Mindfulness is rapidly being taken up in the modern world in psychology and psychotherapy, health care, mental health, education, the prison system and even government. There are today, in mid 2015, more than a hundred British Parliamentarians that have taken mindfulness training programs, and similar programs are available in the Dutch, EU and other parliaments. Thousands of research studies have been published on it. We hear about ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ (MBSR), ‘Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy’ (MBCT), mindfulness clinics in all major US medical centres, mindfulness in improving well-being and happiness in the workplace, and of course mindfulness as a spiritual technique. There is no doubt about its capacity to reduce pain, stress, mental disturbance and a variety of forms of human suffering, yet as with all deep teachings that reach mass culture, it has arrived often as a superficial and limited technique, disconnected from it rich sources, having lost a great deal of its subtlety and power on the way.
We need to constantly be reminded of the power and potential of authentic mindfulness, and we need to hear it from the most authoritative, wise and reliable source. We can hardly imagine a text more fitting for the task than this small book, Sammasati, and from such an authority as the Venerable Payutto, acknowledged to be one of the leading sages writing on Buddhism today.
Mindfulness is a translation of the word sati in the Pali language of the early Buddhist texts. Sati means to be aware of, to bring to mind, or to hold an object in our attention: it has an element of being present, and an element of returning or remembering. It’s opposite is distraction, forgetting and disconnecting. Before the translation to the English word mindfulness, the old-fashioned English word ‘recollection’ was used, which also suggests a movement of coming back to ourselves. It is a central practice of all Buddhist traditions, and indeed, in one form or another, the practice of being aware is part of all spiritual traditions.