of feeling, one should try to attain the three cycles of non-conceptuality. This means that there is no subject who feels, there is no object that is being felt, and there is no actual feeling. One should examine whether the feeling exists with regard to the objective reality, or if the feeling exists in the subjective mind, or if the feeling exists somewhere in between. Having analyzed the nature of the feeling through such investigation, one should alternate analytical meditation with concentrative meditation.

Meditation on the four foundations of mindfulness is essential in connection with the path of accumulation. The compassionate Lord Buddha had very sharp faculties and was therefore capable of traversing the whole spectrum of the spiritual path within a single session, beginning with the four foundations of mindfulness. Hence, meditation on the four foundations of mindfulness is very important for beginners on the path.

Then we arrive at the third foundation of mindfulness: the mindfulness of mind. All sentient beings possess a mind, and the mind should be understood in terms of awareness and clarity. Some people claim that the mind is the brain. Certain people think that the mind is located in the heart. As far as Buddhism is concerned, the brain and heart act as a base for the mind. But neither the brain nor the heart is the actual mind. The Buddha explains that the mind forms the basis for the samsaric cyclic existence. But this mind can also produce the state of enlightenment: nirvana. The nature of the mind is awareness and luminosity.

Ordinarily, the mind creates the polarity of the subjective and objective reality, and conceptualizes something as permanent or impermanent. It also conceptualizes itself as separate from others. Clean is separated from dirty, ugly separated from pretty, and pleasant sounds separated from noise. The creator of all these polarities is the mind. Tracing everything back the mind, realizing that the mind is the creator of all these phenomenal experiences and appearances, and realizing the emptiness of this mind will allow us to attain the emptiness of all phenomenal experiences and appearances.

Most people believe that their mind is somewhere within the body, and on the basis on this belief, they build the notion of a self. Now, one needs to use one’s wisdom, and ask if the body is the mind. If the body is the mind, the mind becomes tangible. The body possesses four limbs, so perhaps the mind also possesses four limbs? The hand has five fingers; can the mind also have five parts? If we think along these lines, we will arrive at the certainty that the body is not the mind.

Then one should ask if the body is not the mind; is the mind outside of the body? If the mind were separated from the body we would be capable of perceiving that mind. The Buddha has said that mind cannot be found within the mind. If it did, then where do past thoughts go? If the mind exists, it should be inside or outside of our body, but if we try to locate this place, we would not be able to do so.

Similarly, we can analyze where the mind comes from, where it abides and where it goes. Such an analysis will bring us to the conclusion that the mind has no origin, no abiding and no cessation. Also, the mind has no shape or color. In this manner, if we analyze and investigate the nature of the mind, we arrive at an understanding of its emptiness.

The reason we need to meditate in these ways is because sentient beings have several wrong views. In order to counteract these wrong views, we use different methods of meditation. We gain certainty that the mind is empty and at the same time we transfer our analysis into meditation practice. This establishes the mind in terms of emptiness as well as clarity, or luminosity. This is the inseparability of emptiness and appearance. The mind that realizes this is wise. Such a mind is also the mother of the Buddhas of the three times. By using these terms, buddhas and enlightened beings communicate the meaning of fundamental reality.

When we have arrived at a profound certainty regarding the view, we do not need to perform further analytical meditation; we can do concentrative meditation. If we study and hear this repeatedly, we will attain a deeper understanding. While I give teachings on the mindfulness of mind, your mind tries to grasp their meaning, and when you grasp the meaning, your mind thinks “Okay, certain terms means this or that.” But if you turn within yourself and look at the very mind that is grasping the meaning of these terms and phrases, you will not be able to capture it or locate its existence. This failure is the emptiness of the mind.

The mind is like a mirror. On the surface of a mirror one can see reflections. In the same way, all kinds of emotions can be on the surface of the mind, but one should not be concerned about whether these emotions are positive or negative; it is enough to observe their nature. When discursive thoughts arise, if we leave them just as they are, they will liberate themselves. If we can do this, this is meditation according to Dzogchen, and meditation according to the sutras.

In the same way, the mind should be perceived in terms of impermanence, no-self and emptiness. If we can perceive the mind as impermanent, without self and empty, then suffering cannot enter our mind. But if the four wrong views constantly occupy our mind, then our mind will know no peace and joy. This is why we should practice the closed mindfulness of our mind.

The fourth foundation of mindfulness is the mindfulness of dharma, meaning phenomena rather than the teachings. There are no dharmas other than the five aggregates. All dharmas can be found within the aggregation of the five skandhas. We can further reduce the five skandhas into composite phenomena and non-composite phenomena. When we meditate on impermanence, suffering, emptiness and no-self, with regard to of our psycho-physical aggregates, this is meditation on the dharmas. Sentient beings are capable of seeing others, but not themselves. Therefore it can be easy to see the faults of others instead of one’s own, but in this practice we are not trying to observe the psycho-physical existence of other people; we are trying to observe our own skandhas.

Our five senses are open to the external objective reality, and the objective reality is very easily conceived, but these five sensory organs are not able to perceive themselves. Even this understanding that the sensory organs are extroverted and perceive the faults and shortcomings of others, will bring tremendous benefit. It can give us a sense of respect for others. In the same way there will also arise respect for what others are saying, and because of this, we will be less prideful and arrogant.

When we meditate on the mindfulness of the dharma, we should try to see that our five skandhas go through a constant change. We should also view our five skandhas as having no self, and with a suffering and empty nature. Actually, all foundations of mindfulness are contained within the practice of the mindfulness of the dharmas.

