Overview of Buddhism

Buddhism & Mindfulness

Nurturing Inner Awareness and Presence

As an author, musician, father, husband, and an explorer of ways to live a life aligned with the nature of the universe, my journey has led me to the philosophy of Buddhism. I first encountered Buddhism in my early twenties when I traveled and later lived in Thailand. I lived in Bangkok for about ten years and during that time got to see a wide range of Buddhist practices. Whatever faults there are with some modern practices, it’s clear this ancient tradition transcends time and cultural boundaries.

Buddhism is rooted in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (discussed below). It offers insights into the human condition, illuminating a roadmap for navigating the intricate complexities of existence.

For me, Buddhism isn’t merely a distant philosophy; it’s a path that resonates with my quest for understanding and well-being. It unfurls its wisdom about life’s fundamental nature—an exploration of suffering, its origins, its end, and the transformative path towards liberation. The practice of Buddhism not only sheds light on the universal struggle with suffering but also unveils a path to transcend it, fostering profound self-discovery that echoes across eras and civilizations.

Mindfulness: An Intimate Journey Within

Nestled within the heart of Buddhism is mindfulness—a practice that asks us to embrace the present moment by paying close attention to our experience. Mindfulness peels away the layers of distraction and preoccupation, unveiling the treasure of inner awareness. It bestows the ability to observe thoughts, feelings, and sensations with a gentle and non-judgmental gaze.

For me, mindfulness isn’t a mere technique; it’s an art of being fully immersed in each experience, of savoring life’s flavors without the weight of judgment or the tug of the past and future. Mindfulness isn’t confined to the meditation cushion; it’s a lantern that lights up the labyrinth of daily life.

Even in our modern environment, mindfulness has found its way into various facets of well-being, transcending beyond the walls of Buddhist temples and meditation spaces. Its resonance among individuals of diverse beliefs underscores its universal significance—a tool to foster clarity, nurture compassion, and embrace existence with an open heart.

As I embark on this exploration, we shall venture deeper into the essence of mindfulness within Buddhism, unveiling its meditation techniques, teachings, and the profound ways it intertwines with the currents of contemporary life. Through the lens of ancient wisdom, we’ll uncover how mindfulness emerges as a beacon of insight and tranquility, inviting us to align with the rhythm of the present moment while navigating the intricacies of the human experience.

Insights for Modern Seekers: A Personal Perspective

In a world perpetually propelled by the whirlwind of information, pursuit of efficiency and productivity (see my full article on efficiency here), and responsibilities, a deep yearning for tranquility, clarity, and purpose emerges. Amidst our contemporary life, I find solace in the timeless wisdom of Buddhism and the practice of mindfulness. Though I’m but a novice, I understand and have felt some of the positive effects of embracing Buddhist principles. Buddhism is a practice, which means it is not a one and done kind of commitment. So far, it has been a stop and go marathon for me, but I’m always aiming to make it just one step further the next time before I fall or have to catch my breath.

Harmonizing with Modern Life:

Stress and distractions abound, and the velocity of modernity often magnifies the struggle to find equilibrium. Yet, amid this flurry, the teachings of Buddhism and the sanctuary of mindfulness offer a haven. The pursuit of external validation, fueled by the pursuit of material success and efficiency, frequently leaves individuals craving deeper connections—with themselves and the world that surrounds them. It’s within the depths of these challenges that the teachings of Buddhism and the practice of mindfulness reverberate profoundly.

A Call to Inner Awareness:

Navigating the currents of modern existence, Buddhism’s core teachings encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path resonate with a timeless relevance. In an age that seems perpetually aflutter with change and demands, these teachings confront the nuances of suffering, delve into its origins, and present a pathway towards liberation through ethical living, mental refinement, and self-awareness. The echoes of these principles traverse epochs, a testament that the quest for inner harmony is eternal—a recognition that, despite the passage of over two millennia, the fundamental concerns of humanity remain unaltered.

