Notes from Mindfulness in Plain English by Venerable Gunaratana Mahathera

Buddhism address 2 main types of meditation: Vipassana and Samatha

Vipassana = Insight, clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens

Samatha = concentration or tranquility = state in which the mind is not allowed to wander, brought to rest and focuses on only one item

Most systems emphasize the Samatha component (focus on chant, candle etc.) Vipassana uses concentration as a tool by which awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion

Attainment of mindfulness through bare attention to and clear comprehension of the whole process of breathing. using the breath as one’s primary focus of attention the meditator applies participatory observation to the entirety of his own perceptual universe. he learns to watch changes occurring in all physical experiences, in feelings and in perceptions. he learns to study his own mental activities and the fluctuations in the character of consciousness itself. all of these changes are occurring perpetually and are present in every moment of our experience.

meditation is a living activity, experiential.

Most of this publication draws from the Tipitaka which is the 3 sectioned collected work including the Vinaya (code of discipline for monks and nuns and lay people), Suttas (public discourses attributed to the Buddha), Abhidharma (set of deep psycho-philosophical teachings)

why meditate?

happiness and peace are really the prime issues in human existence

you can’t ever get everything you want, it is impossible but there is another option. you can learn to control your mind. you continue to live a normal looking life but you live from a whole new viewpoint.

meditation is intended to purify the mind. it cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred, jealousy, things that keep you snarled up in emotional bondage. it brings the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of concentration and insight.

we believe that knowledge makes a cultured person civilized but civilization polishes the person superficially.

in the buddhist context faith is closer to confidence, it is knowing something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. in the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to some exterior, imposed code of behavior.

the purpose of meditation is personal transformation. the you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same as you that comes out the other side. it changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, deeds. meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. it reduces your tension, worries and fear. meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power and your own subconscious motives and mechanics become clear to you. your intuition sharpens. precision of your thought increases and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion.

we are not going to teach you to contemplate your navel or to chant secret syllables, you are not conquering demons or harnessing invisible energies, there are no colored belts or turbans. we are dealing with the vipassana system of meditation. watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm and detached way so you can gain insight into your own behavior. the goal is awareness.


relaxation is a key componenet of meditation but vipassana style meditation aims at a much loftier goal. all meditation procedures stress concentration of the mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area of thought. done strongly and thoroughly enough you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation which is called Jhana. some systems stop here. in vipassana concentration and relaxation are necessary for awareness (precursors). the goal is insight.


you actually become more and more attuned to your emotional changes; you will learn to know yourself with greater clarity and precision. in hypnotic trance the subject is susceptible to control by another party whereas in deep concentration the meditator remains very much under his own control, if you find yourself becoming unconscious in meditation then you aren’t meditating


Meditation deals with levels of consciousness which lie deeper than symbolic thought therefore some of the data just won’t fit into words. That does not mean it cannot be understood there are deeper ways to understand things than words. Learning to look at each second as if it were the first and only second in the universe is most essential in Vipassana meditation.


The purpose of meditation is to develop awareness.


Vipassana is development of awareness, that in itself is not dangerous but just the opposite. Increased awareness is the safeguard against danger. Properly done meditation is a very gentle and gradual process.


3 integral factors to buddhist meditation: morality, concentration and wisdom. These 3 factors grow together as your practice deepens. When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation compassion toward s all parties arise automatically ad compassion means that you automatically restrain yourself from any thought, word or deed that might harm yourself or others thus your behavior is automatically moral.


  1. Adherence to a set of rules and regulations laid down by someone else, this requires no meditation
  2. Obeying the rules in the absence of somebody who will smack you if you disobey because you have internalized the rules, this requires a bit of mind control
  3. Ethics, one chooses his behavior depending on the situation


Meditation is running into reality. Learning to look at yourself exactly as you are. See what is there, accept it fully and only then can you change it.


It can produce blissful feelings but that is not the purpose.


It looks that way but one is meditating to purge their mind of anger, prejudice and ill-will. Actively engaging in the process of getting rid of greed, tension and insensitivity as these items block compassion for others. Cleansing yourself of selfishness is not a selfish activity.


Some systems are like this but Vipassana is about awareness, awareness of whatever is there be it supreme truth or trash.


Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight. At each sitting you will gain some results.


Every culture on earth has produced some sort of mental practice which might be termed meditation, it depends on how loose a definition you give that word.

Within the judeo-christian tradition there are two overlapping practices of prayer and contemplation. Prayer is a direct address to some spiritual entity. Contemplation is a prolonged period of conscious thought about some specific topic—both of these are exercises in concentration

Yogic meditation is purely concentrative on focusing the mind on a single object.

In the buddhist tradition concentration is highly valued but the new element of awareness is added and more highly stressed. Zen uses two separate tracks. One is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will. You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your mind everything except pure awareness of sitting. In the rinzai school you trick the mind out of conscious thought into pure awareness by giving the student an unsolvable riddle he must solve anyway. Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There is nowhere else to go.

Tantric buddhism: conscious thought is the manifestation of the ego, the you that you think you are and tightly connected with self concept. The self concept or ego is nothing more than a set of reactions and mental images which are artificially pasted to the flowing process of pure awareness. Tantra seeks to obtain pure awareness by destroying this ego image. This is accomplished through visualization. Student is given a religious deity/image to meditate on. He takes off his own identity and puts on another and during the process recognizes the way the ego is constructed.

Vipassana comes directly from Satipatthana Sutta. Student’s attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain aspects of his own existence. Meditator is trained to notice more and more of his own flowing life experience. Listen to yoru own thoughts without being caught up in them. The objective is to learn to pay attention. Mental training where you will experience the world in an entirely new way.

That which has been learned can be unlearned. The first step is to realize what you are doing and stand back and quietly watch.

We see ourselves reacting without getting caught up in the reactions themselves. Escape from the obsessive nature of thought produces a whole new view of reality.

You can tune into constantly ongoing change, learn to perceive your life as an ever-flowing movement, a thing of great beauty like a dance or symphony. Take joy in the perpetual passing away of phenomena. Learn to live with the flow of existence.


  1. Don’t expect anything. Treat the whole thing as an experiment.
  2. Don’t strain.
  3. Don’t rush.
  4. Don’t cling to anything and don’t reject anything.
  5. Let go.
  6. Accept everything that arises.
  7. Be gentle with yourself
  8. Investigate yourself
  9. View all problems as challenges
  10. Don’t ponder. In meditation the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention.
  11. Don’t dwell upon contrasts. Differences exist between people but dwelling upon them is a dangerous process.



You want to cultivate mindfulness culminating in insight and wisdom to realize truth as it is. You want to know the workings of your body-mind complex exactly as it is. You want to get rid of all psychological annoyance to make your life really peaceful and happy.

We should not confuse bodily sensations with mental formations. Isolate the feeling and watch it mindfully.

We should watch our emotion exactly as it is without trying to confuse it.

We seek to gain insight into the experience of impermanence to overcome our resentment.

What we face every day is unpredictable. Things happen due to multiple causes and conditions as we are living in a conditional and impermanent world. Mindfulness is our emergency kit, readily available at our service at any time. Mindfulness practice is the practice of 100% honesty with ourselves. When greed, hatred and ignorance reveal themselves in our daily lives we use our mindfulness to track them down and comprehend their roots. The root of each of these mental states is within ourselves.

Goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five elements to it: purification of mind, overcoming sorrow and lamentation, overcoming pain and grief, treading the right path leading to attainment of eternal peace, attaining happiness by following that path.

Actual Practice: once you sit do not change the position again until the end of the time you determined at the beginning. Do not change your original position no matter how painful it is.

