mindfulness meditation retreat vietnam 28

Mindfulness Meditation

Buddha attained supreme enlightenment and then spent His whole life converting sentient beings. Once in meditation, He knew the priest Aggidatta had a chance of being an Arahant; and when Aggidatta was converted, His thousands of disciples would also be converted, so He decided to travel a long distance to Kuru. But it was not easy to convert Aggidatta. Ariya Moggallana came to Aggidatta’s place first, and Buddha would appear at the right time.

After converting Aggidatta and all of his disciples (more than ten thousand people), Buddha remained there to continue teaching; and it was in Kuru where Buddha preached a very important sutra: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Many generations have read and known this is an important sutra in The Majjhima Nikaya and The Digha Nikaya, but very few can fully understand it.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra teaches a method of meditation so important and effective that Buddha once said: “If anyone practices the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, he can attain enlightenment in 7 years, or even in 7 months, or even in 7 weeks, or even in 7 days”. Buddha confirmed the effectiveness of the correct practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

But today, far from Buddha’s time, many people have practiced the Four foundations of mindfulness for 70 years and not attained enlightenment, because the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra is not easy to understand. The difference in space between countries, the distance of time (more than 2500 year away, and the language barrier when translating (Pali to languages), have made it very difficult to understand Buddha’s words properly. And even if we overcome all those obstacles, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra, carefully taught by Buddha, requires a doctorate in meditation, while we are still elementary learners. However, if we do not understand the Four Foundations of Mindfulness correctly, it will greatly disadvantage our meditation practice.

May Buddhas bless us to understand The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra in the most basic way, so that we can progress on the endless and sublime path of meditation.

  • What is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness?

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness means always remembering the four foundations (things). Why do we have to remember four things when practicing meditation while many meditation masters say we only need one? These masters believe that always remembering one thing is enough to overcome unwanted thoughts, to reach a serene state in meditation, and to achieve enlightenment. The truth is not that simple. Because Buddha taught us four things to practice, not only one.

Buddha defined the Four Foundations Mindfulness as contemplating the body as the body, contemplating feelings as feelings, contemplating the mind as the mind, and contemplating the dharma as the dharma. Very, very few people understand the above teachings because they are ancient Indian words. What would happen if a layperson said to a monk, “Venerable Master, I look at you as you.” No one can understand this saying because that person was using the language of India 2500 years ago and no one uses them today. Therefore, when reading the definition of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: contemplating the body as the body, contemplating feelings as feelings, contemplating the mind as the mind, and contemplating the dharma as the dharma, no one can understand. However, thanks to Buddha’s blessing, we will understand them today. 

  • Before practicing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Before practicing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (contemplating the body as the body contemplating feelings as feelings, contemplating the mind as the mind, and contemplating the dharma the dharma) we must practice breathing. If you haven’t practiced breathing, you can’t practice the Four Foundations of Mindfulness well.

Buddha teaches us to practice breathing as follows. Sit in the lotus position (cross-legged) in meditation, feel the whole body. Breathing in, we know we are breathing in; breathing out, we know we are breathing out; breathing in a long breath, we know we are breathing in a long breath; breathing out a long breath, we know we are breathing out a long breath; breathing in a short breath, we know we are breathing in a short breath; breathing out a short breath, we know we are breathing out a short breath. This is the basics of breathing.

  1. Be conscious of the body. The basis of breathing practice is to sit cross- legged (= in the lotus position), keep the body relaxed and motionless; feel the whole body, and be conscious of the whole body. It sounds simple, but a lot of people haven’t practiced feeling the whole body and being conscious of the whole body very well. Being conscious of the whole body, we must be conscious of the upper and the lower body, the front and the back body, the inside and the outside body. When you’re conscious of the lower part of your body, you must be conscious of the lowest point. Practicing like that, you will realize you haven’t paid attention to many regions of your body. Your feeling must reach the lowest point at the back of your body. If not, you haven’t practiced the basics yet (feel the whole body and be conscious of the whole body), so your further practice won’t be effective.Again, feeling the whole body is to be conscious of the lowest and most back part of the body. This is where we finish feeling the whole body. While in meditation, if your feeling has not reached this point, then you have not properly practiced Buddha’s teachings (it’s similar to the fact that your armies are not provided enough food and ordnance before their attack).
  2. Practice breathing

After practicing feeling the whole body well, we move to the practice of breathing. At first, don’t intentionally breathe or control your breathing as desired. All we need to do is to be aware of our breathing. Breathing in, we know we are breathing in; breathing out, we know we are breathing out. Don’t try to have a long or a short breath. We only need to be mindful of our breathing. We must feel our bodies and be conscious of our breathing. When we’re conscious of our whole bodies, we immediately realize that our bodies are breathing. Therefore, when we’re conscious of our whole bodies, we are immediately conscious of our breathing. This is the correct sequence.

Feeling the whole body and practicing breathing is only the beginning of the practice of meditation, which is very hard, so the practice of meditation is beyond compare. But we must practice meditation to preserve Buddhism; we must practice meditation to spread meditation everywhere; we must practice meditation to be able to step on the holy path Buddha teaches.

As we’ve said before, we just need to be mindful of our breathing (without any control). At the first stage, we breathe strongly and may have long or short breaths because our minds are chaotic. Please remember our breathing reflects our minds. A calm person breathes gently, and an agitated one breathes rapidly. When we grasp our breathing, we can grasp our minds.

Some people believe that by focusing on breathing, we can enter the serene state in meditation and attain enlightenment. This is the case of those of very high capacity. However, focusing on breathing is not enough for our spiritual practice because Buddha teaches us the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, a very important part after our breathing practice.

Remember that when we sit still in the lotus position, feel the whole body very carefully and to the lowest and most rear parts of the body. When we feel our whole bodies, we discover that our bodies are breathing in and out. At first, our breathing is unstable and uneven because our minds often get disturbed. When our minds begin to calm down, our breathing will be gentle and slow. We don’t control our breathing but our breathing must be slow and gentle and with a little air. The opposite is wrong. Please note it.

When in meditation, we can feel our whole bodies as well as be mindful of our breathing (and our breathing must be slow and gentle and with a little air), we move to the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. At this time, we have provided enough food for our armies before their attack against our sworn enemy: needless thoughts.

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