Mindfulness as a Sanctuary:

For me, mindfulness isn’t just an ancient concept; it has even found its way modernity. This practice, rooted in the monastic traditions of ancient times, has seamlessly woven itself into boardrooms, classrooms, and healthcare settings. The allure of mindfulness lies in its capacity to foster full presence—the ability to withdraw from the ceaseless vortex of digital distractions and the frenzy of multitasking. It has evolved into a sanctuary for those seeking clarity and composure, a practice that can be approached at any moment, any place by anybody. Furthermore, the insights offered by mindfulness arise from personal experience, not faith, setting it apart from the dogmas of the Abrahamic traditions.

Scientific Validation and Psychological Resonance: My Perspective

Mindfulness’ influence extends far beyond its spiritual origins. There are scientific studies that explore its impact on the brain, unveiling a remarkable capacity to reshape neural pathways and enhance emotional regulation (though to be fair, any input into our brain reshapes it). The realm of psychology has warmly embraced mindfulness-based interventions as potent tools for improving stress, anxiety, and even the shadows of depression. In this fusion of age-old philosophy and modern scientific understanding, I see the indelible stamp of its universal significance.

But even without science backing up any changes to the brain, mind, mood, etc., the beauty of meditation and mindfulness is that its truth is based on your own experience. Furthermore, the “point” of mindfulness is not to relieve stress or anxiety, but to simply provide a path to exploring one’s own mind. If mindfulness meditation relieves stress and depression, then that is a welcome side-effect! but not necessary for following the Buddha’s teachings.

II. The Essence of Mindfulness in Buddhism: Understanding Sati

Exploring the Core of Mindfulness in the Buddhist Context

Mindfulness, or “Sati” as it’s known in the ancient Pali language, holds a significance that extends beyond its surface appearance. Delving into its core reveals a practice that encapsulates much more than a fleeting moment of attention—it’s a state of being that intertwines with the very fabric of existence.

Embracing the Present Moment:

Sati, at its heart, is the art of being fully present. My explorations have led me to recognize that mindfulness, far from being an abstract concept, is something experienced to varying degrees. Sometimes when I sit to meditate and be mindful, I’m able to catch “glimpses” of something just out of reach. I have felt my skin’s boundaries fade away, or my hands expand like balloons! One of my deepest and most strange experiences was when looking for “who” is experiencing and “who” am I talking with in my head, I felt/saw that I had no head! Sounds like a crazy drug trip, but it was experienced during meditation, and it revealed pieces of the nature of the mind to me.

Just to encourage others who may be struggling with meditation, I’m a very off and on meditator. I aspire to have a consistent practice but have not succeeded yet. And yet, I was able to have powerful experiences without years of training.

The Gentle Observer:

Meditation and mindfulness aren’t calls to suppress thoughts or emotions; they’re an invitation to observe them with equanimity. I’ve come to understand that Sati allows us to witness the ebb and flow of our inner landscape without judgment or attachment. On my best of days, I can simply observe emotions, feelings, or thoughts without feeling the need to react to them. I imagine I’m a tall mountain and the activity in my mind are like clouds passing harmlessly around me. The clouds don’t bother the mighty mountain.

For example, when I feel mad, I can observe that feeling and examine where I feel it or where it is trying to wiggle in. I will hopefully realize that the emotion “anger” is just a series of processes in my mind, and it is only my own mind that keeps me feeling anger. The event that brought up anger in the first place is over, so it’s my replaying of the event that brings anger to the surface. If I can witness the anger “cloud” pass by my “mountain,” then I can simply acknowledge the anger and then let it go. When I’m able to do that, I’m better positioned to respond in a more level manner and I’m better for it.

Incorporating Mindfulness into Life:

Sati isn’t confined to solitary moments of meditation—it’s a quality of processing life. Mindfulness is not just about observing our mind so we aren’t so easily knocked around by our thoughts and emotions, but also to pay closer attention to each sensation. In my experience, mindful eating, walking, and even conversations become gateways to a deeper connection with the present. It’s a bridge between the meditative cushion and the world.

Unveiling the Four Foundations

The Four Pillars of Mindfulness: Body, Feelings, Mind, and Phenomena

Brief overview of the four foundations of mindfulness:

Mindfulness of the Body:
  • Focuses on observing the physical sensations and movements of the body.
  • Enhances awareness of bodily sensations, posture, and breath.
  • Cultivates a deep connection with the physical vessel that carries us through life.
Mindfulness of Feelings:
  • Involves observing and acknowledging emotional states without judgment.
  • Explores the spectrum of emotions, including joy, sorrow, and neutrality.
  • Encourages the development of emotional intelligence and resilience.
Mindfulness of the Mind:
  • Navigates the landscape of thoughts, fears, hopes, and doubts.
  • Involves observing thoughts without attachment or judgment.
  • Cultivates an understanding of the transient nature of thoughts and mental states.
Mindfulness of Phenomena:
  • Explores the interplay of external occurrences and internal perceptions.
  • Encompasses both tangible and intangible experiences within and around us.
  • Illuminates the interconnectedness of all phenomena and the dance of existence.
Mindfulness of the Body:

Within the present moment, mindfulness of the body is one of the easier ways to begin probing. This isn’t a call to superficially scan the external form, but rather an invitation to inhabit the body with full presence. As I tread this path, I realize that this foundation invites us to acknowledge the physical vessel that carries us through life—a vessel that bears the imprints of sensations, breath, and movement. Exploring the body with mindfulness unveils some very interesting aspects of most people’s awareness.

One important insight that I’ve been able to glean and hold onto is experiencing the sensations of the body in a much wider way. At first, when I was asked to focus on a body part, mentally I “sent out” some sort of recognizance to report back to my mind what my foot is feeling like. Why did I imagine a little bolt of energy travelling down to my foot and then back up with the info? With mindfulness, you can learn to feel instantly because of course all feeling is experienced in the mind. It’s allowing feeling to enter without “looking”.

As mentioned above, I’m now able to experience an incredible blurriness to the boundaries of my skin. Trying to feel where my skin stops and the air begins can uncover an awareness that indeed the boundaries that I call “me” are not as defined and clear cut as they feel during most of our waking hours. If you take that further, then all the separations we interact with are in reality false. Everything is literally more connected than we typically experience when we are not being mindful.

Mindfulness of Feelings:

In the sanctuary of mindfulness, feelings emerge as intricate brushstrokes that paint the canvas of our experiences. We can observe feelings—whether they arise as joy, sorrow, or neutrality—with a little “distance”. Through the lens of my journey, I’ve come to understand that mindful awareness of feelings isn’t about evasion or suppression; it’s about allowing emotions to unfold, observing their transient nature without becoming entangled in their currents.

Also, understanding that I’m not my feelings is a powerful insight. I am not “anger”. The feeling of anger is just as transient as any other thought. The only reason I stay angry is because I keep replaying whatever brought anger up over and over. When I feel anger, I try to observe it and how it moves around but I attempt to also watch it move along and hopefully not bother me again. Easier said than done and I’m no expert here, but I have caught glimpses of this superpower and believe cultivating it will lead to a healthier life for myself and those around me.

Mindfulness of the Mind:

The foundation of mindfulness extends to the realm of thoughts and mental states. This aspect of mindfulness urges us to cultivate an intimate relationship with the delicate intricacies of our own thoughts—the fears that whisper in the corners of our consciousness, the hopes that soar like ethereal birds, and the doubts that cast their shadows.

Mindfulness doesn’t carry the weight of judgment or attachment. Mindfulness puts on full display the mind’s perpetual state of flux. My journey through mindfulness has brought to my awareness the profound truth that thoughts are like ephemeral clouds passing across the sky of consciousness. They form, they transform, and then they dissipate, making way for new formations. Mindfulness illuminates the ever-changing nature of thoughts, encouraging us to observe them without being ensnared in their transient dance.

Just try sitting and focusing on your breathing for even three breaths without catching your mind wandering off. The mind is constant change and meditation brings another pint of view to that state.

