2022-05-03 Satipaṭṭhāna (68) The Unity of Awareness and the Path
10:55PM May 3, 2022
We are coming to this last week on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, The Discourse on the Foundations for Awareness – for Establishing Awareness.
I want to tell you a little bit about this text. It is kind of like cliff notes. It does not go into a great explanation of what is really being taught. It is more like brief statements. Then down through the centuries teachers have expanded on it and clarified it for people – used it as a basis for giving instructions. The instructions and the understandings have changed over time. The text is amenable to many different ways of understanding and interpreting. Maybe that is one of the reasons why it has remained so popular. It is more notes where the meat of it comes forth in the teachings that are received about it.
In the first many years that I studied this text and enjoyed it, the lens or the interpretation that I used to understand it had a lot to do with the very common verb expressed in the text. It is repeated many places, and in different exercises. It is to understand or to know, Pajanati, to know.
Many of the instructions were to know something – not to fix it, not to be concerned with attaining anything or getting anywhere. It was not about judging anything, or having commentary about things, but just to know the simplicity of it. I came to appreciate how powerful it is to just be present for something – to know it, to be aware of it. Giving it the gift of allowing everything to be itself.
Rather than we becoming free – maybe we will never be free. What we do though is give freedom to everything else. Everything receives freedom from us, including our inner life. So much so that maybe there is no sense talking about a self doing it. Everything is given its freedom to be itself.
I found it so freeing, and so satisfying to have this very clear present moment awareness. It was just abiding in the present, allowing things to be as they are. It was very freeing, very nice.
Then, as time went along, I came to appreciate more and more a different aspect of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. That is that I now understood it as describing a journey. It begins by saying, "There is a direct path for the purification of beings, for liberation." Another way of understanding the word "direct" is it literally means the word "one." In the early years, the first thing the translators said is, "There is one way." That was a little jarring for many of us. There is only one way? Then it became the direct way.
I think that nowadays we are interpreting it and originally the word "one" meant "unified." There is a unified way. All these parts of ourselves get unified. All these practices and the four foundations get unified and work together. They work together in part as a journey, as a path that unfolds over time.
There are a number of things in the Sutta that suggest a path that we follow. One of them is the idea of going from the body to the feeling tones to mind states to the inner activities of the mind, the dhammas. It goes from the outside into the depths of who we are – into the deeper areas which only we can see.
So with the body, we can see each other's bodies. We can see our body and other people. We can see people's bodies externally. A lot of it has to do with things that we feel and sense – maybe a little more in our physicality. That is the way the ancient world talks about it. It is the physical aspect. The other three foundations are often seen as a part of the inner mental world.
The feeling tone is something a little bit deeper. It is how the world has impacted us in the way that it is pleasant or unpleasant. Is it welcoming or not welcoming? It has a little deeper consequence in ourselves for feeling something. If we are not neutral, it has an effect on us. More deeply, it is the state of our heart – the state of our citta, our mind. It is more intimate, more personal than just what happens in our body. Then more deeply, it becomes the operating system, the operating activity of the mind. It is really the linchpin for everything else – how we relate to everything, how we live in this world, and the choices we make.
Going from the body, to feelings, to mind states, to dhamas is this journey, I like to think of it a journey home. Going deeper and deeper into ourselves to the place where we can make a difference. The practice can really make a difference to transform something very deeply.
The transformation in this fourth foundation is represented by the transformation from being caught in The Five Hindrances to having awakened The Seven Factors of Awakening. One of them leads to darkness, the other leads to light. One leads to obscuring wisdom, the other to revealing wisdom.
The other place where the journey is manifested is in the refrain we talked about many weeks ago. Each of the 13 exercises has a refrain. It is the same refrain. It begins once we are settled, and the awareness is strong. Then there is the ability to be 360 degrees aware – within ourselves, outside of ourselves, internally and externally.
As we settle further we start to see the changing nature of phenomena. We see things arise. We also see things cease. Then we see things arising and ceasing together. It is a journey to deeper and deeper stillness, until the rising and ceasing happens together.
Then we go deeper still. There is a deep kind of equanimity – a clarity of mind, a clear, lucid awareness. There is just enough knowledge to know what is happening in the moment, in the most simple possible ways. It is a mind that is very equanamous, peaceful and at ease.
At some point, because of that ease, there is no more effort to protect ourselves, build ourselves up, try to have something or to be anyone. Something deep in our psyche can release. The tradition refers to this as clinging – clinging to nothing whatsoever in the world.
It is a journey of awareness that we do. On one hand, in the early years, I thought there is no journey – just be present for what is. Later, I came to appreciate and to describe the journey. Then I came to appreciate how these work together. As we practice just being present for things as they are gives each thing the freedom to be its own thing. We are not trying to manipulate or change anything, just to see it. See this, this, this. Not needing anything to change – that brings about change.
One of the ways it brings about change is that we are actually no longer doing the common human thing of always instigating the change – always trying to fix, maneuver, get, understand, figure out, analyze or plan. The whole domain of human activities comes to arrest when all we do is be present, not trying to do anything.
Not doing anything is a radical thing. It is kind of like this house of cards has been built. We are running around keeping all the cards in place. When we stop doing that, everything settles and the cards come to rest on the table. The house of cards that we built is often one that is not needed, or we do not need it all the time – to be always shoring it up and building it up is exhausting.
The very practice of being present for things as they are without needing to change anything, just appreciating that, begins a process of change. It puts us on a path of maturing in this practice. You almost cannot avoid maturing in this practice if your practice of mindfulness, of attention is sincere and if you are practicing a certain thoroughness, a certain wholeheartedness, or a certain kind of persistence – this is what you are doing. And so, day by day, week by week, month by month, the practice of mindfulness – just being here practicing meditation every day, something settles, just being present for what is.
The advantage of having the sense of a path is that it is encouraging to give ourselves to the practice more fully, to know that it is leading to a good place. The disadvantage is that people will huff and puff and strain. They will expect and be discouraged because it is not going the way they want.
The advantage of just being present for things as they are – just being aware of them in a simple way – is it is very freeing and relaxing. The disadvantage sometimes is that people do not have a sense of how far this practice can go, and how radical a transformation it can bring about in us. They shortchange themselves. They do not let their inner system go through the open door. There is something inside that is held in check. It is not allowed to let go and move and flow. Maybe that can happen easier if we know there is an open path, an open door to walk through.
So there are different ways or interpretations for understanding this text – many more than what I said. For me, it has been very important this distinction and then the harmony between these two very different modes of practicing Satipaṭṭhāna. One is just being present for things as they are and that is it. The other is being present with the orientation towards a path of practice that we are developing. It is a unified path. We include everything. Everything comes together in this open space of awareness practice.
So thank you, very much. We will continue with the summary or conclusion for this text for the rest of the week. Thank you