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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
57 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly world, as if it were a gift of clarity from our deepest psyche to the turbid shallows of our mind. When it does, we gradually learn how to hold ourselves so that it lingers, to relocate or reenact it when it fades, and to consistently water its roots and weed its soil so that it can blossom into a lovely and sustainable habit of heart and mind. As much as the scientific community currently enthralled with mindfulness would like to ignore the ethical component of the Buddhist tradition to focus their studies on the tech nology of meditation, we can see from this Abhidhamma treatment of the subject that true mindfulness is deeply and inextricably embedded in the notion of wholesomeness. Although the brain science has yet to discover why, this tra dition nonetheless declares, based entirely on its phenom enological investigations, that when the mind is engaged in an act of harming it is not capable of mindfulness. There can be heightened attention, concentration, and energy when a sniper takes a bead on his target, for example, but as long as the intention is situated in a context of taking life, it will always be under the sway of hatred, delusion, wrong view (ditthi, 19), or some other of the unwholesome factors. Just as a tree removed from the forest is no longer a tree but a piece of lumber, so also the caring attentiveness of mindfulness, extracted from its matrix of wholesome coarising factors, degenerates into mere attention. One final question remains to be asked: As we practice the true development of mindfulness, are we also cultivating wis dom? If meditation (samadhi) is the bridge between integrity (sila) on one hand and wisdom (pañña) on the other, does mindfulness lead inevitably to wisdom? The discomforting answer to this question is again, no. The Abhidhamma lists wisdom (pañña, 52) as the last of the mental factors. Wis dom is certainly a wholesome factor, but it is not a universal wholesome factor and so does not arise automatically along with mindfulness and the rest. Wisdom, understood as seeing things as they really are, is the crucial transformative principle in the Buddhist tradition. Just as you can practice meditation without manifesting mind fulness, so too can you practice mindfulness all you want with out cultivating wisdom. If mindfulness is not conjoined with insight (another word for wisdom), it will not in itself bring about a significant change in your understanding. Real trans formation comes from uprooting the deeply embedded reflex of projecting ownership upon experience (“this is me, this is mine, this is what I am”) and seeing it instead as an imperma nent, impersonal, interdependent arising of phenomena. Cul tivating mindfulness is a crucial condition for this to happen, but it will not in itself accomplish that end. As one text puts it, mindfulness is like grabbing a sheaf of grain in one hand, while wisdom is cutting it off with a sickle in the other. As with the arising of mindfulness, so also for the arising of wisdom: it cannot be forced by the will or engineered by the technology of meditation. Yet the conditions that support the emergence of wisdom can be patiently and consistently cultivated, moment after mindful moment, until it unfolds as of its own accord, like the lotus bursting out above the water or the moon flashing suddenly from behind a cloud. This is hardly the last word on the subject, but I suspect the foregoing analysis raises the bar somewhat on how we use mindfulness as a technical term. Two things at least seem quite clear: there can scarcely be a more noble capability of the mind than mindfulness, and its cultivation must surely be one of the more beneficial things we can do as human beings. AlisonBrAdley Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Indonesia