A First Lesson in Mindfulness

       Siddhartha rose from his seat under the pippala tree. He looked up into the sky and saw the morning star. It was shining so brightly as never before. An indescribable joy filled his heart. He felt a deep inner peace that made everything around him seem so light and open. He had seen the true face of his mind at dawn. He had realized enlightened mind. Nirvana was within his reach.

      Slowly, he started to walk towards the River. He thought, “I have found freedom for myself. I wish I could show others how to achieve this liberation of mind. The path to this freedom has been long and difficult. I must think of an easy and practical way that people can follow step by step.

      “Good morning,” Svasti was walking towards Siddhartha and greeted him from a distance.

      “Good morning, Svasti. You are here very early this morning.” Siddhartha walked over to Svasti and patted him gently on the shoulder.

      “Well. It stormed so hard last night. The thunder was deafening, and then came the downpour. The roof leaked and we were all soaked in our little hut. We were all glad it was over by the break of dawn. I was thinking about you so I came straight away. But…” Svasti stared at Siddhartha.

      “Is something the matter?” asked Siddhartha.

      “No. You…you look different. You look so …so…relaxed. You look so gentle, so calm, and so…still… “ Svasti stuttered a little as he spoke. He tried not to stare too much.

      “Oh, Svasti, I am very happy because last night I found the answer that I’ve been looking for so long. Will you please ask your sisters and all your friends to come see me this afternoon?”

      Svasti nodded, “Yes, I’ll gather up everyone and come then.”

      Siddhartha then asked, “Where are your buffaloes?”

      “They’re needed in the fields today. I just have to cut some grass for their evening feed then I’m done for the day. I promised Bima that I’d try to mend the roof.”

      Siddhartha smiled. He always thought Svasti a very fine and responsible boy. “So, I’ll see you this afternoon. I’m just going to the river to wash. I’ll walk with you there.”

      Early at noon that same day, Sujata brought lunch to Siddhartha. She felt excited that her forest teacher had found his answers. As usual, Sujata would tell him about the happenings in her village while Siddhartha ate. After lunch was over, when everything was put away, she could not contain herself anymore. “Please, could you explain a little about what you have discovered…a part that you think I would be able to understand?”

      Siddhartha smiled and nodded. “Thank you for lunch. And yes, of course I will share what I know with you. Do you think that you could come again this afternoon with your friends? I’d like to speak to all of you together. Svasti is going to bring his sisters and friends.”

      “Sure, I better go straight away before my friends go off to the field to play.”

      That afternoon, many children came with Svasti and Sujata to see Siddhartha. They gathered around the pippala tree where Siddhartha sat.

      Sujata got up and offered a big basket of tangerines to Siddhartha. “These are just freshly picked from the orchard.” Siddhartha smiled and took over the basket. One by one he passed out the tangerines to the children.

      “I am very happy to see all of you here today. I am very grateful to have this wonderful place for me to do meditation. I am very grateful to Sujata for providing me food everyday for the past few months. I am very grateful to Svasti who brings me treats and krusha grass for my seat. I am very grateful to all of you who come to see me and offer me your wonderful company.

      “Today, I’d like to share with you something I’ve learnt. I want to show you something that already belongs to you. It is your very own awareness, your own knowing. It is such a precious part of you but it often goes unnoticed. What do I mean by that? When you are thinking, are you aware that you are thinking? When you are speaking, are you aware that you are speaking? When you are doing something, are you aware that you are doing something? To be aware of what you are engaged in is to be mindful of your thoughts, of your speech, and of your actions.

      “As you listen, you are paying attention to my words. Now I shift your attention to the tangerine that you are holding in your hand. Let us be aware of the tangerine in our hands. Let us be mindful of the tangerine. We look at it. We see its roundness. We see its bright orange. We feel it in our hand. We feel its waxed and rough skin.

      “When we eat a tangerine, we first peel off its skin. We are mindful as we peel the skin. We are mindful of our fingers feeling the moisture from within the tangerine. We are mindful of its distinctly fragrant smell. After the skin has been peeled, we see its sections. We are mindful of its sections. We are mindful when we break up the sections. We are mindful as we place a section in our mouths. We are mindful of the tangerine section in our mouths. We are mindful as we bite into it. We are mindful as the juice squishes out and fills our mouth. We are mindful of its taste. We are mindful of its fragrance. We are mindful of its texture. We are mindful as we chew. We are mindful as we swallow. And we continue this mindfulness practice as we eat the tangerine.

