This is a transcription of the audio lecture Gnosis of Buddha Dharma 08 Upright Mindfulness originally given live on Gnostic Radio, which you can download for free.
Mindfulness is taught in every great religion, for mindfulness is the very basis of spiritual understanding. Without mindfulness, there can be no "religion" - re-union with the divine. Mindfulness is the activity of our very essence. When we understand what mindfulness is, then we understand what it is we are trying to awaken.
What is right mindfulness? Here a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent ... He abides contemplating consciousness as consciousness, ardent ... He abides contemplating mental objects as mental objects, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. This is called right mindfulness. - The Buddha Shakyamuni, Sathipatthana Sutra
More than all that you guard, guard your mind, for it is the source of life. - Proverbs 4:23
The true knowledge that can really originate a fundamental, internal change in us has as its basis direct Self-observation of oneself. - Samael Aun Weor, Revolutionary Psychology
I teach of suffering, its origin, cessation, and path. That is all I teach. - The Buddha Shakyamuni
The Four Noble Truths
Anyone who has studied Buddhism knows well that the Eightfold Path is one of the fundamental aspects of the teachings that the Buddha Shakyamuni gave to humanity. One of his first teachings was the Four Noble Truths, and in these Four Noble Truths, some very fundamental aspects of life are defined. These aspects, of course, revolve around the nature of suffering.
- All existence is unsatisfactory and filled with suffering
- The root of suffering can be defined as a craving or clinging to the wrong things; searching to find stability in a shifting world is the wrong way
- It is possible to find an end to suffering
- The Eightfold Path is the way to finding the solution to suffering and bring it to an end
The Fourth Noble Truth expresses that there is a way or a path to overcome suffering, to escape suffering. The Fourth Truth is further clarified by the exposition of the Eightfold Path. And of course, the Eightfold Path provides a basic outline, or basic structure, of fundamental foundations upon which any aspirant has to work.
|1. Right View||= Wisdom (View)|
|2. Right Intention|
|3. Right Speech||= Ethical Conduct (Action)|
|4. Right Action|
|5. Right Livelihood|
|6. Right Effort||= Mental Development (Meditation)|
|7. Right Mindfulness|
|8. Right Concentration|
The eight are divided into three broad categories: View, Action, and Meditation.
The synthesis of them all, or the point at which they all begin, is within oneself. To really apply and understand the Eightfold Path, or in other words, the steps to walk out of suffering, we have to learn how to make those aspects, those steps, practical. And we have to begin in ourselves. To merely grasp the intellectual understanding, or to have a mental image of the structure of the path, is insufficient. We need that. We need to have an intellectual grasp of the work; we need to have an intellectual grasp of the structure. But truly the work does not begin until that information, that understanding, moves beyond the intellect and becomes something practical.
Another way of examining that same idea is that when we take an understanding into the intellect, we build a mental picture, or a mental formation, a structure in the mind, and it is easy for us to stop there and to make the assumption that a mental picture, or mental understanding, is sufficient. But of course, in Gnosis, we know that that is not the case. The very term ‘Gnosis’ means direct experience, or direct knowledge. It is something personal, something that we acquire through our own efforts. In truth, all of the great religions seek that same goal. They seek the direct experience of the truths that they express. But unfortunately, because of the nature of our mind, we often fall short of acquiring that direct experience, and we rest instead in mere belief or intellectual understanding.
In order for us to really make sense of the Eightfold Path, in order for us to experience the Eightfold Path, there is one of those eight steps that we have to apply. And without it, the experience of the path remains elusive, impossible. And that step, that essential step, unavoidable step, is Right Mindfulness. You can make all the Right Effort you want, you can meditate, you can acquire a great intellectual understanding of the teaching, you can read many books, and store a lot of knowledge in your brain, but if you do not understand in your own practical experience what Right Mindfulness is, then you will not be working in the Path. You will instead be building mental formations. This is a very subtle thing, particularly for westerners to understand. This is because the western psyche is so habituated to building concepts in the mind, that we mistake it for working with the consciousness. This is a huge stumbling block, and it is not something that is commonly overcome or understood. The reasons for that are multiple, largely because of the mind that we have and the ego that we have, but secondly because the traditions that we have all grown up with in the west fail to emphasize the necessity of mindfulness. There may be, for example, certain schools that know the term, that express the need for mindfulness, but they do not have the practical techniques and they do not understand how to make mindfulness a living moment to moment reality. And due to that misunderstanding, the students proceed to build very elaborate and quite beautiful mental formations, but fail to enter into the real work, because mindfulness is not established.
Truthfully, the establishing of mindfulness is a terrible challenge. It is actually a very easy matter to acquire an intellectual understanding of Gnosis, or of Buddhism, or of Christianity, or any religious or mystical school. The intellectual understanding is a child’s game compared with the establishment and perfection of mindfulness. This is because the intellect in itself is actually quite simple.
Even though we talk about the mind being very complicated and very dense, which it is, the function of the intellect is really based upon a simple axis of duality, which is “yes and no,” “good or bad.” And that axis forces, or encourages, us to formulate mental concepts based upon that very duality. When we accept those types of formations in the mind as “truth,” then we automatically set ourselves up for conflict, because any mental formation is equally opposed by another one. So students become locked and trapped in arguments in the mind, and fail to establish real mindfulness. Mindfulness itself is beyond the intellect, beyond the mind. And due to this, it is more difficult to establish. It is more difficult for us in the west because we have become so habituated within the mind itself, within the intellect particularly.
So the interesting thing is that even a sort of superficial examination of any real scripture, like the Bible, or the Koran, or any of the Sutras, will find a large number of indications that mindfulness is the very basis of the work. But, as I stated, the established religions, the orthodox or, sort of, conventional powers, religious powers, fail to emphasize it.
