Rev. Kinrei Bassis
Mindfulness is the heart of Buddhist training. When we are mindful, we are being still and aware of the present. This means not dwelling on our past or on our future, but bringing our attention to our present activity, whether that is driving, a conversation, cooking, working or watching TV. Most people drift through life, spending much of their time lost in a swirl of speculation and judgments about their past and their future. Then they wonder why their life often seems to lack meaning and strength, but they fail to see that the real, vital connection to our life is through being present and mindful of what we are experiencing right now. The ground of Buddhist spiritual training is the teaching that the heart of Buddha can be found in all activities, in all possible places, and at all times. Sometimes I find myself bored or uninterested in many of the mundane activities of my daily life. Yet when I am willing to let go of my expectations and judgments and be wholeheartedly present, my heart often opens to the deep inherent meaning of whatever I am doing, and gratitude and reverence arise quite naturally.
Mindfulness is more than just being aware of what we are doing; it is also an awareness of what we are thinking and feeling. Mindfulness allows me to be aware when my mind keeps turning down some well-worn karmic rut of worry or fear, inadequacy or pride. I can still spend untold hours, days, or even weeks criticizing myself or justifying myself, blaming myself or blaming others. Yet I never would think of making a conscious decision to spend all that time enveloped in self- criticism or blame. It seems like my thoughts and feelings are out of my control. Sometimes I notice that my whole day has an undercurrent of worry flowing through it. Worry may be telling me that some aspect of my life needs attention, yet the activity of spending the whole day endlessly replaying my fears is a useless waste of my energy and causes me considerable pain. Through the attention of being mindful, I can become aware of how much pain I am causing myself with my worrying. I then can also see that I have been choosing to worry and that I have a choice to let go of my worries and return my awareness to my present activity. Mindfulness allows me to see that I can choose to turn toward something positive like trust rather than worry, choose to forgive rather than blame, choose faith rather than doubt. If I feel despair, it is my choice if I allow myself to turn away from my faith and project a future without hope.
Mindfulness is not just being mindful of what we are doing, it is also being mindful of the Buddhist teachings. An example of this mindfulness is maintaining an awareness of the second of the Four Noble Truths, “The source of suffering is desire and attachment.” This helps by reminding me that the sources of my suffering are not the hard and difficult things happening to me; the true root of my suffering lies in what I am choosing to grasp. When I am making a choice, it is important that I keep an awareness of the Precepts so that I am trying to do what is good. At times, I have a problem with doubt, particularly with a doubt that I cannot really follow the Buddha’s teaching and successfully deal with my karma. Yet when I study the Dharma, I am aware that to doubt myself is really to doubt the Dharma. All beings, including me, are Buddhas. When I look at myself and let go of my self-centered harsh judgments, I can see that I am like everyone else. Buddhism is not for some special people; it provides the real cure for all suffering and is the way to find a peaceful and joyous heart. It helps me to recognize that it is my choice to cling to my doubts rather than let them go and trust the Buddhist teaching that eventually all resistance and obstacles in my heart will dissolve. Mindfulness has freed me to see that the seemingly great difficulties in my life arise from my own choices, and I have the freedom to let them go.
When I was a new to Buddhism, I used to think that I was being mindful in my work by working hard with concentrated mind, but often I was unknowingly creating waves of suffering for myself by forgetting to be mindful of the Dharma. For instance, I can remember working very hard for a week on a construction project and, due to someone else’s innocent mistake, all my work needed to be torn down and redone. Since I was unknowingly caught up in strong feelings of pride and accomplishment, I became angry, critical of others and depressed. One of the purposes of mindfulness is not to get caught up in our momentary goals and desires, but to keep our hearts and minds open to a much deeper perspective.
I find the devotional aspect of spiritual life to be a vital part of mindfulness. One reason I find it very difficult to be mindful is often I do not care about what I am doingÑI am just trying to get through some activity so I can get to what I feel is the meaningful part of my life. When we view mindfulness as a mere technique, it is hard to be motivated to let go of our dreams and fears so we can simply be fully aware of our seemingly boring present. Yet when I cut my life in pieces and decide this piece is the one that counts and this piece does not matter, my whole life starts to lose its meaning. It is like people trying to get through their work week so they can live their real life on the weekend. Mindfulness generates profound meaning in our life when we act in faith that our whole life is the life of Buddha. Everything is part of the Buddha, and when we are willing to give our attention and respect to whatever we do, we open ourselves to experience the deep spiritual meaning of each of our actions. Being devotional in daily life means we try to treat each of our activities with reverence and gratitude. When we express reverence and gratitude for what we are being given, we are helping ourselves to awaken to the deeply spiritual significance of our seemingly ordinary lives. A key aspect of Buddhist training is that we need to turn our hearts toward the Buddha instead of allowing all our longing to be directed toward the ephemeral aspects of the world. Mindfulness allows us to see where we are directing our desires and longing, and when we use the awareness of our mindfulness to cultivate our devotion, this helps all our longing flow toward its rightful home.
Buddhism points us toward our most fundamental need and desire: to experience and live from the Heart of Buddha. When we orient our life toward that deep spiritual purpose, then we can gradually free ourselves from getting so emotionally caught up in the varied scenery of our lives. Mindfulness is pointing us toward trying to see everything in our lives as just passing through the mirror of our minds, and it is spiritually important to be willing to let everything go. When our hearts and minds move from this meditative place, then we get caught up in our endless series of goals and desires, fears and worries. The willingness to be mindful, to live from the still heart of meditation, allows all our scattered goals and desires to flow back into our deepest and most heartfelt desire: to awaken to the living heart of Buddha. Mindfulness allows us to see that we are always free to choose to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha.