Right Mindfulness is at the heart of the Buddha's teachings. Traditionally, Right Mindfulness is the seventh on the path of eight right practices, but it is presented here to emphasise its great importance. When Right Mindfulness is present, the Four Noble Truths and the seven other elements of the Eightfold Path are also present. When we are mindful, our thinking is Right Thinking, our speech is Right Speech, and so on. Right Mindfulness is the energy that brings us back to the present moment. To cultivate mindfulness in ourselves is to cultivate the Buddha within, to cultivate the Holy Spirit.
The Chinese character for "mindfulness" has two parts: the upper part means "now," and the lower part means "mind" or "heart." The First Miracle of Mindfulness is to be present and able to touch deeply the blue sky, the flower, and the smile of our child. The Second Miracle of Mindfulness is to make the other — the sky, the flower, our child — present, also.
The Third Miracle of Mindfulness is to nourish the object of your attention. When was the last time you looked into the eyes of your beloved and asked, 'Who are you, my darling?" Don't be satisfied by a superficial answer. Ask again: "Who are you who has taken my suffering as your suffering, my happiness as your happiness, my life and death as your life and death? My love, why aren't you a dewdrop, a butterfly, a bird?" Ask with your whole being. If you do not give right attention to the one you love, it is a kind of killing. With mindfulness, your attention will water the wilting flower. "I know you are here, beside me, and it makes me very happy." With attention, you will be able to discover many new and wonderful things — her joys, her hidden talents, her deepest aspirations. If you do not practice appropriate attention, how can you say you love her?
The Forth Miracle of Mindfulness is understanding. When we understand something, often we say, "I see." We see something we hadn't seen before. Seeing and understanding come from within us. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy. Understanding is the very foundation of love. When you understand someone, you cannot help but love him or her.
In the Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers four objects for our mindfulness practice: our body, our feelings, our mind, and the objects of our mind.
The first establishment is "mindfulness of the body in the body." (身念住) Many people hate their bodies. They feel their body is an obstacle, and they want to mistreat it. But we observe non-dualistically, fully in our body even as we observe it. We begin by noting all of our body's positions and movements. When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we stand, walk, or lie down we know we are standing, walking, or lying down. When we practice this way, mindfulness is there. This practice is called "mere recognition."
Another practice to help us be aware of our breathing is counting. As you breathe in, count "one," and as you breathe out, count "one" again. Then "Two/two," "Three/three," until you arrive at ten. After that, go back in the other direction: "Ten/ten," "Nine/nine," and so on, until you arrive back at one. If you don't get lost, you know that you have good concentration. If you do get lost, go back to "one," and begin again. Relax. It's only a game. When you succeed in counting, you can drop the numbers if you like and just say "in" and "out." Conscious breathing is a joy.
The second establishment is mindfulness of the feelings in the feelings (受念住). In us, there is a river of feelings in which every drop of water is a different feeling. To observe our feelings, we just sit on the riverbank and identify each feeling as it flows by and disappears. Feelings are either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
When we have a pleasant feeling, we may have a tendency to cling to it, and when we have an unpleasant feeling, we may be inclined to chase it away. But it is more effective in both cases to return to our breathing and simply observe the feeling, identifying it silently. If our breathing is light and calm — a natural result of conscious breathing— our mind and body will slowly become light, calm, and clear, and our feelings also. Our feelings are not separate from us or caused just by something outside of us. Our feelings are us, and, for that moment, we are those feelings. The practice of not clinging to or rejecting feelings is an important part of meditation. We can embrace all of our feelings, even difficult ones like anger. Anger is a fire burning inside us, filling our whole being with smoke. When we are angry, we need to calm ourselves: "Breathing in, I calm my anger. Breathing out, I take care of my anger." As soon as a mother takes her crying baby into her arms, the baby already feels some relief. When we embrace our anger with Right Mindfulness, we suffer less right away.
The third establishment is mindfulness of the mind in the mind (心念住). To be aware of the mind is to be aware of the mental formations. "Formations" is a technical term in Buddhism. Anything that is "formed," anything that is made of something else, is a formation. A flower is a formation. Our anger is a formation, a mental formation. Every time a mental formation arises, we can practice mere recognition. When we are agitated, we just say, "I am agitated," and mindfulness is already there. Until we recognize agitation as agitation, it will push us around and we will not know what is going on or why. To practice mindfulness of the mind does not mean not to be agitated. It means that when we are agitated, we know that we are agitated. Our agitation has a good friend in us, and that is mindfulness. Even before agitation manifests in our mind consciousness, it is already in our store consciousness in the form of a seed. All mental formations lie in our store consciousness in the form of seeds. Something someone does may water the seed of agitation, and then agitation manifests in our mind consciousness. Every mental formation that manifests needs to be recognized. If it is wholesome, mindfulness will cultivate it. If it is unwholesome, mindfulness will encourage it to return to our store consciousness and remain there, dormant.
The forth establishment is mindfulness of phenomena in phenomena (法念住). We won’t go into this tonight.
When we practice mindfulness, we generate the energy of the Buddha within us and around us, and this is the energy that can save the world. A Buddha is someone who is mindful all day long. We are only part-time Buddhas. We breathe in and use our Buddha eyes to see with the energy of mindfulness. When we listen with our Buddha ears, we are able to restore communication and relieve a lot of suffering. When we put the energy of mindfulness into our hands, our Buddha hands will protect the safety and integrity of those we love.