Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
The Satipatthana Sutta (usually translated as the Foundations of Mindfulness) offers a complete description of the practice of mindfulness, beginning with the direct awareness of the breath and the body, progressing through mindfulness of vedana or feeling tone, to the more subtle object of the Third Foundation, mindfulness of mind states. The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness represents the culmination of this series of practices, and can be seen as a direct pointing, again and again, to the possibility of freedom through direct awareness of where we get caught, and how to turn the mind towards liberation. This talk is an overview of the practices of the Fourth Foundation, which can be seen as both the last in the sequence of practices, and as a progression in itself. It also covers how the Fourth Foundation can be skillfully interwoven into our practice of the other foundations.
In the third foundation of mindfulness, the Buddha instructs us to bring awareness and clear seeing to the contents of mind. In a nonjudgmental way, we are invited to be aware of whether the mind is affected by lust, ill will or delusion, and also when the mind is not affected by the states. Included in this practice are various experiences of concentration, expansion and contraction in the mind. The section ends by including awareness of the liberated mind, even if this is only a temporary experience. The thrust of this section is to notice the wholesome and the unwholesome qualities of the mind, and by that very noticing increase the wholesome and decrease the unwholesome.
Vedana, or the feeling tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant that arises with each contact, was considered important enough by the Buddha to be a foundation of mindfulness, one of the five aggregates, and central to the teaching on dependent origination. It is also at the heart of the Dart Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, where the Buddha talks about the two common responses to suffering: to bemoan and lament the fact that suffering is happening, but often to try to avoid the unpleasant by chasing after the pleasant. This talk looks at all of these different teachings to help us understand the importance of bringing mindfulness to vedana in our practice and in our lives.
In the Satipatthana sutta on the foundations of mindfulness, the first area of practice is the body. The Buddha gives us many different practices and ways to investigate the body. This talk explores these practices, beginning with the breath, but going on to other practices that we don't often teach, such as the four elements, the 32 parts of the body, and corpse contemplations. Each of these practices can be a powerful doorway to wise seeing and freedom. This talk is the first of a series of four on each foundation of mindfulness.
Many of us have a tendency to be critical and judgmental of ourselves and others. In meditation, this habit can seem quite strong and can create a lot of suffering. But mindfulness is a wonderful tool to enable us to see these thoughts for what they are, so we can begin to bring wisdom and understanding to them. they then no longer dominate our heart and mind.
Mindfulness is becoming very popular in many areas of modern life: as a stress reduction, in schools, prisons, hospitals, in the workplace and so on. But what is mindfulness, and what was the Buddha talking about when he encouraged us to practice it? Right mindfulness, or Samma Sati, develops wisdom and understanding, decreasing unwholesome states of mind, increasing wholesome ones and leading us to more freedom and clarity.
Concentration is an important part of any meditation practice, but not an end in itself. We can use the steady attentive mind to turn to the nature of reality, revealing the essential truths that can free us from confusion.