Introduction

My impression is that there is a movement in Western Buddhism to reclaim the biological body as a body of dignity integral to the path of freedom; and my study tells me that this accords with the Buddha’s intentions, as found in the early Buddhist texts called the Nikāyas:

Practitioners, one hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up the deathless who hasn’t resorted to, developed and seriously taken up mindfulness of the body. One has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up the deathless who has resorted to, developed, and seriously taken up mindfulness of the body.” – The Buddha (Anguttara Nikāya).

In a radical conversation with Early Buddhist thinking and practice, I’ve made the wisdom of the body – of nature in us – the organizing principle in these pages. Inspired by the Early Buddhist teachings – specifically, the five Nikāyas – I think of mindfulness as ‘whole body mindfulness.’ This is, too, an idea finding its time, a phrase cropping up in many contexts. For instance, the Satipaṭṭhāna specialist Bhikkhu Anālayo uses the phrase, in his 2018 book Satipaṭṭhāna Meditation; and though you’ll find my emphasis is different than his, my understanding of the Satipaṭṭhāna has benefitted from his detailed studies.

Satipaṭṭhāna refers to the mindfulness which the Buddha taught, in a text called the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. More about that later. I’ll give a detailed study of that text, which I’ll generally call it ‘The Mindfulness Sutta.’ If you want to search for it online, you’re looking for Majjhima Nikaya 10 (MN10).

The project here is to offer an integrated modern approach to knowing oneself. The specific areas of study presented here are: the practices of mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna), meditation, and Focusing. The thinking presented here carries forward: Early Buddhism, Dogen from Zen, Longchenpa from Dzogchen; and from the West: Douglas Harding, and Phenomenology. From phenomenology, I am acquainted particularly with Gendlin’s ‘Philosophy of the Implicit.’ I’m also studying Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and will share that journey. It is with gratitude that I honour the wisdom of these approaches to the human situation. I wish I had more, but it’s a short life.

– Christopher Ash