The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness

by Nelle Oosterom, WIMG Chair

For the next while at the Wednesday sittings at St. Peter’s, we will be exploring the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness.

As you may be aware, the practice of Insight Meditation is largely based on the Buddhist teaching known as the Sattipatthana Sutta — the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The first is mindfulness of the body, the second is mindfulness of feelings of like, dislike and neutrality, and the third is mindfulness of qualities of mind (such as noticing when the mind is contented, discontented, peaceful, disturbed, etc.)

The Fourth Foundation is mindfulness of the Dharma. This includes a number of specific teachings, including: The Five Hindrances, the Aggregates of Clinging, the Sense Bases, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

This is a lot to take in!

But not to worry. These teachings are not meant to be digested in one go. Give it some time. It can take years to come to an understanding of even seemingly simple and straightforward teachings.

For instance, when I went on my first retreat in 1995, I remember being taught about the Five Hindrances. And I thought, ‘OK, got that. On to the next teaching.’ I went on my second retreat and again there was a teaching on the Five Hindrances. And I thought, ‘OK, I know that already.’ My third retreat, same thing. I thought, ‘Why do they teach the same thing over and over again?’

But even though I knew what the hindrances were and sometimes saw them when they arose, I didn’t really appreciate their power to blind me. In fact, it wasn’t until recent years that I got to know and appreciate the hindrances more deeply. And I could say, ‘What I am experiencing right now is aversion and I can see very clearly how it is making me unhappy, how it hinders me, constricts me, limits me, makes me feel small. Clearly, the presence of aversion hinders me from seeing and being in my true nature, my awakened Buddha nature.’

So, there is knowing a thing and there is knowing a thing. The first knowing is becoming familiar with the concepts. Sometimes a teaching won’t seem to mean much at first. And if that’s the case, best to study it a while, and then tuck it away for future reference. The teaching may make more sense with the passage of time and experience. The deep knowing of a teaching comes in its own time — like ripening fruit.