2021-04-06 Mindfulness of Breathing (70) Four Foundations of Mindfulness
2:55PM Apr 6, 2021
As a way of continuing the discussion of the Buddha's teachings on ānāpānasati, mindfulness of breathing – the Buddha presents the 16 steps for mindfulness of breathing, and then clearly shows their connection to two other important meditation teachings of his: the four foundations of mindfulness and the seven factors of awakening.
Many people who don't know about practicing the four foundations of mindfulness will see them as a very different practice than mindfulness of breathing. Certainly the way they're taught this is often the case. But they also come together. Especially mindfulness of breathing becomes at some point, enters into the same domain, the same area of life as the four foundations of mindfulness. The way the Buddha does this is that there are four tetrads in the 16 steps of ānāpānasati – and each tetrad, he says, corresponds to one of the foundations of mindfulness.
The foundation of mindfulness that is based on the body corresponds to the first four steps of breathing: being aware of the long breath, being aware of the short breath, being aware of the whole body as you breathe, and then being aware of the body calming and relaxing as you breathe. It's all about the body.
When all four of these steps become well established, and awareness has become strong – then the awareness is based on the body. In the first foundation of mindfulness, it is about establishing awareness on the basis of the body. Classically, there are a series of exercises that are given – different ways of practicing mindfulness – all for the purpose of establishing strong mindfulness, awareness in the body.
The second tetrad – steps five to eight – corresponds to the second foundation of mindfulness, the foundation of mindfulness of feelings. The second tetrad of ānāpānasati is experiencing – as we breathe feeling joy, as we breathe feeling happiness, as we breathe experiencing the mental activity, and then relaxing the mental activity.
The word experiencing could also be translated as feeling. The same word that we translate as feeling is embodied in the word experiencing in the way the Pali grammar and words are used. Feeling joy, feeling happiness, feeling mental activity, and then relaxing the mental activity – this corresponds to the foundation of mindfulness on feeling.
The third tetrad is all about the mind, and the third foundation is all about the mind. In the breathing exercises it is: experiencing the mind (not just activity, the whole mind); gladdening the mind; settling, stabilizing, concentrating the mind; and then liberating the mind. In the four foundations of mindfulness, it is, in part, understanding high quality states of mind – first the mind itself in some particular ways, and then these high qualities of mind that roughly correspond to gladdening, concentrating, and liberating the mind.
The last tetrad is about observing impermanence, observing fading away, cessation and relinquishment. These are deep insights. The fourth foundation of mindfulness is also about insights. It is also insight into seeing arising and passing. How hindrances arise and go. And seeing suffering, how suffering comes and goes. That's the first of the observations of the fourth tetrad – observing inconstancy or change. The others follow in the wake of that.
The Buddha corresponds these two – the four foundations are equal to the four tetrads. But not just automatically. It is when awareness is well established in each of these areas. When we're grounded, centered, and present in a full way without being distracted or thinking a lot about the past and the future.
This precious thing we have – being aware, being able to experience the present moment, sense the present moment, feel the present moment, know the present moment in all the dimensions of knowing. Not just to know it fleetingly, but to feel that now we're centered, rooted, and grounded here. This feeling of being here definitively – grounded, resting here – is like the difference between being in a rowboat tossed around the sea and coming onto dry land. Now you feel that it is stable and strong: "Here we are."
There is a qualitative shift, a quantum shift, that can happen inside when, boom, we're here. We don't have to work at being here, to come back and remember to be here and present. We are not liable to wander off. Awareness becomes strong. That awareness is established.
The translation I like for the four foundations of mindfulness is the four ways, four bases for establishing awareness. When the Buddha correlates these – the four foundations and the four tetrads – in the fourth one, he says, "Then mindfulness of the dharmas is well established, so, there is a strong level of equanimity." This is one of the directions the practice goes when there is stability: "Boom. We're here."
We are here in such a strong way, that we're not easily tossed around by the changing circumstances of our life. We do not easily lose our equanimity, balance, peacefulness. When difficult thoughts arise, they arise and go. When difficult, painful sensations in the body arise, we can feel them and know them, but the mind doesn't get agitated or disturbed. This is called equanimity – this lack of agitation, lack of being disturbed.
Both these practices – the four foundations of mindfulness, whatever way you've been taught to do them (and there are many ways that vipassanā mindfulness is taught), and the mindfulness of breathing. One way of doing this is that – whatever the practices are – they are all for the ultimate purpose (in Buddhist practice) to come to dwelling, resting, abiding, being aware in the present moment without any tendency to leave or wander off.
Some people will use the expression "lucid awareness" when awareness is not ruffled – when our sense of mindfulness is not ruffled by what we know. Knowing becomes free and independent of what is known. We cannot completely separate what we know from knowing, but the knowing is not ruffled, agitated, entangled or clinging to what is known. This idea of knowing something in that freedom, equanimity, is the place where all the different practices of mindfulness, all the different ways of vipassanā practice, come together and set the stage for awakening.
Tomorrow I'll talk about how this is connected to the seven factors of awakening. I love this because it is creating harmony or unity in the Buddha's teachings. We start seeing how they all come together as a whole. In the way that this discourse on ānāpānasati begins is with the senior disciples of the Buddha coming together with all their disciples, and living together for months in unity and harmony, receiving the Buddha's teaching.
To have that sense of unity and harmony with all the different sides of who we are, that we could all come together and live under the full moon of our lucid awareness. Thank you.
We'll continue along this path of ānāpānasati and tomorrow will be the seven factors of awakening. We'll see by Thursday how the seven factors of awakening are practiced. The practice changes when a person has not just learned how to be stably aware here, but has experienced a degree of real liberation, freedom from clinging – the practice changes at that point. We continue, and we are almost at the end of this ānāpānasati series. Thank you.