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Modern Koans – Why Right Mindfulness?

By Andrew Furst @a_furst

The Eightfold Path Series

This is the one of several posts I will be offering titled the Eightfold Path Series. As I've reflected on my experience, I've come to see the Path as both the practice and the fruition. As we inch closer to realization of our true nature, we discover that the wisdom, ethics, and mindfulness prescribed by the Buddha are the most natural expression of our being.

John Daido Loori Roshi's book Invoking Reality was transformational for me. In it Roshi turns the path on it's head in a way that uncovers it's challenge to us. The path and the precepts are not rules and regulations that lead to punishment by the karmic cosmos, but a way for us to see our true selves by looking through the prism of these personal dimensions. I see the path  and the precepts as questions, not rules.  Let's explore them.

Why Right Mindfulness?

Is there such a thing as wrong mindfulness?  Mindfulness is the answer! Whatever your problem!

Stop, right there.  For those who can smell a snake oil pitch a mile away, your hairs on the back of your neck should be standing on end. If you follow the latest trends in mindfulness and meditation programs, gadgets and apps, it would appear that there is no such thing as wrong mindfulness and wrong applications. Mindfulness is in fact a key to contentment. But it will not cure the common cold. It will not move a mountain and it has nothing to say about the effect of gravitational waves on an electron.

What is right mindfulness and what does it offer us?  Does it increase productivity?  Does it do away with writer’s block?  Can it help you attract the right mate for you?  I don’t know.  But I do think that mindfulness is a cure for delusion.  The eightfold path is a prescription for freedom from greed, hatred and delusion.  All of these hindrances arise out of avidya (Sanskrit for not seeing).  Avidya is the blind spot we develop over time as we gradually shrink from the world into our heads. That blind spot steadily grows the more we spend time in revery and less time in the world. Our dreams include narratives about who we are, our preferences and our aversions.  The more we inhabit this dreamscape the more divorced we are from reality.  The result of this split is unmet expectations, disappointment, and dissatisfaction.

In many ways the Right Mindfulness arm of the path is the simplest.

“And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves… the mind in & of itself… mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called right mindfulness…

from the samma sati*

It means open your eyes to your true self and the world around you.  It’s the only way we can know and be happy in the world.

Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, but by no means the only way. There are some parts of life where mindfulness is easier and other parts that are much harder.  The more we practice mindfulness in the good times ( a nice walk in nature, or amongst dear old friends), the more prepared we’ll be for the hard times (difficult relationships and death).

Here’s a meditation for both situations.

  • Immediately pause… all stop on thinking and unnecessary movement.
  • Allow your mind to let its focus slowly drop from your head to your lower belly.
  • Soften the belly and allow your body to be breathed.
  • Let your eyes passively scan your surroundings.
  • Make a mental note of a few things about this situation that you’re grateful for and any opportunities that might be available for growth or peace.
  • Notice any preferences and aversions that you may be harboring, notice them, and let them settle quietly to the side to use as needed.
  • Listen.
  • Just listen.

May peace find you and may you let it in.


* Right Mindfulness: samma sati”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 5 November 2013,http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-sati/index.html .

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Modern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important then their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton

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The post Modern Koans – Why Right Mindfulness? written by Andrew Furst appeared on Andrew Furst.


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