The Path to Mindfulness — Pengying Sun

In Buddhism, mindfulness is more than meditation practice but a whole body-and-mind awareness of the present. The Buddha taught that the only way to achieve and maintain mindfulness is through contemplation of one’s own body and mind: abandon the past; abandon the future — practice knowing and letting go. It is the presence of this knowing that allows one to let go. Like the late Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master (1926-2022), said, “I define mindfulness as the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment.” Let me share more about how I understand and have practiced this teaching.

“Let go” or “Abandon” doesn’t mean one literally gets rid of the past and the future, but just that one focuses on one’s mindfulness and insight at the present moment. The present is both the result of the past and the cause of what lies ahead in the future. We say “abandon” them, but these are just words used to describe the way of training the mind. Let go of everything one did in the past: both the good and the bad, because there is no benefit to clinging to the past and one’s feelings about it. Events in the future are still waiting to happen. All the arising that will occur in the future hasn’t actually taken place yet, so don’t attach too firmly to ideas about what may or may not happen in the future.

Whatever arises in the present moment is impermanent. Everything that is subject to arising is impermanent. If one doesn’t meditate on this teaching, when things actually do start to show themselves as uncertain and changeable one won’t know how to respond wisely and may get agitated. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, “[being] separated from things we like, exposed to things we dislike, [and not] get[ting] the things we want” are the three out of seven types of pains for human beings, along with birth, death, decay, and human disease. For example, sometimes we really enjoy spending time with our loved ones to the point that we are scared of losing them. When we get to spend time with our loved ones, we are over the moon and wish time could freeze — that we could stay like that forever. However, this is impossible as everything is impermeant – both the good and the bad. We are happy when we have something but sad when we lose it or don’t have it. No one knows what is going to happen to anything or anyone.

By contemplating that which is uncertain, one sees that which is certain. Whatever happiness or suffering arises there, teach oneself that it’s transient. If the mind’s eye sees all conditioned things as uncertain, then all of one’s problems that arise out of attaching and giving undue importance to things will disappear. This intrinsic truth is the only thing that is really certain. When one sees this, rather than clinging and attaching, the mind lets go. The cause of the problem, the attachment, disappears, resulting in the mind penetrating the truth and merging with the Dhamma.

In the end, I would like to say that one of the reasons that I truly believe in Buddhism and why it has become a crucial part of me is that I am able to test its thinking and “beliefs” in my life with my own observations and experience. I love asking questions and analyzing things critically and Buddhism always impresses me by how it answers my questions in such an inspiring way and challenges me to study more.

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