DEAD OR ALIVE

The Buddha strongly recommended four foundations of mindfulness. This means that we establish mindfulness as a fourfold foundation of our existence. Mindfulness means to have your heart or mind full of Dharma - which is to say, love, compassion, joy and peace. It means the faith and courage that one has acquired by being loved by the Buddhas, by being protected by the gods - which is to say, by the universe. The universe is made up of myriads of gods - unseen powers that protect us. This is the traditional way of seeing it. The modern way is to see the universe as dead matter, as a big, ruthless machine, and even to see the living beings as more sophisticated machines. In the modern view everything is dead, really. Just a big clockwork. In the traditional view everything is alive, which is to say, in one sense or another, loving.

When I lie on my bed, the bed god is loving me. When I breath in and out the air god is loving me. When I see that it is light and time to get up, the god Sol is loving me. This is mindfulness - to know oneself to be the object of love from every direction, in every thing that happens. To know this is to know "what has been known from of old." It is different to the deadness that is known nowadays.

we do not have to become fully
enlightened Buddhas to have at least a taste

Traditionally, they knew about this deadness too. The Buddhist word for it is marana. Marana is the last step of the chain of dependent origination. Buddha said that he was fully enlightened when he fully understood this chain forwards and backwards. Forwards meant that he understood how we become dead and backwards meant that he fully understood how to become alive again, how to be in a fully-alive-again universe, and so how to be loved. That understanding is mindfulness. We do not have to become fully enlightened Buddhas to have at least a taste of it. When we have a taste of it, then we can apply that taste and Buddha says that we can apply that taste in four ways, particularly.

MINDFULNESS IN RESPECT TO THE BODY

The first way is body. I have already said a little about this. My body lying in bed is being loved by the mattress god. My lungs are being loved by the good air god. We can begin to establish ourselves upon this foundation by saying thank you to the good air god.Saying "Thank you!" is the best way of 'establishing'.

Perhaps we use our imagination and, as we breathe in we say in our head, ”Thank you very much, Good Air God” and after we have breathed out there is a little pause and we imagine the voice of the god saying, “Not at all.” Then, naturally, as a reaction, we breath in again. Breathing in we feel benefitted once more, so "Thank you very much!". Breathing out we disappear. Then, after the breath stops, we hear, as a kind of echo, “Not at all,” and so on. Doing it in this English way might seem a bit funny and there is nothing wrong with practice being amusing, however, we might already have an established practice way of saying “Thank you very much.” That might be our favourite mantra, such as the nembutsu. Then, as we breathe we say, “Namo Amida Bu” and we hear an echo back, “Namo Amida Bu” in the gaps between breaths.

If we practice in this way, then we shall be naturally aware when the breath is long and when it is short, when it is rough and when it is smooth. More importantly, we disappear. It becomes a kind of rapture or dhyana. This is because we are establishing our body upon this foundation of love. And this foundation of love is freely given - “Not at all,” it says. We feel like a baby in mummy’s arms. So we can go to sleep, actually. Mummy is quite happy if we go to sleep. She just smiles and thinks how beautiful we are. It does not matter how ugly we are really. We might be completely bombu, but still mummy loves her baby.

That is how we establish our body in a big soup of universal love. The same when we go for a walk. We do not have to do breathing practice all the time. The breath goes on quite happily without us paying attention. Mindfulness does not mean paying attention all the time. When the mind is full it is full, whether we pay attention or not. The ultimate is that we do not need to pay attention because we know it. When we know it, that is real mindfulness - unconscious mindfulness - in the bones mindfulness. But we can reflect how we are being loved by the sunshine god and the wind god and all the tree gods and the buttercup gods and grass stalk gods and so on, even including all the brick gods, concrete gods, traffic gods, and plumbing gods, the cooker god and the floor mop god. All of these are foundations for the existence of our body - its being and its actions.

MINDFULNESS IN RESPECT TO LIFE

When we have realised how our body is loved from every dimension, we can start to feel how our life is also loved. What is our life? Our life is all the colour of our feelings, moods, plans, cleverness and silliness, smugness and shame, elation and dejection. All this is loved by innumerable gods. Really we mean flourishing and dying. Either we are flourishing or we are dying, though actually we are all the time doing both at once and this flourishing and dying, which is our vitality, really, is loved. It is loved by all the gods of the past, future and present, above, below and all around. The feelings and emotions that we have are the colours of this unceasing flourishing and dying that is going on all the time. Our true vitality, flourishing and dying, is immersed in a shimmer of angels. This is what it is to establish our life upon mindfulness rather than upon deadness.

flourishing and dying is immersed
in a shimmer of angels

Dogen Zenji says that the most important thing for all Buddhist to understand is flourishing and dying. If you can understand that there is no difference between flourishing and dying, then there is no need to escape for either of them. That is mindfulness. That is dependent origination backwards, as Buddha said. When he understood this, the great god, Sahampati spoke to him and begged him to “go forth”. When we have this support for life, then we find courage. Love gives us courage and enthusiasm. As I am loved, so I go forth, full of wonderment, ready for anything.

MINDFULNESS IN RESPECT TO MIND

And when we go forth, everything depends upon mind. Mind leads, mind is chief, mind goes ahead. Mind visualises. If you have no vision you do nothing. Nothing is done without mind doing it first, in mind. We say, I have a mind to do such and such. That is mind. That mind activity is also loved by many gods. It is their treasure and they give it to us. It takes many gods to put us in mind of something.  They are all contributing, cheering us on, providing ever new dimensions. It is as if the mind were a big pot into which the gods keep throwing new things. And all of these things that the gods toss in are fundamentally love. They sustain, vitalise and move us. This very essay that I am writing right now is an example. I do not know where it is going next, but they will assist. They will assist because they love me. That is love going on, love of my mind, by gods in all directions.

So we can keep this in mind. Our mind can be full of this knowledge of all the love that we are in receipt of. We can rejoice. We can be grateful. We can even go to sleep in the lap of the gods and they will watch over us and say how cute we look.

MINDFULNESS IN RESPECT TO DHARMA

So body is supported, life is supported, mind is supported, all with good foundations, and with all this there is naturally endless going forth, and how does one go forth? In what does one go forth? One goes forth in Dharma. And when one goes forth in Dharma, then the gods are overjoyed. They are totally inebriated with joy beyond what they can contain. Then the cup of love runneth over.

we shall rebuild
the house of Dharma

Mindfulness of Dharma includes all the age old teachings revealed by the great sage. They have come down to us from of old, but they are now ready to be renewed. In each life, in each generation, they are renewed. This is like a spring clean. We get them all out, give them a shake, get all the dust flying, until they look bright and new again. Then we put them back - rehang the curtains, relay the carpets. We shall rebuild the house of Dharma. 

We can lay down understanding of the Six Bases as the carpet. We can build seven walls with the Enlightenment Factors, and with the Four Truths we can create an elegant roof. Then into our seven walled house, we can invite all the gods, even including the ugly ones - the wrathful ones, the gluttonous ones, the crazy ones - and in our well-built house all the comon passions will mature as higher wisdom. .

With this well founded mindfulness we can do this. In fact, with our body so loved, our life so loved, our mind so loved, setting out the great display of Dharma comes quite naturally. It is just what we need. To think the Dharma, speak the Dharma and enact the Dharma feels quite appropriate. It gives a great sense of rightness. Furthermore, now that one is overflowing with such love, all the teachings appear in new light - the five hindrances, the skandhas, the powers and faculties - all appear fresh and clear. Their colours are bright because all the dust of self has been shaken out.

The Buddha says that one who is established in this fourfold mindfulness will attain final knowledge, either here and now or in the Pure Land to come - so, absolutely nothing to worry about.

Based on the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 10.

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