2022-05-04-Satipaṭṭhāna (69) The Four Foundations Together
2:53PM May 4, 2022
For these last four months, we have gone through the Four Foundations for awakening awareness. These four areas of developing awareness can work together cooperatively and support each other. They bring a very interesting and useful perspective to our lives.
Often when we pay attention – take in and perceive the world around us or the world inside of us – it is all too easy to do it with preconceived ideas and agendas that are oriented to certain areas and certain things that we think are important. Not to automatically dismiss those. Even if the way you are looking at things is useful, sometimes it can be helpful to find a new way and a fresh perspective on our perception of the world and ourselves. These Four Foundations or four areas are interesting to keep in mind and use as perspectives when looking at our life.
For example, some people might be oriented towards "What's in it for me? What am I going to get out of this experience?" In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, we would not ask that. Instead we would ask, "What is the physical experience here? What is the feeling tone that is here? What mind state is present?" Then, "What are the dhammas? What processes of being caught or being free are playing out as I practice here?"
It could be that when we look at the world, we look through what we do not like, what frightens us, or what is unpleasant for us, and we react to it from that point of view. But instead, we can ask, how is it physically? How is the feeling tone? How is the mind state? How are the dhammas? It could be that there is a lot of self-orientation going on.
Instead, we do the Four Foundations. These are like going through the scales. We can tell ourselves, "Given what is happening now, maybe let's look at them from these vantage points". These are the four vantage points that the Buddha offers for the path to awakening and to freedom. It is a path to everything that is wholesome or skillful – a heap of skillfulness and wholesomeness. For the Buddha, it is phenomenally healthy and beneficial to cultivate this kind of awareness.
The vehicle or medium he uses is not oriented towards me, myself and mine. Of course, it is about you in a certain way. But this is not the orientation with which we are looking, analyzing, and understanding the situation. Rather he is saying, for the purpose of cultivating this open awareness that is liberating, freeing, healthy and wonderful, notice how it is in your body. Notice your body. Notice the feeling tones – how an experience is taken in and registered as pleasant, unpleasant, or neither. Notice the qualities of the mind – the state of the mind. Is it contracted? Is it expansive? Is it filled with intense desire or intense aversion? Or is it not? Does the mind feel caught? Does the mind feel free? Those categories have no self in them. It is not the same as saying, "Am I caught? Am I filled with greed? Am I aversive? Am I contracted?"
None of the instructions in the satipaṭṭhāna involve the perspective of me, myself and I. This can be such a relief. It can be a challenge because of how common it is to have that perspective. But we can put it aside or evoke a different perspective. The advantage of doing so is that the perspective of looking at things from the point of view of me, myself and mine – what's in it for me? How am I being seen? What is good for me, and how I am – is a magnet for all kinds of unskillful, unhealthy attitudes and states of mind. One way or another, it tends to close the space inside of us and around us. It tends to reduce our open-handedness, our open-heartedness, our open-mindedness. Instead of taking the direction of: what's happening to me? How am I doing? How are people treating me? What is going on here for me? How am I improving? I am getting better; I am getting worse; I am a meditation failure – all these things you can say with the word "I" or "me" – see if you can put them aside and bring into play a different perspective: the Four Foundations.
Use what you have learned about mindfulness of the body. All these things we talked about – go back and read some of the exercises or listen to some of the talks about mindfulness of the body. Cultivate a greater connection to the body. It is you, but you do not have to think about it being you. Of course this is who you are paying attention to. If you are paying attention to your body, you are paying attention to yourself. But it is extra to add that idea – to operate, to analyze, and to react to the situation from the idea of me, myself, and mine – especially when we are meditating. Just the body – the simplicity of it – the feeling tones, the mind states, and the dhammas.
The orientation is also not to get anything out of it, or understand, or analyze the situation. But rather, to begin tuning in and waking up to the changing nature of experience – the flow of present moment experience. The river of life goes through us, and things are always changing, always moving. To tune in from the perspective at these Four Foundations.
So there is another different perspective – the perspective of change, of things coming and going. To see this in an open-hearted, open-minded way. This is a very helpful way to loosen the grip of attachments – to just rest, or float, and keep opening to the flow of change – the flow of experience. This is only available – or best available – when we are centered in awareness – in the direct experience of body, feelings, mind states, and the dhammas. Let it all flow. This teaches us how not to cling and not to grasp.
The five hindrances are forms of grasping or clinging that diminish our freedom. They diminish the clarity in which we can see things. For the Buddha, they diminish our wisdom. When you are caught in the five hindrances, bring forth the Four Foundations. When you are caught in a hindrance, how is that in the body? What is its feeling tone? What mind states are there? Then, just be really present for each hindrance, in and of itself, as it comes and goes, letting go of it.
Referencing the four foundations applies also to the way in which we practice – the way that we meditate. From time to time, it is good to go through the the steps – the four foundation scales – and to see them in relation to how you are practicing: how you are being mindful, how you are meditating. How does the way you are practicing feel in your body? Are you straining or tightening up or resisting? Are you sluggish or collapsing? Is the energy draining in your body because you are not really in it? What is happening in your body? What is happening with the feeling tones? What is the feeling tone of how you are practicing – how you are mindful? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Is it something that feels good to do, or not? What is the mind state with which you are doing mindfulness? Is the mind state with greed or aversion or delusion? Is the mind state expansive, or is it liberating? Or is it settled? What is the mind state?
Then, in the way that you practice, in the five areas of the fourth Foundation, are the hindrances at play, even subtly? Are you entangled or knotted up in anything? Are you caught in identity – me, myself and mine – around the five aggregates? Or are the Seven Factors of Awakening peeking their head up as you are practicing? Are they nearby or potentially nearby? Are you creating a space where those wonderful factors can grow? Are you paying attention and seeing in a way that allows you to see the Four Noble Truths? Which is another way of saying: seeing the changing nature of things.
To bring together these Four Foundations. When we sit down to meditate, at different times we might choose one of the foundations over another, because it seems to be the salient one – it seems like a good one with which to develop awareness. I find it is really useful to come back to breathing over and over again – the very first exercise. Stay in the body – I find this really useful. I use the other ones as needed, when they are helpful. Sometimes I go through all four: "Okay, how is this area – how is it here?" in relation to whatever is happening in the moment. This is a way of bringing the four foundations together and coordinating them. Seeing how they are mutually supportive of each other, and how the satipaṭṭhāna works as a unified whole. There is a unified way of bringing together all these practices for the purpose of open awareness: open-hearted, open-minded, open-handed attention to ourselves and the world. Thank you.