Roots of Mindfulness: Satipatthana - 4

Talk 4- Thursday 10/17/18 - Mindfulness of the Mind (Third Foundation) - Prepared Talk by Tim Burnett © 2018

Talk 4 audio recording


Talk 4 notes 

[Note that Tim often departs significantly from his notes when speaking but the notes themselves might be valuable to read]

A few more notes on the 2nd foundation of vedanā before we move on to the 3rd foundation.

Firstly I the entire chapter on this foundation in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra is very short - less than a page - so I wanted to share it with you. It's good to get a flavor of these ancient texts I think:

[Transformation and Healing p. 11-12]

So three sections there:

1) First: be aware of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings - and remember here feelings means this low level, upstream, feeling of first contact with each experience. Pretty much what we went over yesterday.

2) Second: notice that the feelings seem to originate, broadly, from the mind and from the body. I'm not entirely sure why he makes this distinction. Thich Nhat Hanh says it's to encourage us to be curious about the roots of the feelings. The roots of this way we interact with experience. Some experience flavoring interactions are roots in the physical world, some in the mental world and everywhere in between. Just being curious about origin and roots is a way of investigating.

3) Third: notice the way you can take different perspectives on these conditioned experiences and reactions you can look at them from this angle or from that angle - you don't have to just be lost in the middle of them. And, and this is very important, you can actually watch them come and go. One moment your mind is one thing, some memory, a sensation in your belly, whatever and the next thing you know you're having a big reaction to somebody rustling around next to you in the meditation hall: an unpleasant feeling arises. And sometimes as I said you just notice that and move on. And in that moving on effectively what's happening is that unplesaant feeling has faded away. Even if you neighbor is still rearranging their seatings - remember that the feeling is something extra added to the actual experience. And other times you do the whole emotion and thought wrapping thing and keep that unpleasant feelings around for quite a bit longer. But still even in the most obsessive thought loops eventually it stops or at least pauses and you find your mind on something else. Feelings, these flavored nuggets of experience, always come and go like everything else. To notice their cessation is sometimes tricky but it's more like you've just forgotten about them once the mind gets obsessed with something else but with practice you can notice this. Ah....that unpleasant feeling has ceased. How nice - perhaps the moment of noticing itself is pleasant!

The third foundation of mindfulness is a very familiar space for us. It's mindfulness of mind - of the thinking and emoting mind. This section is also short. Which is surprising considering how elaborate our mind tends to be and how essentially baffled by it we are.

Today we get a deeper taste of the language of this teaching which is great. Here's the chapter on the 3rd foundation:

[p. 13-14]

So that's simple enough.It fits with my comments about including "just" in your understanding of experience. If your mind is full hate, just know 'my mind is full of hate.' Easier said then done perhaps?

It might be helpful to go back to the opening summary at the beginning of the sutra when he gives a little formula around how to approach each of these four foundations. Let's look at the first one as the example:

She remains established in the observation of the body in the body, diligent, with clear understanding, mindful, having abandoned every craving and every distate for this life.

That's not a throw away line is it? A lot more there than just a general encouragement to pay attention to the working of our mind.

First you remain established. You commit. You stick with it. The quality of effort is something to consider carefully as we've been saying if you push this too hard it backfired and folds in on itself. It does seem like it's generally best if the effort is light, gentle. With lots of patience. Giving this lots of time. Far more than 7 days. Maybe 7 years? 7 decades? 7 lifetimes if you believe in that kind of thing? And for our purposes being a bit deliberate about how you approach each block of practice feels important here. I'm going to follow my breathing, I'll remain strongly established in that until the bell rights. Then it's probably not so skillful to say "when, done! time for some daydreaming!" but to just continue but with a lighter touch. That's one way to approach. "She remains established in observation of the body in the body" and to honor the next word, "diligent." What's a healthy kind of diligence. This way of living has some discipline to it as perhaps you've noticed. We want you to take care of yourself but we also do strongly encourage you to live a very disciplined live this week with this support of this schedule. And actually all of us live very disciplined lives every week with the support of some kind of schedule or intention. So this isn't something new or religious or hard core but an application of the strong discipline we are already quite capable of.

Then it says "with clear understanding, mindful." So some clarity around what we're doing and why. Of course that's an emerging story for each of us - me very much included - clarity comes and goes and perhaps over time gradually sharpens a little. Even though we may feel quite discouraged at times, and easeful at other times, our sense of what this is about and why we're doing gradually has a sense of clarity to it. That is NOT always the same as being able to talk about it with words intelligently though! It can be more of a wordless inner clarity. The way there are something that are so hard to understand but you just know, right? You have confidence in them.

