The Sutra on the Four Grounds of Mindfulness

Nian Chu Jing (Sarvastivada)
from Madhya Agama (number 26 in Taisho Revised Tripitaka).
Translated by Gautama Sanghadeva from Sanskrit into Chinese,
and by Thich Nhat Hanh and Annabel Laity into English.

Section One
I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was staying in the town of Kammassadharma in the land of the Kuru people.
The Lord addressed the bhikkhus:
"There is a path which can help beings realize purification, overcome anxiety and fear, end pain, distress, and grief, and attain the right practice. This is the path of dwelling in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness. All the Tathagatas of the past have attained the fruit of true awakening, the state of no further obstacles, by establishing their minds in the Four Ground s of Mindfulness. Relying on these Four Grounds, they have abandoned the Five Hindrances, purged the poisons of the mind, been able to transcend the circumstances which obstruct awakened understanding, and, practicing according to the Seven Factors of Awakening, have attained the true, right, and highest awakening. All Tathagatas of the future will also attain the fruit of true awakening, the state of no more obstacles, thanks to establishing their minds in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness. Relying on the Four Grounds of Mindfulness, they will be able to put an end to the Five Hindrances, purge the poisons of the mind, and overcome whatever weakens the ability to understand, practice the Seven Factors of Awakening, and attain the true, right, and highest awakening. All Tathagatas of the present (including myself) have attained the fruit of true awakening, the state without obstacles, thanks to establishing their minds in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness. Relying on the Four Grounds of Mindfulness, we have been able to put an end to the Five Hindrances and overcome whatever weakens the ability to understand, practice the Seven Factors of Awakening and attain to the true, right, and highest awakening.
"What are the Four Grounds of Mindfulness? They are the four methods of observing body as body, feelings as feelings, mind as mind, and objects of mind as objects of mind.
Section Two
"What is the way to remain established in the awareness of body as body?
"When the practitioner walks, he knows he is walking. When he stands, he knows he is standing. When he sits, he knows he is sitting. When he lies down, he knows he is lying down. When he wakes up, he knows he is waking up. Awake or asleep, he knows he is awake or asleep. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, when practicing awareness of the body, the practitioner is clearly aware of the positions and movements of the body, such as going out and coming in, bending down and standing up, extending limbs, or drawing them in. When wearing the sanghati robe, carrying the alms bowl, walking, standing, lying, sitting, speaking, or being silent, he knows the skillful way of being aware. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner is aware of body as body so that whenever an unwholesome state of mind arises, he can immediately apply a wholesome state to counterbalance and transform the unwholesome state of mind. Just as a carpenter or carpenter's apprentice stretches out a piece of string along the edge of a plank of wood and with a plane trims off the edge of the plank, so the practitioner, when he feels an unwholesome state of mind arising, immediately uses a wholesome state of mind to counterbalance and transform the existing state. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner is aware of body as body when, closing his lips tight, clenching his teeth, pressing his tongue against his palate, taking one part of his mind to restrain another part of his mind, he counterbalances a thought and transforms it. Just as two strong men might hold onto a weak man and easily restrain him, so the practitioner presses his lips together and clenches his teeth, presses his tongue against his palate, takes one part of his mind to restrain another part of his mind, to counterbalance and transform a thought. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner is aware of body as body, when, breathing in, he knows that he is breathing in, and breathing out, he knows that he is breathing out. When breathing in a long breath, he knows that he is breathing in a long breath. When breathing out a long breath, he knows that he is breathing out a long breath. When breathing in, he is aware of his whole body. Breathing out, he is aware of his whole body. Breathing in, he is aware of the cessation of the activity of his body. Breathing in, he is aware of the cessation of the activity of his speech. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body, with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner is aware of body as body, when, thanks to having put aside the Five Desires, a feeling of bliss arises during his concentration and saturates every part of his body. This feeling of bliss which arises during concentration reaches every part of his body. Like the bath attendant who, after putting powdered soap into a basin, mixes it with water until the soap paste has water in every part of it, so the practitioner feels the bliss which is born when the desires of the sense realms are put aside, saturate every part of his body. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, feels the joy which arises during concentration saturate every part of his body. There is no part of his body this feeling of joy, born during concentration, does not reach. Like a spring within a mountain whose clear water flows out and down all sides of that mountain and bubbles up in places where water has not previously entered, saturating the entire mountain, in the same way, joy, born during concentration, permeates the whole of the practitioner's body; it is present everywhere. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, experiences a feeling of happiness which arises with the disappearance of the feeling of joy and permeates his whole body. This feeling of happiness which arises with the disappearance of the feeling of joy reaches every part of his body. Just as the different species of blue, pink, red, and white lotus which grow up from the bottom of a pond of clear water and appear on the surface of that pond, have their tap roots, subsidiary roots, leaves, and flowers all full of the water of that pond, and there is no part of the plant which does not contain the water, so the feeling of happiness which arises with the disappearance of joy permeates the whole of the practitioner's body, and there is no part which it does not penetrate. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization, and that is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, envelops the whole of his body with a clear, calm mind, filled with understanding. Just as someone who puts on a very long robe which reaches from his head to his feet, and there is no part of his body which is not covered by this robe, so the practitioner with a clear, calm mind envelops his whole body in understanding and leaves no part of the body untouched. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, is aware of clear light, knows how to welcome clear light, practice with and recall to mind clear light, whether it comes from in front to behind him or from behind to in front of him, day and night, above and below him, with a mind which is well-balanced and not hindered. He practices 'the one way in' by means of clear light, and finally his mind is not obscured in darkness. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, knows how to use the meditational 'sign' skillfully, and knows how to maintain the object of meditation skillfully. As someone sitting observes someone lying down and someone lying down observes someone sitting, so the practitioner knows how to recognize the meditational sign and use it skillfully and knows how skillfully to maintain the object of meditation. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of the body, knows very well that this body exists due to the interdependence of the parts of the body, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. He sees that all the parts of the body are impure. In his body are the hairs of the head, the hairs of the body, the fingernails, teeth, hard skin, soft skin, flesh, sinews, bones, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, large intestine, small intestine, gall bladder, stomach, excrement, brain, tears, sweat, sputum, saliva, pus, blood, grease, marrow, bladder, urine. He sees all these clearly as someone with good eyesight sees in a cask full of all sorts of grains that this is rice, this is millet, this is mustard seed, and so on. The practitioner who takes his attention throughout his body knows that it only exists in dependence on the true value of the parts out of which it is made, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet, and sees that all those parts are impure. This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is aware of body as body, observes the elements which comprise his body: 'In this very body of mine, there is the element earth, the element water, the element fire, the element air, the element space, and the cleinent consciousness.' Just as a butcher, after killing the cow and skinning it, lays out the meat on the ground in six parts, so the practitioner observes the six elements of which the body is comprised: 'Here is the earth element in my body, here is the water element, here is the fire element, here is the air element, here is the space element, and here is the consciousness element.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who is meditating on body as body visualizes a corpse. It is one to seven days old and has been disemboweled by vultures and torn by wolves. It is either distended or rotting, having been thrown onto the charnel ground or buried in the earth. When the practitioner visualizes a corpse like this, he compares it with his own body: 'This body of mine will also undergo a state such as this. In the end, there is no way it can avoid this condition.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who meditates on body as body visualizes a bluish corpse, decayed and half-gnawed away, lying in a heap on the ground. When the practitioner visualizes a corpse like this, he compares it with his own body: 'This body of mine will also undergo a state such as this. In the end, there is no way it can avoid this condition.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who meditates on body as body visualizes a skeleton which has no skin, flesh, blood, or bloodstains. There are only the bones held together by sinews. When the practitioner visualizes a skeleton like this, he compares it with his own body: 'This body of mine will also undergo a state such as this. In the end, there is no way it can avoid this condition.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who meditates on body as body visualizes the bones scattered in different directions: foot bone, shin bone, thigh bone, clavicle, spinal column, shoulder blade, tarsus, skull - each one in a different place. When he visualizes them like this, he compares it with his own body: 'This body of mine will also undergo a state such as this. In the end, there is no way it can avoid this condition.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
"Further, bhikkhus, a practitioner who meditates on body as body, visualizes the bones bleached to the color of shells or the color of a dove, and the bones which have rotted down to form a powder. When he visualizes them like this, he compares it with his own body: 'This body of mine will also undergo a state such as this. In the end, there is no way it can avoid this condition.' This is how the practitioner is aware of body as body, both inside the body and outside the body, and establishes mindfulness in the body with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of body as body.