Now if we look in the Bible, we find a quote that says,
More than all that you guard, guard your mind, for it is the source of life. - Proverbs 4:23
This in itself is an indication that vigilance, mindfulness, is the basis from which the springs of life arise. And those springs, as we know in Gnosis, are deeply symbolic. Examining that quote, meditating upon that quote, we find that from the establishment of mindfulness and vigilance comes the very development of our soul. So it is important for us to understand what mindfulness is.
What is Right Mindfulness? What does that mean?
In the West, having recently encountered teachings like Buddhism and Hinduism, we have absorbed a new set of terminology. And we’ve combined that terminology with our own Western understanding, which unfortunately has resulted in the misunderstanding of many key aspects of the spiritual path. Mindfulness is one of these concepts, or words, that is very misunderstood in the West. So, it is important for us to clarify what exactly we mean by the term ‘mindfulness.’ We should compare this with words like awareness, attention, and consciousness.
Students of Gnosis study the consciousness. Students of Buddhism study the consciousness as well, but they do not use that term. They call it ‘mind.’ Students of Hinduism also study the consciousness, and they have different terms for it depending on the particular aspect that they’re examining, and to alleviate our confusion I’m not going to throw a lot of terms at you. But what is essential for us to grasp is that the consciousness itself is perception. But this perception is not limited to physical senses. So when we have consciousness, we have the ability to perceive. When you look at consciousness in that way, then you can understand that all living things perceive, so all living things have consciousness. This is something that the intellect itself can grasp rather easily.
And when you look at life that way, and you look at simply the physical world, you can see that all the creatures that existing now are able to perceive and are therefore conscious. Now this point of view is different from the western psychological tradition. The western psychological tradition in its sort of orthodox point of view, believes that only human beings are conscious. But really, religion and Gnosis disagree with this because we understand the consciousness in a very different way from Western psychology.
If all creatures are conscious, then we can understand that there are levels; there are grades of consciousness. There are different qualities, different capacities. And this is quite simple to see when you compare the ability of a plant to perceive with the ability of an animal. It is evident that a plant can perceive because plants react to physical phenomena. They react to light; they react to heat; they react to sensation of different kinds. Certain plants will react in the presence of music; certain plants will react in the presence of a person. Some will react in the presence of different kinds of animals. So there is perception there, which means there is consciousness there, to the level of that plant.
The same is true of an animal. They have consciousness and perception in their level.
And of course, we have a certain degree, or certain level, of consciousness. Unfortunately, we think we have the maximum amount of available consciousness. This is untrue. Even within the traditional, materialistic science of our current day, our scientists tell us that we only use approximately three percent of the capacity of our brain. The brain is simply a machine, simply a tool. But that tool is largely unused. This is a very important factor to understand. Who or what uses that tool, and why is only three percent being utilized? This is an important fact, in Gnosis, for us to come to understand. The three percent is really insignificant. It’s a very small percentage. It means that the largest portions of the brain are dormant. And the same we can say is true of our endocrine system, which also has capacities that are largely untapped. The question becomes: how does one use and activate these dormant portions of our physiology? The answer to that comes in understanding what the consciousness is and how to use it.
So returning back to our terminology, understanding that we have consciousness developed to a certain degree, we should understand then, how to use it and develop it further.
Firstly, we should seek to understand if we even use it. Just because we have something, does not mean we use it. We obviously see that’s true in the case of our physical brain. We are only using a small percentage.
What about the consciousness itself? How do we use our own consciousness? In all likelihood, very few of us could give an exact definition to that question. This is really a tragedy, because the consciousness itself is our true inner nature. But asked to define it, who among us can really define consciousness? Asked to express its qualities, who among us can truly define the qualities of the consciousness? This is not easy to do, and yet we believe we are conscious, so there is a little bit of a contradiction.
The foundation, the fundamental starting point, of any real spiritual teaching, is to comprehend what is the consciousness and how it works. Now, of course, as I mentioned, in the western traditions, this understanding is largely lost. You can find signs of it: quotes in the Bible, quotes in the Koran. You can find a little more information about it if you examine the tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, where they have better understanding of how the consciousness works. And there are writings from, let’s say, the Desert Fathers, from many hundreds of years ago, where they express a clear understanding of states of consciousness that are beyond our normal, what we would call ‘vigil state.’ But, by and large, we today do not have that understanding. So Right Mindfulness is the science which directs us to that understanding, to achieve the understanding of the consciousness itself.
The Physical Senses and the Body
We started by talking about these terms: awareness, attention, mindfulness. If the consciousness is perception, then we can relate it to a light. And as we are all currently inhabiting our physical bodies, or at least most of us are (ha ha), we can say that the perception of the consciousness is arriving through the filter of the senses. This is our starting point. The beginning of right mindfulness is in this very particular continual remembrance that what we perceive is sensual, is filtered by these five physical senses that we have now: touch, taste, sight, etc. The perceptions that arise, and that enter into our understanding, are filtered. They are not pure; they are not complete.
In Buddhism, there is a famous sutra called Satipatthana. In that Sutra, the Buddha examines and outlines the four foundations of mindfulness. These four foundations are really the basis upon which a monk or a practitioner of Shravakayana (commonly called “Hinayana”), or the lesser school, of Buddhism practices. These foundations are the basis of their entire spiritual focus. This is simply the awareness of the self. They begin by developing continual observation of the body, or in other words, the senses. You find the same technique in Hinduism. This mindfulness of the body is to be in continual awareness of the sensations that arise, and which thereby transmit information into our understanding, into the consciousness itself.
In this very moment, all of us within physical bodies are receiving all types of sensory data, but we are completely unaware of it. The reason for that is we are identified with the mind. We are trapped in dualistic thinking, in comparison, and in associations. The basis, the starting point, for right mindfulness, is to begin to become aware of our physical presence, and to seat oneself firmly within the consciousness, as an observer of the body. This sounds, to the intellect, quite simple. The intellect says, “Oh yeah, that’s easy. No problem. I get that. But that’s not enough for me.” That’s because the mind doesn’t really get it. The mind itself, the intellect, is not the one who observes. It is the consciousness who observes. This is another point of frustration for many students. They try to apply the intellect as a tool for observation, and this is not possible. The intellect is only a tool for comparing. So when we are receiving sensations and observing ourselves, if we are comparing, we need to watch that closely. Upon what basis are we comparing?
