Mindfulness is calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. Mindfulness (Pali: sati; Sanskrit: smṛti स्मृति) plays a central role in the teaching of the Buddha where it is affirmed that "correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati; Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the critical factor in the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment. It is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the practice of which supports analysis resulting in the development of wisdom (Pali: paññā; Sanskrit: prajñā). The Satipatthana Sutta is one of the foremost early texts dealing with mindfulness. A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption should be combined with the practice of vipassana. For more on the concept in early Buddhism, also see sampajañña.
The Buddhist term translated into English as "mindfulness" originates in the Pali term sati and its Sanskrit variant smṛti. The latter was translated into Tibetan as trenpa (wylie: dran pa) and Chinese as nian 念.
|Look up Smrti in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
The Sanskrit word smṛti स्मृति (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.
Monier Monier-Williams's Sanskrit-English Dictionary differentiates eight meanings of smṛti स्मृति, "remembrance, reminiscence, thinking of or upon, calling to mind, memory":
- 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
|Look up 念 in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
Buddhist scholars translated smṛti with the Chinese word nian 念 "study; read aloud; think of; remember; remind". Nian is commonly used in modern Standard Mandarin 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.
A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms gives basic translations of nian: "Recollection, memory; to think on, reflect; repeat, intone; a thought; a moment." 
The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism gives more detailed translations of nian "mindfulness, memory":
- 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.
|Look up Mindfulness in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
The English term mindfulness has been in use for centuries, long predating 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). In 1881, the Pali language scholar and Thomas William Rhys Davids coined the English translation "mindfulness" for sati: "Right Mindfulness; the active, watchful mind".
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] smrti (Pali: sati), samprajanya (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 former two might be glossed as "awareness" 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."
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||sati||smṛti स्मृति||nian 念||trenpa (wylie: dran pa)|
|awareness||sampajañña||samprajaña संप्रज्ञान||zheng zhi li 正知力||sheshin (wylie: shes bzhin)|
|vigilance||appamada||apramāda ज्ञानकोश||bu fang yi 不放逸； wu zong yi 無縱逸；li zhu fang yi 離諸放逸||bakyö (wylie: bag yod)|
|ardency||atappa||ātapaḥ आतप||yong meng 勇猛||nyima (wylie: nyi ma)|
|attention/engagement||manisikara||manaskāraḥ मनस्कार||ru li zuo yi 如理作意||yila jeypa (wylie: yid la byed pa)|
Examples from contemplative and daily life
Buddhists hold that over 2500 years ago, Buddha provided guidance on establishing mindfulness. Right mindfulness (often termed Right meditation) involves bringing one's awareness to focus on experience within the mind at the present moment (from the past, the future, or some disconnected train of thought). By paying close attention to the present experience, practitioners begin to see both inner and outer aspects of reality as aspects of the mind. Internally, one sees that the mind is continually full of chattering with commentary or judgement. By noticing that the mind is continually making commentary, one has the ability to carefully observe those thoughts, seeing them for what they are without aversion or judgment. Those practicing mindfulness realize that "thoughts are just thoughts." One is free to release a thought ("let it go") when one realizes that the thought may not be concrete reality or absolute truth. Thus, one is free to observe life without getting caught in the commentary. Many "voices" or messages may speak to one within the "vocal" (discursive) mind. It is important to be aware that the messages one hears during "thinking" are simply discursive habit and that the real point of practice is distinguishing different types of experience from the context (mind) within which they occur.
As one more closely observes mental activity, one finds that happiness (for example) is not exclusively a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather that realizing happiness often starts with loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts, predispositions, and "scripts"; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward what seem to be pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings.
However, mindfulness does not have to be constrained to a formal meditation session. Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or focusing on the breath, but rather simply realizing what is happening in the present moment is mental content, including simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes weren't so boring and the soap weren't drying out my skin", etc. Once we identify experience as mental content, we have the freedom to cease identification with any judgments/perceptions: "washing dishes: boring" may become "The warm water is in unison with the detergent and is currently washing away the plate's grime, the sun is shining through the window and casting an ever greater shadow on the dish's white ceramics." In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.
Continuous mindfulness practice
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.
Some Zen teachers emphasize the potential dangers of misunderstanding "mindfulness".
Gudo Wafu Nishijima criticizes the use of the term of mindfulness and idealistic interpretations of the practice from the Zen standpoint:
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 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.
- Buddhism and psychology
- Buddhist meditation, Satipatthana, Sampajanna
- Dennis Lewis
- Henepola Gunaratana
- John Garrie
- S.N. Goenka
- Mahasi Sayadaw
- Mahasati Meditation
- Thich Nhat Hanh
- Boccio, Frank Jude (2004). Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body and Mind ISBN 0861713354
- Brahm, Ajahn (2005). Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook. Wisdom Publications.
- Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications.
- Hanh, Thich Nhat (1996). The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation. Beacon Press.
- Weiss, Andrew (2004). Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness. New World Library
- Alexander Wynne, The origin of Buddhist meditation. Routledge, 2007, page 73.
- Monier-Williams Online Dicitonary. N.B.: these definitions are simplified and wikified.
- Bernhard Karlgren, 1923, Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese, Paul Geunther, p. 207. Dover reprint.
- William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous, 1937, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: with Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index.
- Digital Dictionary of Buddhism
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 2002
- T. W. Rhys Davids, tr., 1881, Buddhist Suttas, Clarendon Press, p. 146.
- "Mindfulness and the Mind," by Subhuti. Madhyamavani Online. 
- "Mindfulness Defined," by Thanissaro Bhikku. pg 2
- Wallace & Bodhi (2006), p. 4. According to this correspondence, Ven. Nyanaponika spend his last ten years living with and being cared for by Bodhi. Bodhi refers to Nyanaponika as "my closest kalyāṇamitta in my life as a monk."
- mindfulness in breathing
- "On Mindfulness"
- "Stop being mindful"
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- Mindfulness in Plain English
- How to do Mindfulness Meditation
- Mindfulness Defined by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation
- Muho Noelke: "Stop being mindful
- Mindfulness in a nutshell