After sitting motionless, close your eyes. Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still the more mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly. Keep your mind in the present moment. What is present every moment is our breath. Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the in-coming and out-going breath without saying, “i breathe in” etc. When you focus your attention on the breath ignore any thought, memory, sound, smell, taste, etc., and focus your attention exclusively on the breath. At the beginning both the inhalations and exhalations are short because the body and mind are not calm and relaxed. In spite of efforts to keep the mind on breathing it may wander.

Suggestions to gain concentration when the mind wanders:

  1. Counting
  2. Connecting: do not wait to notice the brief pause before exhaling but connect the inhaling and exhaling so you can notice both inhaling and exhaling as one continuous breath
  3. Fixing: after joining inhaling and exhaling fix your mind on the point where you feel you r inhaling and exhaling breath touching.
  4. Focus your mind like a carpenter: a carpenter draws a straight line on a board he wants to cut and cuts the board with a handsaw. He doesn’t look at the teeth of the saw but rather all of his attention is on the line he drew so he can cut the board straight. Keep your mind straight on the point where you feel the breath at the rims of your nostrils.
  5. Make your mind like a gate keeper: a gate keeper does not take into account any detail of the people entering a house. All he does is notice people entering the house and leaving the house through the gate.

When the mind is united with the breath flowing all the time, we will naturally be able to focus the mind on the present moment.


Buddhist practice has always recognized that the mind and body are tightly linked and that each influences the other. Meditation does not mean sitting in lotus position. It is a mental skill. But postures will help you learn the skill and speed yoru progress and development.

Purpose of posture is threefold. First they provide a stable feeling in the body so you can remove yoru focus from balance and muscular fatigue. Second, they promote physical immobility which is then reflected by an immobility of mind and this creates a settled and tranquil concentration. Third they give you the ability to sit for a long period of time without yielding to the meditator’s 3 enemies: pain, muscular tension and falling asleep. The most essential is to sit with your back straight. Spine should be erect with vertebrae held like a stack of coins one on top of each other. Head should be held in line with the rest of your spine. All of this is done in a relaxed manner. No stiffness. If you slouch you invite drowsiness.


Difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought

Breathing is a nonconceptual process a thing that can be experienced directly without a need for thought

In wordless observation of breath there are two states to avoid: thinking and sinking. Sinking mind is when there is no thought, observation of breath or awareness.

Don’t think about your problems during your practice. Push them aside very gently. Take a break from all that worrying and planning. Let your meditation be a complete vacation. Trust yourself, trust your own ability to deal with these issues later, using the energy and freshness of mind that you built up during your meditation. Trust yourself this way and it will actually occur.

Mindfulness of breathing is a present-time awareness. This meditation is a process of retraining the mind.


We set aside a certain time specifically devoted to developing this mental skill called mindfulness. Meditation recharges your mindfulness.

“I am about the tread the very path that has been walked by the Buddha and by his great and holy disciples. An indolent person cannot follow that path. May my energy prevail. May I succeed.”

At the beginning of each meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself and really feel the intention:

  1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  2. May my parents be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, unerstanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  3. May my teachers be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  4. May my relatives be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  5. May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  6. May all indifference persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  7. May enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life.
  8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

Once you have completed these recitations, lay aside all your troubles and conflicts for the period of practice. Just drop the whole bundle. If they come back into your meditation later, just treat them as what they are, distractions.

If your enemies were happy, well and peaceful they would not be your enemies. Your practical solution to yoru having enemies is to help them to overcome their problems so you can live in peace and happiness.

When you hate somebody you think, “Let him be ugly etc.” What happens is that yoru own body generates such harmful chemistry that you experience pain. You cannot see truth as it is. Your mind is like boiling water.

Practice loving kindness BEFORE you start to meditate.


The main trick in dealing with obstacles is to adopt the right attitude. Difficulties are an integral part of your practice. It is essential to learn to confront the less pleasant aspects of existence.

When you are having a bad time examine the badness, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built.

