Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Mindfulness is a word that has become familiar to almost everyone in our culture in the past 15 - 20 years. What does it actually mean though? And more importantly, what role does it play in the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path to awakening.
The Pali* word that gets translated into the English word mindfulness is Sati. The literal translation of Sati means, “to remember.” We are always present. Where else could we be? But do we remember that we are present, or are we lost in the mind-made world? With Mindfulness, in addition to being present, we remember where it is that we want our attention to be. When we are mindful, we are clear that we are fully inhabiting the present moment.
Not only are we consciously present, we also know what it is that we are experiencing in the present moment. A sight, a sound, an emotion, etc. In Buddhist teachings we have six sense doors with which we take in information about our world. Eyes that see, ears that hear, nose that smells, tongue that tastes, body that feels and the mind that thinks. From a Buddhist perspective, when we are mindful, we are aware of what is being known at any of the six sense doors. The combination of being fully present, remembering where we want our attention to be, and knowing what we are aware of is called Sati-Sampajanna, or mindfulness and clear comprehension.
Mindfulness is at the heart of Buddhist teaching and practice. Without mindfulness there is no Eightfold Path or awakening. The reason this is so is because all Buddhist practices are based upon the fact that one is present. Once one is present and mindful, the rest of the practices can then come into play. There’s a saying, “Mindfulness equals choice.” When we are mindful, we can actually have a say in how our lives unfold. Without mindfulness though, we have little to no agency. We simply wander through our lives governed by whatever habit pattern of heart and mind is most dominant in any given moment. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want some of the patterns of my heart and mind being in the driver's seat and determining how my life unfolds!
Now we know the meaning of the word mindfulness and have an initial cursory understanding of the important role it plays in the practice that we all at IMS support through our retreats. All other teachings and practices will simply be a deepening of this initial understanding of mindfulness and its relationship with the fully liberated heart and mind.
* Pali is the language that the Buddha’s teachings were first written down in about 100 BC. Until then, they were transmitted orally.