Saturday, November 20, 2010


Mindfulness is simply the presence of a calm, alert, open, curious, steady but flexible, and deliberate but choiceless (that is, accepting, non-judgmental and imperturbable) awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of the present moment ... one’s body, body functions and sensations, the content of one’s consciousness (thoughts, feelings, images, memories, etc) and consciousness itself.

Mindfulness is psychological training in self-culture, self-improvement and self-help.

The ideogram (also known as an ideograph) opposite is a beautiful piece of calligraphy created by the esteemed Japanese-born calligrapher and writer Kazuaki Tanahashi (to whom acknowledgment is made and gratitude expressed).

The calligraphy represents the ideogram for Mindfulness.

Notice the top element of the ideogram. It has the shape of a roof, particularly a roof with an Eastern (in particular, a Chinese or Japanese) shape.

A roof provides shelter and the very shape of the roof depicted in the ideogram above suggests that. I am reminded of the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, "Bet" (see opposite), which also presents the number "2" (cf. conscious and unconscious, mindful and mind-less, positive and negative, wholesome and unwholesome, etc), and which once always took the shape of a house:

The element also symbolises the "now" of the present moment, noting, once again, that Mindfulness is the presence of the awareness of and attention to the action of the present moment ... moment by moment. The element also symbolises the all-inclusiveness of both Mindfulness and all things.

In that regard, I am reminded of the words "Shinnyo-en" (which is the name of a Japanese but worldwide inter-ethnic and cross-cultural Buddhist order of which I am a grateful member). Shinnyo (Sanskrit, Tathata) refers to unchanging truth, or the true form or real state of things. The Japanese word en means a garden without borders ... something all-inclusive. In combination we get the idea of a borderless garden of truth. What could be a better or more accurate description of the present moment, mindfully perceived? 

What is depicted underneath the roof element - the lower element - represents the heart or mind. (The heart and the mind are basically the same thing, contextually, in both Eastern and so-called Western sacred writings, including the Bible.)

Anyway, it is not hard to see that the shape of this lower element is heart-like ... with, if you care to look closely, three chambers ... albeit highly stylized.

The Mindfulness ideogram, when taken as a whole, can be interpreted to mean "being full-hearted right now", that is, the attention of one's mind is fully grounded in and focused upon the action of the present moment. Other possible translations include the following: "to keep on remembering" (the word Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word sati which literally means "memory”, that is,  remembering what is present, remembering to stay present in the present moment, and remembering in the present moment what was already happened), "to have something at heart", to chant, and to pray. Included are other notions such as thought, wish, sense and concern.

Mindfulness, when practised with the right intention (namely, the purpose of insight and investigation), and with bare attention (that is, with the eye focused on a definite "object" but also with an awareness of a wider range of experience of "neighbouring objects"), allows us to return to, and take refuge in (cf The Triple Gem of Buddhsim), a place of safe dwelling ... namely, the ever-present, but forever-becoming-the-past, and therefore elusive, present moment.

When we take "refuge" in the present, we are at-home. In other words, we find ourselves, and we free ourselves from the chains of the past and the fears of the future. By holding onto the present - with so-called "effortless effort" (NOT like holding on for grim death!) - we come to understand ourselves and others. We come to rely on the understanding, insight and purity of mind gained from being grounded in the present moment ... having returned from what can only be described as a previously deluded state of mind, rooted in the past and the so-called future, and caused by erroneous views of the nature of reality, ourselves and others.

So, come alive ... and come home!


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