What is the purpose of meditation? Have nothing on our mind? Think of something specific? Find a pleasant feeling to hold on to? Be blank and see what comes next? We can’t help but feel utterly lost in all these questions at the very start of our meditation practice. If we’re to make progress and gain better understanding, we need to turn directly to the source — the Buddha himself who famously said:
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it,
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
These first two lines of the ancient scripture point to the mind as the focal point of the Buddha’s teaching. The mind alone is responsible for our awareness of the external reality and of our body. The mind alone is the source of all the good and evil that arises within and befalls us from without. Hence the path to salvation can be found by turning inward, into the recesses of our own minds. Only through a change within will there be a change without. And mindfulness meditation is one of the most important Buddhist practices that facilitates that change writes Buddhist monk Nyanaponika Thera in his book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: The Buddha’s Way of Mindfulness.
The decisive essence of the Buddhist meditation and mind-doctrine has retained its full power and validity and remains unimpaired by any change of time and of scientific theories of the current age. As such, Nyanaponika Thera writes, it teaches us three things:
to know the mind, — that is so near to us, and yet is so unknown;
to shape the mind, — that is so unwieldy and obstinate, and yet may turn so pliant;
to free the mind, — that is in bondage all over, and yet may win freedom here and now.
All the implications of the Buddha’s healing message as well as the core of his meditation and mind-doctrine are included in the admonition “Be mindful!” that pervades the Buddha’s great sermon on the Foundations of Mindfulness (Pali: Satipatthana Sutta). As such, Nyanaponika Thera writes, mindfulness is incorporated in the Buddhist mind-doctrine in the following ways:
Mindfulness, then, is
the unfailing master key for knowing the mind, and is thus the starting point;
the perfect tool for shaping the mind, and is thus the focal point;
the lofty manifestation of the achieved freedom of the mind, and is thus the culminating point.
Therefore the ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’ (Satipatthana) have rightly been declared by the Buddha as the “Only Way” (ekayano maggo).
The Heart of Buddhist Meditation remains one of the best classic introductions to the key Buddhist practice and a must-read for new practitioners.