Mindfulness of Dharmas

by | Jan 25, 2024 | Buddhism for All

(Context: How to Establish Right Mindfulness)

The final foundation of mindfulness is the mindfulness of dharmas (or dhammas in Pali, and dharmas in both Sanskrit and English).  Dharmas here is often translated as “mental objects”, which is an awful translation because at least two of the other establishments of mindfulness also include mental objects.  I have also seen translated as “phenomena” which, while technically correct, I find too broad for this context.  Mindfulness of dharmas refers to the contemplation of experiences in relation to the universal laws surrounding the nature of suffering and liberation from suffering.   My favorite translation of dharmas in this context is “conditions of being”, but even that I find unsatisfactory.  For these reasons, I decided it best to leave dharmas untranslated here.

Mindfulness of dharmas encompasses:

The five hindrances: This is a major topic.  We will explore it in the next article.

The five aggregates: Form, sensation, perception, volitional formations, consciousness.  (See this article).

The six sense bases: The six pairs of sense organs and objects, which are (1) eye and visible objects, (2) ear and sound, (3) nose and odor, (4) tongue and taste, (5) body and tactile objects, (6) mind [1] and mental objects.

The seven factors of enlightenment: the essential mental factors that lead to enlightenment.[2]  They are: mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy, rapture, tranquility, samadhi and equanimity.  We will become well acquainted with each of them later in this series, and we will see a case study of how they come together to facilitate a spiritual breakthrough to nirvana.

The Four Noble Truths: you know, the nature of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering.

According to Bhikkhu Anālayo, mindfulness of dharmas is unlike the other establishments of mindfulness in a very important way.  The first three establishments provide objects for you to practice mindfulness on.  In contrast, mindfulness of dharmas gives you the lenses through which you see all experienced phenomena, including the first three establishments of mindfulness.[3]  For example, to apply these lenses when practicing mindfulness of breath: you can check for the five hindrances while trying to attend to the breath, and then contemplate the five aggregates in relation to the breath, and then contemplate how the sense bases relate to the experience of breathing, and so on.  In doing so, eventually you will directly experience impermanence in its moment-to-moment glory, followed by lust fading away and cessation, leading in turn to letting go, resulting in enlightenment.[4]


Activities

References

[1] Specifically, the mano, which is the aspect of the mind related to thinking.

[2] Saṃyutta Nikāya 46.5.

[3] Anālayo. Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization.

[4] This chain of directly experiencing impermanence (aniccānupassī) -> lust fading away (virāgānupassī) -> cessation (nirodhānupassī) -> “letting go” (paṭinissaggānupassī) is very important and appears in multiple places in the early texts.

Featured image by Colin Goh.

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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