When one follows the Tatagatha's gradual training path, starting with developing strong virtue, keeping the precepts, being skilled at guarding the sense doors, and being devoted to wakefulness and alertness, disturbances in the mind are greatly reduced, and conditions become right for the practice of Right Mindfulness. That is, one is alert, ardent, undisturbed, and ready for the practice of Right Mindfulness.
Right Mindfulness involves directing attention inward towards the five aggregates—our body, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and consciousness. Through the knowing and memory elements inherent in consciousness, one effortlessly recalls the transformations occurring within the five aggregates.
Once Right Mindfulness is firmly established, the knowing element within consciousness leads to Right Discernment, and when the mind is fully collected, it culminates in Right Concentration.
It's important to understand that the goal of Right Mindfulness is not the objects of the world themselves, it is to understand how our mind interacts with this world through the five aggregates and how it perceives the five aggregates themselves.
In essence, to discern the cause of suffering, instead of fixating on objects of desire or aversion, attention is directed towards understanding how the mind generates desire and aversion for these objects. This necessitates tracking changes and recalling events from memory, integral components of consciousness.
To properly understand Right Mindfulness, one needs to understand wrong mindfulness. Wrong mindfulness is the common belief that one must take an active role in the process of cognition, for example, by observing, focusing, paying attention, analyzing, and discerning. This creates a separate abstract process, which interferes with true cognition.
This can be best understood as a self or ego that needs to interact with incoming sensory data and react (clinging to self). This very interaction obscures and changes what is perceived (creates delusion). While this way of interacting is useful in some circumstances, it obstructs true seeing.
Right Mindfulness on the other hand, is a memory recall process. No additional, separate, unnecessary process from self or the ego is created, because no interaction with, or changing the contents of memory is possible. Seeing directly from memory, which already contains the knowing element, results in Right Discernment.
Establishing Right Mindfulness is a practice; to be successful, one needs to have practiced virtue, sense restraint, and wakefulness adequately, otherwise the mind will be scattered, with parts of awareness still focused externally. As one practices, the mind becomes completely collected, resulting in Right Mindfulness and Right Discernment which turn into Right Concentration.
For a deeper understanding of the significance of establishing the right conditions before practicing Right Mindfulness, please read the following Sutra if you haven't already done so.
True Right Mindfulness
For most people, the concept of "right knowledge" and "right mindfulness" is very vague. Here, I'll use a popular saying from the internet that might help everyone grasp what "right knowledge" and "right mindfulness" mean more clearly.
Resaerch has shown that teh order of English characters does not necessarily affect reading comperhension.
After reading this sentence, I believe many people didn't notice that the characters in the sentence are actually jumbled. Strictly speaking, this sentence doesn't convey any meaning, but our brains overlook this fact.
In this example, ignoring the position of each character while reading the sentence is an example of "not having right knowledge." Because of "not having right knowledge," various understandings and concepts generated in the mind are also not accurate, which is "not having right mindfulness." If we had initially paid attention to each character and its position as they are, that would be "right knowledge," and the various accurate understandings and concepts arising from "right knowledge" would be "right mindfulness."
The correct understanding of a sentence is based on having accurate knowledge of the words, just as the correct understanding of the world is based on having accurate knowledge of consciousness.
It's important to note that there is nothing within the body and mind that can observe or be aware of other things. All cognition is the result of interactions between the senses and objects. So, to have right knowledge of consciousness itself, nothing else is needed to know or observe consciousness. It's like a self-illuminating light source; it doesn't need another light to shine upon it.
There's also no need to actively observe; consciousness is always arising, various forms of awareness are also always arising. This world doesn't cease to exist because we don't observe it, and our sense of existence and various emotions and feelings don't disappear because we don't observe them.
Just as I wrote in "My Meditation Experience":
One day during meditation, I thought, If I don't observe, does that mean I won't know what's happening in the present moment? Will I become completely unaware like a piece of wood?' The answer was very clear—no one turns into a piece of wood just because they're not observing.
So, at that moment, I completely gave up all active and passive observations and all acts of will. I simply allowed phenomena of body and mind to arise and pass away on their own. The restless me suddenly became calm, and the phenomena of body and mind became even clearer than before, but I was no longer involved in them. My mind remained stable in a state beyond all phenomena.
A form of knowing, one that I had never experienced or seen before, arose: when phenomena of body and mind occurred, there was already knowing within them. There was no need for extra, redundant observation. This knowing was the inherent function of the phenomena themselves. What people call 'observation' is nothing more than another phenomenon arising afterwards.
It reminded me of an insight I had years ago when I first started practicing meditation. At that time, I simply paid attention to what arose on a small patch of water's surface. Following a similar feeling now, I no longer actively observed the phenomena of body and mind; I only paid attention to what knowing arose within the scope of body and mind.
Nowadays, my concentration is completely different from what it used to be. When I use this method again, the knowing generated by the phenomena of body and mind is timely, complete, and clear, while I remain relaxed, as if I had just taken a heavy burden off my shoulders.
