Buddhist Mindfulness Essay, Research Paper
Buddhists emphasize having ‘Right Mindfulness’ as a vital part of meditation as well as one of the most important steps in the eight-fold path to enlightenment. Having mindfulness is being completely aware of what happens to us and in us and only focusing on these things. Right mindfulness, defined as “the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception,” holds an essential role in the practice of Buddhist meditation (Klostermaier, Buddhism, Pg. 132). This same concept can be beneficial to people that do not even practice Buddhism. Living life in a state of mindfulness promotes relaxation, awareness, efficiency and control. All of these qualities, also known as miracles of mindfulness, are the basis for Buddhist meditation and the goal of developing mindfulness. In a broader sense, these are valuable attributes in many cultures and promote a better life for everyone.
Right mindfulness is essential in Buddhism because it provides that basis for the awareness and concentration that is essential in Buddhist meditation. Basic meditation consists of the practitioner concentrating on a single item or thought, and only that thing, for an increasing amount of time. Concentrating on a particular item allows a person to “see it deeply,” or to know the object of concentration with the greatest fullness possible (Hanh, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching, Pg. 64). The benefits of this are most obvious in relationships with others. For example, for a father to concentrate fully on his son while they interact, is beneficial, not only for the son, but for the father and their relationship together (Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Pg. 14). In our culture, it is difficult to develop meaningful relationships that last because many people, even when they spend time with a loved one, do not devote enough attention to that person. This is just one of many simple example of how living a mindful life can be beneficial because we learn to devote due attention to the people and causes that are most important to us.
There are many “miracles” that integrate into our lives when practicing mindfulness. The first two miracles are the ability to be aware of the present and to make whatever is present truly present in our minds. In other words, we learn to concentrate on the ‘now’ rather than the past or the future, by which most people tend to become distracted. For example, when we eat, we may be thinking of a wide range of things from what has happened already in the day to what we plan to be doing tomorrow. By being distracted in this manner, we never really get the opportunity to enjoy our meal. Concentrating on the meal that we are eating in the present time makes it present in our actions as well as in our mind. This awareness of our current actions results in the unique chance to enjoy the act of eating a meal.
One may think that we must always be aware of the present, but there are many examples of when we are not. When we drive home after work, we do not concentrate on driving home, we think about what we will prepare for dinner and all of the tasks that we must complete before going to bed. Likewise, when we eat, we are constantly preparing for the next bite of food before we have enjoyed the current one. Too often, our minds are in so many places and in so many different directions that it causes a great inefficiency in our actions. Therefore, it makes sense to devote ourselves to one task or thought at a time simply because it is a more efficient use of time. The two first miracles of mindfulness are the beginning of learning to be efficient in our thoughts and actions as well as learning to be in the present and aware of everything we do.
The third miracle of mindfulness applies most directly in our relationships with others. By being aware and attentive in our relationships with others, we nourish those relationships. Consequently, if we are not nourishing those relationships, we are contributing to their demise. What a person can learn about another by simply being attentive is astounding. We learn about their habits, likes, dislikes, dreams, worries, and innermost thoughts. How can any of us say that we are a good friend, boyfriend, or husband if we do not practice mindfulness in our relationships with others?
The sixth miracle of mindfulness, understanding, is another aspect that is directly beneficial in everyday life. As Hanh points out, “When we understand something, we often say I see” (Hanh, Pg. 66). Clearly meaning in such a case that we have understood something that we did not understand before. When we devote due attention to something, it is easier to understand it. In turn, when we understand something, we then have some control over it, or at least our relationship with it. In the context of our relationships with others, understanding is essential for developing care or love for others. It is clear how understanding a loved one is beneficial for the relationship, but even in relation to a disliked person, as with a person we care for, an understanding of their thoughts and motivation and problems closes the door for dislike and opens the door to love and care.
Although not defined as a miracle of mindfulness, one of the greatest attributes to a person that lives his life in mindfulness is his ability to control emotions. This is because of his awareness of his emotions as a result of meditation on these emotions. In effect, because we know we are angry or jealous, we now have the ability to control these emotions in a way that they do not dictate our actions. Moreover, because we ‘know’ and are aware of the object of our emotions, we no longer have the desire to harm another person. If anything, we feel empathy for them and our anger or jealousy is changed to love and the desire to help them overcome their suffering (Narasabho, Buddhism: A Guide to a Happy Life, Pg. 314). This quality coincides directly with the sixth miracle because our emotions often affect the way in which we act toward other people.
A more personal application of the sixth miracle on mindfulness deals with our own bodies. Many people, especially in our American culture, are displeased with their body. A large focus in Buddhist meditation is one’s body and all of its parts. Being mindful or aware of our own body leads to an appreciation of it and its beauty. The problem is that many people often see their body as separate from themselves and harbor a strong dislike against their physical appearance.
By knowing and understanding our bodies, we realize that they are part of our whole being and not simply an ugly prison from which we must escape. From this point, we begin to see the beauty of our body. Just because my nose is larger than a gorgeous celebrity’s nose does not mean that I am ugly. It means that I am different. I am me, and I see that my body is part of who I am. Mindfulness brings acquaintance with my body and allows me to appreciate the beauty of my body as a part of my being. Although, in practicing Buddhism, one would not actually acknowledge the ‘self’, he would first become familiar and content with his body before being able to move away from it into meditating on further items.
Living in a mindful manner has numerous benefits. Our efforts become more efficient because we are able to be present in our daily activities. We work when we are working, eat when we are eating, and are present in our relations with others when we interact with them. Being present in our thoughts allows us to control our emotions so that they do not dictate our actions toward others or ourselves. Therefore, we are more free to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with loved ones through nourishment of our attention. Finally, mindfulness causes an understanding and control of ourselves. We are aware of our thoughts, our actions, and our own body. It improves both our own lives and our relationship with others and allows us to experience life in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Eastok, Sandy, ed. Dharma Family Treasures: Sharing Mindfulness with Children.
Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1994.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. New York: Broadway Books,
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995
Kornfield, Jack, ed. The Teachings of the Buddha. Boston & London: Shambala, 1993.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. Buddhism: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.
Narasabho M.A., Ph.D., Phra Maha Singhathon. Buddhism: A Guide to a Happy Life.
Thailand: Wat Phrajetubon, 1975.