December 8th marks Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday observed worldwide. It commemorates Siddartha Guatama’s accomplishment and transformation into the “Buddha.” This accomplishment is described as “enlightenment” or “awakening” and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. As I discussed in a previous post to my column, Mindfulness Matters, about Bodhi Day 2010, these terms represent different metaphors and understandings of what happened under that fig tree approximately 2500 years ago.
Awakening is more technically true and more practical for you and I. “Buddha” means one who has awakened (buddho means “awake”). Enlightenment suggests something exotic, mystical, and rare. Awakening is common, mundane, and accessible. In fact, it could be the case that anyone who is serious about meditation practice moves into and out of awakening all the time.
What better way to recognize Bodhi Day than by examining what the Buddha said about awakening. The Buddha created many lists to frame his teachings: Four Noble Truths, Noble Eight-Fold Path, et cetera. One of these lists is the Seven Factor for Awakening.
The Seven Factors for Awakening are 1) mindfulness 2) discernment, 3) persistence, 4) rapture, 5) serenity, 6) concentration, and 7) equanimity.
According to Thanissaro Bikkhu in his book The Wings to Awakening, These factors can be seen as one building upon another list - Four Foundations of Mindfulness (also known as the Four Frames of Reference) and each one leading to the next in a sequential progression or an upward spiral. They can also be seen as holographic in that all of these factors are included in each of the foundations.
As you can see, mindfulness is critical for awakening. It appears on both collections—the foundations and the factors for awakening. The Buddha said, “As for mindfulness, I tell, you, that is beneficial everywhere.” (Samyutta Nikaya)
Sathipathana (sati is the Pali term that is translated as mindfulness), “show where a meditator should focus attention and how.” (Thanissaro, 72). Indeed, the four frames of reference all involve mindfulness meditation technique. First, there is mindfulness of the body. Next, there is mindfulness of feelings. Then there is mindfulness of mind, and finally mindfulness of mental contents.
(1) The body in and of itself (as it is directly experienced; nothing added, unadorned)
(2) Feelings in and of themselves
(3) Mind in and of itself
(4) Mental qualities in and of themselves (Five Hindrances, Seven Factors for Awakening, Five Aggregates, Six Sense Media, Four Noble Truths)
“In and of itself” suggests trying to “stay with the phenomenology of immediate experience, without slipping back into the narratives and world views that make up one’s sense of the world.” (Thanissaro, 75). Let’s take a look at these foundations in more detail in the Buddha’s words. First the body:
There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in an of itself - ardent, alert, and mindful - putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. And how does the monk remain focused on the body in and of itself? There is the case of where a monk - having gone to the wilderness, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty building - sits down, folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect and setting mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out. …
Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns that he is walking. When standing, he discerns that he is standing. When sitting, he discerns that he is sitting. When lying down, he discerns that he is lying down. Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it...
Furthermore, when going forward and returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward and looking away … when bending and extending his limbs … when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe and his bowl, … when eating, drinking, chewing, and savoring…when urinating and defecating … when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and and remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert. (Samyutta Nikaya)
We can see that mindfulness of the body is quite ordinary. With the exception of going off into the wilderness, you can do all of these things in the course of your day - breathing in, breathing out, walking, and going through the activities of daily living.
Over the centuries since the Buddha’s awakening in the development of the Buddhist religions, the figure of the Buddha has often been elevated to super-human, almost god-like, status. These descriptions above, however, make it clear that he was doing something that you and I could also do. The Buddha continues: