Satipathana Sutta : The basis of the Mindfulness, Meditation, Vipassanna and Cognitive Therapy.

Dr. Dosti Regmi

Human beings are deep wired for chaos, complexity, chase and dissatisfaction because of the dichotomy between the impulsive limbic brain and the reasoning of the neo-cortex. Human being is the only species of animal that regrets the past, is fearful of the future, and is dissatisfied with the present. Our emotional excitements often lead us to dissatisfaction in life which is called suffering (dukkha). Our thinking traps and cognitive distortions make us think in unhelpful ways. Buddha’s teaching is to live intentionally, choosing our own emotions and thoughts wisely.

All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with an evil mind, ‘dukkha’ follows him just as the wheel follows the hoof print of the ox that draws the cart.

All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness (sukha) follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.

-Dhammapada, Verse 1 and 2

The Buddhist teachings in Satipatthana Sutta is the basis of the mindfulness practices and Vipassana meditation. It is commonly translated as mindfulness but the more precise translation is introspection or introspective attention. It comes from the word roots sati+ upa +thana meaning attention + within + to place , so the total meaning becomes “to place attention within” ie. introversion/introspection. That different perception is the Vipassana.

There are four foundations to be aware of in the process of Vipassana:

1) Body sensations (Kayanupasssana): To observe the physical sensations in the body including the in and out breathing (Anapanasati), temperature, heartbeat, muscle tightening etc.

2) Feelings: (Vedananupassana): To observe the feelings associated with the sensations in the body; whether it is pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.

3) Emotions: (Chittanupassana): To observe the emotional states such as fear, anger, anxiety, greed, hatred, grief, sorrow despair etc.

4) Thoughts and Conceptions (Dhammanupassana): To observe the thoughts, concepts and the interpretation of circumstances in past, present, and future which lead to mental proliferation through memory, imagination and expectations.

The important impact of the Satipathhana is the lesson of grounding into the present moment which is widely used as grounding exercises by today’s psychologists. The anxiety comes from the future and the depression comes from the past. In the present moment there is no space for anxiety or depression. We can use our 5 senses to be grounded to the present moment. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique for grounding, taunted  by psychologists, consists of being aware of 5 things that we see by our eyes, 4 sensations we feel by skin, 3 sounds we hear by ears, 2 feels of cool in-breath and warm out-breath in the nose and 1 taste or feeling of wetness/dryness in the tongue. This practice is a mindful meditation in fact. The WHO manual Doing what matters in times of stress: an illustrated guide. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020 also suggests the grounding technique along with unhooking from thoughts, value orientation, being kind to own-self and acceptance as the coping tools that can be used during the times of stress.

The moment of introspection and awareness lets the feelings, emotions and thoughts to settle. Just like the fan slowly comes to an stand still once the switch is turned off. It is a three step process of pause, relax and thick. Pause: Allow time for emotional excitement and anxiety to calm down and hormonal reactions to subside. Relax: Take deep breaths, relax the body and consciously compose your mind to respond instead of reacting. Think: Purposefully focus on the wholesome and beneficial rational response to the problem. Act and live intentionally doing what is True, Helpful, Improves the overall situation, Necessary and Kind. (Mnemonic: THINK).

This moment is the last freedom that we have. Just like Victor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space in that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness”. This ability to respond, this responsibility is the seat of our ultimate freedom.

Psychologists have come with a list of the irrational thoughts or the cognitive distortions and correcting them is the basis of the cognitive behaviour therapy used by the psychologists. Here is the list from Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, et al.

Mind Reading / Jumping to conclusion: Imagining what others are thinking about you or your circumstances without clarifying.

Fortune Telling: Predicting the future adversely.

Labeling/Generalization: Making sweeping assumptions or statements or over generalization of trivial conditions.

Negative Filtering: Focusing and amplifying only negative aspects excluding any positive opportunities.

Black or White / Dichotomous Thinking:  Extremist view of all or nothing, no grey areas or compromise, “always” or “never”.

Perfectionist/“Should”: Expecting things to be ideal or perfect.

Righteousness: Prioritizing truth, ethics and moral standards over human considerations.

Magnification / Catastrophizing: Over-emphasis on specific details, blown out of proportion, worrying too much.

Minimization: Overlooking / shrinking important issues or necessary considerations.

Unfair Comparison: Negatively comparing with others successes.

What If ?: Over-intellectualizing or over-extended imagination of snowball effects

Blame Game / Finger Pointing: Finding faults in others or blaming others, fallacy of external control.

Shame / Guilt / Personalizing failure: Finding faults in oneself or blaming oneself, fallacy of internal control.

Emotional Reasoning: Letting feelings alone guide your viewpoint or conclusions.

Fallacy of Fairness: Believing things have to be fair or equal, justifying one’s own actions/responses.

Fallacy of Heaven’s Reward: Expecting divine reward for one’s sacrifices, selflessness, or endurance of suffering.

Fallacy of Change: Expecting other people or circumstances to change to suit our needs or beliefs.

Self-Centeredness / Personalization: “I”, “me”, “mine” syndrome – everything is directed at me, all because of or about me.

To replace these faulty thought also needs introspection and mindfulness of our thought processes.

                                “Truth is the greatest of the gifts that you can get.”