Section Three
"What is the way to remain established in the awareness of feelings as feelings?
"When the practitioner has a pleasant feeling, he knows immediately that he has a pleasant feeling. When he has an unpleasant feeling, he knows immediately that he has an unpleasant feeling. When he has a neutral feeling, he knows immediately that he has a neutral feeling. When there is a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling in the body; a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling in the mind; a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling of this world; a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling not of this world; a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling associated with desire; a pleasant feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling not associated with desire, he is clearly aware of this. This is how the practitioner is aware of feelings as feelings, both inside the feelings and outside the feelings, and establishes right mindfulness. If there are bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who meditate on feelings as feelings, according to these instructions, then they are capable of dwelling in the meditation on feelings as feelings.
Section Four
"What is the way to remain established in the meditation on mind as mind?
"When the practitioner's mind is attached to something, he knows it is attached to something. When the practitioner's mind is not attached, he knows it is not attached. When the practitioner's mind hates something, he knows that it hates something. When his mind is not hating, he knows it is not hating. When his mind is confused, he knows it is confused. When it is not confused, he knows it is not confused. When his mind is defiled, he knows it is defiled. When his mind is not defiled, he knows it is not defiled. When it is distracted, he knows it is distracted. When it is not distracted, he knows it is not distracted. When his mind has obstacles, he knows it has obstacles. When it has no obstacles, he knows it has no obstacles. When it is tense, he knows it is tense. When it is not tense, he knows it is not tense. When it is boundless, he knows it is boundless. When it is bound, he knows it is bound. When his mind is concentrating, he knows it is concentrating. When it is not concentrating, he knows it is not concentrating. Before his mind is liberated, he knows it is not liberated. When it is liberated, he knows it is liberated. That. is how the practitioner is aware of mind as mind, both inside the mind and outside the mind, and establishes mindfulness in the mind with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization, and that is called being aware of mind as mind. If bhikkhus or bhikkhunis meditate on mind as mind according to the details of these instructions, then they know how to dwell in the practice of observing mind as mind.
Section Five
"What is the way to remain established in the meditation on objects of mind as objects of mind?
"When the practitioner realizes that his eyes in contact with form give rise to an internal formation, then he knows without any doubt that an internal formation is being formed. If there is no internal formation, he knows without any doubt that there is no internal formation. If an internal formation which had not arisen formerly now arises, he knows this. If an internal formation which had arisen formerly now comes to an end and will not arise again, he knows this. The same is true with all the other sense-organs: ears, nose, tongue, and body. When these sense organs are in contact with an external object and bring about an internal formation then the practitioner knows without any doubt that there is an internal formation. If an internal formation which had not arisen formerly now arises, he knows this. If an internal formation which had arisen formerly now comes to an end and will not arise again, he knows this. This is how the practitioner is aware of objects of mind as objects of mind, both inside the object and outside the object, and establishes mindfulness in the object of mind with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization. This is called being aware of objects of mind as objects of mind. If bhikkhus or bhikkhunis meditate on objects of mind as objects of mind according to these instructions, then they know how to dwell in the practice of observing objects of mind as objects of mind in the six realms of consciousness.
