Can Nirvana be achieved through Mindfulness? In response to a friend's misconception that the practice of Mindfulness is good only for beginners, I wrote this article to explain the usefulness of Mindfulness in attaining Nirvana.

A friend wrote: > Buddha did not obtain enlightenment, according to the > Pali canon, by anapanisatti [Mindfulness of ones breath] > meditation. He obtained enlightenment thorugh the > practice of the supermundane jhana and the samadhis of > signlessness, wishlessness & emptiness. Anapannasati and > Satipatthana [The Foundations of Mindfulness] will only > produce stream-entry [the first stage of "Sainthood"]. > This is well known.

I replied:
Well, yes and no, friend. This is a small but extremely impt misconception.

Perhaps it's true that Nirvana is attained thru "supermundane jhana and the samadhis of signlessness, wishlessness ....". (Basically, I can't be certain, simply coz I haven't reached that state yet, but I believe it to be so).

However, the supermundane jhanas, samadhis of signlessness, wishlessness ... the realization of emptiness, and the understanding of oneself, CAN be achieved by Anapannasati and Satipatthana. This, I know for certain. I will only say I know for certain if the knowledge comes from 1st-hand experience.

When one practices satipattana (Mindfulness) or Vipassana (Insight), one gradually develops insight into oneself. One understands one's own mind and one learns to penentrate the nature of experiences. Equanimity is slowly developed, together with Mastery over one's own mind. This equanimity plants the seed of Detachment. With the foundations of Detachment planted, one may experience the First Jhana. In this state of mind, one's 5 Hinderances, Doubt, Worry, Ill-Will, Sensual Desire and Laziness, are TEMPORARILY destroyed. One experiences happiness beyond all description filling the mind. However, the mind is unconcentrated and the experience is only temporary.

With Equanimity, one also begins to accept one's life experiences "as they are". One begins to find pleasure and pain equally acceptable, one begins to inch towards a state of mind where one is at peace despite pleasure or pain. One hence begins to develop an experiential understanding of emptiness. One also begins to develop a deep concentration. The seed for the next 2 Jhanas are planted.

I am unqualified to describe further. Suffice to say that both in Therevada and Zen, the path towards the ceseation of sufferings and the ultimate peace of mind is in "the understanding of one's true self". And in both traditions, the way to achieve that is in mindfulness. I've verified this teaching for myself.

Perhaps a Zen master put it in a most skillful way. When asked how Zen is practiced, he answered, "When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm tired, I rest". So the student ask again, "Isn't this like mundane life?"

The Master answered, "No, it's not like mundane life. For a normal person, when he eats, his mind solves a hundred problems. When he rests, his mind wanders to a hundred places. When a Zen practitioner eats, he just eats. He is fully in his eating. When he rests, he just rests. He is fully in his resting."

It all goes back to mindfulness and concentration, my friend.


"Let alone half a month, monks, whoever practices the Four Foundations of Mindfulness for one week, can also expect one of two fruits - either the highest understanding in this very life or, if there remains some residue of affliction, he can attain the fruit of no-return."
"That is why we said that this path, the path of the four grounds for the establishment of mindfulness, is the most wonderful path, which helps beings realize purification, transcend grief and sorrow, destroy pain and anxiety, travel the right path, and realize nirvana."
-- The Buddha