Foundations of Mindfulness: Mental Objects

ShakyamuniThangka2The fourth and final foundation of mindfulness from the Satipatthana Sutta, a Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness is mindfulness of mental objects. These are phenomena that can become contents of the mind. We might interpret mindfulness of mental objects as learning to observe reality through a clear and unclouded lens (with the guidance of the teachings or dhamma).

Mental objects include hinderances to practice, objects of clinging, the senses bases and their fetters, factors of enlightenment, and the noble truths. Click on the links to read more about the various mental objects (a work in progress):

Hinderances to practice:

  1. greed – desire to obtain & possess ever more, attachment (includes pride)
  2. ill-will – anger, hatred, resentment, aversion
  3. dullness or drowsiness – mental or physical sluggishness, depression
  4. restlessness or worry – fear of the future, striving, anxiety
  5. doubt – indecision, concern about outcome

Objects of clinging:

  1. form – material objects, physical body
  2. feelings – wanted/pleasant, unwanted/unpleasant, or neutral
  3. perceptions – sense impressions
  4. mental formations – volitional thought, emotions, desires
  5. consciousness – basic awareness

Factors of enlightenment (skillful mind states):

  1. Mindfulness – presence & clear awareness of phenomena without judgment
  2. Investigation – curiosity, openness to experience, willingness to see things as they really are
  3. Effort – putting energy into one’s practice, zeal
  4. Joy – cheerfulness, lightness, a state that is free from impediments
  5. Contentment – freedom from sensual desires, tranquility of body and mind
  6. Concentration – single pointed focus
  7. Equanimity – unshakable balance & calm

Four noble truths:

  1. The cycle of life involves mental suffering or dissatisfaction, such as birth, old age, sickness and death, constant change and flux (impermanence), and a lack of control over these challenges.
  2. The cause of suffering is attachment and dualistic thinking: desire & aversion, grasping or clinging & fighting against or pushing away, striving for a certain outcome.
  3. The cessation of suffering (true happiness) comes from letting go of attachment and seeing the emptiness of phenomena. It involves compassion without distinctions or separations and surrender to what is without conditions or attachment to outcome.
  4. The path to liberation is an eightfold path involving wisdom, virtue, and meditation (right view, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, & concentration).

We can practice mindfulness of mental objects by observing the hindrances, objects of clinging, and skillful mental factors within the scope of the four noble truths – how they either cause suffering or free us from suffering. In this way, we gain insight into the internal conditions that move us further into confusion and those that cultivate equanimity. This insight encourages the states of mind that lead us along the path to liberation.

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