Mindfulness Matters

This past summer I stood in the
reference library at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies staring at the Pali
Canon. It occupies an entire bookshelf, standing 2.5 by 8 feet tall, comprised
of 140 volumes on six and one half shelves. 

I’d tell you how many
pages there were, but I can’t read the Pali script. Suffice to say there are
tens of thousands (I estimate 30,000). This version is published by the
Vipassana Research Institute in Burma and is in the original Pali. These 
gold leaf-embossed maroon
volumes with their Sanskrit-looking characters (Pali and Sanskrit are closely

These volumes represent
the teachings of the Buddha. Known as the Pitakas (“baskets”) they
consist of the Vinaya (monastic code of discipline), the Suttas (the popular
discourses), and the Abhidhamma (“a compendium of profound teachings
elucidating the functioning and interrelationships of mind, mental factors,
matter, and the phenomena transcending these.” 

The Pitaka was the written
down version of the oral tradition that persisted at the time of the Buddha and
in the years after his death. Recitation of the canon persisted even after it
was written down and continues to do this day. Contemporary Burmese master Mahathera
Vicittasarabhivamsa can recite the Tipitaka from memory. 

Over the centuries,
the Pali Canon has been preserved in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia
and the versions that emerged in these different countries are meaningfully the
same, attesting to the validity of their contents.

“The Sangha clearly
demonstrates that in Dhamma there is no place for blind faith, emotional
devotion, or the logician’s hair splitting intellectual acrobatics. The Dhamma
is immensely practical.”

Six Dhamma Councils
(Dhamma-Sangitas) “Dhamma Recitations” have taken place over the centuries. “The basic teaching of
the Buddha were first recited by an elder monk and then canted after him in
chorus by the whole assembly. The recitation was considered to be authentic
when it was unanimously approved by all of the monks in attendance.” (from
the Preface of the Pali Canon) The recitations were committed to words at the
Fourth Council some 500 years after the Buddha’s death.

The first council, 500 monks worked for seven months. 100 years later
the second council was convened and settled disagreements regarding the
monastic rules. The third council was convened in326 BCE by King Ashoka with 1000 monks
working for 9 months. The fourth council took place in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE with 500 monks writing
it down for the first time. 

Jumping ahead, the Fifth Council took place in
Mandalay in 1871. 2400 monks labored for five months inscribing the Tiipitaka
onto marble slabs. The sixth council took place in Rangoon in 1954 with 2500 monks
from all the Theravada countries.

The Pali Canon is a rich and fascinating repository of the Buddha’s teachings. From time to time, I will present passages from the Canon.

A life that doesn’t provide radiant happiness may not be worth living according to Skrikumar Rao. Happiness is not from what we have or what we do. He claims that happiness is in our DNA. That claim may seem counterintuitive. Watch on for a surprising explanation of how we undermine our genetic inheritance towards happiness. 

Without calling it mindfulness he offers mindfulness as an alternative to what I call the “contingent self” and he calls the “if-then” mental model. 

BS13044.JPGIt’s foliage season in Northern Vermont. Fabulous displays of color across the Green Mountains. As their name implies, they are covered with trees that are throwing off color; wild screaming death throes.

I love foliage time and I also love the lush jungle green of summer and even love the bareness of mud season and stick season. Every season is a miracle in Vermont; every day has its own blessings of color, landscape, and earth.
Of course foliage is big business too; a major draw of our tourist industry. I’m certainly not against enjoying the foliage and the joy it brings to people from around the country. However, I often wonder whether dukkha (that sense of pervasive dissatisfaction with the world) is being reinforced through such quests for novelty.
It’s the same thing with fireworks. I enjoy fireworks as much as the next guy, but I don’t go out of my way to see them. In fact, I rarely do. Every moment contains its own version of fireworks if we are paying attention. The pursuit of fireworks, like the foliage, may just reinforce a way of viewing the world that is our undoing in the end.


Reflecting on this, I wrote the following poem. In the poem, I recall a fireworks display I was party to  at the Siddha Yoga ashram in South Fallsburg, New York. This would have been in the mid-1980s after I returned from the ashram in Ganeshpuri India (the ashram described in Eat, Pray, Love. Please note that the depiction in Eat, Pray, Love is a personal account and not a complete portrayal of the Siddha Yoga tradition. For more information visit the Siddha Yoga Foundation). I’ve never looked at fireworks the same.
In 1989, I took my first ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat and started my career in mindfulness. This practice has shown me the singular shape of each moment.
In the deepest sense, each moment that we are alive can be as exciting and “special” as fireworks and foliage, if we know how to look.
“Fireworks and Foliage”

People go out of their way for
fireworks and foliage.

Seeking these displays of

Forgetting they live in brilliant



I once saw fireworks,

a private showing

for the Guru’s devotees.

At a time when I was in love with

Intoxicated after chanting the

108 names of Shiva.

The display, matchless only to

the explosions of blue,

roiling in my consciousness


Years later I moved from this ecstasy

to the quiet solitude of breathing.

Its leaves changing color with each

ten thousand times a day


People flock to my Vermont home.

Cue up along country highways

for red, orange, yellow, and green

They make a deal with reality,


“I’ll look at your becoming and

only when it is colorful

and when I get to go back to sleep


Not so bad; just a handful of days
each year

to know who we are,

to look over that precipice of

This precarious life.

To know we are falling towards our



If we could smile into that knowing,

loose our grip and lean into gravity,

we’d see that despair as joy,

that precarious is precious,

that ending is beginning.


Then each day is the 4th of July and autumnal New

Each moment that explosive bliss of



Naomi Morris wrote an article for the L. A. Times entitled “Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not.” The article focuses on the pioneering mindfulness work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (featured here on Mindfulness Matters a couple of times). Jon has taught mindfulness through Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a secularized practice of training attention. In the article he says,

“I don’t have to use the word ‘spiritual,'” he said. “Part of it is the
power of silence and stillness. And part of that power is the power of
healing that happens when you move from the domain of doing to being.
It’s transformative.”

In fact, there have been rabbis, priests and even an imam who have
taken Kabat-Zinn’s eight-week MBSR training course and told him that it
deepened their experience of their own faiths.

The imam told him the practice was “totally consistent” with Islam,
Kabat-Zinn said. Priests said MBSR reminded them of why they first went
into the seminary and allowed them to transmit their faith more
effectively to their flocks. Kabat-Zinn noted that even Mother Teresa
described her conversations with God as mutual silence.

“Is silence Jewish or Christian or Buddhist? Is awareness Jewish or
Christian?” said Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness principles are found on every
continent in every culture, he added.”We’re born with this capacity.
It’s about cultivating it.”

Secular doesn’t suggest a dilution of the dharma. It’s intact in MBSR; just not explicit.

Mindfulness, thanks to articles like this, is becoming a household word. MBSR has gone from the original Stress Reduction Clinic at the U Mass Medical Center in 1979 to 200 medical centers worldwide and hundreds of individual practitioners like myself who teach mindfulness in their communities.

Join the revolution!