 Pain is inevitable suffering is not.

Physical pain you should employ standard medical treatments

If pain persists during meditation notice there are two things present, the physical pain and your resistance to it.

Mindfulness never exists by itself. It always has some object and one object is as good as another. Pain is a mental state. You can be mindful of pain just as you are mindful of breathing.

Numbness in your legs is nothing to worry about it is caused by nerve pinching not by lack of circulation.

Inquisitive awareness is the opposite of drowsiness and will evaporate it.

Mindfulness is never boring, it looks at everything with the eyes of a child with the sense of wonder.

Regard meditation as your friend


Time gauging – gauge the length of time you were distracted

Deep breaths – reestablish mindfulness with deep breaths when mind is agitated and wild

Counting – to reestablish mindfulness

In out method – alternative to breath counting

Canceling one thought with another – skillful thoughts vs. Unskillful, not good vs. Bad, examine the emotional response, ponder it, see how it hinders you from liberation, and use an ANTIDOTE

Recalling your purpose

“I’m not sitting here to waste time with these thoughts. I’m here to focus my mind on the breath, which is universal and common to all living beings.”

When you first sit down you will be struck by how busy the mind is. A distraction in insight meditation is any preoccupation that pulls the attention off the breath. When any mental state arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation switch your attention to the distraction briefly. Make the distraction the temporary object of meditation. TEMPORARY. Breath will always be the primary focus but switch your attention to the distraction just so you can notice: what is it? How strong is it? How long does it last? As soon as you wordlessly answer these questions return to yoru breath. These questions are not an invitation to mental chatter. Nonconceptual experience of breath.

Mindfulness is a function that disarms distractions. Shine the light of awareness on them and they evaporate. Distractions are paper tigers they have no power on their own they need to be fed in order to survive. Be mindful of what is occurring. Don’t try to control what is occurring. From the point of view of mindfulness there really is no such thing as a distraction. Whatever arises in the mind is just another opportunity to cultivate mindfulness.

The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness. Buddhist philosophy has organized distractions into categories.

Observe the mental states, each has a birth, grow and decay. Even the good states you should observe that they arise and pass away.

Thoughts pertaining to “me” “my” etc. Have no place in direct awareness. If you leave I out of the operation pain is not painful, it is just pure surging energy flow. See each sensation, experience it fully in its natural, unadulterated form.

Mindfulness grows by the exercise of mindfulness. It is like exercising a muscle. Every time you work at it you pump it up just a little.


Words are only fingers pointing at the moon they are not the moon itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words.

When you first become aware of something there is a fleeting moment of pure awareness before you conceptualize it, before you identify it, that is a stage of mindfulness. Flash where you experience a thing as an un-thing.

Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. It is nonconceptual awareness. Another english term for “sati” is bare attention. It is not thinking and it does not get involved with thoughts or concepts or ideas or memory—it just looks.

It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.

Three fundamental activities of mindfulness: 1. Reminds us of what we are supposed to be doing 2. It sees things as they really are 3. It sees the deep nature of all phenomena

Mindfulness is at one and the same time both bare attention itself and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention if we have ceased to do so.

Mindfulness distorts nothing. Conscious thought loads us down with concepts and ideas.

Only mindfulness can teach the three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truths of existence: anicca (impermanence) all conditioned things are transitory; dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) every worldly thing is in the end unsatisfying; anatta (selflessness) there are no entities that are unchanging only processes.

Appamada is another pali word translated as mindfulness which means non-negligence or an absence of madness. One who attends constantly to what is really going on in one’s mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.


Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. Concentration is a forced type of activity, it can be developed by willpower. Mindfulness is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. Mindfulness is the sensitive one. Concentration is the power. Concentration keeps the attention pinned down to one item. If either is weak meditation goes astray. Concentration needs mindfulness to understand.

Mindfulness is cultivated by gently pulling oneself back to a state of awareness.


Seated meditation is practice for the game.