with B. Alan Wallace
The Buddha formulated the four close applications of mindfulness as antidotes to four habitual misunderstandings that are the root of suffering in everyday life. We mistake the aggregation of mental and physical phenomena called the body for the abode of a real self. We mistake feelings aroused toward apparent phenomena for genuine happiness. We mistake the mind for a real self. And we mistake apparent phenomena for real objects. These mistakes lead to distorted perceptions, thoughts, and views that generate mental afflictions like sensual craving and hostility, which produce endless unnecessary suffering.
As we engage in life based on these fundamental misunderstandings, we unwittingly fuel a vicious cycle of suffering. The conventional world we inhabit is known as the desire realm in Buddhism because the prime mover for all sentient beings is our desire for pleasurable feelings in body and mind and avoidance of suffering and pain. Without fathoming the true nature of our existence, we grasp at mundane pleasures in material things and experiences. Although we cling tenaciously to these things when we get them, they never last, and we only perpetuate more suffering by our efforts.
Instead, by applying close mindfulness to the body, feelings, mental events, and all phenomena, we observe with increasing clarity how these things actually are: illusory, unreal, and mere designations in conventional speech. Seeing the extent of suffering in the world, we cease clinging to the body as the true source of our existence. Seeing the misunderstandings that cause the world’s suffering, we stop craving feelings as the true source of our happiness. Seeing that suffering can actually be extinguished, we release our grasping to mental events as the true source of our identity. And seeing the actual nature of reality, we abandon all the entities habitually designated upon subjective and objective appearances as the true source of our experience.
The Buddha declared that mental afflictions, such as lust, anger, and delusion, are not inherent in our nature. He likened them to a pile of dirt in the middle of a crossroads, which represents our sensory and mental processes. Four chariots enter this intersection from four directions, representing mindfulness directed toward the body, feelings, mental states, and all phenomena, and they thoroughly disperse the pile of dirt. When the mental afflictions are overcome, our true nature—which was merely obscured by these habitual misunderstandings—shines forth with unlimited benefit for ourselves and all beings.
Excerpted from the preface of Minding Closely (Snow Lion Publications, 2011, 320 pp., paper, $24.95).
B. Alan Wallace has taught Buddhist meditation and philosophy worldwide since 1976 and has served as interpreter for numerous Tibetan scholars and contemplatives, including the Dalai Lama. He is the founder and president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and has edited, translated, authored, and contributed to more than thirty books on Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, language, and culture, and the interface between science and religion.