That's a common question in the interview room actually. "I'm getting so much out of this but I really don't know how to talk about it! What do I say to my spouse or kids or friends or colleagues when I see them after the retreat?" You know they're going to ask you about it. Or maybe they'll express some assumption or idea they have about it. A common one might be: "oh I hear you went on a meditation retreat, that must have been sooooo peaceful!" And then what do you say?

My own pattern with my wife when I was starting out was that after stumbling around and blubbering a bit I said, "it was really great, and really hard." More or less, "I learned a lot but I don't know how to explain what I learned." That was helpful. Then the next few times I went away on retreat she could just say, "great and hard?" And I'd feel the permission to just say "yup!" or if I wanted to try to describe some interesting or challening moment or something I learned I would but I could always just fall back on "great and hard."

It says "with clear understanding, mindful" - the mindful here means two things. Jon and MBSR and all of this modern mindfulness uses a really broad meaning for mindful to more or less mean this entire system of practice but here in Buddhism it means the ability to self-monitor attention and return attention to the object in a wholesome, healthy way. So we know about that.

It's the last line that's the super kicker epecially for the 3rd foundation of mindfulness of the mind in the mind: "having abandoned every craving and every distate for this life." You've all done that right? Checked that off our list. No craving for anything to be different from the way it is with you and the world? And no distaste either right? No resistance. You'll eat the peanut butter cookie regardless right?


Well the thing that's difficult here about the text is the way it's written like a pre-requisite with the word "having." So I think we'd better take the liberty of massaging this a bit from having to "continuing" or something to acknowledge that this is an ongoing project and it's especially relevant as we study our minds.

Perhaps we can put these words in the Buddha's mouth, "continuing to abadon craving and distaste as they arise." Noticing it, feeling it, letting it go.

Because in the craving and distaste is where the real charge is for all of the mind states he lists. A moment of anger or hatred without any craving or distaste is just a mind state. And it's a lot more possible to note to yourself "just anger" or "anger arising" or "feeling of anger, here is is, breathe, ahh there it goes, what's next?"

And of course the second foundation is a big part of the process of craving and distaste isn't it so you can see why the Buddha put them in the order he did. First get grounded and in the body, feel the space, establish the stability of mind that awareness of breathing supports, then notice the way the mind flashes and colors and flavors everything: pleasant, unplesant, neutral, pleasant, pleasant, pleasant, unpleasant, woah really unpleasant, huh just neutral." That way of approaching our experience leaves less hooked exposed for desire and aversion and craving and distaste to hook in.

One way to look at the transition here from the 2nd to the 3rd foundation is to get curious about where the flavoring of feeling-tone, of vedanā leads to. Okay it looks like I couldn't stay with just noticing unpleasant, where is the mind now? What arose. What did I assemble in my little mental reality assembly line since i didn't pluck it off the line when it got to unpleasant? Oh the system kept going and it became "strong opinion" or and then it kept going and became "derision" oooh...harsh.... and then the mind generated a whole dialog about what I'm going to say to that person after the retreat. Yikes. OKAY...letting go and starting over, what's next?

Another way of working with mindfulness of mind in the mind is the wonderful practice of noting [explain noting]. Karen and I will bring this up again from time to time today to remind you about this practice if you'd like to do it.

Another way of looking at the mind is to be really impressed and wonder at the way our mind generates the world. I've been thinking a lot for the last few days about a family I know and support in Kenya. I'm not completely sure this is helpful to share but it's so strongly on mind that I'll have faith that it might be. It's not so much the details of this story and I'm not soliciting anything from you by telling it - but that the mind is also our tool for broadening our understanding and developing compassion and wisdom as much as it can be a tool that goes sideways and drives us nuts or fuels depression or anxiety. And the mind when it runs off the rails strongly enough is fatal too right? Suicide is up all over the country and public health folks don't seem to understand why. And statisically with 32 of us here we have several people sitting with us who have been touched by the suicide of others or been at risk of suicide themselves. I do like to joke around a little to entertain you (and myself!) when discussing the wildness of our minds but we do know it's also a very serious business.

So I'll tell this story briefly and then a little about what happened recently that's got this family so much on my mind. It's a story of hope and also a story of sadness.

• Tim Costello - AIDS activist, South Africa conference, meeting a Kenyan doctor with minimal supplies and support

• Sending expired meds and misc medical supplies & getting in trouble for it

• Realizing that the AIDS pandemic has left millions of orphans, the girls especially vulnerable

• showing Janet and I Mercy's file - $800/year to get her to boarding high school. Total.

• Mercy aces high school, qualifieds for university with scholarships but doesn't have the rest - how can Janet and I not continue helping?

• She graduates - lovely pictures of her family dressed up in Nairobi. Not really getting it at the time what a big deal that was.

• Mercy goes into a Master's program - Masters in Human Development. Working and scholarships almost supporting herself.

• Close to graduation with her MA: gotta go. But just me.

• Two whirlwind weeks in Kenya - Nairobi, Homa Bay area, Kagan village, vacation with her on the coast north of Mombasa which was also culturally powerful.

• A great sense of inguenuity and need. Somehow visiting multiple orphanages and clinics and slums and everyone needs help (but none are begging).

• Big feast at the homestead - simple place, no plumbing a couple of beds for the extended family, the stove is 3 rocks.

• Walking down to the farm, Wellington explaining the failed corn crop - the little rains didn't come in January - but a flowing stream right there. No way to afford the 5,000 ksh to buy a pump and hoses to move the water.

• How many millions are living this way? Subsistence farmers?

• Going home very glad I went but deeply conflicted. Are doing enough?

• Finding out Mercy's energy helped her twin brothers get into university on scholarships and they were getting by without a check from me. Benefits of education, especially girls education.

• Getting home and telling the story of the pump to the sangha.

• Connie, no money but a moment of heart and compassion, why don't we put the pump? How much does 5,000 ksh come to? $500? There are 30 of us us here. $20 each and we change lives.

• Things do go wrong with these projects - read a long report recently about a chartity started by an enthusiastic young American women to rescue girls from a slum in Liberia where it turns out the charismatic local man she hired to help her was raping the girls. Things go wrong. Would the pump create problems in the village?

• Talked to a USAID development expert who weirdly appeared a few weeks later at the sangha and she said it's all about strength of relationship, communication, and trust. Sounds like you have that.

• Pump saved the tomato cash crop for Wellington and his neighbors next season. Success!

• Futher fundraising in the sangha got Mercy's younger sister Donneter into uniersity and her youngest sister Sharon into a private high school. Lots more success.

• And then this:

The Death of Brilly Ouma

[could just share this with the sangha as November's Responding Gate]

Wellington's daughter died suddenly and weirdly:


Have you ever thought of having a topic on dealing with sudden death in your classes?Wellington's daughter died today in a very surprising manner,she complained about stomach pains,but she could walk,, talk and even play.Wellington then decided to take her to the hospital today morning,so she wakes up,takes porridge then waits to be taken to the hospital,just before she steps outside the house,she fell down and was pronounced dead.

It is sad,am travelling home to facilitate burial arrangements.

Maybe you can write an article on this?how best can we deal with death?Is it okay when people tell you it shall be well when you've lost a loved one or a child?What are we supposed to tell the grieving parties?What are the best words,best encouragement to use?



And I wrote a letter to the family that Mercy read at the Eulogy and said she was reading over and over and it helped. So grateful but also so sad to be so far away from this family. Sad also that Janet hasn't really been able to have such heart-access to these folks.

Dear Family,

Words can not express my sadness at the loss of Brilly Ouma. A parent should never have to bury their child. I have tears in my eyes as I think of her loss and the great pain Wellington and Chenza must be feeling along with everyone else in the family.

I don't know why terrible things happen and yet they do. I do know that when there is pain we must feel it. To try to deny it or push it away does not help. And I do know that we can help each other when there is pain. I know this is a time to come together. To mourn together. And to remember how much we love and care for each other. We are all connected in such deep ways and when we can feel the pain and mourn together in an open way there is the best chance for healing.

Brilly was a beautiful little girl and like all of us a fragile living thing. We don't know how long each of us has to be on this Earth. So many things must continue for each of us to live another day. We are lucky to be alive because being alive we can know joy and love. I don't know much about God but I know that being alive and in this world must be the only way to love God and know God's love for us.

Life is short but that does not make life less beautiful.

With the pain of a terrible loss like this still the beauty of the world and the kindness and caring of so many people continues. On the same day as a tragic event like this the sun rises and the sun sets. People get up and care for each other. So many things go right every day and so many things happen that express our joy and love every day.

And still there is loss and pain.

How do we hold it all? The human heart is a mystery. It can be so big. It can be so resilient. And can also shut down into fear and pain.