There are techniques, particularly related to the tradition of Satipatthana, wherein we observe the body, and we do analyze the sensations that arise. We compare those sensations based upon the simple axis of duality. Are these sensations pleasant or unpleasant? Properly applied, that comparison can be fruitful. But it is still using the intellect, so it is an introductory level of observation. It is worth using. We are at the introductory level of the path. We need to take advantage of the capacities and limitations that we have now. Work within where we are. That is why the Buddha taught that technique. When observing the body, observe the sensations that arise. If you are trapped within the mind, see how the mind itself is a trap. So when a sensation comes, when you are feeling yourself sitting in a chair, observe those sensations. Are they pleasant or unpleasant? And then observe, how does your mind react to that?
Another simple, but very effective technique: become aware of the senses themselves. For example, are you aware of your eyes? (Because you are seeing.) And I would say that there has probably only been a couple of times in our life that we’ve been aware that we have eyes. How many years have we been alive and not really realized that fact? This is a lack of mindfulness. The application of that technique, to become deeply aware of how information is received by the senses, establishes a very strong foundation for mindfulness, because the student activates their capacity to continually observe.
Meditation itself is simply an extension of that capacity. If you become frustrated with meditation, the answer to solving your frustration is probably right here: Learn to be mindful, and meditation becomes easy. Meditation is actually an extremely simple art. What makes it difficult is our own mind. Meditation is a tool, or a technique, that is natural to the soul, as natural as breathing is to the physical body. Our physical body breathes automatically. In the same way, the consciousness comprehends automatically. But for it to do so, the dualistic mind has to be removed.
But with us, the mind remains an obstacle and it gets in the way. So we begin by learning to be mindful, firstly of the body. When that mindfulness becomes established, when we truly are making progress in being continually present within the physical body, then we are beginning to establish what we call Self-observation. Self-observation is the same thing as mindfulness.
In the strictest terms, to be mindful means ‘to remember.’ To be mindful of what you are doing means to be aware of what you are doing, to realize that you are doing something. And of course, most of the time we do not have that awareness. We sit in our chair and we are not actively aware that we are sitting in a chair. We sit in the chair, and then we begin to think about other things. We begin to dream, to imagine. This is the associative power of the dualistic mind: to work with associations in order to take us out of the present moment.
Be aware of that in the course of this lecture. How often does your mind come and say, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of this,” or, “I remember when this happened” or “What if this happens?” Past and future. Associative thought. This is called distraction, and when those distractions arise, we become identified. When we are identified, we are not conscious. We enter into psychological sleep.
Distractions can arise in any of our three brains: intellectually, emotionally, or through sensation. They can arise physically, so perhaps we have a very pleasant sensation, or a very unpleasant sensation, and that distraction stimulates the mind to begin to associate with other images and ideas. And before we know it, a few minutes have gone by and when you realize it and you come back to listening to the lecture, you have no idea what I’m talking about. And it takes you a minute to catch up. I’m sure everybody knows what I’m talking about. That is a form of hypnosis. It is the way our own ego, or our own mind, hypnotizes the consciousness by using associative, or discursive thought.
Mindfulness is the first antidote to that problem. By continually remembering to be present, is mindfulness; that is how we become mindful. And by continually manifesting that observation, we establish a continuity of consciousness. Now people often ask, “What is Self-realization? What does that mean?” The basis of Self-realization is continuity of consciousness. From that continuity arise all of the splendors of the soul. If we are distracted, if we are absorbed in discursive thought, or the dispersed mind, then we are not having continuity of consciousness, we are having dispersed consciousness, divided consciousness: consciousness divided into different packets, into different distractions, different events.
So we can say that in any given moment, we have a wide variety of thoughts, and feelings, and sensations which arise, all of which want our attention. And we tend to be thrown about, back and forth, between them. “Oh, I gotta do this and that. Oh, I remember this. Oh, what about that? Maybe this will happen. Maybe that will happen.” This is all very discontinuous, very chaotic, and demonstrates a lack of mindfulness.
The mindful person, the one who is establishing the practice of being present, does not resist the mind. The mindful person does not resist sensation. The mindful person observes. When a sensation arises, we look at it. That is all. When a feeling arises, we look at it, but we are separate from it.
This sense of separation seems to be quite confusing to the student, but it is really simple, and it requires no intellect at all to do it. It is an effort of the will and the consciousness, and it is quite simple.
If a feeling arises in your body, a sensation, you observe that. You are not that sensation. If you observe your body right now, I’m sure you can find some sensation somewhere which is strong enough for you to observe it, and to recognize in yourself, right now, there is a sensation happening over there, in your foot, in your arm. But you, as the observer, are not that sensation. There you have established the perception of that distinction. The intellect doesn’t need to interfere with that at all, so do not bring it. Just observe.
Notice, that when a sound happens, you observe the sound. It arises, it passes away. When I say a word, speak a sentence, it arises, and it passes away. You are not those words, but you observe them. Your brain is not those words. Even the way that that information is translated into your understanding – that is not you. The commentary that you hear in yourself about what I’m saying is also not you. You have to keep backing up. Keep separating. And at a certain point, you come to recognize, that behind the senses, behind the body, behind feelings, behind thought, is pure perception. To experience that requires no book. It requires nothing but your own effort. That experience transforms you, when you really see in yourself, in this moment, that you are a perceiver, who does not require thought, or feeling, or sensation. You are establishing Self-observation, mindfulness. The continuity of that point of view is the basis of your interior spiritual revolution. And in the moment that you lose that and begin to think and begin to revel in your feelings, revel in sensation, you go back to sleep.
