Anushka Fernandopulle on how mindfulness reduces the suffering caused by our collective sense of separation.
Among all Buddhist schools, mindfulness is most clearly emphasized and articulated in Theravada Buddhism—old school Buddhism developed in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. In the West, many people practice Insight Meditation, a practice coming from this school that includes training in mindfulness and other factors of mind that can help us develop insight into the way things are.
In Insight Meditation, we tune into the changing nature of all experience. We see the lack of solidity of everything, and thus the unreliability of things and experiences as places to seek and find lasting well-being. These insights can bring a fundamental shift in the way we relate to life. We no longer seek refuge in experiences that will vanish, and we can live life in greater harmony and peace.
Mindfulness is situated within a larger context of ethical trainings. These cover our actions, work, and speech; cultivating wholesome states of mind and heart; and clarifying our view of what is true. All of these are necessary to attain the goal of the path: freedom from suffering, stress, strain, grief, and despair.
Mindfulness is essential in developing this kind of wisdom, but it is not the only ingredient. Collectedness of mind (concentration or focus), balance of mind (equanimity), and investigation of experience are also important. A sense of ardency or passion is considered an essential factor on the path, and we need to develop wise attention, understanding how and to what we should be applying mindfulness.
If we do not include a broader awareness in our practice of mindfulness, there can be a sense of separation from the world.
One of the frequent companions of mindfulness in the Buddhist teachings is sampajanna, translated as clear comprehension, clear knowing, or full awareness. The pairing of “mindfulness and clear comprehension” is as well-known to students of Theravada Buddhism as salt and pepper and bread and butter.
Sampajanna refers to understanding the broader context in which an action or experience is happening, including intention and impact. This contributes to the development of wisdom, which is the real goal of the practice.
We need to include this broader awareness so the practice is not one that supports self-absorbed disconnection. We can’t be satisfied with just feeling the bare sensation of our foot on the ground but must also know if we are stepping on somebody’s foot. We can be aware of what our sandwich tastes like but also tune into whether we have taken someone else’s sandwich, if everyone has a sandwich, or if it is even sandwich-eating time.
If we do not include a broader awareness in our practice of mindfulness, there can be a sense of separation from the world. Becoming more aware of those around us and our impact on others is essential on the path. The path of mindfulness, when it includes all these factors, is one that can lead to greater alignment with truth and less suffering for oneself and others.