For those in the world of contemporary spirituality who feel that the Western psychospiritual movement has become overly dominated by analysis and examination of the human mind will appreciate the opening story in Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein’s book Mindfulness.
In it he describes how he first started off along the road to enlightenment way back in 1974. At that time his initial attempt to locate a teacher who could advise and direct him was met with failure.
Nevertheless he persisted and after visiting several ashrams he ended up at a small village in North India known as Bodh Gaya. Here he met Anagarika Munindra – a teacher of insight meditation who eventually became Goldstein’s mentor.
Goldstein recalls. “When I first arrived, he said something so simple and direct that I knew I had come to my spiritual home:”
He told me that: “If you want to understand your mind , sit down and observe it.”
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Munindra was in fact a teacher of the practices of vipassana as rooted in the Satipatthana Sutta. Satipatthana is roughly translated as ” the four ways of establishing mindfulness.”
Since his early introduction into the teachings of the Buddha Goldstein has gone on to become one of the leading voices in insight meditation. He is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, the Barre Center for Buddhist studies, and the forest refuge. His book Mindfulness is a compilation of forty-six lectures that he gave at the Insight Meditation Society.
Today, the practice of mindfulness is a growing trend amongst both spiritual and non-spiritual practitioners. In other words there is no obligation to use mindfulness meditation for any other purpose than that of reducing stress and clearing the mind. However for those wishing to dig deeper into the Buddhist philosophy behind it Goldstein has produced a treatise on the subject.
Although the modern approach to mindfulness practice tends to ignore the all-important philosophical component to the art not so in Mindfulness. From the start Goldstein refers even the simplest element of insight meditation with reference to the teachings and sayings of Buddha.
The Collected Nature of Mind
Goldstein explains how in his definition of Satipatthana the Buddha encourages the contemplation on the four fields or foundations of mindfulness. These are body, feelings, mind and dhammas or the process of becoming free from desire and discontent.
From this point of reference the reader is advised of the primary benefit of mindfulness practice which is the building up of the power of concentration. This in turn is said play a vital role in the path to awakening.
Goldstein continues his exposition of the way to mindfulness by exploring the deeper elements that emerge from working at the four paths. In his book each one has a chapter dedicated to it within which the principles involved are considered, or reflected upon.
In his section titled Mindfulness of Dhammas he explores The Five Hindrances which include the obstacles to enlightenment in the form of desire, aversion, sloth and turpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt.
Following on from these Goldstein outlines the contemplation of what are called “the five aggregates”. These are said to “…directly point to those realities underneath the surface appearance of “self” or “I” or “being”.
Later on in his book he includes commentary on The Seven Factors of Awakening. These are defined as mindfulness, discrimination of states, energy, rapture, calm, concentration , and equinimity. From there he expands into consideration of The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path.
Mindfulness finally rounds off with appendices, footnotes and an index.
Our Review of ‘Mindfulness’ by Joseph Goldstein
Working through some 460 pages of insight into the Buddhist practice of mindfulness leaves the reader somewhat exhausted, but also highly impressed, by the quality of material on offer in this book.
This is not a publication for the faint of heart nor us it for those who are attempting to learn about the practicality of mindfulness practice. It contains only theoretical insights and even then the path that the author weaves for the reader is couched in allegory and mystery.
For those drawn to the Buddhist way of contemplation and inner meaning will find this a book of impressive quality and content. Although written by a Western mind it leans heavily towards a place being fully appreciated only by an Eastern one.
It is for that reason that I would advise potential readers to be wary of its tone and tenure before purchasing. For those already familiar with the author and his work will find this book to be an indispensable goldmine of deep insight and of humble construction.