Know that I and our family here send all of our love. We are very lucky to be connected to such a wise and loving family in our sister land of Kenya. To know a little bit the Akumu/Ouma family of the Luo people in Kagan. We admire your courage and strength and kindness for each other. We admire how you continue against so many challenges. And here is a new one. One of the hardest. You have all of our love and admiration.

May your courage and strength and kindness sustain you in this difficult time.

May Brilly's spirit live on in all of us as we continue our work to live well and live in love and live in kindness and make this world a little better every day.



Mercy let me know

Wellington and the wife Chenza appreciated your deep concerns and your encouraging word from the previous e-mail and this.I keep on reading this over and over again full of encouragement at the same time a reminder that inevitable but what strike me most is togetherness when things are tough and even when we are in our comfort zones making the most of our lives.That it is okay to mourn when pain becomes unbearable.I love the part where you explain the mystery behind the human heart.

I read it to the mourners and printed it as part of Brilly Euology.I had to explain to everyone (non family members)who Tim is.It is a wonderful message and those who listen or read it learnt a lot ,were encouraged and appreciated the gift of life and love

Thanks for this.

Abundance blessings

Love ,


I guess why I bring this up is how much my mind has shifted and changed from the relationship with this family, from being invited into their home - I was the first mzunga (white person) ever to visit there they told me. I grew up a middle class American taking things like indoor plumbing and decent health care for granted - sure our health care system's a mess but we do have one - they have one too, there are little neighborhood clinics in the towns but not so much in rural areas where they live so there's something there but this death makes me think of when our son was 3 and had what turned out to be a febrile seizure - he just collapsed one way - slack jawed and out. We called 911 and highly trained and kind EMTs were there in about 5 minutes, whisked him off to the hospital, gave him IV fluids right away, a bunch of tests. Everything fine. Spend the night for observation, on with his life. Could he have died if he was waiting for me to go and rustle up a motorcycle from a neighbor to drive him with Janet clinging to my back for dear life clutching him as the bike bounced around the dirt roads to the cinic? Maybe not. Maybe so.

It's just such a powerful reminder of how vast and broad the world is I guess. And it's a world I create in my mind. I take in new experiences, like reading this incredible sad email from Mercy about her neice's death, and continue to grow and evolve it but it's actually something that I hold in my mind. The mind is so vast.

There's a Zen story that's relevant

Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?”

Xiushan said, “From the South.”

Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?”

Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion””

Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?”

Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?”

Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”

[brief explain]

So the mind is not just a collection of emotions and impulses is it? It's a world creator. And it's important that we learn how it works on both levels. This week we zoom in a bit on the moment by moment creation of thoughts, impulse, emotions and how they're colored by craving and aversion. That's helpful. But I think we don't loose sight of the way the mind is operating at this other level of world creation all the time.

I've got another song for you with a surprising link in here.

• Putamayo lullaby discs: Brazilian lullabies (duerme negrito...) and African lullabies. This was years before we knew who Mercy was or thought much about Kenya but I've aways appreciated African music and this one lullaby really got me. I used to sing this walking around the kitchen island in the middle of the night with Walker in my arms.

• I knew the singer was someone named Ayub Ogada from Kenya

• What I didn't know then was there are 30 recognized tribes each with it's own language in Kenya. Ayub Ogada and this song turn out to be in the Luo language which is the second largest group after the Kikuyu who tend to run the government - there are issues.

• But here's the wild thing. Mercy and her family are Luo. So before I'd ever met them I had memorized a lullby in their language. Wild.

I won't translate it but it's basically a straight up lullby so you'll get the gist.


Nyandolo obembere mwana

Nyandolo obembere mwana


Lipo ni kalle kamsenje

Lipo ni kalle kamsenje


Omwesi papa…papa wasenje

Omwesi mama…mama wasenje


Nyandolo obembere mwana

Nyandolo obembere mwana


Lipo ni kalle kamsenje

Lipo ni kalle kamsenje


Omwesi dunia…dunia wasenje

Omwesi dada…dada wasenje


Nyandolo obembere mwana

Nyandolo obembere mwana


Lipo ni kalle kamsenje

Lipo ni kalle kamsenje


Omwesi nkosi…nkosi wasenje

Omwesi mwana…mwana wasenje


Nyandolo obembere mwana

Nyandolo obembere mwana


Lipo ni kalle kamsenje

Lipo ni kalle kamsenje


Omwesi papa…papa wasenje

Omwesi mama…mama wasenje.

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