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Thursday, 3 November 2011



This article is about mindfulness in Buddhism. For information on the use of mindfulness in Western psychology, see Mindfulness (psychology).

(Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti; also translated as awareness) is a spiritual faculty (indriya) that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. "Correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path.

Enlightenment (bodhi) is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion (Pali: moha) have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment) is an antidote to delusion and is considered as such a 'power' (Pali: bala). This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place.

The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness (satipatthana) in one's day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one's bodily functions, sensations (feelings), objects of consciousness (thoughts and perceptions), and consciousness itself. The practice of mindfulness supports analysis resulting in the arising of wisdom (Pali: paññā, Sanskrit: prajñā).[1] A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with liberating discernment.[2]

The Satipatthana Sutta (Sanskrit: Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra) is an early text dealing with mindfulness.

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction.[3] See also Mindfulness (psychology).


The Buddhist term translated into English as "mindfulness" originates in the Pali term sati and in its Sanskrit counterpart smṛti. Translators rendered the Sanskrit word as trenpa in Tibetan (wylie: dran pa) and as nian 念 in Chinese.

The Pali-language scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids (1881) first translated sati as English mindfulness in sammā-sati "Right Mindfulness; the active, watchful mind".[4] Noting that Daniel John Gogerly (1845) initially rendered sammā-sati as "Correct meditation",[5] Davids explained, "sati is literally 'memory' but is used with reference to the constantly repeated phrase 'mindful and thoughtful' (sato sampagâno); and means that activity of mind and constant presence of mind which is one of the duties most frequently inculcated on the good Buddhist."[6]

When practicing mindfulness, for instance by watching the breath, one must remember to maintain attention on the chosen object of awareness, "faithfully returning back to refocus on that object whenever the mind wanders away from it."[7] Thus, mindfulness means not only, "moment to moment awareness of present events," but also, "remembering to be aware of something or to do something at a designated time in the future".[7] In fact, "the primary connotation of this Sanskrit term [smrti] (and its corresponding Pali term sati) is recollection".[7]

The English term mindfulness has been in use for centuries, long predating its use in the Buddhist context. The OED defines it as "The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard", with obsolete meanings of "memory" and "intention, purpose". This word was first recorded as myndfulness in 1530 (Palsgrave translates French pensee) , as mindfulnesse in 1561, and mindfulness in 1817. Morphologically earlier terms include mindful (first recorded in 1340), mindfully (1382), and the obsolete mindiness (ca. 1200).[8]

John D. Dunne, an associate professor at the University of Emory whose current research focuses especially on the concept of "mindfulness" in both theoretical and practical contexts, asserts that the translation of sati and smṛti as mindfulness is confusing and that a number of Buddhist scholars are trying to establish "retention" as the preferred alternative.[9]
[edit] Sanskrit

Ten forms of mindfulness

In the Āgamas of early Buddhism, there are ten forms of mindfulness. According to the Ekottara Āgama, these ten are:[17]

    Mindfulness of the Buddha
    Mindfulness of the Dharma
    Mindfulness of the Saṃgha
    Mindfulness of giving
    Mindfulness of the heavens
    Mindfulness of stopping and resting
    Mindfulness of discipline
    Mindfulness of breathing
    Mindfulness of the body
    Mindfulness of death

According to Nan Huaijin, the Ekottara Āgama emphasizes mindfulness of breathing more than any of the other methods, and teaches the most specifically on teaching this one form of mindfulness.[18]

Continuous mindfulness practice

In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than taking three successive breaths while remembering they are a conscious experience of body activity within mind.[19] This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.
[edit] Zen criticism

Some Zen teachers emphasize the potential dangers of misunderstanding "mindfulness".

Gudo Wafu Nishijima criticizes the use of the term of mindfulness and idealistic interpretations of the practice from the Zen standpoint:

    However recently many so-called Buddhist teachers insist the importance of 'mindfulness.' But such a kind of attitudes might be insistence that Buddhism might be a kind of idealistic philosophy. Therefore actually speaking I am much afraid that Buddhism is misunderstood as if it was a kind of idealistic philosophy. However we should never forget that Buddhism is not an idealistic philosophy, and so if someone in Buddhism reveres mindfulness, we should clearly recognize that he or she can never be a Buddhist at all.[20]

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

    We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like "I should be mindful of this or that". If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I - am - mindful - of - ...."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: "When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma"). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.[21]


Main article: Mindfulness (psychology)

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular.[22][23]

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