      “Can someone think of some benefits of being mindful?”

      Sujata right away volunteered her thought, “My grandfather always told me to pay attention to how I sit, how I eat, how I walk, and how I sleep so that I carry myself properly and that I am considerate of others. Mindfulness is important so we take care not to become rude to others.”

      Svasti said, “Mindfulness keeps my attention on my water buffaloes.”

      Bima, Svasti’s sister, in a tiny voice reflected, “I sometimes burn the food I cook when I’m not mindful.

      “Very good. Mindfulness keeps our attention in the moment. This means that we are not thinking about the past as in, “…I would have caught that fish had I not slipped.” Neither are we pondering about the future as in, “…will I be invited to my friend’s party?” The past has passed, and we cannot go back nor do anything about it. The future is yet to come. It is very uncertain, governed by all kinds of conditions that are not within our control or within our knowing. Therefore, what is the sense in worrying over it now? If we really care about the future, we should look at what we are doing now. What we put in now we will reap its results later. The present moment is precious to us because life is made up of these precious moments. We try to be mindful in every moment. ”

      “My young friends, shall we now eat the tangerine in mindfulness?” Siddhartha then looked at the tangerine in his hand. He started to peel its skin. All the children followed his example. A gentle quietness settled around the pippala tree.

      When everyone was finished eating. Siddhartha looked at the children and smiled.

      One girl said, “I couldn’t keep up with the mindfulness most of the time. Why is that? I kept thinking of all sorts of things…”

      “Me too. I have to stop myself from thinking about what I would get for my birthday tomorrow.”

      “I was still feeling mad that my mother wouldn't let me wear my new dress today.”

      “I. . . I. . . I was worried that I was going to get a good scolding from my father. . . . I broke a broomstick today while using it for a sword fight.”

      The children were all nodding their heads in agreement as each one of them took turns to express the feelings and thoughts that came up.

      “Excellent, that is exactly what I wanted you to see.” said Siddhartha. “Right now your mind is like that. You should not expect otherwise. You cannot force your mind to stay at one place anyway even if you try. It is your mindfulness that allows you to see that your mind has wandered off. When you are aware of being distracted, simply bring your attention back gently to the task at hand.

      “My young friends, it is very important not to deliberately hold your mindfulness by force. That is not the point. You would only be creating unnecessary pressure. That is harmful. Right now, you cannot keep your mindfulness for very long. That is all right. That is quite natural. Like anything else that we learn to do, we go about it a little bit at a time. With mindfulness, it’s the same. You try to be mindful whenever you can, and in time, your mindfulness will be developed into your habit of mind.”

      “When mindfulness is stable and natural, it will guard your mind against negative thoughts such as fear, hopelessness, despair, anger, greed, jealousy. You will see them clearly like you see a bird in the sky. When you can catch these negative thinking of the mind, you can calmly and gently let them go. They will not affect you as much. As a result, you will not act them out. You will not act out of anger. You will not act out of jealousy. You will not act out of fear. In this way, you will avoid acting negatively and the suffering that comes with it. You will get along better with others. This is just one method that I’ve learnt to avert suffering.

      “Last night I found the Path of Awakening. I call it awakening because it was as if I woke up from a dream. I will stay on here for a while longer and then I’ll be leaving you.”

      A deep sadness was felt in the children’s hearts.

      “I will come back to visit all of you.” Siddhartha looked straight ahead and smiled with such happiness that the heaviness in the children’s hearts was lifted.

      Sujata stood up and joined her hands, “ Great teacher, you are the “Awakened One. In our Magadi dialect, awaken is “Budh”. And someone who is awakened is called “Buddha”. Can we then call you the “Buddha” from now on?”

      Then, a boy named Nalaka stood up and said, “For the past few months, you have meditated under this beautiful pippala tree. It is indeed the most beautiful tree in this whole forest. You were awakened under this tree. Let us call this tree the “Bodhi Tree”. The name “Bodhi” actually shares the same root as the word ”Budh” which means to awaken.”

      Siddhartha nodded in agreement. All the children were delighted and they all clapped their hands in excitement.

      This was how Siddhartha Gautama came to be known as the Buddha.

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