Mindfulness of Phenomena:

The fourth foundation of mindfulness encompasses the external occurrences that shape our interactions with the world and the internal currents that mold our perceptions.

Mindfulness points us to recognize the interconnectedness that weaves phenomena together, much like the threads in a cosmic loom. It’s a practice that awakens us to the seamless interdependence of all things, from the rustling leaves to the quivering thoughts, from the delicate pulse of our breath to the unseen currents of emotion. Through this lens of mindfulness, I’ve come to perceive the world not as a series of isolated events, but as a vibrant thread of internal and external phenomena.

In “The Universe in a Single Atom” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he discusses Cause and Effect, a core belief in Buddhism. Basically, Buddhists belief everything that occurs had some prior state that caused the current state and that you can keep going back in time until…well my understanding is that trying to find the first cause may be a question that makes no sense. At any rate, mindfulness can help one see the mind and the world as intimately connected.

Insight Meditation (Vipassana): Cultivating Wisdom Through Mindfulness

Cultivating Equanimity: Among the treasures Insight Meditation bestows upon its practitioners is equanimity—an inner steadiness that remains unwavering amidst the changing tides of experience. This equanimity is nurtured through acknowledging that all phenomena, whether pleasant or unpleasant, surface and dissolve. It’s a reminder that the symphony of existence is composed of fleeting notes, and our role is to listen with open ears, without becoming ensnared in preferences or aversions.

The Blossom of Self-Awareness: Through mindfulness, we come to observe our reactions, impulses, and patterns with more clarity. This heightened self-awareness can serve as a compass through our life.

Awakening Compassion: Compassion emerges as a product of Insight Meditation. As I observe the ebb and flow of thoughts and emotions, I cultivate a gentle tenderness towards myself. This tenderness then extends to others, for I recognize that the dance of suffering and joy is a shared rhythm across humanity.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

There’s alot that could be said here, but I’ll keep it brief. These are the four truths that Buddha understood after his enlightenment.

  1. The truth that all life contains suffering because of impermanence and clinging to phenomena that comes and goes.
  2. The origin of this suffering is unquenchable thirst, desire, longing…craving without end. This can be attachment to pleasures, existence, and non-existence. we are stuck in this cycle of craving because we are ignorant to the true nature of reality.
  3. The truth that the suffering can end. This is an understanding that it is possible to escape endling suffering by attaining Nirvana (Nibana) – a state of peace free from defilements.
  4. The truth that the path to attaining nirvana is by following the Noble Eight-fold Path.

The Noble Eight-Fold Path in a Nutshell

Once again, this is a deep topic, but here’s a brief overview:

  • right view, involving a clear understanding of the essence of things, specifically the Four Noble Truths.
  • right intention, which entails steering clear of thoughts rooted in attachment, hatred, or harmful intent.
  • right speech, refraining from verbal transgressions like falsehoods, divisive speech, harsh language, and senseless chatter.
  • right action, refraining from physical misconduct such as taking life, stealing, or engaging in sexual impropriety.
  • right livelihood, which involves avoiding professions that directly or indirectly harm others, such as the sale of slaves, weapons, animals for slaughter, intoxicants, or poisons.
  • right effort, which includes abandoning negative mental states that have already arisen, preventing the emergence of negative states, and sustaining positive mental states.
  • right mindfulness, encompassing mindfulness of the body, emotions, thoughts, and phenomena, which constitute the elements of our present reality.
  • right concentration, signifying the development of single-minded focus.

These are ethical, mental, and meditative practices that cultivate wisdom, compassion, and well-being with the ultimate goal being to reach nirvana.

To be continued…

I’m very much a student of Buddhism. This page will be a work in progress as I learn and experience more. As one might imagine, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the Buddha’s philosophy.

Buddhist Reading List

These are the books I have read. I will try to put recommendation notes where I can.

Why Buddhism Is True by Rober Wright

Cover of Why Buddhism is True

The Universe in a Single Atom: The convergence of science and spirituality by Dalai Lama

Book cover of The Universe in a Single Atom by Dalai Lama

In the Words of Buddha by Bhikku Bodhi