Katinka Hesselink
Collected by Katinka Hesselink,
Mindfulness trainer in
The Netherlands

Mindfulness meditation in Buddhism and psychology, quotes, theory and gifts

Mindfulness (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti) plays a central role in the teaching of Buddhist meditation where it is affirmed that "correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the critical factor in the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment / Nirvana. 

Sampaja˝˝a is another word for mindfulness, it's described as a calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. Mindfulness is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the practice of which supports analysis resulting in the development of wisdom (Pali: pa˝˝ā, Sanskrit: praj˝ā). 

The Satipatthana Sutta (Sanskrit: Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra) is one of the foremost early texts dealing with mindfulness. A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with a liberating mentality. Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition as a means towards freedom from suffering, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction.

Bishop et al. (2004:232) regard psychological "mindfulness", broadly conceptualized, as "a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is". They propose a two-component operational definition of "mindfulness".

    The first component involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance. (2004:232)

The former mindfulness component of self-regulated attention involves conscious awareness of one's current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, which can result in metacognitive skills for controlling concentration. The latter mindfulness component of orientation to experience involves accepting one's mindstream, maintaining open and curious attitudes, and thinking in alternative categories (developing upon Ellen Langer's research on decision-making). 

Although Buddhist meditation techniques originated as spiritual practices, they have a long history of secular applications. For instance, the Tang Dynasty Chan (Japanese Zen) and Huayan scholar-monk Zongmi (780-841) listed "Five Types of Meditation", the first of which is for fanfu (Japanese bompu) "ordinary people". Philip Kapleau explains:

    Bompu Zen, being free from any philosophic or religious content, is for anybody and everybody. It is a Zen practiced purely in the belief that it can improve both physical and mental health. Since it can almost certainly have no ill effects, anyone can undertake it, whatever religious beliefs they happen to hold or if they hold none at all. Bompu Zen is bound to eliminate sickness of a psychosomatic nature and to improve the health generally. (1989:49)

Scientific research

Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Researchers in the field study the “conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions”. The study of mindfulness operates on the idea that by intentionally recognizing the potential of each small moment in a day, one can pursue a richer life experience that includes more novelty and less stress.

Mindfulness is often used synonymously with the traditional Buddhist processes of cultivating awareness as described above, but more recently has been studied as a psychological tool capable of stress reduction and the elevation of several positive emotions or traits. In this relatively new field of western psychological mindfulness, researchers attempt to define and measure the results of mindfulness primarily through controlled, randomized studies of mindfulness intervention on various dependent variables. The participants in mindfulness interventions measure many of the outcomes of such interventions subjectively. For this reason, several mindfulness inventories or scales (a set of questions posed to a subject whose answers output the subject's aggregate answers in the form of a rating or category) have arisen. The most prominent include:

    * the Attention Awareness Scale
    * the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory
    * the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills
    * the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale.

Through the use of these scales - which can illuminate self-reported changes in levels of mindfulness, the measurement of other correlated inventories in fields such as subjective well-being, and the measurement of other correlated variables such as health and performance - researchers have produced studies that investigate the nature and effects of mindfulness. The research on the outcomes of mindfulness falls into two main categories: stress reduction and positive-state elevation.

Stress reduction

Human response to stressors in the environment produces emotional and physiological changes in individual human bodies in order to cope with that stress. This process most likely evolved to help us attend to immediate concerns in our environment to better our chances of survival, but in modern society, much of the stress felt is not beneficial in this way. Stress has been shown to have several negative effects on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. One field of psychological inquiry into mindfulness is "mindfulness-based stress-reduction" or MBSR.

Related Buddhist terms and practices

Although sati/smrti is the primary term that is usually invoked by the word mindfulness in a Buddhist context, it has been asserted "in Buddhist discourse, there are three terms that together map the field of mindfulness . . . [in their Sanskrit variants] smṛti (Pali: sati), sampraja˝a (Pali: sampaja˝˝a) and apramāda (Pali: appamada)."source All three terms are sometimes (confusingly) translated as "mindfulness," but they all have specific shades of meaning and the former two might be glossed as "awareness" and "vigilance," respectively. In the Satipatthana Sutta, sati and sampaja˝˝a are combined with atappa (Pali; Sanskrit: ātapaḥ), or "ardency," and the three together comprise yoniso manisikara (Pali; Sanskrit: yoniśas manaskāraḥ), "appropriate attention." (Source)

In a publicly available correspondence between Bhikkhu Bodhi and B. Alan Wallace, Bodhi has described Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's views on "right mindfulness" and sampaja˝˝a in the following fashion: "... He held that in the proper practice of right mindfulness, sati has to be integrated with sampaja˝˝a, clear comprehension, and it is only when these two work together that right mindfulness can fulfill its intended purpose."

English Pali Sanskrit Chinese Tibetan
mindfulness sati smṛti स्मृति nian 念 trenpa (wylie: dran pa)
awareness sampaja˝˝a sampraja˝a संप्रज्ञान zheng zhi li 正知力 sheshin (wylie: shes bzhin)
vigilance/heedfulness appamada apramāda ज्ञानकोश bu fang yi 不放逸; wu zong yi 無縱逸;li zhu fang yi 離諸放逸 baky÷ (wylie: bag yod)
ardency atappa ātapaḥ आतप yong meng 勇猛 nyima (wylie: nyi ma)
attention/engagement manasikara manaskāraḥ मनस्कार ru li zuo yi 如理作意 yila jeypa (wylie: yid la byed pa)
foundation of mindfulness satipaṭṭhāna smṛtyupasthāna ? trenpa neybar zagpa (wylie: dran pa nye bar gzhag pa)

Ten forms of mindfulness

In the Āgamas of early Buddhism, there are ten forms of mindfulness. According to the Ekottara Āgama, these ten are:

  1. Mindfulness of the Buddha
  2. Mindfulness of the Dharma
  3. Mindfulness of the Saṃgha
  4. Mindfulness of giving
  5. Mindfulness of the heavens
  6. Mindfulness of stopping and resting
  7. Mindfulness of discipline
  8. Mindfulness of breathing
  9. Mindfulness of the body
  10. Mindfulness of death

According to Nan Huaijin, the Ekottara Āgama emphasizes mindfulness of breathing more than any of the other methods, and teaches the most specifically on teaching this one form of mindfulness.

Continuous mindfulness practice

In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than taking three successive breaths while remembering they are a conscious experience of body activity within mind. This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.

Zen criticism

Some Zen teachers emphasize the potential dangers of misunderstanding "mindfulness".

Gudo Wafu Nishijima criticizes the use of the term of mindfulness and idealistic interpretations of the practice from the Zen standpoint:

However recently many so-called Buddhist teachers insist the importance of 'mindfulness.' But such a kind of attitudes might be insistence that Buddhism might be a kind of idealistic philosophy. Therefore actually speaking I am much afraid that Buddhism is misunderstood as if it was a kind of idealistic philosophy. However we should never forget that Buddhism is not an idealistic philosophy, and so if someone in Buddhism reveres mindfulness, we should clearly recognize that he or she can never be a Buddhist at all.

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like "I should be mindful of this or that". If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I - am - mindful - of - ...."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: "When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma"). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.

Based on these two wikipedia articles, Sept. 2010:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(Buddhism) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)