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Chapter 2: Four Foundations of Mindfulness

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The Four Foundations in MIDL


CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk

In the previous section on MIDL we discussed the Three MIDL Pillars that provide the tools for practicing Mindfulness meditation within our daily life. These Three Pillars are:

1. Flexible Attention training
2. Softening Into training
3. Allowing Stillness training

To cultivate and develop these Three Pillars of MIDL we need to apply them towards specific areas of our experience during meditation. These areas are known as the Four Satipatthanas which were first mentioned by the Buddha in his discourse called the Satipatthana Sutta. These Satipatthanas create the framework for what is more commonly known today as Mindfulness meditation.

To understand the Four Satipatthanas and how they fit into MIDL practice lets first understand what the words Satipatthana Sutta mean. A Sutta is a discourse or a talk, Sati is Mindfulness and Patthana is foundation or domain. So a Satipatthana is a foundation on which we cultivate Mindfulness on or a domain / area in which we apply Mindfulness towards to develop understanding about ourselves.


The Satipatthana Sutta

In the Satipattahana Sutta the Buddha suggests four areas of human experience that we should turn our attention towards to develop our Mindfulness meditation practice with the purpose of fulfilling the Noble Eightfold path. These areas were clearly defined by the Buddha as:

1st Foundation: Kaya – Bodily Sensations
2nd Foundation: Vedena – Feeling Tone
3rd Foundation: Citta – Mind
4th Foundation: Dhamma – Conditional Processes.

When beginning our Mindfulness meditation training, we intentionally cultivate the first Two MIDL Pillars on these Four Foundations to cultivate Investigation, Mindfulness and Momentary Concentration supported by the MIDL Softening Into skill.

This is initially done by grounding our awareness within the sensate quality of our body and observing our attention move towards distractions. Once the first Two Pillars have been developed we then turn them towards investigating the Four Foundations to develop Wisdom.

Read the Satipatthana Sutta


First Foundation: Bodily Sensations

Let’s look at the first Foundation of Mindfulness – Kaya. The Pali word Kaya is most commonly translated as Body, but what it means to us as meditators is how we experience our body. How do you experience your body?

As sensations.

So a more accurate translation of Kaya is Bodily Sensations or the experience of our body. So literally learning to immerse our awareness within our body, ground our awareness within our body; become sensitive to all the various sensations within our body.

During meditation these sensations appear to us as a range of: Softness - hardness, Coolness - warmth, Wetness to dryness, tension, vibration, Expansion to contraction – etc. This is how we experience our body and breathing during meditation, as these different elemental qualities.

This sensate quality of Kaya also includes the contact of the world with our other four senses: Eyes, ears, nose and tongue. So Kaya covers the contact with all five of our senses and is the sensate quality that arises when the world ‘touches’ us with: Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.

The Fifth Sense of our body also has a special quality over the other Four Senses and that is that it also responds to the touch of our mind. I will be talking about the importance of this in a future talk.


Second Foundation: Feeling Tone

The Second Foundation of Mindfulness is Vedana. The Pali word Vedana can be best understood as Feeling Tone / flavour or taste. It may be harder to understand because Vedana is a lot more subtle then Kaya. Vedana is the Pleasant Feeling, Unpleasant Feeling or Neither Pleasant or Unpleasant Feeling that sits below all perceived sensate experience.

We tend to spend most of our life reacting towards Vedana but never understanding it. Vedana sits behind all our desires, all our fears. Vedana sits below our anxiety, our sadness – its sits behind our anger. Vedana sits behind all obsessive thinking, all likes and dislikes. Vedana is the driving force that if we do not understand it takes away all choice within our life. If not understood it drives our life causing us to live a reactionary life rather then a life through wisdom and understanding.

It is the task of the deeper, Survival part of our mind to attract us towards what it perceives to be safe experiences and to repel us away from dangerous ones. To signify that something is safe and attract us towards that experience, our Survival Mind produces and releases a Pleasant feeling within our body. To signify that something is dangerous and push us away from an experience, our Survival Mind produces and releases an Unpleasant feeling within our body.

