FOUNDATIONS of MINDFULNESS
H.H. Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara
Supreme Patriarch of Thailand
(Venerable Suvaddhano Bhikkhu)
Wat Bovornives Vihara
This Guide to Awareness is a translation from the series of Dhamma talks
published in the Thai language as Naew Patibat Nai Satipatthan (lit: The Way
of Practice in the Satipatthana).
The venerable author, HH Somdet Phra Nyansamvara is the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand and head of Wat Bovornives Vihara, a large and famous monastery in the old city of Bangkok. It is a centre for Buddhist study and is well known among westerners interested in Dhamma, many of whom have received ordination there with the venerable author as Preceptor.
HH Somdet Phra Nyansamvara was born in Kanchanaburi Province, about 130 kilometres northwest of Bangkok, in 2456 B.E. (1913). When he was thirteen years old, he became a novice and in 2476 B.E. he received the higher ordination. On going back to continue his studies in Bangkok he was given new ordination as Ven. Bhikkhu Suvaddhano, with the Supreme Patriarch Vajiranyanavong as Preceptor, at Wat Bovornives Vihara the next year. After furthering and completing his Dhamma and Pali studies to the highest grade (grade nine), he succeeded Ven. Chao Khun Phra Brahmamuni as abbot in 2503 B.E. (1960). It was therefore in carrying on the tradition of the late abbot when in 2504 B.E. (1961) he gave this series of Dhamma talks.
He was awarded the ecclesiastical title of 'Somdet' in 2515 B.E. (1972) and has held various positions in the administration of the Thai Sangha. (These more recently included: membership in the Council of Elders; Head of the management board for Mahamakut Buddhist University; Head of the National Buddhist Foundation; Head of the Foundation for Lepers, just to name a few.) In 2532 B.E. (1989), he became the leader of all the monks in Thailand, being made the nineteenth supreme patriarch of the Bangkok era.
The Dhamma talks were presented to both monks and lay people. Afterwards the monks would chant appropriate verses from the Pali texts, followed by a period of group meditation. They were therefore, not just lectures but a guide for those listening actually to put into practice.
A translation such as this has many difficulties, not the least of which being the profundity of the subject and the inadequacy of our understanding and translating abilities. We therefore hope readers will test and check these teachings out in their own practice and experience.
This translation is respectfully dedicated to the venerable author who gave 'new life' by ordaining us as bhikkhus and who has helped so many of us from the west.
In an attempt to make this translation accessible to all, we have translated
most Pali terms. However, scholars should note that on their first occurrence
the Pali word is usually shown in brackets and the English translation is normally
consistent throughout the book. Several words were left untranslated as an English
equivalent was either difficult to find or too clumsy compared to the original.
We have included a glossary at the end of this electronic book that will (attempt
to) show diacritical marks. End Notes will also be found at the end of the document.
As the venerable author mentions in his Introduction, he had to recap and summarize on previous topics, because people often missed some of the sequence of Dhamma talks. However, this translation omits much of that repetition.
Tan Chao Khun Phra Brahmamuni (Suvaca Thera) originally organized a series
of Dhamma talks at Wat Bovoranives Vihara. He would present a sermon and then,
after the monks chanted, everyone would sit in meditation.
I was invited to continue with this and as I considered it beneficial I accepted the task. However, I also pointed out that I was not a meditation teacher. I still had responsibilities concerned with teaching and various other duties, and so could not fully practise developing myself, let alone attain to a level able to train others. My Dhamma explanation therefore always had to depend on the scriptures, and if I happened to stray from them, I also felt as if I had lost my way. I had to rely on the footprints of those gone before to show the way, which I could not manage on my own.
At first, the sermons of Tan Chao Khun Brahmamuni were read out. Then, in the Rains Retreat of 2504 B.E. (1961), I started to present talks of my own. These were tape recorded and later transcribed.
The Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, is regularly chanted at Wat Bovoranives Vihara. I can recite all of it which helped when I was presenting my Dhamma explanation. This Discourse is a major pillar in the practice of both calm and insight, and so was chosen as the first text to present.
The Dhamma talks were given twice weekly, on the evening of the quarter moon day and the following night. As those that came to listen did not attend on every occasion, I would usually summarize and recapitulate the earlier talks.
Previously, I wrote about my reliance on the scriptures but in some places my explanation may actually differ from the normal interpretation. I nearly cut such passages out but in the end didn't, for I am sure that even if those additional thoughts which popped up of themselves are incorrect, they will receive the forgiveness of my readers for not being intentionally misleading. I will therefore leave them there for Dhamma students to investigate and consider.
These twenty-two Dhamma talks should be read and carefully considered, so as not to stray from the true way of practice in the foundations of mindfulness.
The teaching presented here follows the way found in the Discourse on the
Foundations of Mindfulness, which contains the essential and graduated steps
of practice. It is a way which those who practise respect and appreciate. However,
some people may charge that it is inappropriate and lacking benefit because
it brings a feeling of weariness and depression. It is rather likely that the
people who say this are actually afraid of realizing the truth. It's similar
to being fearful of the doctor's examination of one's illness or closing one's
eyes to the truth. This is not a characteristic of a clever person.
If you read this book, you will discover the truth of the 'knots' and problems that exist within yourself. In short, this can be described as the 'knot of suffering.' You may also then see the method to unravel and safeguard against this suffering. When actually trying out this practice, you will be able to cure your own suffering in accordance with the Buddha's Teaching. You will also experience a joy unknown before.
This book has already been reprinted many times in Thai. I therefore requested Bhikkhu Ariyesako and Bhikkhu Kantasilo to translate it into English so as to make it more widely available. I would now like to thank them both for bringing this work to completion and I hope it will be of benefit to all.
Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara