Satipathana: Bare Attention Of Mindfulness-Nyanaponika Thera

In what is seen there should be only the seen; in what is heard only the heard; in what is sensed (as smell, taste or touch) only the sensed; in what is thought only the thought.

-Gautama Buddha

(The core of Buddhist Yoga lies in the last two limbs of the eight-fold path of Buddha: Satipathana and Jhana, Mindfulness and Meditative Absorption.  In this article, a Buddhist scholar and practitioner describes the principles and methodology of Satipathana, Mindfulness.)

Bare Attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception. It is called ‘bare’, because it attends just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind which, for Buddhist thought, consti­tutes the sixth sense, When attending to that sixfold sense impression, attention or mindfulness is kept to a hare registering of the facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc), judgement or reflection. If during the time, short or long, given to the practice of Bare Attention any such comments arise in one’s mind, they themselves are made objects of Bare Attention, and are neither repudiated nor pursued,. but are dis­missed, after a brief mental note has been made of them.


Bare attention consists in a bare and exact registering of the object, This is not as easy a task as it may appear, since it is not what we normally do, except when engaged in disinterested investigation, Normally man is not concerned with a disinterested knowledge of ‘things as they truly are’, but with ‘handling’ and judging them from the view point of his self-interest, which may be wide or narrow, noble or low. He tacks labels to the things which, form his physical and mental universe, and these labels mostly show dearly the impress of his self-interest and his limited vision. It is such an assemblage of labels in which he generally lives and which determines his actions and reactions.


Bare Attention first allows things to speak for themselves, without interruption by final verdicts pronounced too hastily.  Bare Attention gives them a chance to finish their speaking, and one will thus get to learn that, in fact, they have much to say about themselves, which formerly was mostly ignored by rashness or was drowned in the inner and outer noise in which ordinary man normally lives.  Because Bare Attention sees things without the narrowing and levelling effect of habitual judgements, it sees them ever anew, as if for the first time; therefore it will happen with progressive frequency that things will have something new and worth while to reveal.  Patient pausing in such an attitude of Bare Attention will open wide horizons to one’s understanding, obtaining thus, in a seemingly effortless way, results which were denied to the strained efforts of an impatient intellect. Owing to a rash or habitual limiting labelling, misjudging and mishandling of things, important sources of knowledge often remain closed.


Bare Attention is concerned only with the present. It teaches what so many have forgotten: to live with full awareness in the Here and Now. It teaches us to face the present without trying to escape into thoughts about the past or the future. Past and future are, for average consciousness, not objects of observation, but of reflection. And, in ordinary life, the past and the future are taken but rarely as objects of truly wise reflection, but are mostly just objects of day-dreaming and vain imaginings which are the main foes of Right Mindfulness, Right Understanding and Right Action as well.  Bare Attention, keeping faithfully to its post of observation watches calmly and without attachment the un­ceasing march of time: it waits quietly for the things of the future to appear before its eyes, thus turn into present objects and to vanish again into the past. How much energy has been wasted by useless thought of the past; by longing idly for bygone days, by vain regrets and repentance, and by the senseless and garrulous repetition, in word or thought, of all the banalities of the past!  Of equal futility is much of the thought given lo the future: vain hopes, fantastic plans and empty dreams, ungrounded fears and useless worries.   All this is again a cause of avoidable sorrow and disappointment, which can be eliminated by Bare Attention.

Courtesy: The  Heart of Buddhist Meditation

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