Mindfulness (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti; also translated as awareness) is a spiritual or psychological faculty (indriya) that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. "Correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness meditation can also be traced back to the earlier Upanishads, part of Hindu scripture.
Enlightenment (bodhi) is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion (Pali: moha) have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment) is an antidote to delusion and is considered as such a 'power' (Pali: bala). This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place.
The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness (satipatthana) in one's day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one's bodily functions, sensations (feelings), objects of consciousness (thoughts and perceptions), and consciousness itself. The practice of mindfulness supports analysis resulting in the arising of wisdom (Pali: paññā, Sanskrit: prajñā). A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with liberating discernment.
Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction.
- The word sati derives from a root meaning 'to remember,' but as a mental factor it signifies presence of mind, attentiveness to the present, rather than the faculty of memory regarding the past. It has the characteristic of not wobbling, i.e. not floating away from the object. Its function is absence of confusion or non-forgetfulness. It is manifested as guardianship, or as the state of confronting an objective field. Its proximate cause is strong perception (thirasanna) or the four foundations of mindfulness.
- What is smṛti? It is not to let what one knows slip away from one's mind. Its function is not to be distracted.
The Buddhist term translated into English as "mindfulness" originates in the Pali term sati and in its Sanskrit counterpart smṛti. Translators rendered the Sanskrit word as trenpa in Tibetan (wylie: dran pa) and as nian 念 in Chinese.
The Pali-language scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids (1881) first translated sati as English mindfulness in sammā-sati "Right Mindfulness; the active, watchful mind". Noting that Daniel John Gogerly (1845) initially rendered sammā-sati as "Correct meditation", Davids explained, "sati is literally 'memory' but is used with reference to the constantly repeated phrase 'mindful and thoughtful' (sato sampagâno); and means that activity of mind and constant presence of mind which is one of the duties most frequently inculcated on the good Buddhist."
When practicing mindfulness, for instance by watching the breath, one must remember to maintain attention on the chosen object of awareness, "faithfully returning back to refocus on that object whenever the mind wanders away from it." Thus, mindfulness means not only, "moment to moment awareness of present events," but also, "remembering to be aware of something or to do something at a designated time in the future". In fact, "the primary connotation of this Sanskrit term (smrti) (and its corresponding Pali term sati) is recollection".
The English term mindfulness, in use for centuries, long predates its use in the Buddhist context. The OED defines it as "The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard", with obsolete meanings of "memory" and "intention, purpose". This word was first recorded as myndfulness in 1530 (Palsgrave translates French pensee), as mindfulnesse in 1561, and mindfulness in 1817. Morphologically earlier terms include mindful (first recorded in 1340), mindfully (1382), and the obsolete mindiness (ca. 1200).
John D. Dunne, an associate professor at Emory University whose current research focuses especially on the concept of "mindfulness" in both theoretical and practical contexts, asserts that the translation of sati and smṛti as mindfulness is confusing and that a number of Buddhist scholars have started trying to establish "retention" as the preferred alternative.
- The word derives from a verb, sarati, meaning “to remember,” and occasionally in Pali sati is still explained in a way that connects it with the idea of memory. But when it is used in relation to meditation practice, we have no word in English that precisely captures what it refers to. An early translator cleverly drew upon the word mindfulness, which is not even in my dictionary. This has served its role admirably, but it does not preserve the connection with memory, sometimes needed to make sense of a passage.
The Sanskrit word smṛti स्मृति (also transliterated variously as smriti, smRti, or sm'Rti) literally means "that which is remembered", and refers both to "mindfulness" in Buddhism and "a category of metrical texts" in Hinduism, considered second in authority to the Śruti scriptures.
- memory as one of the Vyabhicāri-bhāvas [transient feelings);
- Memory (personified either as the daughter of Daksha and wife of Aṅgiras or as the daughter of Dharma and Medhā);
- the whole body of sacred tradition or what is remembered by human teachers (in contradistinction to Śruti or what is directly heard or revealed to the Rishis; in its widest acceptation this use of the term Smṛti includes the 6 Vedangas, the Sūtras both Śrauta and Grhya, the Manusmṛti, the Itihāsas (e.g., the Mahābhārata and Ramayana), the Puranas and the Nītiśāstras, "according to such and such a traditional precept or legal text";
- the whole body of codes of law as handed down memoriter or by tradition (esp. the codes of Manusmṛti, Yājñavalkya Smṛti and the 16 succeeding inspired lawgivers) … all these lawgivers being held to be inspired and to have based their precepts on the Vedas;
- symbolical name for the number 18 (from the 18 lawgivers above);
- a kind of meter;
- name of the letter g- ग्;
- desire, wish
Buddhist scholars translated smṛti with the Chinese word nian 念 "study; read aloud; think of; remember; remind". Nian is commonly used in Modern Standard Chinese words such as guannian 觀念 (观念) "concept; idea", huainian 懷念 (怀念) "cherish the memory of; think of", nianshu 念書 (念书) "read; study", and niantou 念頭 (念头) "thought; idea; intention". Two specialized Buddhist terms are nianfo 念佛 "chant the name of Buddha; pray to Buddha" and nianjing 念經 (念经) "chant/recite sutras".
