Using the scientific method, scientists are researching the relationship between science and
spirituality. Neuroscientific evidence has demonstrated that the form of meditation known as
mindfulness lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and reduces anxiety.
Mindfulness is an integral part of Buddhist meditation practices. Meditation begins by focusing
concentration on a single object such as the breath or a candle flame. Buddhists describe this
concentration training as “samatha,” which means “tranquility,” to recognize the calm state of
mind the meditator reaches as their concentration deepens and the mind’s chatter dissipates.
Once the mind is calm and focused, the meditator can take the next step of “vipassana,” or
“penetrative seeing,” which is essentially mindfulness. In their book Buddhism: A Concise
Introduction, Huston Smith and Philip Novak, pp. 76-87, summarize the four fields which a
vipassana student observes without judgment: 1) Body (kaya) – the full range of body activities
such as breathing, movement, blood flow and digestion, 2) Body sensations (vedana) – physical
sensations of the body that are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, all observed without reaction,
3) Mind – noticing the mind’s general mood of being scattered or concentrated, buoyant or
heavy, and observing that these moods always change, and 4) Mind Objects – the mind’s
sensations, processes or thoughts, and observing with equanimity that these thoughts are
impermanent, unsatisfactory, and have no existence of their own.
From this state of equanimity, a meditator’s trained mind is ready to discover the four Divine
Abidings: 1) Metta, which is also known as loving-kindness and a shift from “me” to caring for
all people, 2) Compassion (karuna,) 3) Joy in the fortune of others (mudita,) and 4) equanimity
(upekkha,) which is the Buddhist version of the “peace that passeth all understanding.” These
four boundless states of mind represent the “full humanity of the Buddha.”
Mindfulness, the essence of vipassana, has been adapted by other religions as a spiritual
practice. It has also been secularized into Western medicine, brain research and
psychotherapy. (Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain, p.
Although this mindfulness discussion provides a background framework, the only way to really
understand mindfulness is to try it out for ourselves. This Sunday we will shift from our typical
format to an experience of mindfulness practices. Come ready in some comfortable shoes to
focus your mind, join in a mindfulness walking meditation, and discover the possibilities of
boundless joy, compassion, loving-kindness and peace.
Love and light,