Notice how difficult it is to maintain that continuity of observation. It takes a lot of willpower, and it takes a lot of effort. That is what we mean in Gnosis by Right Effort. And it is also what we mean in Gnosis by Right View. And it is what we mean by Right Action. So all of the steps of the Eightfold Path are unified in Right Mindfulness. That Eightfold Path is One. It is the Fourth Noble Truth. It is: “And there is a Way to escape suffering.” That Way is by becoming conscious. To awaken, we have to start in this moment, by being AWAKE.
It is important to clarify something: even those who learn black magic learn to be mindful. Even those who learn black tantra, who learn sorcery and witchcraft, learn to concentrate. And they learn to be mindful. So, what is the difference? What do you observe, and how do you observe it?
The establishment of mindfulness is critical. There is no question about that. Every scripture points towards that necessity. Every tradition knows and understands that mindfulness is the basis upon which we realize the truth. Black magic teaches the same thing. Those who teach wrong paths also teach how to meditate, how to concentrate, how to observe. But they teach it in a different way. The distinction is this: to work towards psychological purity and spiritual elevation (the white or right-hand path), mindfulness is established by ensuring that the consciousness, attention, awareness, is separate from thinking, emotion, and sensation, and we have to see their inherent nature is illusion. And, in the midst of type of vision, should be a strong cognizant love for others; these two in combination are called bodhichitta.
To simply, through a force of will, develop directed attention, is good, but it is not everything. The black magician also learns to concentrate, meditate, focus. That is how they empower their works: through force of will. But the consciousness that they learn to direct is conditioned consciousness, which is trapped in pride, anger, fear, lust, envy. This is why we say we need to understand all the aspects of the Eightfold Path. Action is concerned with ethics: what is right and what is wrong.
To concentrate is an easy matter. When we become identified with a feeling, we can concentrate very well. When someone betrays us, we have no problem thinking about that continually and focusing on that from moment to moment. When someone makes us angry, we have no problem being continually aware of that anger. So that is a form of mindfulness; it is a form of concentration, but it is wrong. The right thing to do is to be aware of those feelings, aware of that anger, but to separate; to recognize that the free consciousness does not feel anger, the free consciousness that is the Essence, which is divine. The inner Being is not a victim of those feelings. The true innermost parts of ourselves do not become identified with those sensations and feelings. So we have to understand how to apply mindfulness, how to utilize the tools that are present within ourselves.
Awareness, you can say, is very similar to mindfulness. So when we get more specific with our terminology, we start looking at what is attention and what is awareness. To be mindful is sort of general term. It means to remember what we are doing, to be continually present. In Tibetan Buddhism, they often call this ‘mental glue.’ And this term is very interesting because it illustrates that mindfulness is that capacity of the consciousness to hold our understanding together, what allows us to be continually aware, continually observing. It prevents the attention from forgetting about, or losing, the object that we observe.
Attention is focused; it is directed. So we can say in this way that it’s more or less like a flashlight or a laser, because it’s very concentrated, a very directed force. In meditation practice, when we first learn how to concentrate, we take some type of object and we learn to concentrate our attention. This means we learn how to become exclusive, to focus attention exclusively on one thing. The goal there is to develop one-pointedness, Pratyahara, Shamata. This one-pointedness is simply the development of attention, directed consciousness.
On the other hand, awareness is general. It is diffused. So in this moment, your attention, hopefully, is on what I’m saying. But at the same time, you can remain aware of your environment. That is the distinction. The third aspect is to be mindful of all of that. The mindfulness is the mental glue. It is that remembrance from moment to moment, that you are paying attention, and that you are aware. So we should not use these terms interchangeably, and unfortunately, due to laziness and misunderstanding, we do. But it will help us to comprehend the teachings if we use them in the right way.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
- mindfulness of the body (Pali: kāyā): kāyasati and/or kāyagatāsati (S. kāyasmṛti)
- mindfulness of feelings (or sensations) (vedanā): vedanāsati (S. vedanāsmṛti)
- establishment mindfulness of mind (or consciousness) (cittā): cittasati (S. cittasmṛti)
- mindfulness of mental objects (or qualities) (dhammā): dhammāsati (S. dharmasmṛti)
These four foundations are what we have been describing so far.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness provides really important benefits to our spiritual practice and to every other area of our life.
The first benefit of mindfulness is that it is an activity of consciousness that prevents us from forgetting what we are focused on doing.Can you imagine how much better the world would be if people stayed aware of themselves as they drive, operate machines, fly planes, talk to their children, etc.?
In meditation, when we learn to concentrate, this is our first challenge, because we continually forget what we are observing because the mind distracts us. This is why in the beginning of meditation the most important thing for us to develop is mindfulness; to remember that we are meditating; to not forget that we are meditating. This takes effort, because in the beginning, the student takes their object of observation, observes it, and within a few moments is thinking about something else, is dreaming, and forgets that he’s supposed to be meditating, and maybe fifteen, twenty minutes, go by then he comes back and realizes, “Oh, I’m supposed to be meditating. I forgot.” The antidote is mindfulness.
What that event illustrates is that student is not mindful during the day. That student is distracted all day long by thinking, by feelings. So the student is then advised to become mindful in the course of the day. To be aware of what one is doing at all times. A good practice for that is: do one thing at a time. Do one thing at a time. Do it with great attention and great care, and you will develop mindfulness.
The second benefit of mindfulness is that it holds our attention on the object with endurance.
Again, we need this in meditation. In order to really comprehend anything, any phenomenon, we must hold the attention on it. But if we do not have mindfulness, that is the continual remembrance of what we are doing, then the attention becomes distracted by thoughts, by memories, by desires. Not only does mindfulness prevent the forgetting, but it needs to establish the endurance to withstand the distractions of the mind.
