Dharma & Mindfulness

Dharma & Mindfulness

DHARMA (Dhamma in Pali)

Here is a translation of what are reported to be the last words of the Buddha:

“Therefore, Ananda, you should live [with one’s] self [as] an island, [one’s] self [as] a refuge, [with] no other refuge, [with] the Dhamma [as] an island, the Dhamma [as] a refuge, [with] no other refuge.*  And how does a monk live like this? Here, Ananda, a monk abides contemplating the body as body, earnestly, clearly aware, mindful and having put aside all hankering and fretting for the world, and likewise with regard to feelings, mind and dhamma.  And those who now in my time or afterwards live thus, they will become the highest, if they are desirous of learning.” (Extract from the Pali Canon – translated by Stephen Batchelor – available on his website)

Dharma, has two primary meanings: first, ‘the way things actually are’, the nature of reality as it actually is – the true nature of things. If we don’t understand the true nature of things, we will no doubt live out of step with how things are, and therefore suffer from dissatisfaction, disharmony and conflict (dukkha – suffering); and second, ‘dharma’ denotes the methods developed and taught by the Buddha – methods aimed at enabling everyone to live in harmony and accordance with how things actually are. The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is to correct misunderstanding about the nature of reality and to cure or reduce the suffering caused by such misunderstanding (avidyā). So Dharma is both a description of how the world IS, and a prescription for how to act in harmony with how the world is.

In this extract from the Pali Canon the Buddha gives a last reminder to his students as to the main elements of his teaching, namely: that our primary source of knowledge and wisdom is our own experience – our primary teacher and resource is this embodied mind we call our ‘self’; through our own experience we have to determine if what we are taught, and what we learn, enables us to live in harmony with how things are in the world; and, that mindful meditation is the key method by which we can observe and realise the nature of existence.


The Buddha gives this advice: “The only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the ending of pain and grief, to the entering upon the right path and the realization of Nirvana, is by the ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’.

And what are these Four Foundations? Herein the disciple dwells in contemplation of the Body, in contemplation of Feeling, in contemplation of the Mind, in contemplation of the Mind-Objects; ardent, clearly comprehending them and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief”.*

The Buddha advises his students that the way to minimise suffering is to observe/contemplate how the world IS without commentary, judgment or clinging – realising in oneself the transient nature of existence and through this realisation experiencing peace of mind and deep compassion for oneself and for all beings. This is, according to the Buddha, “the right path”, the Middle Way.

The Buddha emphasises the importance of mindful meditation as a method of enquiry and realisation – a way of observing impermanence in process:

“A monk abides contemplating the body as a body …  fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.  He abides contemplating feelings as feelings,… mind as mind,… dharma as dharma.

“And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body as body?  Here, a monk, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.  Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’

[A student of mine is one] “who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent….”

(* Extracts from: The Word of the Buddha: an outline of the teaching of the Buddha in the words of the Pali canon. Compiled, translated and explained by Nyanatiloka.)

“My students, if wanderers of other sects ask you: ‘In what dwelling did the Buddha generally dwell during the [three month] rains?’ – you should answer those wanderers: ‘During the rains residence, friends, the Buddha generally dwelt in mindfulness of breathing.… it is a noble dwelling (ariyavihara)’.” (JD variation of Batchelor trans.)