Thich Nhat Hanh gives many deep and useful teachings in his chapter on Right Mindfulness in his book The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. We looked at the Seven Miracles of Mindfulness in the previous blog post. This post will focus on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the body in the body, the feelings in the feelings, the mind in the mind, and phenomena in phenomena ("the objects of our mind").
As we contemplated the four establishments of mindfulness we came to understand the importance of beginning with the body, then moving to our feelings, then the mind. In our culture we can get so caught up in our mind - stories we tell ourselves either coming from or feeding our fear, anxiety, depression, not-good-enough-ness, not-having-enough-ness, not-doing-enough-ness, etc. It seems so convenient to ignore the body and to see the needs of our body as a nuisance. However, what would we do without a body, where would we be without a body, who would we be without a body?
Our body is a miracle. Our heart beats for us everyday sending newly oxygenated blood to our organs. Our lungs bring that oxygen into the body and release the carbon dioxide. Our skeletal system, endocrine system, immune system, nervous system, each organ...they all have their functions and work amazingly together! What do we do to take care of all of them? Are we thinking about the kinds of food we put into our bodies? Is it full of chemicals and pesticides or GMO's that make it convenient to grow, purchase, store, and eat or are we mindful of how our food is grown and processed and packaged? Do we drink enough water? Are we drinking beverages or eating foods that contain harmful ingredients like artificial sweeteners, lots of refined sugar, artificial food coloring, artificial flavors? Are we getting enough rest and sleep? Are we allowing for the relaxation response in our body so that our immune system can do its job? Are we helping to boost our immune system and take care of our body with healthy foods, teas, juices, and essential oils among others? Remember we just try to do the best we can each day each moment.
There is a beautiful practice in the Buddhist tradition of total relaxation. It is like taking svasana in yoga but with a guided meditation with time focusing on each body part and system, to allow it to rest, to send it our love and gratitude, and recognize all the blessings of our body and the amazing things our body allows us to experience everyday. We celebrate and appreciate whatever degree of health is in our body.
We also recognize our body is made up of the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Just like every other being or phenomenon is made up of the same. This takes us back to our contemplation on the chakras with an element associated to each. We take time to recognize the earth element in us and around us, the same with air, fire, and water. This takes us into the teachings of impermanence, inter being, and the ultimate dimension, called The Three Dharma Seals, also known as impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. We'll look more deeply into these teachings again in our next entry on Right Concentration. You can see the interconnection of the steps on the eightfold path. We are already touching Right Concentration.
As we see the subtle energies of the elements in the body and how our breath flows through and feeds our body with energy, life force, vibration; we see the seamless progression from body to emotions. Our emotions are vibration, strong or weak, fast or slow, that create a feeling state in our body. For example, we may feel joy in our heart, anger in our stomach, fists, or jaw; sadness in our throat or belly, etc. Some of these experiences may seem universal and perhaps the way you experience them feels quite unique. I think it helps when we realize we are not alone on this journey. We may feel so at different times in our lives but when we start reading books, talking to others and understanding more deeply psychology, physiology, and energy (science), we see that there are these universal experiences that connect us all.
The Buddha invites us to identify a feeling we are having as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral and then to name the feeling.
"Our feelings are not separate from us or caused just by something outside of us. Our feelings are us, and, for that moment, we are those feelings. We needn't be intoxicated or terrorized by them, nor do we need to reject them. The practice of not clinging to or rejecting feelings is an important part of mediation. If we face our feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into a kind of energy that is healthy and nourishing...Everything that takes place in our body and our mind needs to be looked after equally. We don't fight. We say hello to our feeling so we can get to know each other better. Then, the next time that feeling arises, we will be able to greet it even more calmly."
(pg. 72, The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, by Thich Nhat Hanh)
Feelings are one of fifty-one kinds of mental formations according to the Buddha. They are so important they get their very own category coming second only to the body in The Four Establishments of Mindfulness. As we move onto the third establishment of mindfulness, mindfulness of the mind in the mind, we consider the other fifty mental formations and utilize the practice of naming them and recognizing them as wholesome or unwholesome. Some are considered to be both depending on the circumstances. "When our body and mind need rest, sleep is wholesome. But if we sleep all the time, it can be unwholesome. If we hurt someone and regret it, that regret is wholesome. But if our regret leads to a guilt complex that colors whatever we do in the future, that regret can be called unwholesome." (pg. 73)
Here are some examples:
Wholesome mental formations: "faith, humility, self-respect, non-craving, non-anger, non-ignorance, diligence, ease, care, equanimity, and non-violence." (pg. 73)
Unwholesome mental formations (sometimes called afflictions, obscurations, leaks, or setbacks): "greed, hatred, ignorance, pride, doubt, views; anger, malice, hypocrisy malevolence, jealousy, selfishness, deception, guile, immodesty, arrogance, dullness, agitation, lack of faith, indolence, carelessness, forgetfulness, distraction, lack of attention." (pg. 74)
The buddha teaches that all fifty-one mental formations reside in our store consciousness. We can think of them as seeds. When the conditions are sufficient, they rise up to our mind consciousness. If it is a wholesome one, we want to use mindfulness to keep it alive. If it is an unwholesome one, we want to use our mindfulness to embrace it, transform it and return it to our store consciousness.