The third benefit of mindfulness is that it helps to maintain a continuity of familiarity.
As you are observing a given thing, to be mindful is to be aware of what else you have seen. This is particularly important in meditation, because when you meditate, you need to have the awareness, the mindfulness, that when a thought arises, you’ve seen that thought before. We do not have that right now; that’s why we become so distracted.
This is also true all day long. We fail to realize that most of the thoughts we had today, we had yesterday. The majority are repeated. Most of the feelings that we had today, we had the day before. But because we are not mindful, we do not realize that we are constantly repeating the same sensations, the same thoughts, and the same feelings. With the application of mindfulness we start to recognize that. And then those same thoughts, those same feelings, and those same sensations, become a stimulant for awareness. This is the first step of learning to use the mind against itself. With mindfulness, we begin to see the mechanicity of the mind. So when a thought arises, the mindfulness remembers, “I have seen that thought before.” We can immediately separate and not be identified. That produces comprehension.
True concentration is built upon this basis. Concentration is really attention made very strong. We all have the ability to pay attention to a certain degree; just maybe not for very long. It seems that ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder is becoming extremely widespread in these times, and that’s because of the nature of the mind that we are cultivating. Our media, our lifestyle, encourages us to be very distracted, to not have continuity of attention, so we get bored really fast. We lose the ability to maintain interest in any given thing, because we are so identified with receiving new sensations all the time. So we hear a lecture and think, “Oh, I’ve already heard this lecture. I do not need to hear it again.” This is wrong. If you really knew the contents of the lecture, you would be awake. It’s simple. The consciousness needs to learn, and the consciousness learns through directed attention. The animal mind flourishes in distraction, and the animal mind is the basis of suffering. So to transcend suffering, we have to disempower the animal mind. That is only possible by taking the consciousness out of it. We do that by establishing mindfulness and attention.
Attention, focused, disciplined, becomes concentration. Concentration is the method by which we comprehend. And comprehension, which is not a capacity of the intellect, is a capacity of the consciousness, or the soul. Comprehension is the basis of spiritual development. It is the understanding of right and wrong. It is the understanding of the Eightfold Path, of Right Action. It is the understanding of suffering. So to reach the understanding of suffering has nothing to do with the mind in terms of the mind being active. It has to do with the comprehension of that mind.
You cannot comprehend the mind with the mind. The “I” cannot fix the “I.” There are some Gnostic students who have the mistaken idea that you cannot comprehend the ego in Samadhi, or in meditation. Samadhi, or the ecstasy that we reach through meditation, is the absence of the “I.” Samadhi is the experience of the consciousness becoming completely free of the ego, even if it’s only a small consciousness, three percent, let’s say. But when that essence is extracted from the ego, it experiences an ecstasy, bliss. This is not a physical sensation. This is a complete experience of all the potential senses of the consciousness. It’s visual, it has sound, has heat, has light. And it is only when we are free from the “I,” that we can truly comprehend the “I.” While we are trapped within the ego, we cannot see it. We cannot really comprehend it. So the escape from the mind, the escape from the ego, is the basis of comprehension. And that is called Samadhi. To reach Samadhi is based upon directed attention and concentration, which are in turn based upon mindfulness.
Again we return to how important mindfulness is in our practice. To really develop the capacity of mindfulness, we have to see in ourselves why we are not mindful. This is a matter of practice. This is why we call it ‘Self-observation.’ Because the term ‘mindfulness’ is sort of a little bit vague; is not quite specific enough. But when we use the term ‘Self-observation,’ that is quite clear. We need to watch ourselves – continually. And in that watchfulness, we need to be looking for something specific. We need to look for why we are not watchful.
We actually have to turn the consciousness back towards itself. This stimulates growth. When you start to see, and you pay attention to how you pay attention, then you realize how you pay attention. When you become mindful of how you are mindful, then you can really understand mindfulness. But simply trying to observe outwardly continually is extremely difficult. So use this trick. Become aware of how you are aware. Observe how you observe. And you will make rapid progress. You will understand much. And what you will find is that your observation, your powers of observation, are continually being knocked out of the way by discursive thinking, by dispersed mind, by desires – memories, fantasies, fears, pride.
To be mindful, truly mindful, is effortless. It is the natural function of the consciousness. And I know that can sound like a contradiction. The effort is to free the consciousness; but when it is free, the consciousness is naturally mindful.
If you are becoming tense, you are doing it wrong. This is another clue. Mindfulness is something based upon relaxation. Relax. From moment to moment, relax, relax, relax. Tension is produced in the mind. When the mind is tense, when the mind has a conflict, the body becomes tense. So relax the body and observe the mind.
The monk, or the nun, or the practitioner, when they learn Satipatthana, this technique of mindfulness, they start with observing the body and relaxing the body. Continually. And the Master Samael Aun Weor wrote quite clearly, “I relax myself continually from moment to moment.” Self-observation is based upon relaxation, and so is meditation. Tension is an obstacle. Tension is produced in the mind by conflict, by desires which conflict with reality. So we relax, we observe the body. With the establishment of that mindfulness of the body, we begin to look deeper, we begin to observe our feelings, we begin to observe our thoughts.
There is a practice that is often taught in conjunction with these techniques, and in the Pali language they call it Anapattasati. And really this is just mindfulness of breath, to observe breathing. It is a very common technique. It is a very effective technique. So if you study any kind of Buddhism, they teach this technique. It is also known in Christianity, it is known in Islam, it is also known in Gnosis. The basis upon which Anapanasati works is to be continually mindful of the process of breathing. The reason for this practice, or the effectiveness of this practice, is that it is not based in any idea. It is not concerned with any kind of concept or thought. When you observe the breath, you do not observe the idea of breathing. You do not even observe the emotional quality of breathing. You observe the simple fact of it. And you observe that it never is the same. So this practice yields great benefit.
