In cultivation, we should abide in mindfulness.
All Good Knowing Advisors! My name is Yifei Zhu. Today I will talk about mindfulness. In Buddhism mindfulness usually carries two meanings: first, mindfulness after enlightenment, which is Samyaksambodhi; and second, mindfulnessbefore enlightenment. I’d like to discuss the second one here. Because of this mindfulness, we have the chance to get enlightened. This mindfulnessalso can be called ‘false enlightenment’. But the ‘true’ and the ‘false’ are not totally separate from each other. We cannot reach true enlightenment without understanding false enlightenment. So, I will discuss what mindfulnessbefore enlightenment is and how we can maintain mindfulnessin our cultivation.
I was led to investigate mindfulness because after I had practiced intensive insight meditation in the Theravada tradition for several days, I reported my experience to a Theravada monk. He told me, “Your awareness lagged behind the event. You should always be in the present moment. If you are disturbed by something else, you may leave the object of mindfulness temporarily, but you should not leave the present moment.” His instructions were different from what I had learned about meditation before. I used to believe that I should never be apart from my object of investigation. I felt confused as I considered this problem after our conversation. Later, while I was sitting, a thought suddenly arose: “Being in the present moment is mindfulness; being away from the present moment is thinking. In cultivation, we should abide in mindfulness.” My confusion disappeared at that time.
After arriving at the City, I read many Sutras and meditated seriously in order to understand mindfulness. My understanding now is: mindfulness is very critical for anyone who truly wants to cultivate. Without mindfulness, our cultivation cannot reach high levels, much less end the cycle of birth and death. Here, I’d like to give a definition of mindfulness: What is mindfulness? It’s the awareness that is clear, continuous, and in the present moment. These are the three conditions for mindfulness. If any one of them is missing, mindfulness loses its meaning. For example, without being in the present moment, mindfulnessbecomes thinking. There is attachment because the consciousness dwells on past events. Without the condition of the clear awareness, mindfulness becomes dull. Without the condition of continuity, mindfulness does not have power. It cannot see the reality of phenomena, and wisdom will not arise. Therefore, the essence of meditation is mindfulness. Only in mindfulness can we have both concentration and wisdom.
In any Buddhist practice, the establishment of mindfulness is the basic skill for giving rise to wisdom from concentration. It does not specifically belong to either Theravada or Mahayana. How can we establish mindfulness in our cultivation? We can learn this from the three characteristics of mindfulness.
First, we should contemplate all the time and be in the present moment, and pay attention to see if we slip away from mindfulness. When we talk loudly, we often slip from mindfulness into thought. It’s better to speak slowly and softly and maintain a certain level of mindfulness at the same time. We should not talk too much. When walking fast, we often slip away from mindfulness. Angry thoughts also make us slip far away from mindfulness.
Second, our cultivation should be continuous. Ideally, we should maintain it all day long. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying are all times to cultivate mindfulness. In this way, we can establish a powerful mindfulness. To establish the skill of mindfulness, the important thing is to do it in everyday life, not only during a Chan session. If you are able to be mindful all the time, being single-minded without confusion, you can say that you have found the right path of cultivation. According to several great Chan Masters, if one can maintain one’s Chan investigation single-mindedly without any false thinking , one will be enlightened soon.
Third, we should maintain good health and energy so that our awareness can stay clear. Cultivating mindfulness consumes more energy than ordinary meditation. Therefore, we need to adjust our sleep and food to avoid drowsiness, which is not good for cultivation. Keeping the middle way is very important. When you feel sleepy, you can cultivate mindfulness while walking or moving. Usually the mindfulness gained from walking is more powerful than that from sitting.
Generally speaking, cultivating mindfulness requires a gentle method. Do not push too hard. Genuine skill comes from applying effort in every second of your daily life.