This Chinese character nian 念 is composed of jin 今 "now; this" and xin 心 "heart; mind". Bernhard Karlgren graphically explains nian meaning "reflect, think; to study, learn by heart, remember; recite, read – to have 今 present to 心 the mind". The Chinese character nian or nien 念 is pronounced as Korean yeom or yŏm 염, Japanese ネン or nen, and Vietnamese niệm.
- Recollection (Skt. smṛti; Tib. dran pa). To recall, remember. That which is remembered. The function of remembering. The operation of the mind of not forgetting an object. Awareness, concentration. Mindfulness of the Buddha, as in Pure Land practice. In Abhidharma-kośa theory, one of the ten omnipresent factors 大地法. In Yogâcāra, one of the five 'object-dependent' mental factors 五別境;
- Settled recollection; (Skt. sthāpana; Tib. gnas pa). To ascertain one's thoughts;
- To think within one's mind (without expressing in speech). To contemplate; meditative wisdom;
- Mind, consciousness;
- A thought; a thought-moment; an instant of thought. (Skt. kṣana);
- Patience, forbearance.
Related terms and practices
Although sati/smrti is the primary term that is usually invoked by the word mindfulness in a Buddhist context, it has been asserted "in Buddhist discourse, there are three terms that together map the field of mindfulness . . . [in their Sanskrit variants] smṛti (Pali: sati), samprajaña (Pali: sampajañña) and apramāda (Pali: appamada)." All three terms are sometimes (confusingly) translated as "mindfulness," but they all have specific shades of meaning and the latter two properly mean "clear comprehension" and "vigilance," respectively. In the Satipatthana Sutta, sati and sampajañña are combined with atappa (Pali; Sanskrit: ātapaḥ), or "ardency," and the three together comprise yoniso manisikara (Pali; Sanskrit: yoniśas manaskāraḥ), "appropriate attention" or "wise reflection."
In a publicly available correspondence between Bhikkhu Bodhi and B. Alan Wallace, Bodhi has described Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's views on "right mindfulness" and sampajañña in the following fashion: "... He held that in the proper practice of right mindfulness, sati has to be integrated with sampajañña, clear comprehension, and it is only when these two work together that right mindfulness can fulfill its intended purpose."
|mindfulness/awareness||sati||smṛiti स्मृति||念 (niàn)||trenpa (wylie: dran pa)|
|clear comprehension||sampajañña||samprajñāna संप्रज्ञान||正知力 (zhèng zhī lì)||sheshin (wylie: shes bzhin)|
|vigilance/heedfulness||appamada||apramāda अप्रमाद||不放逸座 (bù fàng yì zuò)||bakyö (wylie: bag yod)|
|ardency||atappa||ātapaḥ आतप||勇猛 (yǒng měng)||nyima (wylie: nyi ma)|
|attention/engagement||manasikara||manaskāraḥ मनस्कारः||如理作意 (rú lǐ zuò yì)||yila jeypa (wylie: yid la byed pa)|
|foundation of mindfulness||satipaṭṭhāna||smṛtyupasthāna
|念住 (niànzhù)||trenpa neybar zagpa (wylie: dran pa nye bar gzhag pa)|
- Mindfulness of the Buddha;
- Mindfulness of the Dharma;
- Mindfulness of the Saṃgha;
- Mindfulness of giving;
- Mindfulness of the heavens;
- Mindfulness of stopping and resting;
- Mindfulness of discipline;
- Mindfulness of breathing;
- Mindfulness of the body;
- Mindfulness of death.
In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than taking three successive breaths while remembering they are a conscious experience of body activity within mind. This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.
- However recently many so-called Buddhist teachers insist the importance of 'mindfulness.' But such a kind of attitudes might be insistence that Buddhism might be a kind of idealistic philosophy. Therefore actually speaking I am much afraid that Buddhism is misunderstood as if it was a kind of idealistic philosophy. However we should never forget that Buddhism is not an idealistic philosophy, and so if someone in Buddhism reveres mindfulness, we should clearly recognize that he or she can never be a Buddhist at all.
- We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like "I should be mindful of this or that". If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I - am - mindful - of - ...."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk (Dogen Zenji says: "When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma"). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.
Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular. In 2011, NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) released finding of a study where in magnetic resonance images of the brains of 16 participants 2 weeks before and after mindfulness meditation practitioners, joined the meditation program were taken by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It concluded that "..these findings may represent an underlying brain mechanism associated with mindfulness-based improvements in mental health." A January 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, based on anatomical magnetic resonance images (MRI) of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) participants, suggested that "participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking."
- Attention (Jack Kornfield)
- Concentrated attention (Mahasi Sayadaw)
- Inspection (Herbert Guenther)
- Self-recollection (Jack Kornfield)
- Recollecting mindfulness (Alexander Berzin)
- Recollection (Erik Pema Kunsang, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)
- Reflective awareness (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)