The Mindfulness of the Buddha

The Mindfulness of the Buddha


The Buddha’s mindfulness has one purpose—the end of suffering. Do secular programs do the same thing?

By Phillip Moffitt
As secular mindfulness continues to expand into many layers of our society, from psychotherapy offices and schools to corporations and the military, I welcome its spread. Regardless of the context in which it is learned, mindfulness reduces suffering when practiced diligently and ethically. Moreover, applying mindfulness to daily life situations is a fundamental dharma teaching. So I experience mudita[sympathetic joy] when I see that mindfulness has become available to many more people.

But do secular programs teach the same mindfulness that the Buddha offered? Programs vary widely, of course. Some have a firm foundation in the Buddha’s teachings while others make no reference to Buddhism in order to strip it of its spiritual context. Exploring this question naturally leads to another: what is the mindfulness of the Buddha?

The Buddha taught that mental suffering arises out of ignorance. By “ignorance” he meant the mind’s misunderstanding of the nature of reality, both mental and physical. For example, a practitioner may have profound insights into the four noble truths (which outline the path to freedom); the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, the existence of suffering, and the absence of a permanent self); or the seven factors of awakening (qualities such as investigation, energy, and equanimity which support realization).  Through vipassana practice we have insights about the implications of the constancy of change, the true nature of reality and self, and the empty radiant nature of mind when it is not clouded by desire and aversion.

But to what end are we cultivating these critical realizations through insight? In order to be able to choose non-suffering rather than suffering—to be able to think, speak, and act in such a manner that does not cause suffering for ourselves or others. Ultimately these realizations bring about a “change in lineage” so complete that the very roots of desire, aversion, and delusion are removed, which is one definition of nibbana.

One of the main tools the Buddha taught for developing insight is the ability to be fully aware in the moment. Other meditative tools he taught include directing attention, achieving deep concentration states, and cultivating the four divine abidings of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

He also taught non-meditative practices he considered essential, such as sila[ethical behavior], dana [generosity], and nekkhamma [renunciation]. Each of these tools plays a critical role in developing insight and allowing you to stay on the noble eightfold path to full understanding, as described in the four noble truths.

Mindfulness practice [sati] as a skillful means enables us to go beneath the surface level of our moment-to-moment life experiences, which are clouded with emotions and habitual thinking, and allows us to see the truth of what is happening. In daily life, it helps us see clearly what needs to be done, what we are capable of doing, and how that relates to the larger truths. Obviously, it isn’t easy being mindful in such a manner, but we can develop mindfulness through the practice of formal meditation practice and by practicing “walking around” mindfulness.

What most distinguishes the Buddha’s from secular mindfulness is that he does not teach it as a standalone skill. Rather, it is a part of the eightfold path that leads to the realization of the four noble truths and the end of mental suffering. The Pali phrase for the Buddha’s mindfulness is samma sati, which translates as “wise mindfulness.” Samma sati is one of three parts in the samadhi [concentration] section of the eightfold path, along with wise concentration and wise effort. It is employed in the development of both of these factors, and both of these factors enhance mindfulness. Likewise in the panna [wisdom] section, wise understanding and wise intention need mindfulness and are needed for the practice to flourish in daily life. Wise understanding fuels the aspiration for liberating the mind from the grasping and clinging that cause mental suffering.

Mindfulness supports the moment-to-moment intention to not cause harm, to be kind, and to renounce those thoughts and actions that lead to heedlessness. Without wise intention and wise understanding, mindfulness is aimless, and therefore not the Buddha’s.

Finally, in the third section of the eightfold path, the Buddha instructs us on applying mindfulness to our work and personal lives through wise speech, wise action, and wise livelihood. These teachings also reflect a particular kind of mindfulness, one that is wise, nonharming, and forward leading. This is the mindfulness taught by the Buddha.

As a standalone practice it may well lack the ethical and aspirational qualities of samma sati. Although the commentaries say that mindfulness is always a wholesome factor of mind, this refers to the samma sati of the eightfold Path. As the esteemed scholar and translator Analayo Bhikkhu points out in his book on the Satipatthana Sutta, there are times when the Buddha refers to “wrong” mindfulness. In other words, we can learn to be mindful, but to what end? For instance, when we are more mindful, we are more likely to see how to gain advantage and opportunity in regard to others. But is this the mindfulness of the Buddha? I certainly don’t think so…



The anger of Achilles

Imagem relacionada

Sublime and terrible; a bronze helmet of Corinthian type, c 450 BCE, inscribed as dedicated to Zeus. Courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum

Homer’s warrior is no mere tragic human figure: fuelled by anger, he is at once a man of honour and a sword of the gods

by C D C Reeve is distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has written, edited and translated many books and volumes, his latest being a translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (2016). He lives in Chapel Hill. 

A warrior hero such as Ajax, Hector or Achilles must be willing to fight in hand-to-hand combat day after day. He must be able, physically and psychologically, to plunge a sword into the body of another human being, and to risk having a sword plunged into his own. He must be brutal and ready to risk brutality. At the same time, he must be gentle to his friends and allies, and able to join with them in group activities both military and peaceful.

Plato was well aware of the problem these opposing demands create, both in the soul of the warrior and in the society he inhabits: ‘Where,’ he asks, ‘are we to find a character that is both gentle and big-tempered [megalothumon] at the same time? After all, a gentle nature is the opposite of an angry one.’ When, in the opening line of the Iliad, Homer asks the goddess to sing ‘the anger of Peleus’ son Achilles’, a large part of what he is asking her to do is to explore this opposition, its sources and effects.

Anger or rage (mênisthumosorgê) is an emotion, a mixture of belief and desire. It is not a somatic feeling, as nausea and giddiness are, though it is usually accompanied by such feelings – trembling and blushing, for example, and the sense of seeing red. It is, in Aristotle’s definition, ‘a desire, accompanied by pain, to take apparent revenge for apparent insult’.

Anger is triggered by insult, then, and so is connected to worth (aretê) and to honour (timê). A person is insulted when the treatment he receives is worse than the treatment his worth entitles him to receive. He is honoured when he is given treatment proportional to his worth, and his worth is above or well-above average. When we speak of honour, therefore, we are in a way speaking of worth, since honour measures worth. Honour and insult are thus close to being polar opposites, and an insult is a harm to worth or honour.

Honour, like insult, comes from others. It is their recognition of our worth. It is the intrusion of the social into the psychological, the public into the private. After all, others honour us for what they find of worth in us. ‘To pursue [honour],’ wrote Baruch Spinoza in Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1677), ‘we must direct our lives according to other men’s powers of understanding, fleeing what they commonly flee and seeking what they commonly seek.’ So what we come to think of as worthwhile in ourselves is bound to have as a large component what others think to be worthwhile in us.

In the society that Homer not so much describes as presupposes in the Iliad, the traits and accomplishments socially underwritten as worthwhile are those appropriate to a world of raiding and warring tribes. Military prowess and achievement are prominent on the list, obviously enough, but so too is loyalty to friends and allies. Anger is intimately involved with both military prowess and loyalty: it provides the kind of psychic energy necessary to perform brutal acts, and so is bound up with success on the battlefield. But it also involves a socially constructed notion of worth, which is a focus for honour. When Plato argues in Republic Book IV that the characteristic emotion of an honour-lover is anger (thumos), he is recognising how central to the world of honour anger really is.

The bond of mutual honouring symbolised by the exchange of gifts – and, for that matter, by the singing of heroic songs that memorialise the achievements of the heroes and their friends and ancestors – is a major ingredient in the social glue that binds the warrior-heroes together. But this bond has another side, which is revealed by insult. When a hero’s friend is insulted so is the hero himself. When Paris steals Helen, he insults Menelaus, but he also insults Agamemnon and his other friends and allies. His action says in effect: ‘I have nothing to fear from people worth as much as you and those who will come to your aid.’ Menelaus’ friends and allies are willing to aid him, certainly, but they do so in part because their own honour is on the line. In helping to restore his honour, they are also out to increase their own. They are themselves to be appropriately honoured, their worth appropriately recognised, in the process of helping him. Competitiveness between friends is thus never far away. The war that Paris precipitates between the Achaeans and Trojans, which is what the Iliad deals with, is there waiting to break out among the Achaeans themselves…




Bald Men in Mozambique Are Being Hunted Down for the Gold in Their Heads

by C. Brian Smith

Mozambique has issued a unique travel advisory to bald men: Pack a hat.

