The Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Development of Awareness

Buddha at the end of his life said he had only taught one thing and one thing alone – “What is Suffering and What is the end of Suffering.”

“Suffering” essentially is a Belief that goes like this:  “Things are Permanent.This will not change and I am angry, terrified or depressed.”   This conclusion is a Rationale which is a set of logical conclusions for a belief.

The Following are Reasons that Support this Rationale or Belief:

  1. Things appear to be unchanging.
  2. These changing things are supported as unchanging by other people.
  3. These changing this things affect me and my happiness.

Suffering in a nutshell is ignorance of the way things are.  The definition of Ignorance in Buddhist philosophy is the following:  The belief that you are the independent observer of a reality that is out there – that things are independent of your mind.

To work with this false conclusion of the mind Shakyamuni Buddha started out with 4 Foundations of Mindfulness:

  1. Mindfulness of Breathing – Although the breath seems permanent we quickly come to notice in meditation practice that the breath is impermanent- it breathes in and it breathes out.  The breath is taken for granted even though it is the sustainer of life.  Without the breath, the body dies.  With longer breaths, the body and mind relaxes.  With shorter breath, the body and mind tenses.  The breath is constantly changing:  long, short, deep, shallow, ragged, smooth, etc. The breath cannot be seen but we understand it as there, we feel it. The breath has parts. It initially seems to be just one permanent thing but with mindfulness we notice that it has parts – a beginning, a middle and and end.  It rises and it falls and it rests.  It is a perfect metaphor and example of impermanence.  
  2. Mindfulness of Body – This quickly leads to the observance of the sensations or feelings in the body and mind. So, we have Sense Faculties:
    Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body, and Brain

These faculties in turn lead to Sense Consciousness:
Visual, Auditory, Olfactory, Gustatory, Tactile, and Cognitive

If these sense faculties and the corresponding consciousness are simply experienced with bare awareness as they are they remain neutral or are not “conceptualized” into anything else.  

  1. Mindfulness of Mind – We are easily overtaken by the contact of consciousness of the sense faculties and immediately begin to add name, from and function – a designation of the consciousness.  This, in turn, begins the journey of illusion or a belief and perception that things are independent of our minds or our previous conditioning.  Then things – all things that we sense come into being by how we “think” them.

Then Buddha began a study of our experiencing of reality called The 12 Links of Dependent Co-Arising:

  1. Ignorance – A belief the we are an independent observer of a reality that is out there independent of our minds.
  2. Fabrications or Karmic Creation –  Everything we sense becomes co-opted into a fabrication or classification of what we think it is. This then motivates us into some sort of action. Through our actions, we begin shaping how our body, speech, and mind will be in the future.  This is the place of desire, aversion or ignorance that obscures our innate wisdom.  Whether we do virtuous or unvirtuous actions determine our experiences of pleasure or pain. Unvirtuous actions lead to more mental and physical suffering.  The act of meditating creates neutral karma.
  3. Consciousness – Conditioning of the mind is imprinted on our thoughts, speech and actions. Because of the first link of ignorance, we perform a certain action, and this action plants a seed in our mind, or, imprints a condition of desire or aversion in our consciousness.  Sometime later, through this conditioning, a certain experience will occur and attach itself to a particular habitual tendency which will have an effect.  It is exactly here where the potential for acting in a certain way is established and imprinted in the consciousness or unconsciousness.
  4. Name and Form – Form, Feeling Tones, Perception, Thought Formations and 6 Consciousness.  
  5. Sensations6 Consciousness’s – Visual, Auditory, Olfactory, Gustatory, Tactile, and Cognitive
  6. Contact – the contact of the sense faculties with its object
  7. Feeling Tones – the immediacy of contact
  8. Craving – an involvement with the objective world that one experiences.
  9. Grasping – making definite plans to to get or avoid the object of pleasantness or unpleasantness.
  10. Becoming – acting on all stages that we think about.
  11. Rebirthre-birth in this same conditioning of the mind based on our previous grasping and actions.
  12. Old age, sickness and death – continuing forms of suffering.

If we identify ourselves as the suffering person the harder it is to feel compassion for others because you cannot feel true compassion for yourself – only pity which leads to selfishness and continued suffering.

People bring all their ideas to suffering. And it is repeated in this lifetime and in others over and over again.

  1. Mindfulness of Dharma – Mindfulness of a whole body and mind awareness of this present moment or the nature of our existence.  Awareness is how we begin to recognize that our suffering is coming from identifying with a conceptualization of a reality that is not fixed but ever changing.  Therefore, our choices on how we think, speak, and act towards an illusory reality have greater flexibility than we ever thought possible.  We have the possibility of a new awareness of lovingkindness, generosity, compassion, joy and equanimity towards ourselves and others.