How do we practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness practice is not like learning to swim for the first time. You simply do not start with a sitting or walking meditation technique from day one. It is a gradual learning process that begins with hearing and understanding the mechanism behind our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions.
Know what – First you need to understand the theory behind your experience. For example, the experiences that we receive through our six sense bases (eye- seeing; ear- hearing; nose- smell; tongue- taste; body-tactile sensation; and mind – thoughts) are interpreted by a combination or aggregation of five factors: material element (form), feeling, perception, thoughts and knowing. In short, our experience of anything consists of these five aggregates. These aggregates arise together due to the underlying desires that we all have as a result of our past experiences, or not being mindful of the current experience. For example, when we see a flower, we identify it as a rose, we identify the colour red, we associate and think of our previous experiences with it, we consider it as a solid object even without touching it, and give it a certain value depending on our attachment to it. Even if we take our eyes off the flower, we still think that it is still there as it is, and that we can look at it again and see the same flower. Apart from the simple fact of seeing, the rest of the things are mind made assumptions. Even seeing something is a conditioned state, but we do not realise this because most of us have no knowledge of the existence of these aggregates.
Know why – The five aggregates do not arise without a cause. The primary cause is that we do not know that our experiences are made up of the five aggregates. For example, when a sound is heard, there is an immediate interpretation of it within our minds (say, barking of a dog). Once this interpretation has been made, then what happens after that is not related to the sound itself, but related to the interpretation of it (who’s dog, what type of a dog, why a dog?, is it a dog?). Sound of the bark may already gone by the time we think about it all these peripheral things, but the mind holds on to the aftereffects of the sound. We did not know that hearing a sound is a conditioned state (need to have an ear, sound has to be there, our attention must be there and our liking to investigate it further has to be there). Similarly, we do not know that our thoughts were also conditioned by past experience (For example, a two-year child will not think the same thing). Due to our lack of knowledge of these aspects, we identify these conditioned states as ours, we tend to name them, and give them a value, accept them happily, cling on to them, and see them as a permanent set of entities. As a result, there is a definite tendency to develop desire and passion for the five aggregates, or be sad and lament when they change, which will lead to creation of new sets of five aggregates and further development of already created aggregates. It is a never ending process.
Know how – By correctly attending to the current experience and seeing experience simply as experience (i.e. seeing aggregates in its true form, i.e. they are all empty of any significance and value, unless we give them significance and value), we will develop insight knowledge about the nature and operation of the five aggregates. Through this knowledge one will know that the aggregates are dependent on various causes. For example, the sound of a violin only comes out when the violinist plays it. Sound is not in the violin, or the bow or made by the player alone. It requires a combination of all these factors and ceases to exist when they are not there. As such, like the sound, our experiences are inconstant, therefore, they are stressful, and subject to change. Once we see this correctly through experiential knowledge, then there is a natural tendency to subdue and ultimately abandon the desire and passion for the five aggregates. Thus, reaching a certain level of unwavering stability of the mind. Then we realise that everything we thought was real, everything we associated as good and bad were nothing but mental projections. What is happening right now is also a mental projection. Why do you want to get attached to or detached to something that is not real?