Buddhist Cartography: Mindfulness and Delusion.

March 6, 2014 § 3 Comments

Mt. Fuji Viewed Through Ocean Waves

Mindfulness is the Buddhist practice of turning the awareness to the present moment. The present moment is here defined, paradoxically, as your immediate space and its physical sensations of sounds, tastes and sights. It excludes, therefore, memories of the past and imaginings of the future.

When beginning meditation, we may be instructed to focus the awareness upon some object like a candle flame or the breath. Mindfulness extends this practice into daily life with the instruction to give full attention to whatever is being done at the moment.

Those practicing mindfulness know that thought regularly intrudes upon any attempt to stay in the moment. When this happens, the initial instruction is to turn the awareness back to whatever task was at hand. The intent, however, is not to suppress thought but to establish the immediate moment as a control group with which to explore thought.

A control group is a group separated from another group we wish to observe and test. In mindfulness, the control group is the immediate moment. The group we wish to test is our inner maps, or the thoughts and beliefs we have of reality and our self. This testing is done by continually comparing what we think is happening to what is actually happening (i.e., in the control group).

A preliminary step in establishing mindfulness is to separate the control group from the thoughts to be studied. This simply means developing an initial level of discrimination so you see a difference between what you actual experience and what you think about the experience.  The latter is something superimposed onto actual events and is often laden with emotions and beliefs.  I call this superimposition a secondary map.

An example of a secondary map is where a person views the world as an angry place when, in fact, there are no angry people around.  A person with such a map is often not aware his map is false so may go about avoiding people and being defensive.  If this person were to take up the practice of mindfulness, however, he would assign himself the task of checking his secondary map against the control group of the immediate moment.  And, finding no actual hostility, he would eventually conclude his inner map were false.

The belief in the reality of our secondary maps is quite strong and may take some time to dispel.  This belief is delusion in the Buddhist sense of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality.  Mindfulness ends delusion by developing your power to discriminate between delusion and reality; between the false and the true.

Delusion ends when through the consistent comparison of our inner maps to the immediate moment we see that what we “think” about our self and the world is not really our self or the world, at all. This is why mindfulness is said to be a power that brings clear comprehension and leads to wisdom, calmness and liberating discernment.


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