Mindfulness, when understood for the radical teaching it was and is, is powerful because it does for humankind what so many other systems of inquiry do for the gods. Controversially, Mindfulness (sati in Pali) releases us from the mysterium tremendum of religion. The knowledge and perfections attributed elsewhere to the inscrutable divine outside of us become attributes of the divine within us; questions, therefore, that it is within our purview to engage with. The Buddha treads softly with the bikkhus: he does not categorically deny the existence of something other beyond the sphere of our existence, just that there is nothing out there of genuine interest to us. The whole task of living is therefore contained entirely within the processes and dynamics of conditionality, and it is to the understanding of dependent arising that we must direct our attention.
If our inclination is to truly acknowledge the present moment, this world, and the life we are living at the present time, then we have little choice but to acknowledge past and future. There can be no walls around the Garden of Eden if we build it in the here and now, because its very existence is dependent upon the myriad pathways that lead to and from it. At its best, Eden is a vibrant hub, not a museum showcase. Through reflection upon dependent arising we allow the path taken to live on in our hearts and inform our future journey. We live in the here and now at all times, but our challenge is to plot a successful course. Any nomad will tell you how vital to their survival the memory of old routes and the knowledge of future migration patterns are. The clear thinking of Mindfulness has a quality of recollection; the wisdom that comes from learning the art of Mindfulness allows us to look ahead and take a risk that is calculated rather than blind. Eden, that cherished garden, is in fact where we stand at any given moment. It is our prerogative to awaken to the understanding that our movement through space and time does not distance us from its grace.
Whether human or animal – a linguistic distinction that urgently needs updating – we have so much to live for. In the Buddha’s perspective, what matters is not the existence of God, or the gods, but the existence of the human person. Everything that is problematic in the world comes down to how we conceive of, articulate and act upon the fact of being human. How do we breathe, eat, sleep, have sex, sense the world around us and generally just live in the fullness of genuine personhood? Movement, and the friction generated by it, are fundamental to a view of life that acknowledges and embraces our place in time and space. Do we really aspire, as human persons, to a complete cessation of pain and suffering? Perhaps we do. Perhaps the inevitability of death establishes as fact the finite nature of suffering, and our journey through it as an experiment in evolution. But if there is a case for Mindfulness at all, it consists in the bloody-minded courage required to look struggle in the eye with the clarity of practice and the wisdom of insight; to be as fully in the game as possible.
Please join us for our workshop, ‘Clear Thinking, Wise Action’ in Germany, Sept 12-15 2019, Sonsbeck, Germany. To visit the event page, click here .