The Four Foundations of Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist teaching taught by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta. In this discourse on the four establishments of mindfulness, the Buddha teaches that these foundations make up the essential components of mindfulness practice. They are the four foundational objects that practitioners focus on and practice with to cultivate and find stability in mindfulness. They may be better understood as The 4 Ways of Establishing Mindfulness.
They have been written about in many books, with one of the most popular being "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English" by Henepola Gunaratana. The book by Thich Nhat Hanh "Transformation and Healing" is also based on this teaching and is a wonderful book for supporting the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment. It allows us to see beyond the conditioned filters of our minds, so we can awaken to reality as it truly is. Mindfulness enables us to touch life deeply in the here and now.
When we aren't mindful of the present moment, we live our lives distracted by thoughts and emotions. We become caught by the constant stream of worries, fears, anxieties, stress, expectations, doubts, regrets, and grievances, and we miss out on the precious moments of our lives.
Through getting established in mindfulness, utilizing teachings like the four foundations of mindfulness, we train ourselves to remain present and available to our lives, instead of rushing through our lives distracted, chasing after the future or regretting the past.
These 4 Foundations act as anchors for our attention, helping us to train and grow in our capacity for mindfulness. They provide the four primary objects that we can focus on at any time to remain present to the immediate experience of now. Because of this, they are also seen as four foundations for well-being, helping us find well-being and peace in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world.
The practice of contemplating the 4 Foundations is recommended for people at every stage of mindfulness practice. The Buddha said that everyone—novice practitioners, monks and nuns, advanced practitioners and even fully enlightened beings should be settled, and established in the development of these 4 Foundations of Mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness of the body, the Buddha instructs the practitioner to remain “established in the observation of the body in the body,” and to be fully aware of:
Essentially, practicing with the foundation of the body helps us gain a deep understanding and awareness of our physical body, and helps us use our body as a tool for practicing mindfulness. In essence, the focus is to maintain awareness of what your body is doing in the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness of feelings, the Buddha instructs the practitioner to remain “established in the observation of the feelings in the feelings,” and to be fully aware of:
Essentially, practicing with the foundation of feelings helps us gain a deep understanding and awareness of our emotions, and helps us use our emotions as a tool for practicing mindfulness. In essence, the focus is to maintain awareness of the feelings and emotions that exist in the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness of mind, the Buddha instructs the practitioner to remain “established in the observation of the mind in the mind,” and to be fully aware of:
Essentially, practicing with the foundation of mind helps us gain a deep understanding and awareness of our mind and mental states, and helps us use our mind as a tool for practicing mindfulness. In essence, the focus is to maintain awareness of the thoughts and states of mind that arise in the present moment.
Traditionally, this foundation is called mindfulness of dhammas. Dhamma is the Pali translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, which has several different meanings. In this context, dhamma means phenomena, also sometimes referred to as objects of mind. These are the objective phenomena that we experience through our senses. Practicing mindfulness of phenomena, the Buddha instructs the practitioner to remain “established in the observation of phenomena in phenomena,” and to be fully aware of:
Essentially, practicing with the foundation of phenomena helps us gain a deep understanding and awareness of the natural phenomena of life, and helps us use our experience of phenomena as a tool for practicing mindfulness. In essence, the focus is to maintain awareness of these aspects of reality that exist in the present moment.
These are the 4 foundations of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta. In future articles, we will discuss each one of the foundations of mindfulness in more depth.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Course is an online mindfulness course designed to give you practical tools for transforming your life dramatically through the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Based on the teaching of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness, this course integrates modern mindfulness research with the ancient principles of Buddhist psychology.
Practitioners of the course learn to establish mindfulness of:
Exploring foundational teachings and concepts of each, as well as participating in unique guided meditations.
As each lesson builds on the next, you’ll be able to use this course to support your own mindfulness and meditation practice and to bring the practice of mindfulness into every area of your life.
This is a comprehensive course with 30 video lessons and over 7 hours of course material. After taking the course, you’ll be able to confidently practice mindfulness and meditation, have a deeper awareness and understanding of your own body, mind, and emotions, and know essential techniques that will help you to completely transform your life.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness is a life-changing practice. Once you are established in these foundations, you will always have inner resources available to you that can help you consciously and peacefully navigate through any of life’s changing circumstances.
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