Walking into meditation practice, the translations of the teachings of the Buddha can appear boring or not very profound. As we began to practice we may say to ourselves “I did not sign up for dullness and restlessness, I get enough of that from my family!” From the first stanza of the Anapanasati sutta (Mindfulness of Breathing)
“Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out” The Buddha
So why is everyone so excited about that? Sometimes in the beginning, meditation can be daunting. If we read a book or watch a movie we anticipate a peak moment, a climax. We are encouraged to sit through the exposition of the characters and the story, knowing this to be a good plot because our friends or the review told us so. Likewise we are asked to be present for the an acrobatic show of a mind that has a mind of its own. We are asked to face deep dark sometimes tumultuous places. We are asked to look at suffering from a front row seat. But our teacher and other students are telling us that meditation is a great story, an incredible process that leads to relief and buoyancy in our minds!
If we can keep showing up and work in accordance with the teachings, exploring this mind body phenomena incredible events occur. We begin to see the deepness and richness of this mind, and what meditation teachings can offer us. We feel less burdened, lighter and more connected to others. We are finding our way out of suffering.
The teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gotama, or one who is liberated from greed, hatred, and delusion) and the Sangha (community) will give us incredible support and technique for our walk on this beautiful path. Sati sampajanna, or mindfulness with clear comprehension is another one of these techniques. Sati sampajanna helps us to enter the flow of experience, where we become more easeful and concentrated. Sati sampajanna is deepening our awareness of intention, equanimity and view to make choices that are in our and the world’s best interest.
The beauty of this teaching of sati sampajanna is continuity of practice. Often our early assessment of buddhist meditation practice is sitting meditation practiced for hours. When I was with the Vipassana community of SN Goenka, I would sit for two hours per day, but be delusional, in other word checked out, not really present for most of the day. Larry Rosenberg’s classic “Breath by Breath” taught me the value of maintaining continuity of mindfulness practice throughout the day. Every activity is rich and valuable to develop mindfulness and insight. From the Satipatthana Sutta
“Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.” The Buddha
The four aspects of sati sampajanna are purpose, suitability, domain and non delusion. As Gil Fronsdal states “these are things we do all the time.” If we do the laundry, the purpose may be cleanliness, suitability is the question around appropriateness of the action given the conditions. Domain is four foundations of mindfulness: body, feeling, mind and dhamma (mental objects.) Domain is the lense or aspect through which are seeing experience. Non delusion is that our awareness of experience is not occluded by a veil of suffering.
A great place to practice sati sampajanna is the action of formal meditation. What is our purpose, aim, benefit? Sometimes we sit for wholesome intention, like compassion for self and others. Sometimes we could have unwholesome intention, like avoiding life or perfectionism. For suitability, is meditation right for me or others at this time? Is it better to meditate or play with our child? And how about domain? The Buddha taught mindfulness of body as the first step in deepening insight. As we move through the other frames of mindfulness, feelings, mind and dhammas we are training the ourselves to become more insightful, intentional and loving. Am I being non delusional? When I meditate am I mindful and see the three characteristics: suffering, impermanence, no self? Or am I meditating to support some fantasy or to continue to add to my stock of self?
So what about purpose? Purpose is one of the most important aspects of the spiritual life. What is the aim or benefit to self and others for a particular action? Is my purpose in line with the teachings of benevolent intention: morality, generosity and lovingkindness. Are my actions based in suffering? I was taught early in recovery that my first reaction to distress is suffering and delusional. Are my actions likely to lead to suffering for self and others? Like in Alcoholics Anonymous, “is my action is the best interest of my recovery?”
And there is suitability. Suitability is closely related to purpose. What is our current relationship to our practice? We may have look deeply to determine if our motive is wholesome. Are we keeping balanced in our energy, giving effort but not overly striving. Can we put together sustained effort without wearing ourselves out? Sometimes we need to step away from formal practice in order to see the big picture. If our mind is restless, opening to spaciousness can help. If the mind is dull, perhaps increased mindfulness or moving attention can help. Suitability would be the best way to practice given the condition of our mind, and the context in which we are living.
And what about non delusion. Delusion is what happens when we suffer. When we lust, we can not see reality. When we hate we do not understand. The more we add to the story that validates my view of self and others, we move into fantasy world and away from understanding.
ot examining and seeing the reality that this mind body and others mind body is in a constant state of flux fools one into believing that there is a static self. Our conditioning around self has to do with genetics, our culture, our family and a whole host of variables. Next time you talk to yourself ask “where does that voice come from?
So the key is the four foundations. We have mindfulness of various aspect of the mind body phenomena. When we learn to be aware with investigation, and effort, we have more and more glimpses into the truth that this body and mind are ephemeral. As we move further on this path dispassion towards this concocted self occurs, and we have more and more moments of cessation, freedom from suffering. And that is light!
Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. 2006. Anapanasati Sutta: Mindfulness of Breathing. Retrieved from https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html
Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. 2008. Satipatthana Sutta: Frames of Reference.Retrieved from https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html
Carlson, Peter. Understanding Clear Comprehension. April 2018. Retrieved from Clear Comprehension
Fella, Andrea. Clear Comprehension of Suitability. March 2013. Retrieved from Suitability
Fella, Andrea. Clear Comprehension of non Delusion. March 2013. Retrieved from non Delusion
Fronsdal, Gil. Clear Comprehension of Purpose. March 2013. Retrieved from Purpose
Fronsdal, Gil. Clear Comprehension of Domain. March 2013. Retrieved from Domain
Ajahn Sumedho. 2004. Intuitive Awareness. Buddha Dharma Education Association.