In Buddhism there is a concept of mindful activity. But what actually is mindfulness? How does it differ from mindless activity?

Please help me to understand that: I've googled it a lot, but failed to gain insight into it.

I hope that some concrete examples from daily life might be the best way to explain it.

I am really bad at understanding theory, so if you can please give examples is daily life: for example, is watching a movie categorized as mindless or mindful? How to make it a mindful activity?

EDIT: After receiving various kind help, I gain more insight into mindfulness. There are 4 types of mindfulness of phenomenon of the living:

  • the awareness of existence of the phenomenon of body
  • the awareness of existence of the phenomenon of feeling. such as pleasant, unpleasant, neutral feeling that arise
  • the awareness of existence of phenomenon of mind
  • the awareness of existence of phenomenon of mental quality according to buddha teaching. (i have not fully grasp of the last part)

Do not think that one of those four as the ultimate awareness. All of those awareness make whole awareness.

mindlessness is like being a robot that fully functional. mindfulness is like being a fully functional robot that gain awareness of itself. please excuse me with the example

reference: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html

3 Answers 3


being mindful means to at all times observe oneself in order to discern arising of unwholesome qualities and preferably nip them in the bud or, if they through one's mindlessness have managed to develop into full scale ideas, bodily and verbal acts - engender intention and resolve to refrain from them in the future

example: your co-worker receives bonus to his salary and you don't. a tide of jealousy starts building up inside your heart, then it reaches the point when you feel urge on this account to deliver sarcastic remarks at his expense and you do so, or you turn passive-aggressive and make ironical remarks about your own ostensible lack of merit. from unwholesome mental act to unwholesome verbal act: harsh speech in the first case and idle chatter - in the second

this is a snowball of unwholesomeness: from emotion/idea, to act of speech and to a possible act of body

now when you are mindful

A. the moment you start feeling jealous, you notice, acknowledge this and restrain yourself to inhibit jelousy's further growth and try to evoke an antidote quality, which in this case would be mudita or appreciative joy/cheerfulness towards that person
B. if you allowed jealousy to grow nonetheless, you acknowledge its presence, refrain from acts of speech and body driven by it and still try to replace it with an antidote quality
C. if you gave in to jealousy and, being driven by it, spoke or acted spitefully, you acknowledge the wrong-doing, repent, make resolve to not behave this way in the future, and in the future you recall this resolve of yours in similar circumstances
you also make a mental note to start developing an antidote, a wholesome oppostite quality

in the Vitakkasanthana sutta (MN 20) the Buddha advises on several strategies for warding off unwholesome thoughts and urges, and although they seem to be intended for a meditator, they can be applied to routine mental activity as well

same with the wholesome qualities only with the opposite sign:
you notice when it's lacking, try to galvanize it inside your heart right then and there or make a resolve to have more of it in the future
and when you do possess a certain wholesome quality, you notice this fact and make an effort to not lose it, and enhance and develop it further

the Teaching of the Buddha is moral and ethical in nature first and foremost, where the object of mindfulness is practitioner's own behavior and psychic activity

Mindfulness is not an end but only a means of virtue cultivation.

  • 1
    if you kind enough to make it a little easier to understand by providing daily life example. Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 16:07
  • hi, i expanded the answer Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 18:55
  • thank you. let me summarize it, the object of mindfulness is 'arising of unwholesome quality'. I am being mindful if I notice the 'arising of unwholesome quality'. I am being mindless if I didn't notice it at all when it happens. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 6:20
  • that's correct, same with wholesome qualities, you notice their presence or lack in you, because without regard to the positive aspect the practice would be one-sided and incomplete Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 9:19

When your Buddhism teacher tells you: "don't get irritated in daily life, don't get frustrated, be the master of your mind"

-- and then you come back next day and say, "I really wanted to be a master of my mind... but then I got carried away and yelled at my wife"

and teacher says: "but this was supposed to be your main practice, to not get irritated, didn't I give you instructions?"

and you say: "somehow, in real life, when we started arguing with my wife, it looked so real and so important, and your instructions seemed so far away and so naive and irrelevant"

and the teacher says: "this means you lack mindfulness. You must hold your practice assignment in front of you at all times, it must be the main thing on your mind - whatever else you do in daily life. Develop mindfulness. Do not get carried away."

So that moment when "it looked so real and so important, and your instructions seemed so far away and so naive and irrelevant" - is when your perspective (and with it, your perception of reality and hence your judgement) has shifted by the external circumstances. If you had mindfulness, you would be able to hold your perspective the way your teacher has set it up, regardless of external pressure. So mindfulness is really a basic form of jhana, being able to control your perspective, instead of you being a slave of perspective. Mindfulness is predecessor to meditation.

  • In this case, 'arguing with wife' belong to mindless or mindful activity? Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 15:20
  • It's not arguing per se that is mindless, it's the getting carried away and having your perspective shift. You could argue with full mindfulness if that's what's needed in that situation.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 15:25
  • the 'perspective' is the 'objective' that have been set by me or someone else. so being full of mindfulness is to keep executing the objective throughout daily routines. is it correct? Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 15:34
  • For beginner, yes, that's a good simplification. Mindfulness of objective. Eventually it is mindfulness of perspective though.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 17:36

Sati means it aids remembering. So if you are mindful you are aware of what is happening. So in this aspect if you pay close attention and absorbed in the movie you have mindfulness with perhaps no fantasising or other though proliferation then you are mindful.

Right mindfulness is to be mindful of the 4 Satipatthana. The essence is that you have to experience the arise of passing off sensation resulting from what you see in the movie is to your liking, disliking and neither.

  • I am so absorbed in the movie that I am not aware of what's going on around me. And I also can easily relate to the movie's character feeling during the movie scene. Is this being mindful? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 6:03
  • 1
    No. Here you are in fantasy hence not mindful. Mindful is the be aware and knowing everything happening. Maybe even fly buzzing around. This is not the mindfulness in meditation though. Here you are mindful of your expectations and the sensation arising from these expectations. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 10:11

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