When you truly are mindful of breath, you come to grasp consciously that everything is impermanent, that all the sensations that are arising and passing away are subject to the wheel of life and death. When you see sensation, physical sensation, arising and passing, that mindfulness expands, and you see the same phenomenon in your emotions. And then you begin to realize, “This fear that I have arises and passes. It is not permanent. So why am I so identified with it? This pride that I feel is impermanent. Then why am I so identified with it? This desire to have something is impermanent, because when I get it, I’m happy for a moment, and then I lose that happiness. The sensation passes, or I lose the object of my affection, and then I suffer.” Why become attached? That observation, the mindfulness of that impermanence, is a very powerful catalyst to help us transform the way we receive impressions, and the way we act. So mindfulness of breath is very effective, but we cannot stop with mindfulness of breath.
Practitioners of the exoteric schools often do just that. Unfortunately, some believe that by being mindful of breath, they establish concentration and upon the basis of that concentration they will become Self-realized as a matter of course. This is wrong. Self-realization is acquired through comprehension, by comprehending the inherent nature of all phenomenon. That begins inside of oneself: to see the inherent nature of sensation, of feeling, and thought.
In the Mahayana schools, they take this practice a little deeper. They observe the sensations, they observe the body, they observe the feelings, they observe the thoughts. But they observe them all from the point of view of emptiness. And this is the real difference in the Mahayana schools, the greater vehicle. They observe that the feeling that arises, in its basis, does not exist. It arises and passes; it has no real existence. It is conditioned. It is dependent on other factors, so why be identified with it? And upon that basis, they begin to recognize that there is no self, there is no ego, there is no “I.”
The practice of mindfulness begins to point that out to us in a very clear way. You observe you are in a difficult situation and someone is criticizing you. And when you observe yourself very carefully, you notice that it is an ego; it is one part of the mind that is reacting to the criticism. You, as the observer, if you remain separate from those feelings, you recognize, “Those feelings are an illusion. They aren’t real. But unfortunately in the past, I’ve always mistaken them for being me.” And when that experience arises, through the application of mindfulness, where you can see that you as a consciousness are not anger, the realization arises that the “I” is not real. The consciousness is real. The “I” is not. But because we believe the “I” is real, and we grasp on to the sense of self, we suffer. So simply by applying this basic technique, mindfulness, we can arise these understandings in ourselves and really comprehend why we ourselves are suffering.
In the Dhammapada, which is one of the most important scriptures in the tradition of Buddhism, it is recorded that the Buddha said this:
Heedfulness is the path to the deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The Heedful do not die, the Heedless are like unto the dead.
This relates closely to what the Master Jesus said,
Let the dead bury the dead.
The meaning there is, how do we define ourselves as a consciousness? Are we listening to the mind? Are we obeying the desires and impulses of the ego? And the answer is quite evident when we observe ourselves. When we really observe ourselves, we observe those sensations and desires. Do we heed them? Do we listen to them? Do we follow them? The one who does not observe is always being pulled by the ego, by the “I,” by desire. So that one is truly spiritually dead, in terms of being dead to spirit, dead to truth. We need to be dead to the ego, and that death begins with mindfulness, that separation.
More on mindfulness can be found in another sutra from Buddhism, where the Buddha said,
If while going, standing, sitting, or reclining when awake, a thought of sensuality, hatred, or aggressiveness arises, and he tolerates it, does not reject, discard, and eliminate it, does not bring it back to an end, that one who in such a manner is ever and again lacking in earnest endeavor and moral shame, is called indolent and void of energy.
Now this, of course, is all of us, because we do listen to our aggressive thoughts, we do succumb to our hatred, we do indulge in thoughts of sensuality, and we do embrace and enjoy the thoughts and feelings of our envy and our pride. But,
If while going, standing, sitting, or reclining, a thought of sensuality, hatred, or aggressiveness arises, and he does not tolerate it, but rejects, discards, and eliminates it, brings it to an end, that one who in such a manner ever and again shows earnest endeavor and moral shame, is called energetic and resolute.
The capacity and ability to change is based on mindfulness. We have to be aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise in order to change them. It is quite simple. If we do not establish continual awareness of ourselves, we cannot establish a basis for change. And this is where, unfortunately, many spiritual practitioners fail. Many believe, many build concepts, many have what they call faith, many belong to groups, they pay their fines or dues, they go to church or they go to temple, they participate in different kinds of activities, and they consider themselves to be pious. But they do not observe their own mind. They are not changing. And due to that there is no entrance into the path.
Master Jesus said,
Ye must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.
He also said many times in many different ways that we cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven if we are adulterers, fornicators, murderers. He said murder is not simply the act of physically killing. We kill with a word. Adultery is not the physical act; we adulterate with a thought. If we are not observing our thoughts and feelings, we cannot change them. So we remain in sin, and we remain in suffering. And we remain continuing in mistaken behaviors, and of course that generates more karma, more suffering.
It is essential that we make the techniques and the understanding of Gnosis very practical. We need to observe. We need to be mindful. That mindfulness, or Self-observation, has to be added with an additional factor, and this is something that marks Gnosis as being different. We can look at most religions and see Self-observation called different names, right? What makes Gnosis different? What makes this particular teaching different?
Mindfulness, or Self-observation, is remembering to be present. It is remembering to be here and now. It is remembering and being aware of what we are doing. It is not Self-remembering. The term ‘Self-remembering’ refers to the real Self.
In the books of Samael Aun Weor, we see the term ‘Self-remembering’ written many times, and we notice this. But we often fail to realize, recognize the importance of a little word that is usually before this phrase: the word ‘inner.’ Even when we read this, ‘inner Self-remembering,’ we think of it as Self-remembering within ourselves: inner self-remembering. This is true, but that is really mindfulness. The phrase is better understood as ‘Inner-Self remembering.’ To remember the Inner Self. To remember God. This is what distinguishes Gnosis.
