2022-05-06-Satipaṭṭhāna (71) Living in Awareness with Satipaṭṭhāna
3:20PM May 6, 2022
We come to the final talk of now over seventy talks on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. It is a practice of mindfulness by which we are cultivating and developing a heightened capacity for awareness. I myself like the language of "lucid awareness" or "clear awareness." It is available and present for us as we go through our lives.
In this text, there are thirteen exercises which we have gone through bit by bit. The relationship between the exercises and the awareness being developed is similar to the idea of running. If someone says, "I run. I am running," it does not tell you much of what that is about. It is possible they are running for exercise. It is possible they are running to catch the bus. It is possible they are running from the police. Just saying "I'm running" does not say much.
But if they tell you that they are training, and running is their training program, then you get a clearer sense of what is meant by running. It is an exercise. It is a protocol they are following. They are probably doing sprints, long distance, exercising, strengthening, and all the kinds of things you might do if you are training to run a race.
There are a lot of things you do, but what you are learning is to develop your capacity for running until the running becomes effortless. It can feel effortless at some point if you are really in the flow of running, even though a lot of energy is being expended. You can feel like you are abiding in the running. It is like you are being carried along with it, whereas in the beginning of training, it was hard, you had to apply yourself, and there was resistance to it.
It is the same thing, the thirteen exercises are the training in awareness. They involve other kinds of training exercises we do and other areas of practicing. A lot of that training has to do with knowing, recognition of what is there. As that recognition grows, awareness develops. That awareness can stay with you for a while. Sometimes it might stay for a few seconds. Sometimes it might stay for a few minutes. Sometimes a few hours. Sometimes longer. You really feel like awareness is, for a while, ever-present, or continuously present for a period of time. And that awareness makes a world of difference.
You might still have all kinds of inner challenges. You might have fear, desire, anger, and attachments of all kinds. But the art of awareness is that now we have a separate place to abide. It is like your whole house is dirty, but the living room is clean. From the living room you can see all the other rooms, but you are not disturbed by it because you have learned that you can clean the living room. There is no need to dirty the living room by being upset by what is in the other rooms. But with time, you will go there, clean them up, and take care of it. You know how to do it now.
We have this awareness and there is, actually, a kind of relaxed feeling about our shortcomings. It does not mean we indulge in them. It does not mean we celebrate them and just barrel ahead with them. But it means that we do not criticize ourselves, get upset with ourselves, or are burdened by our shortcomings. Of course we have shortcomings. Of course there are desires and attachments. That is what we are working with. That is where we are training, developing, more and more, a capacity for awareness.
But as awareness gets stronger, at some point, it becomes clear that it is the best alternative. That is the better place to be, in awareness. Being aware of everything tends to shift everything else towards health. That tends to shift things in a skillful, healthy way. It makes room for healthy mind states, motivations, and wisdom to occur. When awareness begins to be present in an open, relaxed way, we know how to be aware of what is happening.
At some point, doing the practice, doing the practice, doing satipaṭṭhāna practice, awareness becomes so clear that it is like an "Aha" moment. "Oh. Now I know what this practice is about. Now I know something about freedom. Now I know about not getting caught in anything, including my shortcomings. I don't have to be drowned by them or upset with them. It just, that's what the mind is doing. And now I know there is a place of freedom, a place of open awareness, a place of lucid awareness." It really makes an impression, maybe for the first time. "Wow. This is fantastic." And then, that is a confirmation of the practice of satipaṭṭhāna.
All of this practice brought this about – a clear, lucid awareness, a freedom of awareness. That is what satipaṭṭhāna practice is about, to cultivate and develop a strong sense of awareness, this strong awareness. Then, after that clarity, the tendency is for a person to be more ethical. There is no guarantee. But because the field of awareness is so wholesome, it lets us see and feel the impact our inner behavior and our external behavior has – what we do. We can feel how we are diminished by unethical behavior, and how we are enhanced by ethical behavior. So there is a tendency to start being more and more interested in being ethical and not causing harm in the world or, eventually, any harm at all.
Once this kind of clarity, this "Aha" moment happens – "Now I know what the practice is about. Now I know something about it," the practice of satipaṭṭhāna does not change. It is the same practice. We do the same thing, again and again, though now, there is a reference point for it. This clarity of awareness becomes easier to do. We can fall back into awareness more clearly. Some qualities or characteristics of lucid awareness might be witnessed all the time, even though it is not always there strongly.
Then the practice develops. And at some point, the experience of "Aha" and freedom of awareness comes to full maturation. In this tradition we talk about full awakening, full enlightenment. I have never met anyone that I know who has had full awakening, full enlightenment. I have been around a lot of wonderful Buddhist teachers. But I know that it is a possibility.
That is a direction we can go once we have had enough practice and enough, "Aha. This works. This is what it's about." Then we can have a clearer sense. It is just other rooms in the house. And it is possible to clean it all out. Someone can do that for themselves, no doubt about it. But it is a big task.
Whether there are people in the modern world you can meet who have done that is an open question. It is hard to know. But it does not matter so much for oneself, because one knows, this is the direction we are going, there is no other thing to do.
The Buddha said that once you become fully awakened, the practice of satipaṭṭhāna is the same. For the Buddha, a person who is fully awakened continues to practice satipaṭṭhāna. Maybe it is not so much an exercise anymore, but rather, it is a way of being. But exactly the same instructions are given for people who are fully awakened. So whether you are new to practice and are developing the practice of satipaṭṭhāna, or whether you know what the practice is about (which is when a person begins to be called a trainee – sometimes it is referred to as stream entry), it is the same practice. And if you become fully awakened, it is the same practice.
Jack Kornfield has a book titled, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry." Another way, another thing that I am teaching here today from the Buddha, the title of his book would be "Before Awakening, Satipaṭṭhāna, After a Partial Awakening, Satipaṭṭhāna, After a Full Awakening, Satipaṭṭhāna." This is the practice for a lifetime. There is no end to it. So always, we are doing it. It is not a burden. It does not feel like work. It just becomes more and more natural. It becomes who we are. It becomes trusting living in awareness, more than anything else, living and being present for experience.
The alternative, to not be aware, is clearly not as good, not as wonderful, not as enjoyable, and not as helpful for the world. Because if we know something about freedom from attachments and clinging, then we know what is possible for other people, what their potential is. And then we can somehow support that.
So if you follow the path to freedom from clinging, to lucid awareness, you are being supported fully. That is the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself. You become a model, you become an exemplar, and you become someone who can recognize and support that possibility for other people. Other people, too, can attain more and more freedom in a deep way, rather than having to accommodate suffering, put up with suffering, assuage suffering with compassion and selfcare (which is a wonderful thing to do), but to be limited by that is to be limited. To open up into this world of freedom, to have full awareness, everybody has that potential. And it is a game changer. But it does not change satipaṭṭhāna – Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, satipaṭṭhāna practice, the training of it before awakening, and after awakening. After satipaṭṭhāna, more satipaṭṭhāna.
Thank you for this. I hope that the joy of awareness, the joy of mindfulness, becomes your joy, and that it is contagious. And thank you for being part of this series. I will be back here in about two weeks. For the next two weeks, we have guest teachers. I am going off to teach a retreat at the Insight Retreat Center with Andrea Fella. For next week, Matthew Brensilver will be back. And the following week, Nikki Mirghafori will be here. They are wonderful teachers. They have taught here before. They are very much appreciated by the YouTube sangha community. So you will be in good hands. I will be back somewhere around the twenty-second, Monday. I look forward to being together again.