The only Present you need – Sati – and you already have it!
In the early years of Triratna Sangharakshita used to talk quite a lot about everyday mindfulness. This was in part a response to the meditation practices he found in the UK at the time, 50 years ago, that led to over exaggerated introspection, which Sangharakshita termed ‘Alienated awareness’; but also the general immaturity and unawareness of many of the people coming along to the early movement. I don’t think times have changed very much in those 50 years. People coming along now still do seem to be lacking that everyday mindfulness, but maybe more importantly the awareness that they need to do something about it. This lack is also present even in those that have been coming along for a while and form much of our Sangha. So what is to be done?
I can remember having a very interesting and enlightening conversation with Sangharakshita about the Satipatthana practice, which is taken directly from the Buddha’s description in the Satipatthana Sutta. I had taken up this practice for the past year and was keen to hear his views on the practice. He said that most people, looking at me directly, do not have enough simple or everyday mindfulness to do this practice effectively, and here he was talking about Order Members. He even doubted whether he also had enough everyday awareness to do the practise justice. This was coming from the most aware person I have ever met, and I have met quite a lot of spiritual, political and business leaders and none come close to Sangharakshita’s level of ‘everyday awareness’. Just as an aside, in my experience Sangharakshita had a level of awareness that was palpable. When he looked at me, I always got the sense he was taking me fully in. I imagined it was like he was scanning me with a Tricorder from the SciFi series Star Trek, thus reading all my vital signs, physical, psychophysical and spiritual. To understand more about Sangharakshita’s view of Sati, have a look at his book Vision and Transformation or better still, listen to the talk on Free Buddhist Audio (FBA) part of the Eight Fold Path series.
The term Sati, (Smrti in Sanskrit) that begins the word Satipatthana, is normally translated as ‘Mindfulness’. But this is not really the most accurate translation, as Sati is just one aspect of what we have come to call ‘Mindfulness’. Sati is related to memory, and it literally means “that which is remembered”. So it is really the process of accurately bringing into consciousness our memories, and working with those. We start this work in meditation, when we work on the hindrances. As we progress in our meditations we start to understand where those hindrances come from and the memories, sometimes very deep memories, from which those hindrances are formed. And eventually, maybe, after many years of practice, Sati becomes the driving force in the experience that is called ‘Turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness’. The shift of our whole world view, from the current conditioned view of things to a view that sees the un-conditioned.
So we can see that Sati also has a connection with Pratitya-samutpada (conditionality), in that the web of conditions that inform our actions, the map of that web is contained, in-part, in our memories. So by a full awareness of our memories we can see how the future may unfold and how our actions affect those around us. So this Sati work involves being fully present in the current experience, so that our memories are a true record of those experiences, being able to access those memories in-order to apply them appropriately to the current experience, and being aware of the ethical implications of those memories and the application of those memories. In this way our ethical sensibilities deepen and we must look again at our memories in the light of these new sensibilities, and thus we can see how we must practice going forward, how we must change to become a living embodiment of the precepts, become a Buddha.
I am sure you will recognise that this Sati work is a major part of the Integration stage of the Triratna System of practice. It is the maturing aspect, enabling us to grow in spiritual depth, by being fully aware of our current actions, and thus able to take full responsibilities for our future actions and the effects they will have on other people, now and long into the future.
Where do we notice this lack of everyday mindfulness? We see it in our procrastination about doing what we should do. Our inability to make decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions. Our lack of awareness of the effects our in-action or action has on those around us.
Just these simple steps are the ones we must take on the path to Enlightenment. They don’t sound very exotic, then don’t sound like a deep and profound set of teachings, But they actually are the teaching that we need now, right now! These are the teaching that we are trying to hide from, by looking for other paths and practices. But if we wish to be Enlightened, to be a Buddha, then it just comes back to simple things, the things that we know, the things that we already have direct access to, in our memories. These are the things that we need to work on. Like Sangharakshita, the Buddha’s message was very simple and practical. He was not a philosopher or wordsmith, he just talked to people and pointed out their faults and blind spots, and these conversations have over time formed the Buddhas teachings. The people he talked to, who had often been hiding from those memories, people that needed help in accessing the wisdom that they had already accumulated over their lifetimes, a wisdom that just needed putting into practice, everyday from then onwards.
So it looks like we all still need to work on our everyday mindfulness. To be aware, to be fully aware of what we are bringing to each situation and experience we face as we go about our daily life. Whether we are at work, at home, on pilgrimage or at the Buddhist Centre we need to work on being aware of the situation and what it is we should be doing in that situation. Taking responsibility, acting ethically and integrating our behaviour. This is really the only new years resolution we need to make, to just be fully aware in all situations we find ourselves. It sounds simple, but is very hard to put into practice, but do try. Simple things, like being polite, acting with good manners and being kind to those you interact with.
As you are aware, the Buddha lived his whole life in the North Eastern part of India. Wandering around from village to village, teaching people and even sometimes helping them to realise Enlightenment. This month a small group of our Sangha will be leaving Ipswich to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha, to tread the roads and paths and visit those villages that he walked along, and preached in, 2,500 years ago. I think the pilgrimage will be a great test of those pilgrims everyday mindfulness, as they will be living in a very different physical and social environment to the one we enjoy in Ipswich. It will be a special experience, in which they can derive a boost to their development of Sati that would be difficult to obtain in the confines of Ipswich.
If you haven’t been able to go on pilgrimage then don’t despair. There will be plenty happening at the Buddhist Centre this month that will help your own development of Sati. All it takes is to engage, and take part in what is on offer.
All the best for the new year and see you soon.