It is easy for those who were not criticized to say “don’t get offended” or “look at the big picture”, so I apologize if I hurt anybody’s feeling in the following post.
As indicated in the Intro of the book (p.7), there are two aspects of “bare attention” (BA) Ven. Thanissaro is criticizing: the expression BA as a synonym for mindfulness and BA as the path leading to the end of suffering. Ven. Thanissaro retained the term mindfulness to render sati (p.15) and I also do. I would like to discuss the first criticism.
Ven. Bodhi pointed out in his correspondence with Alan Wallace that the expression BA “accurately represent ONE aspect of sati” (emphasis is mine). Ven. Bodhi also pointed out that Ven. Nyanaponika himself, the coiner of the term, “did not regard BA as capturing the complete significance of satipaṭṭhāna, but as representing only one phase, the initial phase, in the meditative development of right mindfulness.”
Ven. Thanissaro quotes from the first author (p.59):
“Mindfulness is the quality of mind that notices what is present, without judgment, without interference.”
And according to Mike, the unquoted sentences are:
“It is like a mirror that clearly reflects what comes before it. Munindraji summed up this quality with one simple expression: knowing things as they are.”
But the addition of the second and the third unquoted sentences hardly add new meaning to the quoted first sentence. To me the above sentences describe more what BA is, not mindfulness.
Then Ven. Thanissaro quotes the second author:
“Mindfulness is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently happening
and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases.… Mindfulness is non-
judgmental observation. It is that ability of the mind to observe without
criticism. With this ability, one sees things without condemnation or judgment.…
One does not decide and does not judge. One just observes… [W]hat we mean is
that the meditator observes experiences very much like a scientist observing an
object under a microscope without any preconceived notions, only to see the
object exactly as it is.… Mindfulness is non-conceptual awareness. Another
English term for Sati is ‘bare attention.’… Mindfulness is present-time
awareness.… It stays forever in the present, perpetually on the crest of the
ongoing wave of passing time.… Mindfulness is non-egotistic alertness. It takes
place without reference to self.”
And again the description of mindfulness above sounds more like BA rather than mindfulness to me. And I think that is the first aspect of what Ven. Thanissaro is criticizing. I cannot see how that could be consider out of context quote, considering that the first part of p.59 concerns criticism of the usage of the term mindfulness and does not concerns criticism of BA as the path (which is taken up subsequently).
Moreover, here is the puzzling part for me regarding the second quote.
The second author explicitly defined sati as BA and effectively equate BA with mindfulness. Ven. Bodhi thinks BA is only one part of sati. Ven. Nyanaponika, the inventor of the term BA, thinks BA contains only part of sati. Then how does it end up that the second author equates sati with BA? My take is that there has been a drift of usage of BA from the time it was invented by Ven. Nyanaponika. Now, as used by both quoted author, BA is mindfulness.
Usage of terms and expressions are notoriously subject to change with time from one generation of writer to another. One may say Ven. Thanissaro is nit-picking. Well, Theravada monks are train to pay attention to detail. Furthermore, isn’t the usage of the word mindfulness precisely what is worthy of nit-picking criticism considering the paramount importance of mindfulness for those who are using it to travel the path to the ending of suffering? If terms and expressions are not important, it would not have ended up as aphorism on somebody’s mom refrigerator door.