When you feel a Pleasant Feeling arise within your body what is you relationship towards it?
More.

When you experience an Unpleasant Feeling arise within your body what is your relationship to that?
Go away.

This is how the habitual, Survival part of your mind controls you.

Since you like Pleasant Feeling and want to experience more, since you dislike Unpleasant Feeling and want it to go way, then when your mind produces these feelings you have no choice but to follow the path of habit. Through producing Pleasant and Unpleasant Feeling within your body your habitual Survival Mind can literally control your life – you have no choice.

This is why the second Foundation of Mindfulness: Vedana is so important to observe and understand, it is both the driving force for our life and the weak link in the chain that leads to Equanimity. But we can only understand it through deep, personal experience, not by thinking about it, not by listening to a talk or reading about it in a book.

It is experience that changes our life and it is only experience that can change your relationship to Vedana: this is why we meditate, because a change of relationship to Vedana is freedom.


Third Foundation: Mind

The Third Foundation of Mindfulness is Citta. The Pali word Citta is often translated as Mind, it is best understood as our experienced mental landscape. To understand what is meant by experienced mental landscape we first need to observe how the word mind is commonly used in terms of the meditation and daily life. Often we speak of Mind as if it is something that moves around, something solid that exists independent within itself.

“My mind wandered” “My mind is agitated” “My mind is peaceful”.

But during meditation the Mind within itself is not experienced as something solid but rather as an ever flowing mental landscape. Think of your Mind as being more like the weather. Now in normal conversation we talk about the weather like it is something: We say that the weather does this or the weather does that – but really the weather doesn’t do anything. The weather is a field of flowing, changing events that flow and change dependant on conditions.

Sometimes it is hot, sometimes it is cold, sometimes it is cloudy, sometimes it is foggy, sometimes it is raining, sometimes it is windy, all these different, flowing events come together to create what we call the weather. Now we have no control over the flow of the weather, the weather flows and changes dependant on conditions.

When we observe Citta: Mind, we will notice that Mind is also not something solid, Mind is field of flowing, changing events that flow and change dependant on conditions. Sometimes the experience our Mind is as if it is windy, sometimes it appears still, sometimes it seems violent and stormy, other times it may be foggy and dull, sometimes it feels heavy and gloomy or even clear like the sun is out.

All these changing flows of states of Mind are part of the weather patterns of the mind. Within the landscape of the mind we can also experience the flowing, changing patterns of thoughts, memories, likes, dislikes, judgements, they are all part of mind. Also the coming and going of our Awareness, sometimes Awareness is clear, sometimes it is dull, sometimes it cannot be perceived at all.

Also the meditation factors of Investigation, Mindfulness, and Concentration are also part of the flowing, changing weather system of the mind. So when using this foundation of Citta: Mind as a foundation for Mindfulness meditation practice your task is to get to know these changing patterns of the mental landscape.


Fourth Foundation: Conditional Processes

The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness is Dhamma. The Pali word Dhamma is often translated as mind objects or phenomena. In terms of MIDL practice I prefer to think of it as Conditional Processes. While these are not an adequate translation – no translation is, let’s think of this in terms of understanding the patterns of Heart and Mind that arise due to contact between the first Three Foundations of Body, Feeling Tone and Mind. In other words learning to read and understand the conditional flowing weather patterns of Heart and Mind.

In simple terms Dhammas in the context of MIDL Mindfulness practice is the observation and investigation of the conditional relationships between Kaya: Bodily Sensations, Vedana: Feeling Tone and Citta: Mind. It is through understanding these conditional relationships that Wisdom is cultivated and fading of enchantment of identification with these processes occurs.

In simple terms what is important during meditation is not what we are experiencing but rather how we are relating to the actual experience, it is within this relationship that all conditioned patterns arise or cease.

