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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
55 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly direct my attention to a single point, I am not necessarily meditating. These are all factors that will manifest sponta neously in any endeavor and are not unique to meditation. If I further apply my mind and sustain its attention on the inbreath, put forth energy with determination, joy, and a selfless inclination for the wellbeing of all living creatures, I may well be meditating—but that does not necessarily mean that I am cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness and its Associated States Mindfulness (sati, 29), according to the Abhidhamma, is a wholesome mental factor that will arise only under special circumstances. In most of the conventional ways we use the term these days, we are likely to be referring to any number and combination of the factors already mentioned. In the clas sical texts, especially the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10), one goes to an empty place, crosses one’s legs, straightens one’s back, and then establishes mindfulness (sati-upatthana) as an immediate presence. The Abhidhamma offers a fourfold definition of mindfulness, following the convention of the clas sical commentaries: 1) its characteristic is not wobbling, or keeping the mind from floating away from its object; 2) its function is absence of confusion, or nonforgetfulness (the term sati comes from a word for memory); 3) its manifestation is the state of confronting an objective phenomenal field; and 4) its immediate cause is strong perception or the four founda tions of mindfulness (i.e., body, feeling, consciousness, mental objects). These definitions all suggest an enhanced presence of mind, a heightened attentiveness to objects of experience in the present moment, a special nonordinary quality of atten tion. We can learn a lot more about it by looking at the com pany it keeps. To begin with, it is an axiom of the Abhidhamma system that wholesome and unwholesome mental factors cannot co arise in the same moment of consciousness. Mindfulness is a wholesome factor, so true mindfulness will arise only in a moment of consciousness if there are no unwholesome factors present. There are fourteen unwholesome factors, including greed (lobho, 18), hatred (doso, 21), and delusion (moho, 14), and a number of other afflictive emotional states deriving from various combinations of these three roots. This means that if we are feeling envy (issa, 22) or avarice (macchariyam, 23), for example, these states have our consciousness firmly in grip for the moment; they have hijacked our intention and all the other coarising mental states, and are directing them to acting and creating karma in an unwholesome way. There can be no mindfulness in such a moment. The moment immediately following, however, is a whole new beginning. Here we have the option, if we are trained and skillful in the establishment of mindfulness, of taking the envy or avarice that has just passed away as an object of the new moment, with an attitude of mindful investiga tion. Every moment of consciousness, we might say, has two major components: the object, and the intention with which that object is cognized. A mental object can be almost any thing, including unwholesome intentions from previous mind moments; the intention with which it is held here and now will be shaped by the fiftytwo mental factors. This means that we cannot be envious and mindful in the same moment, but we can be envious one moment and mindful of that fact the very next moment. Indeed, much of what is called spiri tual development consists of first becoming aware of what states are arising and passing away in experience (no small challenge in itself), and then of learning how to regard them with mindfulness rather than remaining lost in them or car ried away by them (an even more daunting, but not impos sible, task). One of the more astonishing insights of the Abhidhamma is that mindfulness always coarises with eighteen other whole some mental factors. We are used to thinking of these factors as very different things, but the fact that they all arise together suggests they can be viewed as facets of the same jewel, as states that mutually define one another. By reviewing the range of wholesome factors that coarise with it, we can get a much closer look at the phenomenology of mindfulness. First, there is equanimity (tatra-majjhattata, 34). The Abhidhamma actually uses a more technical word for this (literally “thereinthemiddleness”), but it is functionally equivalent to equanimity, an evenly hovering attitude toward experience that is neither attracted nor repelled by any object. It is therefore also characterized by nongreed (alobho, 32) and nonhatred (adoso, 33). This is the generic Abhidhamma way of referring to generosity or nonattachment on the one hand and lovingkindness on the other. You can see how these three work together on a contin uum to delineate perhaps the most salient characteristic of mindfulness. When true mindfulness arises, one feels as if one is stepping back and observing what is happening in experi ence, rather than being embedded in it. This does not mean stAnleylow Lantau Island, Hong Kong