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Wise Words
Our authors and book editors offer these choice written selections for your contemplative reading and inspiration.

Joseph Goldstein: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

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Over a dining-room table, someone once asked me to define mindfulness in just a few words. Phrases like “living in the moment” or “being present” give a first intimation of what mindfulness is, but asking, “What is mindfulness?” is a bit like asking, “What is art?” or “What is love?” Fully plumbing the depths of mindfulness requires time and exploration. There is a wealth of meaning and nuance in the experience of mindfulness that can enrich our lives in unimagined ways. This book is an attempt to mine these riches.

In the Satipațțhāna Sutta, the Buddha’s discourse on the four ways of establishing mindfulness, there is a broad range of instructions for understanding the mind-body process and different methodologies for freeing the mind from the causes of suffering. We need not attempt to put all of them into practice and certainly not all at the same time. The Buddha himself gave different instructions, depending on the temperaments and inclinations of his listeners. But once we have a simple baseline of practice that both suits our temperaments and inspires us to continue, we can deepen our understanding by expanding the field of our inquiry. At different times, particular instructions in this discourse may touch us and enliven our practice in unexpected ways.

The Buddha introduces this discourse with an amazingly bold and unambiguous statement: “This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of nibbāna—namely the four foundations of mindfulness.”

Given the magnitude and import of this declaration—this is the direct path to liberation—it will be useful to explore this discourse in detail, using the Buddha’s own words to guide and deepen our understanding. And as we look at this sutta, we find that all of the Buddha’s teachings are contained within it. With each of these four ways of establishing mindfulness, the Buddha teaches different methods and techniques that liberate the mind. By the end of the discourse, he has laid out this most amazing and complete path to awakening. Different traditions of vipassanā might emphasize one or another of these exercises, but any one of them is sufficient to bring us to the end of the path. When we open any one door of the Dharma, it it leads to all the rest.


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