This is a conversation in Adelaide between Bhikkhu Dhammadharo (Alan Driver) and others on account of a letter about Dhamma *around 1976.
The writer of that letter thought that mindfulness is to be with what you are doing, for instance, when cycling be with your cycling and enjoy nature, the birds. When you lie down on the floor feel your whole body on the floor.
Bhikkhu Dhammadharo: --
If you try to concentrate on your feet going around no awareness of anything. It is just a self who is trying to direct awareness, an idea of what you think awareness is, to some place or other of the body, because we want to know this, we want to know that. It is not natural. It is not getting rid of attachment, it is increasing it.
Questioner: Attachment to what?
Bhikkhu: To the object, whatever it is. If we are attached to watching our feet going around or to the feeling we get when we are lying prostrate on the floor, then that is attachment to those objects which appear. And attachment to the idea of a self who can take something and direct it to this point and be “aware”. It is not really awareness, it is not detachment. It is increasing the idea of a controller who can direct and induce awareness. There is so much concentration involved; it is not natural at all.
When one is cycling normally what happens? There is attachment, there is aversion, there is ignorance. Because that is what there is now and that is what there is time and again. Day in, day out. It does not stop when you get on your bicycle. It keeps going, attachment, aversion and ignorance. Sometimes there can be a moment of awareness which is aware of whatever appears through any doorway, no choosing. Not concentrating on the bodysense in order to be aware of movement. Not concentrating through the eyes in order to be aware of visible object. Not concentrating on any particular doorway, looking for something or trying to direct awareness but just letting awareness arise naturally. We should realize that awareness only arises by conditions and that you can't make it happen here or there for a long time. You can't keep it somewhere. The whole point of developing awareness is to see that nothing can be kept anywhere. So, how can you keep awareness? It is just as much anatta ,not self, as anything else. If you try to keep awareness, concentrating on a particular spot of the body you are certainly not being aware, but there is a self who is trying hard to make something the way he wants it to be.
Can you be aware now? Yes, if you want to develop insight you have to be aware now. We have no other opportunity. And what will you be aware of? Sitting is not a reality. But there is seeing now. Why go past the eye. So we see. Seeing is not sitting, seeing sees. And there is visible object, which makes it possible for seeing to arise. So there is visible object to be aware of too. And how do you know you are sitting? Because you do not see what you call your body, in the position that you conventionally label “sitting posture” You also have experiences of hardness here and there, there are tangible objects being experienced in different places where there is bodysense. Then, when you think about all that information, you have the idea of a person or someone as a “whole”. That is what you call “sitting”. But the whole purpose of the Buddha's teachings is to destroy that wrong idea of a “whole” through seeing the truth of the different realities. They are not a “whole”. Seeing is not sitting. The experience of hardness at this point does not sit. The experience of coolness at that point does not sit. The coolness itself does not sit. “Sitting” is a conventional idea which enables us to communicate. It is not a reality.
Wisdom, panna, gets beyond words, beyond thinking about states, positions, ideas about a self or a whole, and it sees reality without thinking. Because the function of panna is not thinking, its function is to see clearly, to penetrate that which we mistake for “sitting”. We mistakenly think that a person is sitting. We have the wrong idea of “I am sitting”. Anatta is the core of the Buddha's teaching, not atta, self.
We read in the “Satipatthana Sutta” that, when sitting, one should know “I am sitting”. We cannot take just one sentence out of the context. This is only one sentence out of the 84.000 sentences which compose the teachings of the Buddha. There can be right understanding when we have studied and learnt many other areas of the teachings. Then we will see how these all point in the same direction: to be aware of the different characteristics appearing one at a time through different doorways, right at this moment, whatever you may be doing. If you are sitting, be aware. Don't try to change things. Because if you want to try and change something you are not being aware at this moment. Here we are, we are sitting, why would we want to change? Do we think we will have more awareness if we do so? We have attachment to the idea of a self who is going to get more awareness if he does so. But there is no awareness of the realities now, there is no awareness which will destroy the illusion of a self sitting or lying or doing anything else. It is attachment.
Q.: Maybe we need to change things. It is so difficult to start anywhere with awareness.
Bhikkhu: Difficult? But if we start in the right way it is truly a start, and no matter how slow it will be, one day we can reach the right end. But if we are going fast the wrong way, it is frightening.
Q.: I do not think it is the wrong way when one is selecting simply in the way that one is with what one is doing.
Bhikkhu: At the moment of selecting is there awareness of a reality? Is it right or wrong if we are at that moment not being aware of what appears?
Q: I think we are aware of what appears.
Bhikkhu: What is it that appears?
Q.: We see the scene that appears.
Bhikkhu: You have an idea of a self who is aware of something. Seeing is not something ,colour is not something. Hardness here, it really is not something at all. We change the name from “my knee on the floor “ to “hardness” and then we might think that we are being aware. But we still have an idea of some hardness that is here, that is maybe circular-shaped down here, covering a certain area of my body. We still have an idea of something lasting there. But hardness is not something at all. It is not a knee and not the floor, it is even not a little patch of something down there where your knee touches the floor. Hardness is not something, the experience of hardness is not something. They don't last for a moment, for a second.