Just like between a worker and a boss, previously, I kept observing the phenomena of body and mind, like a worker continually doing a job, exhausted but earning meager wages. Now, I've discovered that knowing is the inherent function of the phenomena of body and mind themselves, so I no longer need to do this job. I only need to collect the results of labor from these workers (inherent in consciousness), which is not only effortless but also highly profitable."
If you can understand this point, you won't waste time on incorrect methods of so-called observation and awareness. Instead, you'll simply pay attention to what consciousness arises and what knowing arises in every moment, everywhere. You won't miss it, won't overlook it, and won't misunderstand it. Through this, ignorance is eliminated, and right knowledge arises. When right knowledge arises, the inner logical induction, analysis, summarization, and reflection will remove past misunderstandings, eliminate wrong thoughts, and produce right mindfulness.
Minding the Body as Treading on Thin Ice
Before I understood the simile of the alms bowl in the scriptures, I contemplated how to avoid generating delusions and how to achieve complete right mindfulness regarding all phenomena occuring at my feet during walking meditation.
At that time, I thought of the phrase "as treading on thin ice."
Imagine walking on the fragile surface of a frozen lake. A momentary lapse in concentration, and you could fall through the ice. One must be extremely cautious, lightly touch the ice with their feet, slowly shift their weight, and only once one foot is steady, can you raise the other foot, move it, and touch the ice again.
Throughout this process, even during moments of standing still, attention is completely alert to all sensory perceptions underfoot. It's neither lax nor fixated, and certainly not distracted. Upon finding this sensation, I frequently practiced walking meditation in this manner.
On one occasion, with a mind of extraordinary clarity and right mindfulness, I recognized that when the sensation of my foot touching the ground arises, I immediately know that it's been touched. At that moment, various feelings arise, all independently arising, unentangled, and fleeting. They didn't exist before arising, and they don't persist after ceasing. They have no inherent existence, and they're devoid of substantiality.
When I mindlessly attached to these feelings, the perception of my foot, my movement, my awareness of movement, the intention, and the perceived cause and effect between them would give rise to thoughts. And within those thoughts existed craving and aversion.
Similarly, during movement and when standing still, my legs and body experienced various sensations, all of which were discrete and continually vanishing. When I mindlessly attached to these sensations, perceptions of my legs, my bodily movement, and my standing, corresponding thoughts rooted in craving and aversion would also arise.
I came to realize that the so-called "body" consists solely of diverse feelings originating from contact. These feelings are momentary and ever-changing, vanishing and reappearing. The various perceptions and thoughts that arise from these feelings have no intrinsic reality. They may appear rich and colorful, yet they are ultimately empty illusions.
During this time, I practiced right mindfulness by not attaching to feelings. I didn't cling to the arising perceptions or thoughts related to my body or movement. I refrained from speculative thinking and craving. My mind abided in liberation.
In the past, during my practice of Theravada Buddhism, I once believed that there was an intention for movement, and thus, movement of the legs existed. There was also a knowing mind that recognized this movement. But now, as I directly face the present, I understand that the only true reality is the arising of feelings due to contact. The concepts of "feet," "movement," "awareness of movement," "intention," and the causal relationships between them are simply perceptions and thoughts that arise from a lack of insight into the nature of feelings. When all feelings are mindfully acknowledged without clinging, all these illusory perceptions and thoughts vanish.
This is akin to an old-fashioned television, where the electrical impulses and the flickering of the screen only give rise to momentary flashes. The countless fleeting flashes create the illusion of a continuous image in our minds. It's due to people's thinking and memories about these ever-changing images that various narratives form. Yet, the only true reality within that TV is the instantaneous flickering of the electrons and the screen.
The movement of footsteps is no different. The sensations in the feet and the contact with the ground give rise to momentary feelings. Numerous fleeting feelings create the perception of having feet. It's due to people's thoughts and memories about these changing perceptions that the concept of movement forms.
Subsequent analytical thoughts and the conception of intention cause movement. However, in reality, the only true phenomenon in the present moment is the diverse, fleeting feelings due to the contact of the feet.
This understanding applies to all sensory experiences: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mental phenomena. As the Buddha stated: "Eye and visible form, eye-consciousness, and eye-contact give rise to eye-feeling. The same principle applies to ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, as well as their respective sensory experiences, awareness, and contact, which give rise to feeling. This is what the Buddha termed 'all phenomena.'"
However, because people don't correctly perceive these real phenomena, scriptures can sometimes, as mentioned in a previous article, mistake many illusory phenomena for reality. This confusion can mislead people onto the wrong path to liberation.
So, do not attempt to observe the body with a mind tainted by wrong views. Cultivate right view. With the similes of the alms bowl and treading on thin ice, consistently keep your mind on the body. Practice right mindfulness and right understanding. This is the contemplation of the body.
With much practice in contemplating the body, you'll be able to perceive feelings accurately. By contemplating feelings, you'll be able to perceive the mind accurately. With the contemplation of the mind, you can perceive all true phenomena accurately. And when you perceive them accurately, you'll cease to give rise to craving and aversion, and your mind will attain liberation.