What is the Inner Self? How do we remember That which is within? If we are not mindful, we cannot remember Him, we cannot remember that Inner Self because we are not present; we are distracted. But even if we are mindful, we often do not remember that we have inside of ourselves a connection to divinity. So to observe oneself and be mindful is something anyone can learn. Even the black magicians learn that. Even people who are performing black magic learn to be mindful. But they do not remember the Inner Self, and that’s why they are in black magic.
The distinguishing characteristic from white to black is the recognition, respect, and service of divinity. The black magician simply seeks to serve his own will. And he calls that will “divine” and he may call it “God.” He may call it “the Guardian of the Threshold.” He may call it “Atman.” He may call it anything that he wants, but if it is his will, it is diabolic.
May Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“Thy” is the Inner Self. “Thy” is our Real Being, who is far beyond the “I.” He is the Self who has nothing to do with our false self.
The Inner Being, or the Innermost, is the source from which our Essence springs. In Christianity, they call him the Father. In Hinduism, they have different names: Brahma, even Atman can be used. In Buddhism, they have a vastly complicated way of perceiving this Inner Self, but in essence they say the Self is empty, which is true. They say the Self does not exist, which is true. But this Inner Self is really our true nature, and It is devoid of what we think of as “self”, and that is why Buddhism and Gnosis agree – there is no self. We say there is an Inner Self, but we also say there is no self. How do you resolve that? Through experience. Through comprehension. Then you understand.
This Inner Self is the channel, or source, of the energy which illuminates the soul. So to be mindful is essential, but we need to combine that with the remembrance, or awareness, of our inner divinity, not the “I.” And this remembrance, if it is true, comes with humility, and a sense of repentance. Many people say, “I remember my Inner God,” but they said it with pride. This is false. This is ego. Many people say, “My Inner Being is the Master So-and-So,” “My Inner Being is a great Logos and I am his Dhyani-Bodhisattva.” This is pride. This is not Self-remembering.
Self-remembering is a quality that is so precious, and so humble, and so pure, it cannot even say the word “I.” It cannot even say it. Because in the presence of that inner divinity, we see that we are nothing. We are insignificant; less than dust. And this is not just a theory. This is not just a pretty or poetic idea. It is a terrible fact. We have too much pride. That is why we suffer. Real self-remembering is humility. It is the absence of “I” and the presence of the divine. When the “I” becomes cleared out and removed then God can enter. But the “I” can only be removed when we are aware of it. If you do not see the “I” you cannot remove it, so you have to be very mindful.
In the Bible, we find some very good instructions related to mindfulness, but on first glance it may not appear to be related to mindfulness. Yet, if you look in the book of Proverbs, you will discover that the bulk, or the mass, of this beautiful book is really related to mindfulness. This selection of writings is attributed to Solomon, the great, wise king. And it is a selection of chapters wherein the father expresses to the son how to become wise. We need to understand that the father in this case is the Inner Self, is that divinity, who is expressing to his son, us, how to achieve the work.
We see in Book Two,
My son, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments, if you make your ear attentive to wisdom and your mind open to discernment, if you call to understanding and cry aloud to discernment, if you seek it as you do silver, and search for it as for treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and obtain knowledge of God.
Do you notice that in that passage it is repeated: attention, discernment. That is mindfulness. The emphasis here is to be aware – to learn how to discern one thing from another. And it says quite clearly, if you do this, if you seek for this discernment and understanding, you will obtain the fear of the Lord and attain knowledge of God.
Knowledge, of course, is Gnosis. It is Daath, the hidden sphere of Kabbalah. And that knowledge is the knowledge of the Tree of Good and Evil and the knowledge of the Path in order to return back to our lost state of purity.
“...call to Understanding” is the call to Binah, the Holy Spirit, which is of the Fire which illuminates the tree. Discernment is possible only with conscious attention, with mindfulness.
A little bit later, in the same book, we also find a line that is important. It is in Book Four, twenty-three. He says,
More than all that you guard, guard your mind, for it is the source of life.
That is a biblical exposition of the importance of mindfulness.
Now I read earlier, the same quote but translated in another version of the Bible where it said “Guard your heart.” And I think that combination of those two translations yields interesting understanding, because truly to be mindful is to be mindful of the heart and mind – to be mindful of our entire psyche.
Even those who have much learning, faith, and willing perseverance, will become defiled by a moral fall due to the mistake of lacking alertness. The thieves of unalertness, in following upon the decline of mindfulness, will steal even the merits I have firmly gathered. I shall then descend to the lower realms.
Mindfulness, attentiveness, Self-observation, and Self-remembering are the essence, the spine, of Gnosis. Many students enter into these studies, they hurriedly consume the intellectual doctrine, and they fail to grasp the practical realities of the teachings. They may have a great intellectual understanding, they may have great passion, great faith, great devotion, but without mindfulness, they have nothing. Without the development of conscious attention, they have no way to enter in to the real teaching. So they remain outside. Now unfortunately, in these days there are many like this who are teachers. There are many in different spiritual groups around the world who teach beautifully but have no true understanding, no comprehension, of the teaching. That is because they have not truly understood how to make that teaching practical, and how to develop conscious attention and mindfulness in themselves.
It is essential that we work on a continual basis to be mindful, but simple mindfulness is not enough. That mindfulness must be accompanied by the remembrance of our Inner Self, the recognition that we have fallen into error, and we must change in order to come out of it. If we simply develop the will to be attentive and disciplined, and we do not bring with that the remembrance of the divine, we are walking on the wrong path. To develop self-will is to develop in the wrong way. So mindfulness is very important. It’s the basis of the Eightfold Path. But it has to be performed in the right way. It has to be practiced. It has to be investigated.
