Mindfulness is Only The Beginning

Kalachakra Tantra Mandala

Have you noticed how popular mindfulness is ?

Well, mindfulness is only the beginning of a deep and transformative path to clarity, happiness, and liberation.

But don’t take my word for it, Shakyamuni Buddha who is the founder of all Buddhist practice and the majority of our mainstream mindfulness movements both sectarian and non sectarian spoke in his teachings that the practice of mindfulness is only being consciously aware of your meditation object. Within that scope their are various types of mindfulness as described within the four applications of mindfulness. The mindfulness of body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of mind and mindfulness of phenomena. However, mindfulness is not an object of transforming the mind from a non virtuous place to a virtuous place.

For example mindfulness of breathing which is the most commonly taught technique is a practice where you’re focusing on the breathe as your object of concentration. This practice is traditionally used in the stages of meditation as a way to settle the mind in preparation for the actual meditation session. It is not the primary practice of the session itself. The notable benefit that people receive from mindfulness is in part that while your focusing on the breathe as an object it rests the minds gross rumination and gives you a clear headspace of focus and deeper relaxation.

So why has mindfulness become so popular ?

There are interdependent factors as to why mindfulness has become popular over the last 30 years. I give 5 main reasons that are undeniable to the rise of mainstream mindfulness and meditation practice.

  1. Jon Kabbat Zins breakthrough research and development of mindfulness and MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The scientific results after that laid the sectarian benefits in clear scientific literature for the masses.
  2. The Mind-life conferences started by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in India which furthered the scientific literature into meditation. Also, the popularity of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in general.
  3. Transcendental meditation and its research.
  4. The rise of yoga in the mainstream.
  5. The increase in excessive stress, broken attention, dissatisfaction, confusion, overuse of electronics and ADD- ADHD in our culture.

Those five factors are primary to the rise of mindfulness in our culture.

But if mindfulness is only the beginning of a huge meditation movement where do we go from here ?

The primary purpose of all meditation schools and all mindfulness is full liberation. In some schools the realization of omniscience also known as great liberation is the goal. That is simply not up for debate and that is true within all yogic and Buddhist schools of thought. A meaningful and happy life are implicit as we travel on that path and progress through deeper stages of concentration and insight.

According to one of the most authoritative meditation texts in the world, The Stages of Meditation by Master Kamala Shila( a buddhist adept from the 8th century) the next steps in a meditation practice are utilizing the basis of a neutral mind and beginning to introduce the development of compassion and the development of wisdom.

What kind of wisdom , what kind of compassion ?

It is not a wisdom of how financial markets work, how nations rise and fall, how to become a better employee etc; it pertains to the wisdom which understands the interdependent nature of all phenomena especially the interdependent nature of the merely imputed self or the “I”. In short, the wisdom of ultimate reality. This is traditionally done through studying the 3 different levels of Interdependence which describe how phenomena arise.

Meditation is designed to lay the ground work for penetrative insight which uproots the main causes and conditions for suffering. Both gross forms of suffering and extremely subtle networks of psychological suffering most of us are not aware of.

Ones happiness is intricately woven into the degree of ones understanding and practice of compassion. Ones compassion is woven into ones understanding of suffering. Therefore its important for us as meditation practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of suffering to aid us in increasing our understanding and practice of compassion. Traditionally this is done through studying the 3 different kinds of suffering and their various aspects. This in turn increases the capacity of compassion through the development of understanding.

This compassion is then applied to oneself and others.

But why should I develop these deeper techniques of meditation practice and spend time in study if mindfulness is leaving me relatively happy and light throughout the day ?

Even if you are practicing an illumined space of mindfulness and have developed the capacity to respond instead of react the mind is still reinforcing a certain kind of ignorance which perpetuates suffering. We can exhaust certain dysfunctional mental tendencies in the space of choosing to respond instead of react however the fundamental ignorance which believes that objects exist and arise on their own accord will not be exhausted. The grasping at a solid independent self and the grasping at an object that is self existent can only be penetrated through meditative insight which understands interdependence.

Therefore choosing one of these objects as a form of contemplation meditation will increase mental states which are conducive to protecting the mind from suffering and rooting out primary causes of suffering but will actively guide a practitioner towards full liberation.

The development of compassion and the wisdom which understands reality will be a pivotal point and future for mainstream mindfulness especially as folks become adept at the introductory practices of focusing attention on the breathe.