sati-indriya: doing, being, knowing distinctions
Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 5:20 am
How valid and/or helpful do we think these distinctions are from this talk, The Faculty of Mindfulness, by Gil Fronsdal?
3:39-5:19, 10:15-10:29, 10:57-13:40The way mindfulness was discussed by the Buddha was closer to what we call--in kind of modern America I guess--more like 'being' rather than 'doing'. Some people think of mindfulness as a lot of doing--noting this, noting that; and there's certainly a doing in this practice we do. But this faculty, this state, this capacity for mindfulness is not so much something we do as something we be. Just like with faith. Faith is not something you do, it's something you have, you cultivate, you can develop, you can strengthen. But you don't do faith. You have faith. It's something that supports you. You can do things to cultivate, establish and strengthen energy or effort, but you have them there to engage you. So it’s the same with mindfulness. It’s a faculty or capacity of mind that can be weak or strong. But it’s there, waiting for us, in a sense. In the language and teachings of the Buddha he talked about mindfulness as something we abide in, we dwell in. Again, not so much something we do--an activity--but something we dwell in or abide in. We enter into mindfulness and abide in it....
There is a practice the Buddha taught of knowing what’s happening when it’s happening. That you can do. It's focused on trying to know what’s happening while it’s happening, understanding what’s happening.... There’s a way in which we separate ourselves from--or free ourselves from; or make space for--our experience; when we can know it in a clear way. By knowing what’s happening--by observing what’s happening--that is how mindfulness is established. That’s how a person comes to possess mindfulness. The distinction that the Buddha made--which we don’t really make when we teach mindfulness in English: we often teach mindfulness and knowing as being synonymous, as if mindfulness is a thing that we do--but the way the word sati is used in the ancient texts, it’s not what you do but it’s the result of what you do. It’s a state of heightened clarity, or clear seeing, that comes from practicing understanding or knowing what’s happening.
Now you might think it’s just semantics, or not so important, the distinction between knowing as something that you do and mindfulness as something that you be, but I think the distinction can be very helpful, because both can go on at the same time. You can do certain things and also be in a certain state. For example you can dwell in--abide in--a house, but within the house you might be cooking or cleaning, doing things. You can abide in happiness while talking to a friend, singing a song, or going for a walk. These things can co-exist. So the state of mindfulness or the quality of mindfulness that the Buddha emphasized: he never used any kind of active verbs to talk about mindfulness, that this is something that you’re supposed to do. But he used verbs like, ‘endowed with mindfulness’, ‘possessed of mindfulness’, ‘established in mindfulness’, ‘abiding in mindfulness’. He did talk about cultivating mindfulness or establishing mindfulness, but that’s not an activity. That’s a result.