"We usually describe mind consciousness and store consciousness as two different things, but store consciousness is just mind consciousness at a deeper level. If we look carefully at our mental formations, we can see their roots in our store consciousness. Mindfulness helps us look deeply into the depths of our consciousness. Every time one of the fifty-one metal formations arises, we acknowledge its presence, look deeply into it, and see its nature of impermanence and inter being. When we practice this, we are liberated from fear, sorrow, and the fires burning inside us. When mindfulness embraces our joy, our sadness, and all our other mental formations, sooner or later we will see their deep roots. With every mindful step and every mindful breath, we see the roots of our mental formation. Mindfulness shines its light upon them and helps them to transform." (pg. 75)
"We may think that our agitation is ours alone, but if we look carefully, we'll see that it is our inheritance from our whole society and many generations of our ancestors. Individual consciousness is made of the collective consciousness, and the collective consciousness is made of individual consciousness. They cannot be separated. Looking deeply into our individual consciousness, we touch the collective consciousness." (pg. 75)
Taking the time to observe the state of our body, feelings, and mind is so important. We notice our suffering and our joy. Then we go to the next layer of noticing how we interact with the world. This is the Fourth Establishment of Mindfulness, phenomena or objects of mind. How our state of body, feelings, and mind allow us to encounter the world and how the world impacts our body, feelings and mind. Thay gives us many tools within this establishment of mindfulness to see about this.
He gives us the tool of The Eighteen Elements which include the senses, the sense organs, and the consciousness attached to each: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. "These Eighteen Elements make the existence of the universe possible. If we look deeply into the Eighteen Elements and see their substance and their source, we will be able to go beyond ignorance and fears." (pg. 77) We can see how different sights and smells, for example, trigger different parts of our consciousness attached to those senses and sense organs. And, if it is a liberating or joyful experience, we can stay with it and strengthen this energy in us. However, if we notice an encounter through a particular sense or sense organ takes us into our suffering, we can try to name it, go to the root causes, embrace it with mindfulness, and try to transform that experience.
He gives us further measuring sticks to use - another Six Realms: happiness and suffering, joy and anxiety, letting go and ignorance. We can use these pairings to see where on each continuum we land as we encounter an object, relationship, situation, or moment in our lives. It may seem like a tedious practice but it need not be. The more we strengthen the muscle of self-awareness (our witness consciousness), the more naturally it just functions. Remember there is no judgement if you find yourself in suffering, anxiety, and ignorance. Come back to the practices of pranayama, metta meditation, and asana; and talk to your sangha (supportive communitity of practice), your friends, classmates, family, therapist, etc. Recognize the times you need extra support and care then give it to yourself or go get it.
Yet, another Six Realms: craving and freedom from craving, anger and absence of anger, harming and non-harming (Ahimsa).
And finally, "the Buddha taught the meditation on the Two Realms - the realm of the conditioned and the realm of the unconditioned. In the conditioned realm, there is birth, death, before, after, inner, outer, small and large. In the world of the unconditioned, we are no longer subject to birth and death, coming or going, before or after. The conditioned realm belongs to the historical dimension. It is the wave. The unconditioned realm belongs to the ultimate dimension. It is the water. These two realms are not separate." (pg. 79-80) We will look more deeply into the ultimate dimension - nirvana in the next post on Right Concentration.
"To arrive at liberation from narrow views and to obtain fearlessness and great compassion, practice the contemplations on interdependence, impermanence, and compassion." (pg. 80)
"Contemplation on interdependence is a deep looking into all dharmas in order to pierce through to their real nature, in order to see them as part of the great body of reality and in order to see that the great body of reality is indivisible. It cannot be cut into pieces with separate existences of their own." (pg. 80)
"The object of our mind can be a mountain, a rose, the full moon, or the person standing in front of us. We believe these things exist outside of us as separate entities, but these objects of our perceptions are us. This includes our feeling. When we hate someone, we also hate ourself. The object of our mindfulness is actually the whole cosmos. Mindfulness is mindfulness of the body, feelings, perceptions, andy of the mental formations, and all of the seeds in our consciousness. The Four Establishments of Mindfulness contain everything in the cosmos. everything in the cosmos is the object of our perception, and as such, it does not exist only outside of us but also within us." (pg.80-81)
"If we see the truth of one thing in the cosmos, we see the nature of the cosmos. Because of our mindfulness, our deep looking, the nature of the cosmos will reel itself. It is not a matter of imposing our ideas on the nature of the cosmos." (pg. 81)
(Side note: It has been interesting to encounter these teachings at the same time FOX network is airing a series on television called COSMOS, a return to a series Carl Sagan hosted back in 1980. It has been an eye opening and mind blowing experience for me. Check it out on FOX on Sunday nights at 9pm EST or on demand or perhaps in the library sometime when it comes out on DVD.)
So I leave you with the above beautiful and profound words of Thich Nhat Hanh and the below video with a practice song on inter being and the ultimate dimension: No Coming, No Going.
No Coming, No Going: