Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Awakening

Satipatthana

The Direct Path to Awakening

Datura FlowerSome important aspects of satipatthana are as follows:

Practice as Process

The constituent factors in this process of practice are two-fold: the active (that which focuses attention, observes, concentrates, and contemplates) and the passive (that which is focused on, observed, concentrated on, and contemplated).

The passive constituents are ordinary, mundane things common to all of us: the body and its movements, thoughts and feelings, and so on, which are observed as they occur, that is, in the present moment.

The active constituents of focusing, concentrating, observing, and contemplating form the basic agents of satipatthana and are functions of:

(1) Mindfulness (sati) – grasps the object of contemplation. Sati should pay attention to the action being performed or to the state that is presently occurring to the extent that there is no room to think of oneself or an “actor”.

(2) Clear comprehension (sampajanna) – is the wisdom-faculty that realizes the nature and conditions of the thing being contemplated, determining what it is and what its purpose is. For example, when contemplating physical movement, such as walking, know why you are walking and where you are going. Understand things and actions for what they are, without coating them with personal feelings and impressions.

The conditions that are being observed should be noted according to their true nature at that moment; that is, merely watch, see, and understand what is what, what is happening, and what is the outcome. This does not involve reacting, criticizing, or judging what is happening as good or bad, right or wrong; you do not involve your own feelings, biases, and attachments concluding that the object of contemplation is agreeable or disagreeable, pleasant or unpleasant.

You see things for what they are without embellishing them with notions such as “mine”, “his/her”, “me”, “him/her”, “Mr. A.”, “Ms. B.”, and so on.

For example, when contemplating the feelings in your mind, at a given moment you may experience dukkha; there is anxiety; and you know that dukkha has arisen. You can also know the way in which this dukkha has come about and the way in which it is passing away.

This kind of contemplation can be fun – studying and examining your own dukkha can actually be enjoyable! When it is purely dukkha that is presently arising and passing away, it is no longer “my dukkha” or “I am experiencing dukkha”, and so that dukkha loses its power over the person who is able to contemplate it.

Whatever form of good or bad appears, it is met face to face, without avoidance. It is viewed as it is, from the moment of its occurrence until it meets its own end, and then attention shifts to something else. It can be compared to a doctor performing an autopsy or that of a scientist observing the subject of his experiment. It is not like a judge listening to the evidence of the prosecutor and defendant in a trial. It is objective rather than subjective observation.

The Fruits of Practice

Purity: When mindfulness is fixed exclusively on a determined object and clear comprehension sees that thing as it is, then the stream of consciousness and thought will be naturally maintained in its purity. There is no opening for unwholesome tendencies to pass through. When examining and analyzing phenomena simply as they are, without involving emotions and conceptualizations based on subjective prejudices and preferences, there will be no clinging. This is the method for eradicating existing intoxicants (asava) and protecting the mind from the interference of those that have yet to arise.

Freedom: When this pure state of mind has been attained, freedom comes with it. This freedom is attained by being unperturbed by the various sense-impressions that impinge upon it, by utilizing impressions as material for objective study. When sense-data are not interpreted according to the dictates of mental intoxicants, then impressions exert no subjective influence over the person who experiences them. That person’s behavior is liberated from the unwholesome tendencies that act as unconscious drives or motivations. This is what is meant by living “independently, not clinging to anything in this world.”

Wisdom: The absence of distortion or diversion by emotions, biases, and prejudices ensures the perception of things as they actually exist, the awareness of the true nature of things.

Liberation from dukkha: When the mind is in an awakened state, it understands things as they are and is able to maintain this focus. Positive and negative notions based on impure reasoning do not occur. Feelings of greed, grief, and anxiety do not arise. This is a state of mind that has gone beyond dukkha. The mind is unburdened and relaxed, existing in accordance with its true nature.

Concluding Thoughts . . . 

We can note that at first, human beings are ignorant of the fact that the self to which they cling does not really exist. Human life consists of a current of numerous intricate corporeal and mental phenomena that exist in accordance with interdependent causes and conditions.

When people are unaware of this truth, they cling to the feelings, thoughts, desires, habits, views, beliefs, opinions, and impressions that arise at each moment and take this to be the self, even though this so-called self is continually changing. These people feel that,”“I was that, now I am this; I felt that way, now I feel this way”, and so on.

People delude themselves by thinking that “I am this way or that”, in perceiving an “I” as a subject who is aware of certain things or is subject to certain conditions. This deluded condition of the mind is the beginning of misguided thought. It follows that a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are subject to the powers of this self-clinging.

In the practice of satipatthana, every kind of material and mental phenomenon within the flow of the mental current is seen to be arising and passing away in accordance with its nature. When a person is able to perceive the various interconnected elements of this process, understand their make-up and their temporal sequence, and perceive the continuity of change – the processual nature of our existence – then phenomena lose their power to entice and there is no interest in clinging to a notion of self.

If this insight is deep and clear, then liberation is attained. This freedom allows the mind a whole new way of being. It is an unburdened course, free and unimpeded by prejudices and the internal knots of attachment.

Attainment of this freedom constitutes the birth of a new personality. To put it another way, it is a state of perfect mental health, comparable to a body in perfect health when, in the absence of any disturbing illness, all of its organs function smoothly, to full capacity with complete efficiency.

In this sense, the practice of satipatthana is viewed as a method of cleansing the mind of all mental illnesses, eliminating all knots and impediments to its smooth functioning. Satipatthana creates an expansive mind, one ready to move forward in life, to face up to and deal with everything in the world with determination and joy.

Source: Phra Prayudh, Buddhadhamma: Natural Laws and Values for Life, trans. Grant A. Olson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 266-269.