A Few Observations on Meditation and Attentiveness (Mindfulness)
By Geoffrey Pullen
There are two steps on the Noble Eightfold Path which are often profoundly misunderstood, and Phiroz has made a great contribution to my understanding of them. I propose to talk mainly of Sammā Sati or ‘Right Attentiveness’, although firstly I will speak of Sammā Samādhi or ‘Right Concentration’. The final step of Sammā Prājña or ‘Right Understanding’ is the natural outcome of practising the earlier steps.
Sammā Samādhi is also translated as ‘Right Meditation’, and this has led to much confusion as in the West the word to meditate also means to think about or to give thought to something.
Phiroz explains that it is the thought process that blocks our access to Samādhi. He uses the word ‘communion’ in the sense that unconsciously we are in communion with everything around us, but it is our thoughts, perceptions and feelings that block the light and are clouds in the sky. In this sense meditation is seen as the way towards communion. By being in the present moment and by activating the previous step of the Eightfold Noble Path, ‘Right Attentiveness’, we can remove the blockage and the many disturbances in our thinking.
Phiroz states in his last Cenacle talk:
Meditation is that which is the fruition, the culminating point, of what we begin as a technique of thought or a ritual of feeling and states of mind, all of which are partial and temporary expressions, which are only the shadows of the reality which is the state of Meditation, communion, total communion.
How can we purify our minds and transform our present reality into that which Phiroz is speaking about? All our thinking is rooted in grasping, delusion, fear and aversion. This is where the sixth step of Sammā Sati or ‘Right Attentiveness’ is so important. In fact it leads to the development of the seventh and eighth steps.
I have translated it as ‘Right Attentiveness’, but rather ‘Right Mindfulness’ would be a better translation as mindfulness and mindfulness techniques are very much in fashion at the present moment.
In his Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Buddha shows us how to transform our fear, despair, anger and craving by following our breath with constant attentiveness.
The key element is to stay in the present moment and not to get carried away by thought, neither of the future nor of the past, neither of oneself nor of others. This allows the mind to expand and to link up with the energy of transcendence. A natural result of this is that compassion and loving feelings develop spontaneously.
In order to move forward we need the energy of mindfulness, but unless we practise a lot it is difficult to maintain for even an hour. I have found it good to meditate in a group because then the group energy can nourish our own mindfulness.
Also to meditate among monks or nuns is also good because their energy is stronger and purer. Finally, to find a setting in nature or in a holy place is very conducive for practice.
I hope these few words have helped towards an understanding of two very important Buddhist practices.