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Some of the reading that I have been doing recently makes me wonder what is the place of mindfulness in the Buddhist path. My previous (current?) view is that mindfulness is central and is in some way the goal of the Buddhist path. As one progresses one gets more and more mindful until at the end you are mindful all the time in a absolutely complete way. Mindfulness becomes almost synonymous with Nirvana (almost).

However I'm starting to think that mindfulness is just one tool among many and it may have a greater or lesser role as time goes on. It is just a way of seeing or helping us see more clearly and it is the clear seeing that is important.

So which view if any is closer to how things are? Is mindfulness a tool on the path or is its continuing refinement the entire point? Is it the path or the goal?

  • might help to specify a tradition... goal is also slippery - arahant or Buddha? – yuttadhammo May 22 '15 at 21:50
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    is mindfulness different from clear seeing? – Ahmed May 22 '15 at 23:55
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Mindfulness is very important, but it is part of the path, not the goal. It is the seventh of the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the path can be grouped into three trainings. The wisdom training, the morality training, and the concentration training. Mindfulness falls under the training of concentration.

In MN 29, the longer heartwood simile discourse, the Buddha talks about the different reasons for practicing and compares them with different parts of a tree, and he warns against thinking that the parts of the path (including morality, meditation, and wisdom) as being the goal. It says:

"Just as if a man in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood — passing over the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood — cutting away the sapwood, were to go off carrying it, thinking, 'heartwood.' A man with good eyesight, seeing him, would say, 'Ah, how this good man didn't know heartwood, didn't know sapwood, didn't know inner bark, didn't know outer bark, didn't know twigs & leaves! That's why he, in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood — passing over the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood — cutting away the sapwood, went off carrying it, thinking, "heartwood." Whatever heartwood-business he had with heartwood, his purpose won't be served.'

"In the same way, monks, there is the case where a certain son of good family, out of conviction, goes forth from the home life into homelessness, [thinking,] '...Perhaps the end of this entire mass of stress might be discerned!' Having thus gone forth, he encounters gain, offerings, & fame. He is not gratified with that gain, offerings, & fame, his resolve not fulfilled. He is not intoxicated with that gain, offerings, & fame, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves consummation in virtue. He is gratified with that consummation in virtue, but his resolve is not fulfilled. Because of that consummation in virtue he does not exalt himself or disparage others. He is not intoxicated with that consummation in virtue, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves consummation in concentration. He is gratified with that consummation in concentration, but his resolve is not fulfilled. He is not intoxicated with that consummation in concentration, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves knowledge & vision. He is gratified with that knowledge & vision, his resolve fulfilled. Because of that knowledge & vision he exalts himself and disparages others: 'I dwell knowing & seeing, but these other monks dwell not knowing & not seeing.' He is intoxicated with that knowledge & vision, heedless about it, and falls into heedlessness. Being heedless, he dwells in suffering & stress. This, monks, is called a monk who grasps the sapwood of the holy life, and with that he falls short.

"Furthermore, there is the case where a certain son of good family, out of conviction, goes forth from the home life into homelessness, [thinking,] 'I am beset by birth, by aging-&-death, by sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs, beset by stress, overcome with stress. Perhaps the end of this entire mass of stress might be discerned!' Having thus gone forth, he encounters gain, offerings, & fame. He is not gratified with that gain, offerings, & fame, his resolve not fulfilled. He is not intoxicated with that gain, offerings, & fame, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves consummation in virtue. He is gratified with that consummation in virtue, but his resolve is not fulfilled. Because of that consummation in virtue he does not exalt himself or disparage others. He is not intoxicated with that consummation in virtue, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves consummation in concentration. He is gratified with that consummation in concentration, but his resolve is not fulfilled. He is not intoxicated with that consummation in concentration, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves knowledge & vision. He is gratified with that knowledge & vision, but his resolve is not fulfilled. Because of that knowledge & vision he does not exalt himself or disparage others. He is not intoxicated with that knowledge & vision, not heedless about it, and does not fall into heedlessness. Being heedful, he achieves a non-occasional liberation. And it is impossible, monks, there is no opportunity, for that monk to fall from that non-occasional release. [1]

"Just as if a man in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood, cutting away just the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood, were to go off carrying it, knowing, 'heartwood.' A man with good eyesight, seeing him, would say, 'Ah, how this good man did know heartwood, did know sapwood, did know inner bark, did know outer bark, did know twigs & leaves! That's why he, in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood, cutting away just the heartwood of a great standing tree possessed of heartwood, were to go off carrying it, knowing, "heartwood." Whatever heartwood-business he had with heartwood, his purpose will be served.' http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.029.than.html

This Sutta makes it clear that it is incorrect to identify a part of the path such as mindfulness as somehow being identical with the goal. Mindfulness is a tool, not the result.

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Mindfulness (read: paying attention) is a vehicle to True Reality (seeing without the influence of kleshas).

After this permanent consciousness transformation has occured, the struggle at mindfulness is no longer required as it was during mindfulness training.

Someone: Who are you? Are you a god?

Buddha: I am Awake.

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According to the 'four noble truths' doctrine, mindfulness is the path (or part of the path).

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta says,

"And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

"And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

In other words, the whole Noble Eightfold Path is described as the path rather than the goal (the goal is cessation of stress); and this Eightfold path includes mindfulness ... and also includes what you call "clear seeing" (if that's the same as what it calls "right view").

However alternatively note that this answer says that different schools of Buddhism appear to have different views about the goal, and about the path.

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Alan Wallace - in his Attention Revolution - seems to put forward the idea that there really is no difference between goal and path. To differentiate would be instrumental thinking.

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Mindfulness is the path which leads to the goal. You are right in saying that 'clear seeing is the most important' but I think you might be mistaken to think that mindfulness is just one of many ways to seeing clearly. This is because mindfulness IS the seeing clearly.This is what the Buddha himself said during an occasion. He said that the practise of mindfulness is the only path to Nibbana (the final goal that the Buddha taught us to achieve).

I think your confusion might stem from those 'lists' of factors that you have to purify. By training in mindfulness, you can balance all the other factors automatically, whether you are thinking about the eight fold noble path or the 37 enlightenment factors.

Other practises like Samatha meditation can be an aid to practising mindfulness, but it doesn't lead to clear seeing by itself (which is what the training in mindfulness does), and therefore can't lead to Nibbana.

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I'm decidedly not an expert in this--but I'd argue it is both. Your goal is to be mindful of each passing moment: in, of, and for itself. But that is also the path. There is nothing to do, but do to it--stop worrying, stop analyzing: just be in the present moment, mindful of all that is.

But mindfulness is hard. As soon as you try to meditate, thoughts bubble upwards, your monkey mind takes you a dozen directions. The goal is for all of that to stop, but the only way to achieve this is practice--and that is done by following the path.

  • if only you were a bit more specific in saying that the Path is the Noble Eightfold Path… Being mindful of each & every moment, is in itself a type of meditation. It becomes a private experience by the wise only when there is INSIGHT or vipassana. But insight (vipassana) depends on samadhi or CONCENTRATION. And concentration (samadhi) depends on Sammaditthi or RIGHT VIEW. – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 11 '16 at 11:30
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There are 37 factors (Bodhipakkhiyādhammā) you have to cultivate in balance to get to Nirvana. Out of which one (you can say the most important of them all) is Awareness. If you loose this you cannot cultivate the rest as it is the controller as well as the measuring instrument as to how much each factor has developed.

Measurer - awareness will tell you which factors are imbalanced Controller - realising some factor is imbalanced you can start working on making it balanced

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