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Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

A Reader recently wrote:

I was recently reading something and the author mentioned the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness.” What are these? The same as the Noble Truths?

My Answer:

No, the four foundations are not the Noble Truths, but they may look familiar to something we’ve seen before.

Theravada Buddhists use an ancient text called the Satipatthana Sutta, which means “foundation of mindfulness.” Other groups that rely heavily on meditation also use these teachings. The teachings contained in that sutta is more commonly known as the ‚ÄúFour Foundations of Mindfulness.‚Äù The full document is too long to include here, but I will include it in this week’s ‚ÄúWeekly Buddhism.‚Äù As usual, though, you don’t need to read the entire thing to learn the basic idea.

The four foundations are different types and sub-types of contemplation subjects to consider while meditating. Yes, it’s another ‚ÄúBuddhist List‚Äù:

  1. Contemplation on the Body, which includes contemplations on in-and-out breathing, posture, clear understanding, impurities, elements, and nine stages of corpses.
  2. Contemplation on the Emotions
  3. Contemplation on the Mind.
  4. Contemplation on the Teachings/Dharma, including contemplation on hindrances, aggregates, sense bases, enlightenment factors, and the Four Noble Truths.

If you want to compare these to the 40 meditation subjects we covered last month, you’ll see there is a lot of duplication. It’s essentially a different sect’s viewpoint on the same basic idea.

40 Meditation Themes Part 1 & 2:

Read the Satipatthana Sutta at: or next weekend in Issue #6 of the Weekly Buddhism.

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2 comments to Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  • Actually, it isn’t quite accurate to say that the Satipatthana-sutta is “a different sect‚Äôs viewpoint on the same basic idea” as the forty meditation subjects. Rather, the list of 40 subjects is basically a catalogue of the contents of that sutta, that was developed within the same [Theravada] tradition.

    The Satipatthana-sutta is part of the sutta-pitaka of the Pali canon, which contains the original teachings of the Buddha, transmitted orally for several hundred years prior to being written down. Somewhere around 400 AD Buddhaghosa, the great Ceylonese scholar who was as much as anyone responsible for codifying “orthodox” Theravada Buddhism, wrote the Visuddhimagga or “Way of Purification”, a description of the path to enlightenment that included a complete account of the Buddhist meditation practices of the time. Basically, his list of 40 subjects came from the Satipatthana-sutta; his descriptions were supplemented with commentaries based on a tradition of several hundred years of practice with these techniques.

    Nyanaponika Thera’s The Heart of Buddhist Meditation and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing are both book-length explications of the Satipatthana-sutta. Numerous others are available as well.

  • Well now, there ya go. I learned something new today!