Question: I understand that you can talk about the impermanence of the body and feelings, but how can you speak about the impermanence of the mind when you cannot find the mind?

Some thoughts are positive, and others are negative. Positive and virtuous thoughts can change into very negative thoughts, like hatred, for example. This is the impermanent nature of the mind.

Question: So mind and the thoughts are the same?

There is no separate mind other than the very thought at the moment. It is difficult to talk about thoughts as separate from the mind itself. Is the reflection in the mirror one with the mirror or separate from the mirror? It is difficult to answer. Any other questions?

Question: But the nature of thought is dharmakaya?

If you realize the empty nature of the mind, that is, you understand the empty nature of the thought or the emotion, this will be dharmakaya. A failure to recognize the empty nature of thoughts and emotions of the mind is samsara. While we are experiencing samsara, dharmakaya is already there.

Question: Then there is no samsara and no nirvana, no separation?

All that we have been talking about is made up by the mind. In reality these concepts of dharmakaya, nirmanakaya, samsara do not exist. Mind you, we are now entering into a deeper level of the teaching.

Buddha said there is only one example of mind, and that is space. Usually sentient beings claim to have seen space, but this actually means they have seen nothingness. Seeing space is the same as seeing nothingness, or emptiness. As far as the suchness of space is concerned, you cannot talk about it in terms of good space, bad space, good weather or bad weather. This is the reason that the Buddha kept silent for one week after enlightenment, without giving any teachings, because it is difficult to put into words.

Question: When you establish that mind is impermanent, can you also say that space is impermanent?

There are two different kinds of space, one is called composite space, and the other is called non-composite space. With non-composite space you cannot talk about permanence or impermanence. The composite space is impermanent, because the composite space performs certain functions. Anything that performs a function is impermanent.

For example, some non-Buddhist philosophies and doctrines claim that the creator of the world is God, and the God or the Supreme Self is permanent. This is impossible; they cannot be permanent and perform functions at the same time.

Question: Can you give an example of a composite space?

Composite space can be found within one’s nose, within one’s mouth, within one’s body, as well as outside the body. Composite space facilitates certain activities.

Question: Is the space inside the entire universe composite?

Space in itself is non-composite, but when we talk about composite space, it is created by human beings.

Question: Is it a concept?

Yes, for example, our conceptual mind creates the concept of some spaces being a big and other spaces being small. The architect who built this house, would think about how to do this and make a plan before beginning construction. When it was completed, there was a space, this room. The amount of the space in this room corresponds with the size of this room.

Question: Can a composite space be natural? Like a cave?

Yes, that is also composite space, but made by nature.

Question: Physicists talk about space-time: space connected with time. Is there a similar concept in Buddhism?

Space is something created by our conceptual mind, and our conceptual mind also creates time. In this respect they are equal.

We cannot talk about space being existent or non-existent. The actual nature of space is emptiness. This also holds for all tangible objects like this table, which has come together by many causes and conditions.

To establish the emptiness of phenomenal existence and appearance, the Buddha gave the example of space to illustrate the emptiness of all phenomenal existence. But if sentient beings fixate on the emptiness of the space, this fixation will become their bondage. Now, the Buddha had to give a new example to liberate them from their new obsession, for instance, that phenomenal experiences and appearance are like illusions.

When the scientist says that space and time is one, what kind of reasoning do they come up with?

Respondent: I have heard one example of space-time. Let’s say you have a pair of twins, one is on earth, and the other is traveling in a space ship at the speed of light. When the space ship returns, the twin on earth will be older than the other twin.

The Buddha said this a long time ago. The Buddha said that a single day in one of the God realms lasts five hundred days in the human realm. It looks like scientists have reached the same conclusion that the Buddha did 2500 years ago.

Question: You talked about the suffering nature of body, feelings and mind. But sometimes you say that the true nature of mind is emptiness and luminosity, and now we talk about the suffering nature of mind. Can you explain?

The nature of mind is suffering in nature because if you fail to understand the impermanent, no-self and empty nature of mind, you will experience suffering, whereas if you realize this you will overcome this suffering. It is like an incompetent driver on the highway. This is dangerous and can create misery for everyone. But if he has good driving skills it can be very joyful. Many people are not skillful drivers, so you have to be careful.

Question: Can you give a short summery of the four wrong views?

We could say that fixating on permanence and singleness is the essence of the four wrong views. For example, when we refer to our physical existence, we say “my body.” When we say “I,” a thought of a single person comes to mind. Also, from birth until death we think there is a single I that will never change. Can you grasp my meaning? If you want to practice after this session, will you be able to do so? This is very important.

Question: So we have to go through all the questions?.

Yes, this is analytical meditation

Various experiences might come while you meditate, but you should not ascribe much importance to these, whether these experiences are good or bad. This is important.

When one analyzes the body down to the most subtle particle and realizes that these particles go though constant changes, one realizes the conventional truth. This realization will help one to understand the ultimate truth.

Question: But how can you observe the partless particles? You cannot see it with your eyes.

You cannot see them with your eyes, only with your mind during meditation.

It is questionable even if the Buddha saw the partless particles that are the building blocks of the whole universe. But he definitely saw them through his wisdom eye. This is a good question because when we cannot see something with our own eyes, we think that it does not exist. There is a wide range of phenomena that our physical eyes cannot perceive by.

Oslo, June 2005

Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway