Mindfulness and the Mind


What is mindfulness?

For a long time, I have felt that the way we talk about mindfulness is rather too vague. Of course, we all know it is important to be mindful. But if somebody said to you, “Be mindful!�” would you know precisely what sort of action was being urged upon you? It would be interesting to gather up readers’ answers to this question, and compare them. I am fairly sure that the ideas expressed would be relevant but surprisingly varied. Consequently, I’ve been feeling the need to clarify and articulate my own understanding of how the various practices that we call “mindfulness” fit together as a whole. This article is a bulletin on the present state of development of that understanding, which will no doubt unfold further.

To begin at the beginning, what is mindfulness in general terms? We can answer this question in two ways. Mindfulness may refer either to a particular quality of consciousness, or to the effort to create that quality of consciousness in oneself. We can thus think of it either as a process or as the final product of that process. But whether we are thinking of the product or the process, mindfulness clearly has to do with the highest possible lucidity and clarity of the mind.

One conclusion we might draw from this is that, in the final analysis, mindfulness is more or less equivalent to wisdom itself. But a lesson of more immediate practical import is that if we want to understand “mindfulness” we had better be clear about what we mean by “mind”. What then is the mind? There is of course a great deal that could be said in reply to this question. For the purposes of this article, however, we need to grasp two main points about the Buddhist conception of mind.

The first point can be stated briefly: mind is momentary. The Abhidharma describes mind in terms of a flow of “mind-moments” (citta), each one different from its predecessor. To grasp this is to realise that there can be no enduring self. In fact, a mind-moment is extremely brief in duration: each one is said to last for “one sixty-fourth of a finger snap”. Despite its seeming precision, I don’t suppose that we are meant to take this as an exact measurement. (How long exactly is a finger snap?) More likely, it is just a picturesque way of saying “the mind changes with inconceivable rapidity.”

But surely then, something that changes as rapidly as the mind must be very difficult to know? Difficult indeed. But at the same time — and this is the second main point we need to grasp — there is also a certain consistency in the nature of mind, a kind of regularity of pattern that makes it more knowable. According to the Abhidharma, the thing that we call “mind” consists of five factors or aspects. These are the five “omnipresent” mental events (sarvatraga caitta dharma). Wherever there is mind, all five events are present; and wherever all five events arise together, mind thereby arises.

Accordingly, if we want to understand the nature of mind, we have to learn something about these five events. For the sake of convenience, I will call them the five Constants — giving that word (and each of the Constants individually) a capital letter to remind you of the special sense in which I am using it.

You may find that the Constants seem strangely familiar. They are similar to the five skandhas described by the Buddha in the Suttas, so for anyone who has a good knowledge of basic Buddhism, what follows shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp.

The Five Constants

The first Constant is Contact (sparsha in Sanskrit). Contact is the meeting of a sense faculty with an object, together with the consciousness that arises from that meeting. For example, Contact is the eye registering forms, or the ear hearing sounds. But note that, at this stage, the mind has not yet identified the nature of those forms or sounds; nor has it developed an attitude towards them. Contact is said to be just the “bare illumination” of the object, without understanding or response.

Obviously, we experience many Contacts in each mind-moment. And they include not just the data that reach us from �the “external world” via the physical senses, but also the memories, thoughts and images that “pop up” into consciousness from some mysterious source within us. For Buddhism, the mind itself counts as an additional “sense faculty”.

The next Constant is Feeling (vedana) — a “hedonic” response that judges Contact as pleasant or painful. (A third possibility, neutral Feeling, is situated between the other two.) Pleasure and pain (sukha and duhkha) are inherent in the nature of consciousness. In human beings, they can take subtle, mental forms for which the Buddhist texts reserve the terms “joy�” and “sorrow” (saumanasya and daumanasya). But whether Feeling is physical or mental, consciousness always finds itself positioned somewhere on the spectrum of pleasure-pain.

Third comes Interpretation (samjna). This is the process whereby we fit the data of Contact into the vast network of information stored in our memory. Interpretation is the mental act of picking out a particular object, recognising its distinguishing features, and then assigning a label to it. Interpretation not only classifies the object, but associates with it relevant previous experiences. Let’s say, for example, Contact presents you with a small, hard, glossy, green-red sphere; Interpretation’s job is to search its database, offer the suggestion that this is an apple, and encourage you to think that it may be pleasantly sweet. Like the other Constants, Interpretation goes on all the time: its accuracy and quality are very variable, but it is always at work, organising the torrent of sense impressions into an intelligible world around us.

Fourthly, there is Will (cetana). Will is, for instance, the desire (whether acted upon or not) to bite into the apple. To put it more technically, Will is the way that we respond to Contact, Feeling and Interpretation. Will generally makes us either move towards the object or away from it. The choice mostly depends on the kind of Feeling — pleasant or unpleasant — that the object evokes in us. (A neutral Feeling tends to prompt indifference.) Within the broad category of Will falls the whole range of human emotion and volition.

However, I should immediately add that Will is much more than the conscious will. In a sense, it is the whole movement of the mind towards the world, and most of that movement is instinctive and unconscious. This is a vital point in Buddhist psychology. The world does not flow in upon our passive senses: rather our mind throws itself into the world. It is said that the mind �is “always hungry” — is always looking for something to engage and satisfy itself with. Anyone can glimpse this in the everyday experience of boredom. And those who try to meditate soon get to know the mind’s hunger particularly well.

The fifth Constant is Attention (manaskara). Of all the Constants, this is perhaps the hardest to understand and explain, partly because the accounts given of it vary. It is very significant that in certain Abhidarma accounts of the Constants, the word for “Attention” (manaskara) is replaced by citta — which of course is the word for the mind-moment as a whole. Likewise, Attention is also said to “bind together” the remaining Constants. It therefore seems that, unlike the other four, Attention is not so much a “component” of the mind-moment, as something that characterises it in its totality.

What then, exactly, does the concept of “Attention” add to the basic concept of the “mind-moment”? The literal meaning of manaskara — “mind making” — gives us a clue. It highlights the fact that consciousness isn’t simply a passive registering of experience but rather an active construction of experience. Attention could therefore be defined as the union of the four other Constants in the “act” of consciousness, an act that is performed afresh in every moment, and is cast in the form of a subject attending to an object. (H V Guenther conveys some sense of this with his translation of manaskara as “egocentric demanding”.)

The Constants are, by definition, all present in each mind-moment. However, as you will have gathered by now, they also produce one another in a causal sequence, distributed over a number of mind-moments. We are at every moment experiencing new Contacts, while also experiencing the Feeling and so on produced by previous Contacts.

These then are the five Constants, in bare outline. You can find a much fuller discussion of them in Sangharakshita“s Know Your Mind, or in the second of the sequence of nine talks that I gave on the 2001 Order Convention (the recording of which is available from [Free Buddhist Audio]). In the present context, I have limited my explanation of them to what is necessary as a basis for my discussion of mindfulness.

The Constants and karma-vipaka

It is important to understand the part that each of the Constants plays in the workings of karma. Karma has two aspects: karma-creation (which is the strict meaning of the word karma) and karma-result (properly called vipaka). In order to appreciate fully how mindfulness applies to the Constants, we must first see where each Constant belongs within this two-sided process. Or at least, we must do so with regard to the first four Constants — Contact, Feeling, Interpretation and Will. (If Attention is, as I have suggested, essentially the unity of the other four, then by assigning each of them a place in the scheme of karma-vipaka we will, in effect, also show the relation of Attention to that scheme.)

Not everything that happens to us is a result of karma. But insofar as they belong in the realm of karma-vipaka, Contact and Feeling both count as vipaka. To that extent, they are “given”: we have no immediate control over them. True, we can educate our Feeling to some extent: we can learn to enjoy things that we once disliked, and to loath things we once enjoyed. However this flexibility only operates within certain limits, and even within those limits it is usually a gradual process. For the most part, you can’t change the Feeling that is arising in you right now.

Will, by contrast, is our emotional and volitional response to experience. Admittedly, it often seems to us that we cannot control such responses; but that belief just reflects our spiritual laziness. Sooner or later we have to face the fact that that we are fully responsible, not just for our actions but also for our desires. We can’t stop life producing pleasure and pain in us. Nevertheless, we can refrain from getting addicted to pleasures, and chasing after them. Likewise, when something or someone hurts us, the choice is ours whether to respond with rage and resentment or with patience and understanding. We do have a lot of control over this in the present moment. Will is therefore a matter of karma, and not of vipaka.

Interpretation is a more complex case. In large part, it resembles Contact and Feeling in being automatic and beyond immediate control. Indeed, insofar as Interpretation informs us impartially of the nature of things, we would not want to tamper with it. (What would be the point of “choosing” to perceive the apple as, say, a tennis ball?) But there is also a “higher” level of interpretation that involves more complex inferences and judgements. Far from being neutral, the information we get from this level of Interpretation can be very unreliable. For example, the judgement, “They’re laughing at me” could be completely mistaken — and dangerous. This kind of Interpretation is much more malleable to Will than the first kind. Interpretation then, is partly a matter of vipaka, partly of karma.

For the practical purposes of Mindfulness, the Constants thus divide into three kinds: Contact and Feeling are vipaka; Will is karma; Interpretation has a foot in both camps: it is partly vipaka, but to the extent that it is malleable to Will, it is also partly karma. As we will see, these distinctions are very relevant to the following analysis of mindfulness.

In Buddhist discourse, there are three terms that together map the field of mindfulness. They are (in their Sanskrit form) smrti, samprajanya and apramada. Each of the three (particularly smrti) is sometimes used generically (i.e. it can mean “mindfulness” in the broad sense I outlined at the start). But each one also has its own specific shade of meaning. To bring out that meaning, I will translate smrti as “Attentiveness”, samprajanya as “Awareness”, and apramada as “Vigilance”.

My next task is therefore to explore each of these three concepts, and show how they are related to the Constants and the karma-vipaka process. Will my exposition be “orthodox”? Well, I imagine that most Buddhists would be happy to agree that the three kinds of mindfulness I am going to describe are all valid and important. And although they might find that my distribution of meaning between the three terms does not quite accord with their particular tradition, such discrepancies are inevitable, given the divergent paths by which Buddhist schools have gone their ways across India and Asia in the course of some two and a half millennia.


Let�s begin with Attentiveness or smrti (the Pali form is sati, of course, but since most of my research has been in the Yogacara Abhidharma, ’�ll use the Sanskrit here). Of the three words, it is probably smrti that crops up most frequently in Buddhist texts. Smrti literally means “memory” or “recollection”. But this meaning relates to smrti as a generic word, rather than in the specific sense I now wish to define.

Attentiveness is Mindfulness applied to the bare facts of experience — that is, to Contact and Feeling. The practice of Attentiveness consists literally in attending to those data in their raw form, before they start to be processed by Interpretation and Will.

Attentiveness is thus, on the one hand, the effort to become more conscious of what your senses are telling you. On the other hand, Attentiveness is also the effort to “be in touch“ with Feeling. But remember that “Feeling” here means only the quantum of pleasure or pain (or joy or sorrow) produced by Contact. It does not include the emotional/volitional response to that pleasure or pain. Attentiveness to Feeling simply means knowing clearly whether your body is comfortable or uncomfortable, whether the taste in your mouth nice or nasty, whether you find the colour of the wallpaper soothing or jarring, whether the words you have just heard spoken please or displease you, and so on.

Accurate knowledge of Contact and Feeling is extremely important. We can’t take such knowledge for granted. Precisely because each Mind-moment arises as a single act of “Mind-making”, we usually fail to distinguish clearly its component elements of Contact, Feeling, Interpretation and Will. Usually, as soon as Contact and Feeling arise, we quickly wrap them up inside our Interpretation of them, without examining them carefully. Will then reacts to that. Consequently, we very often misjudge the raw data of our experience, and live our life on the basis of the secondary level of Interpretation. In other words, we act from prejudice and habit, failing to see clearly what is in front us.

Imagine for instance that you hear a loud knocking on your office door. Before you have even opened it, you know that it is X, and you immediately tense up for a scuffle, because you are sure that he is up to mischief. X is a very aggressive person, or so you think, and he rather despises you. The loud knocking just confirms his mood. You guess that he has discovered a certain error in your work — a gaffe, concealed until now, that has been troubling your self-esteem — and now he is going to enjoy taking you down a peg. You feel a pang of loathing for him, and wonder anxiously whether anyone else will be in the outer office to overhear the embarrassing scene that is about to ensue. Even before your hand has reached the doorknob, the words of a cutting riposte have begun to take shape in your mind.

Actually, the truth is that X isn’t aggressive at all, just very open and forthright. And in fact, he thinks quite well of you, although it’s true he does tease you a bit (but no more than he does everybody else). And in any case, when you open the door, you do not see X at all, but your boisterous friend from down the corridor, whose exuberant banging at the door expressed his enthusiasm to pass on some excellent news.

Very often, what we think we are hearing is very different from what we are actually hearing. Likewise, what we see is not what we think we see. Interpretation is constantly constructing around us a world of innumerable half-truths — and quite a few utter falsehoods. The function of Attentiveness is to heighten our awareness of Contact and Feeling, so that a gap opens up between them and Interpretation.

As we have seen, Interpretation has two aspects. The primary level is the almost mechanical functioning of our perceptual apparatus. We may be able to let go of this level in deep meditation, but in daily life it just operates automatically. There is also, however, a higher, secondary level that is more conceptual and more tractable to the conscious Will. Attentiveness in daily life therefore consists in trying to hold this secondary level of Interpretation in abeyance as much as possible. You can’t entirely suppress it, but you can deprive it of fuel, so to speak, by keeping a firm hold on the raw data of Contact and Feeling, and discerning what those data do and do not contain. The Buddhist tradition — as represented for example by the Satipatthana Sutta — generally recommends that we start by cultivating Attentiveness to Contact (focussing in particular upon bodily sensations). As you get more in touch with Contact, the scope increases for developing Attentiveness to Feeling.

Attentiveness is to be developed both in this general way, throughout one’s daily comings and goings, and also in a more intensive way through meditation. In the Mindfulness of Breathing, for example, you attend to the sensations of the breath. In fact you try to attend to them so minutely that you suspend or attenuate not only the secondary level of Interpretation, but even the primary one. In other words, you may slip out of the habitual process through which you mentally label the breathing as “breathing”. In this state, your sense of your surroundings, and even of your body, may recede to the periphery of your consciousness, as the breath itself becomes something fascinatingly unfamiliar. It becomes “pure” in the sense that it has been stripped of its usual Interpretative packaging. Instead of appearing as part of the routine furniture of a world shaped by appetite and ego, the breath can become something mysterious and indefinable, something that has escaped even from the framework of space and time.

The more experience we have of this intense, meditative form of Attentiveness, the more we can bring a general Attentiveness to bear upon our doings in everyday life. We can thus learn, at moments of emotional arousal or stress, to suspend our automatic habits of Interpretation, and come back to the only thing that we securely “know�” — the bare data of experience-as-experience, as opposed to our secondary “working up” of that experience into the fantasies and speculations of Interpretation. To go back to my example, the practice of Attentiveness allows us to hear a knock on the office door as simply a knock on the office door, and to surround that experience with a kind of openness. If the thought “I am under attack!” arises at all, we will recognise its secondary, fabricated nature, and treat it questioningly, putting our Vigilance on the alert to protect us against the arising of unskilful states.

Attentiveness is the foundational aspect of Mindfulness. This doesn’t mean that one must focus exclusively on Attentiveness, while postponing the practice of Awareness and Vigilance until “later on”. In fact it is vital to practise all three forms of Mindfulness as much as one can right from the start of one’s spiritual life. However, until one has built up a strong capacity for Attentiveness, the practice of Awareness and Vigilance won’t have much power or delicacy.


Sometimes, when one reads or hears discussions of Mindfulness, one gets the impression that Attentiveness — “being in the present moment” — is the whole story. But we exist not in isolation, but in a world with other beings. Consequently, while we can “hold off” Interpretation and Will to some extent, we cannot function without them entirely. The more one thinks of Mindfulness exclusively in terms of Attentiveness, the more one risks weakening one’s sense of the wider context of one’s practice.

Very few people — even Buddhists — meditate as a full-time occupation. We may meditate at some point every day, and go on retreat from time to time, but at other times most of us have jobs to do, and many have families to look after, too. Consider the example of work. Let’s say that your work involves loading boxes onto shelves. Will it really help you to believe that mindfulness consists of nothing but Attentiveness to the sensations of the box in your hands — its weight and the smooth, hollow feel of the cardboard? I don’t think so, because your relation to the box goes beyond that: you have to get it up on the shelf! No doubt you will benefit if, at certain times, you try to bring a bit more Attentiveness to the physical sensation of doing so. But if you take that practice so far that it leads to a ten percent fall in the number of boxes you load, you may find that it brings you more troubles than blessings. Attentiveness therefore needs to be located within a wider frame of intelligent awareness. This wider frame is designated by the word samprajanya.

Samprajanya (or sampajanna in Pali) is formed from the root jna, which expresses the idea of cognition or knowledge. It is related to prajna (“wisdom”) and jnana (“knowledge”) — words we may be more familiar with. It is also — significantly for the present discussion — related to samjna (what I am calling “Interpretation”) Pra is an emphatic prefix, reinforcing the meaning of the main word, and sam is a prefix that means “together”. The meaning of samprajanya is therefore something like “complete knowing”. The English word “comprehension” (which derives from a Latin term meaning to “grasp” something) is often used to translate samprajanya. However, I think we need a word that suggests not only the idea of “understanding” but also the idea of “not-forgetting”. “Mindfulness” would be appropriate — but we have already chosen that as our generic word. I will therefore render samprajanya as “Awareness”. According to the OED, to be “aware” of something is to be “informed, cognizant, conscious, sensible” of it.

Awareness is Mindfulness as applied to the third Constant — Interpretation. Attentiveness can lead us to a sense of standing outside time, but the practice of Awareness is more to do with maintaining Mindfulness in or through time. It is the unceasing, moment-by-moment effort to bring our Interpretation in line with reality.

Awareness operates on a hierarchy of levels. We can usefully distinguish five such levels, which I will designate as (i) functional Awareness (ii) Awareness of purpose, (iii) Awareness of means, (iv) Awareness of practice and (v) Awareness of Reality. I should mention that while the last four are thoroughly traditional (they are to be found in the Pali commentarial tradition) the first is my own addition to the list.

By functional Awareness I mean the ability to discern clearly what something is, and to label it correctly, within conventional terms. This includes, for example, knowing where you are and what time it is. This level is taken for granted (and therefore ignored) in the traditional accounts, but I find that it can be helpful to acknowledge it explicitly. I have met some earnest Buddhist practitioners who are strangely lacking in this “functional Awareness”. They have some capacity to bear their spiritual practice in mind, but can be utterly oblivious to the fact that they frequently disrupt other people’s meditation by arriving in the shrine-room late!

The second level — and this is where the traditional analysis begins — is Awareness of purpose. This does not just refer to spiritual purposes; it includes all your mundane aims too. If you are the sort of person who sometimes walks into the kitchen or the garage, only to realise that you have already forgotten what it was you came for, you then you probably need to do some work on this level of Awareness. It is the faculty by which we are able to keep clearly in mind what we are trying to achieve, without getting sidetracked.

The third level — Awareness of means (sometimes called “Awareness of suitability”) — is very closely related to Awareness of purpose. We need not only to keep in mind what we want to achieve, but also the ability to judge whether we are using the most appropriate means to that end.

Then fourthly, there is Awareness of practice. This assumes that you have a spiritual commitment, and that in order to fulfil that commitment you have chosen to live and behave in a certain way, and to do certain things, including formal spiritual practices, such as meditation. In other words, you have decided to cultivate certain states of mind. Those states of mind are surely going to be the content of your meditation, but you will also want them to pervade your consciousness, as far as possible, at other times too. Naturally, the specific content of this effort will change over time. At one time you may be focussing on reducing craving, for example, while at another you may be more concerned to develop loving-kindness. But at any time, there is always something that is the spearhead of your attempt to develop yourself, something that you are trying to stay in touch with in every situation.

Traditionally, this aspect of Awareness is called “comprehension of the subject of meditation”. So if, for example, your main meditation practice is currently the Mindfulness of Breathing, your “Awareness of practice” will consist of the attempt to remember to bring Attentiveness to your breath at frequent intervals throughout the day. But Awareness of practice also goes a bit deeper than that. It should include a sense that you are not doing the mindfulness of breathing for its own sake, but in the service of some spiritual goal: perhaps to develop concentration (samatha) and freedom from the hindrances. For spiritual life to be effective, there should always be a particular spiritual aim that you are pursuing.

That spiritual aim needs to be derived from some aspect of your Awareness of Reality (asamoha samprajanya: literally, “Awareness of non-delusion”). This is the fifth and highest level of Awareness. At the point of Stream Entry, of course, Awareness of Reality begins to be direct, intuitive and non-conceptual. But until that point, it has to be expressed through some kind of representational system — what we could call a “reality view”. Broadly speaking, a reality view consists of either a set of ideas, or a set of symbols, or some combination of the two. Such things are necessary to “mediate” between your actual existence and your ideal. Buddhist sadhanas — visualisations of deities and recitation of mantras — are an instance of the symbolic kind of “reality view”. In contrast, the Abhidharma systems on which this article is based are complex and sophisticated examples of the conceptual kind.

Whatever set of concepts or symbols you use, Awareness of Reality needs to be present in your life in some form, to direct and sustain your Awareness of practice. When that happens, your Awareness of practice can infuse and clarify your Awareness of purpose and means, which in turn can permeate and strengthen your functional Awareness. In this way, the whole range of your Interpretation is gradually transformed by Awareness, and so becomes more and more imbued with your understanding of the way things really are.

We therefore need to be as clear as possible about what our “reality view” is. Of course, this doesn’t mean neatly reducing it to a single formula, or trying to pin it down in legalistic precision and detail. Our reality view should not be fixed, but evolving and deepening all the time. It therefore needs fluidity and flexibility, but these qualities are by no means the same as vagueness and incoherence. I think that it is very important to have a relatively well worked-out “reality view” as a framework shaping and informing one’s practice. That view will ultimately give one direct access to reality itself.

A lot could be said on the question of how to cultivate Awareness: so much that it would be impractical to try to deal fully with such a vast topic here, and I will have to confine myself to briefly indicating a few things. Obviously, study of and reflection on the Dharma is vital to developing a “reality view”. The effort to define (and periodically review) one’s spiritual objectives is essential to Awareness of practice (and clearly, solitary reflection and discussion with spiritual friends will usually be vital parts of that effort). In addition, there are many methods — the use of “mindfulness triggers” for example — by which we can try to carry our sense of our spiritual purposes into all our routine activities.


Finally then, we come to apramada (or in Pali, appamada), the third of the three aspects of Mindfulness. You may recognize this word if you have ever heard the Buddha‘s last utterance quoted in Pali: appamadena sampadetha (With mindfulness, strive on). That was perhaps an instance of the word being used in the “generic” sense But like the other two terms, apramada also has a very specific meaning. It is formed from a root word (mada) that refers to drunkenness, intoxication, or even madness. (We come across this word in the last of the five precepts: surameraya majja pamadatana.) The literal meaning of apramada is therefore something like “non-intoxication”, or “non-heedlessness”. It definitely suggests a state of being “on watch” against spiritually dangerous mental states. I shall therefore translate apramada as “Vigilance”.

Vigilance is the faculty that is awake to the moral quality of one’s volitions, a steady receptivity to the messages delivered by conscience. It means being on guard against the arising of the kleshas, the “defilements” or “afflictions” — unwholesome emotions that produce negative karma. In terms of the Constants, Vigilance is therefore concerned with Will.

In the abstract, we “know” that negative emotions like craving, rage or resentment are the enemies of our spiritual goals. The trouble is, they so often take us off guard. And once they have arisen, they are very hard to subdue, at least for a time. Prevention would be much better than cure. But unfortunately, all too often we simply don’t see them coming, because we are not practising Vigilance. How then do we develop Vigilance? The main practice here is confession. A lot can be said about this topic. However, as I have already said it elsewhere, I don’t need to go into the subject here.*

Apart from confessional practice, one can also strengthen Vigilance by cultivating the habit of asking oneself moral questions. For example, by asking, “What is the moral quality of the mental state arising within me right now?”

Such then are the three forms of Mindfulness: Attentiveness, Awareness and Vigilance.

Attentiveness is the effort to discern, clearly and steadily, the actual content of Contact and Feeling, suspending the habitual patterns of Interpretation that constrain and even distort them. Attentiveness therefore means “being in the present moment”, calmly but vividly. It is a discipline that restores freshness to our experience of everyday things, reinvesting existence with newness.

Awareness is the cognitive dimension of Mindfulness. It brings us from the timeless moments of Attentiveness back into the flow of time, but equipped now with clearer understanding. While Attentiveness seeks to put aside Interpretation, or at least hold it at bay, Awareness is the ongoing endeavour to educate and reconstruct Interpretation in the light of our truest understanding of things. To practice Awareness is to stay in touch with that understanding, so that it informs our actions in each moment of the day. By purifying Interpretation, the ultimate function of Awareness is to destroy ignorance and replace it with wisdom.

Vigilance operates within the framework of understanding created by Awareness. Vigilance is like a protector, keeping guard over Will (i.e. the emotional-volitional side of the mind). Its ultimate aim is thus to eliminate greed and hatred and replace them with compassion.

The value of the model I have outlined — the threefold model of Mindfulness as comprised of Attentiveness, Awareness and Vigilance — is that it relates the various dimensions of mindfulness to our understanding of the mind as a whole. And as a result, the model also makes it clear that it is not enough to cultivate one of those dimensions alone: we need to make an effort to develop all three.