Questions and Answers
Audience: Well, I just think it’s not exactly a question but I think one of the biggest things as far as self-observation is, you mentioned, is to be actively aware. I think so many people think it means to focus, to get stressed out…
Instructor: With tension
Audience: …bringing in the intellect or something. You have to be passive to the way you usually are to be active…
Instructor: Yes, that is a good way of putting it. You have to be passive to the way you usually are. So your normal way of being has to become passive, and if your normal way of being is very active, you are not doing it. It’s a good way of putting it.
You can observe in yourself and in other people, the personality. The personality is, of course, the face that we use to get through life. If that personality is active, the consciousness is asleep. This is a very important distinguishing factor. We need to always be aware of how our personality is working. And if that personality is giddy, excited, expressive, or depressed, and angry, and upset, where is the consciousness?
This creates great discomfort for the student, because in the beginning it feels like we do not know who we are. We begin to become confused, even afraid. And unfortunately there are some who do not have the strength to withstand that fear, so they leave these studies in search of something easier. It is unfortunate, because they’re running away from their own selves, and you cannot do that. You are what you are and you carry it with you, until you change it. It is better to be very sincere and to see it is true. You are not who you think you are. And so long as you think you are who you think you are, you are wrong thinking. You are trapped in wrong thought, wrong understanding. The willingness to see that we are not what we think we are, and we are in fact what we do not want to be, takes courage. That is why the Master Samael Aun Weor said we have to first un-become what we are in order to become what we should be. This is very difficult. We tend to think that we can take what we are and just make it better and go to heaven. What we are cannot go to heaven. What we are takes us to exactly where we are, which is trapped in suffering. To escape suffering, to transcend pain, to transcend uncertainty and fear, means we have to un-become what keeps us in that state. You have to not be what you are to become what you are not.
Audience: In the Bible it says that we do not have to have any image of God, what has that to do with remembering God?
Instructor: To remember God does not require an image. And truly, when that statement is made in the Old Testament, that is referring to the ultimate aspect, or the highest parts of the Tree of Life, which truly have no image. There is no image that can represent the Absolute. Yet, God enters into form, and form has an image. So you have to understand it in context with the Tree of Life. You cannot make an image of the Absolute, but you can make an image of an aspect of God, or an embodiment, or manifestation of God. So in the same way, we may have an idea, or a mental picture of what God is, but God is not limited to that. Someone from India, or who is a practitioner of Hinduism, pictures God as Shiva, and worships that image and that understanding. But that is not all God is. Someone in Christianity worships God as Jesus, and truly, God entered into that vehicle, but that is not all that God is.
In the same way, within ourselves, we begin to approach God and we use images, but we have to always remember God is more than that. The image is a vehicle. The image is a doorway. The same thing in Tantric Buddhism: they use visualization and imagery as doorways to access different parts of the consciousness. So the Tantric Buddhists learn to visualize and imagine a deity, and the practitioner imagines themselves becoming one with that deity. And then learns to imagine seeing through the eyes of that deity as if they were that deity. And this becomes a way of seeing the ego for what it is: nothing. But none of that means that we have made an image of God to worship that image; it is a vehicle towards understanding. Self-remembering is really the same. We have to use it as a step towards understanding.
Audience: When we remember God, what sphere of the Tree of Life do we remember?
Instructor: God is not limited to a sphere. Truly, God is in everything. To remember God is to realize every atom of your body is illuminated by Him. You see because of the fire that He gives to your senses, and that fire gives the capacity for the perception of imagery. And you hear because the fire of God, that intelligence, is within the auditory systems that feed those vibrations into your brain.
It is not a matter of saying, “I’m remembering this mental idea I have of Atman who is in the sphere of Chesed.” No. It is remembering God in yourself. Why are you alive? How are you alive? Have you considered the miracle of your body? Have you considered the incomprehensible nature of perception itself? If you observe that, you begin to approach what I am pointing towards. You cannot limit the Self-remembering of God to a mental picture or a concept. It has to be practical; it has to be in the moment.
What are you experiencing right now, and how is God behind that? If you are observing your mind, and you see anger, you see pride, or you see fear, is God behind that? If you are observing yourself, and you are observing how you observe, where is God? Do you feel that? Do you feel God when you are angry? How do you remember what you do not know? These are questions to ask yourself, and through that type of questioning, you stimulate your consciousness to reach out, to not be limited by the concepts of your mind, by a mental picture, even of the Tree of Life. God is not limited to the Tree. He is the Tree. Your consciousness is not limited to the Tree. It is the Tree itself.
When you remember God, you are trying to understand and perceive your own conscious nature. That is Self-remembering – to feel and perceive directly right now. How is it that God is manifesting right now? Are you aware that God is within everything? That is Self-remembering. To be mindful is simply to be aware of what’s going on. To be Self-remembering is to be looking for the divinity behind phenomena.
And that is why we say all inherent existence is empty. The emptiness is the Absolute. And that is Right View. Right View is the point of view that says: these manifestations, these phenomena, these events that arise and pass are empty. Their inherent nature is the Absolute, which has no image. That is Self-remembering, and that is Right View.
But to say, “I have my Atman, I have my Inner Father, and He looks like this and that, and He wears this color of robe and He has a big crown and this and that,” that is not Self-remembering – that is a mental picture. You can use that, if you want. But go past that. Reach beyond that. Look into the inherent nature of phenomena. Then you will begin to access the direct experience of what God is. If you build a mental picture, you will stop right there.
Audience: So you can say that all the spheres represent different aspects of the Being?
Instructor: That is correct. The Tree of Life is a map of the consciousness itself. The Tree of Life is a map of the Being. The Being has many parts. Not one, not two. Many. Samael Aun Weor has stated the Being is like an army of children, a huge collection different parts that are one, ultimately. The work of Self-realization is to unify all those parts completely. That is to become a Paramarthasattya, to have absolute consciousness of all of the parts of the Being. And unfortunately right now we do not have consciousness of any of the parts of the Being. We are a part of that, and we do not even have consciousness of ourselves.