An example of observing the Fourth Foundation in action during our seated meditation could go like this. We may find a cosy place within our home to sit in meditation, intent on practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, closely observing each breath as it comes in and out, and starting to feel very, very pleasant and peaceful. Then someone in our home suddenly makes a loud sound that jolts our attention away from our breathing. We instinctively tighten up and the nice, peaceful feeling collapses.

We may now feel very unpleasant within our body because of the jolt and very irritated at the person that made that sound:

“Can’t they stay quiet; don’t they know that this is my meditation time?”
“I have had it with these people, they have no consideration.......”
And the feeling of irritation grows and the commentary in the mind flows....................

In this example we became so intent on following the breath and attached to the idea of becoming peaceful that we didn’t observe the aversion that arose within our Mind on hearing the sound. We also didn’t observe the change in Feeling Tone within our body from Pleasant to Unpleasant. We definitely didn’t notice that the emotional reaction that arose within our body was not due to the sound but rather to the aversion within our Mind to the Unpleasant Feeling it released to signal danger.

Because of ignoring the Four Foundations we are now trapped, trapped in a meditation practice that is in constant battle with anything that threatens to take away our peacefulness and pleasant feelings. Noise, discomfort, thinking, pain etc are all our enemy, we don’t realise that in meditation we have seen a reflection of our life.

In this way our meditation practice does not deepen to the extent that it changes our life; because of our lack of investigation no wisdom can arise. Instead we become caught in a cycle of habitual reaction of running away from the pain of our life and seeking pleasure within life or meditation. We are identifying with and living within the conditioned cycles of the Fourth Foundation instead of cultivating the wisdom needed to be free from them.

We are trapped within a cycle that leads to living a reactive, habitual and potentially destructive life.


MIDL and the Four Foundations

So what would be the other option in terms of MIDL Mindfulness meditation and the Four Foundations?
In this example, we may find a cosy place within our home to sit in meditation, intent on practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, closely observing each breath as it comes in and out, and starting to feel very, very pleasant and peaceful. Then someone in our home suddenly makes a loud sound that jolts our attention away from our breathing. Because of MIDL training we notice the movement of our attention away from the breath towards the sound. We then observe the instinctive tightening up of our body with interest.

We then turn our attention towards this tightening resistance within our body and separate it into sensations “tight” “tense” “hard” – Doing this we are observing the First Foundation of Mindfulness: Kaya – Bodily Sensations.

We observe that there is a general feeling of Unpleasantness, a sense of dis-ease within our body – Doing this we are observing the Second Foundation of Mindfulness: Vedana – Feeling Tone.

We then observe a mental aversion, pulling away from the Unpleasantness of the experience and also restlessness within our mind. Within this we notice a longing for the nice, peaceful feeling of our meditation. – Doing this we are observing the Third Foundation of Mindfulness: Citta - Mind.

From further investigation we notice a feeling of irritation arise and observe its relationship to the unpleasant feeling within our body and the aversion within our mind. We observe how our body and mind respond by tightening in resistance to the unpleasant feeling, especially the raising and locking of our diaphragm and the shifting of the breath up into our chest. – Doing this we are observing the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: Dhammas - Conditional Processes.

We then use the MIDL Softening Into techniques to first re-engage the diaphragm with three deep breaths, then we Soften Into the aversion to the unpleasantness we are experiencing both mentally and physically. We Soften deeply, very deeply, so deep that our mind understands that right now is safe. Everything Softens, relaxes and dissolves and we return to Mindfulness of Breathing applying Wisdom towards the middle path of Mindful non-resistance.

In this way by acknowledging and investigating the distraction instead of fighting it we develop understanding of the Four Foundations, their interaction with each other and also how to bring the cycle of habitual reaction to an end – we are not trapped but free. This same way of observing and Softening then becomes part of our life, part of our natural way of being. This is how the first Two Pillars of MIDL: Flexible Attention and Softening Into are applied to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

How long did this process all take?

Talking about the steps of this cycle in this talk took some time, but in reality it only takes a few seconds to observe and Soften Into our aversion or attraction to experience.

This is the MIDL way.









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Chapter 2 Continued



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© Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved

This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you


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