"Further, bhikkhus, when the practitioner is meditating on objects of mind as objects of mind, if he sees sensual desire in himself, he knows without any doubt that sensual desire is there. If he sees no sensual desire in himself, he knows without any doubt that no sensual desire is there. If a sensual desire which had not arisen formerly now arises, he knows this without any doubt. If a sensual desire which had arisen formerly now comes to an end, he also knows this without any doubt. The same is true of the four other obstacles: anger, torpor, agitation and doubt. If there is doubt in his mind, he knows for certain that there is doubt. If there is no doubt in his mind, he knows for certain that there is no doubt. When a formally non-existent doubt arises, he knows that for certain. When an already arisen doubt comes to an end, he also knows that for certain. That is how the practitioner is aware of objects of mind as objects of mind, both inside the object and outside the object, and establishes mindfulness in the object of mind with recognition, insight, clarity, and realization, and that is called being aware of objects of mind as objects of mind. If bhikkhus or bhikkhunis meditate on objects of mind as objects of mind according to the details of these instructions, then they know how to dwell in the practice of observing objects of mind as objects of mind with regard to The Five Obstacles.
"Further bhikkhus, when the practitioner is meditating on objects of mind as objects of mind, if he sees in his mind the Factor of Awakening, mindfulness, he knows without any doubt that mindfulness is there. When mindfulness is not present, he knows without a doubt that mindfulness is not present. When mindfulness which had formerly not been present is now present, the practitioner also knows this without any doubt. When mindfulness has arisen and is still present, is not lost, does not decline but actually increases, the practitioner is also aware of all this. The same is true of all the other Factors of Awakening - the investigation of dharmas, energy, joy, ease, concentration, and letting go. When letting go is present in his mind, he knows without a doubt that letting go is present. When letting go is not present, he knows without a doubt that letting go is not present. When letting go which had formerly not been present is now present, the practitioner also knows this without any doubt. When letting go has arisen and is still present, is not lost, does not decline, but actually increases, the practitioner is also aware of all this. This is how the practitioner is aware of objects of mind as objects of mind, both the inside of the object and the outside of the object, and establishes mindfulness in the object of mind with understanding, insight, clarity, and realization, and that is called being aware of objects of mind as objects of mind. If bhikkhus or bhikkhunis meditate on objects of mind as objects of mind according to these instructions, then they know how to dwell in the practice of meditating on objects of mind as objects of mind with regard to the Seven Factors of Awakening.
Section Six
"Any bhikkhu or bhikkhuni who practices being established in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness for seven years will certainly realize one of two fruits - either attaining in this very life the highest understanding or the fruit of Arhat with some residue from former deeds. And not just seven, or six, or five, or four, or three, or two years, or one year. A bhikkhu or a bhikkhuni who practices being established in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness for seven months will certainly realize one of two fruits - either attaining in this very life the highest understanding or the fruit of Arhat with some residue from former deeds. And not just seven months, or six, five, four, three, two months, or one month. A bhikkhu or a bhikkhuni who practices being established in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness for seven days and seven nights will certainly realize one of two fruits - either attaining in this very life the highest understanding or the fruit of Arhat with some residue from former deeds. Not to mention seven days and seven nights, six days and nights, five days and nights, four days and nights, three days and nights, two days and nights, or one day and night, a bhikkhu or a bhikkhuni who practices being established in the Four Grounds of Mindfulness for just a few hours, if he or she begins the practice in the morning, by the evening there will have been progress, and if he or she begins in the afternoon, by nightfall there will have been progress."
After the Lord Buddha had spoken, the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who heard him teach were delighted and endeavored to carry out the practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1990),
"Transformation & Healing. Sutra on the Four Establishment of Mindfulness",
Parallax Press.

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