While this may seem like a joke, the police chief reasons it’s the simplest means of protection in a place where five bald men have been killed in the previous two months alone.

“Their motivations come from superstition and culture,” a police spokesman said at an early June press conference. “The local community thinks bald individuals are rich.”

Specifically, local witch doctors and healers believe the heads of bald men contain gold, and that by performing rituals with their body parts, they can bestow those riches upon their patients and clients.

“This is the first I’ve heard of going after bald men for money-magic or money-medicine in Africa, but it’s part of the broader phenomenon that characterizes forms of mystifying neoliberal economic developments in Africa beginning in the 1990s, and draws on traditional cultural models of witchcraft and sorcery,” explains Andrew Apter, director of the African Studies Center at UCLA, who says murdering bald men to harvest body parts is related to “the occult economy” in East Africa.

In the early 1990s, Apter says, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — the two of the biggest lenders to Africa — instituted reforms that set prices for goods and services by the open market rather than by African governments artificially. “This included the elimination of state projects, trade tariffs and public subsidies,” Apter explains, “which led to massive unemployment in rural areas.”

Ever since, Mozambique, which until 1990 had a fairly successful socialist model, has experienced massive economic changes that have favored the rich and hurt the poor. By 2000, 69 percent of Mozambicans lived below the poverty line, according to the U.N. And in 1998, former Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi told donors, “Poverty is an atrocious reality, particularly in the countryside where 80 percent of the population lives.”

“Those in the cities are believed to be profiting at the expense of the rural youth, whose condition has worsened,” Apter explains. “From the perspective of the rural peasantry, there’s been a new class of very wealthy entrepreneurs whose wealth is ‘mysterious’ because it doesn’t seem to be related to visible labor or hard work, as in currency speculation or trading in futures.”

The pervasive rural explanation then is that these people — mostly men, many of whom shave their heads to follow style trends, believing they look better bald — are wealthy because they engage in Satanic practices. In turn, witch doctors are advising rural peasants in pursuit of money-making magic that it can be found within the hairless domes of this nouveau riche professional class.

Says Apter, “The modern bald style of men in Africa is very different — it’s associated with a certain kind of urbanity and cosmopolitanism, drawing on global youth culture and style as well as that of accomplished professionals and bankers.”

The most recent killings of bald men occurred in Zambezia, the same province where albino people have traditionally been targeted in similar rituals. Their body parts are believed to contain minerals and bring good luck.

“As outrageous as it seems,” says Oscar Duke, a British doctor with albinism who traveled to East Africa earlier this year to film a documentary on the subject of ritual killings, “the belief that minerals from an albino’s body bring wealth has led the rural poor to kill or mutilate 170 people in recent years, many of whom are children.”

Like Festo, a 15-year-old boy featured in the documentary who was attacked at age 7 by a group of men storming into his house with machetes. They knocked out his teeth and cut off his fingers while his mother was cooking dinner. “They think they will get money from our body parts,” the fingerless boy explains to Duke in the film. That’s because witch doctors pay top dollar for body parts of “abnormal” humans since magic “medicine” made from them is sold at a premium.

Beyond albinos, Apter says such “abnormalities” include “virgins because they’re ‘pure’ and bald men because they’re ‘magically rich.’”

So for now, all three groups remain on high alert.

Or as one British tabloid breathlessly put it: “Superstars like Bruce Willis and Jason Statham warned to stay away from Africa — because baldies are being targeted by WITCH DOCTORS for use in magic potions