Mindfulness: Recollecting the Familiar
In my brief survey of the different mental factors presented in the Buddhist teachings, I have arrived at a famous one: mindfulness (Skt., smrti; Tib., dran pa). A casual search on Google should easily return 13 millions entries related to this term. In a way, it is wonderful that something so closely connected to the Buddha’s teachings has generated so much interest and application in the last few decades. On the other hand, it makes writing this short article a lot tougher; what’s there to say when so much have already been written about it?
In the end I settle on presenting mindfulness, or to use an alternative translation, recollection, in relation to the Indian master, Arya Asanga’s definition:
[Recollection] is a non-forgetfulness of the mind with respect to a familiar object. It has the function of non-distraction.
The first thing to note is that recollection happens with “a familiar object.” Those of us who meditate would have no trouble remembering how hard it is to stay with our object of meditation at the beginning. As we gain familiarity with our object, we also observe the growth of this aspect of “non-forgetfulness” and we do not lose our object so easily. Our attention seems to develop a kind of connection with its object. Correspondingly, the amount of distractions, such as the reminiscing, planning, chattering, and so on, also decreases. A strange, almost eerie, sense of inner silence emerges when “non-distraction” becomes a reality.
How to cultivate this factor of recollection or mindfulness? By repeatedly, gently and gracefully return to the object of meditation and start again. “Repeatedly” is to emphasize the need to keep coming back to the object, again and again, when distracted. “Gently and gracefully” is for us to watch our attitude; to let go of anger, impatience, frustration, disappointment, and so on when we find ourselves distracted. Lastly, the easiest, swiftest, and most painless way to recover is just to “start again.”
When our power of mindfulness or recollection of the object of meditation becomes more developed, we will find that staying with it or coming back to it is the most natural thing to do, just like home-coming; we return to a familiar place and set aside all the distressing things so that we can rest deeply and comfortably in a state of ease and well-being.
Published on September 19, 2011.
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