Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom
Mindfulness interventions are becoming increasingly popular across a wide variety of clinical and non-clinical settings where they are often employed to promote psychological well-being. Mindfulness in its original context presented in Buddhist practice is used to systematically understand one’s moment-to-moment experience, and to gradually develop self-knowledge and wisdom. Buddhist teachings describe wisdom as seeing things just as they are - a requisite for the complete freedom from suffering. In psychological writings, although the construct of wisdom lacks a commonly accepted definition, direct experiential self-knowledge is considered to be an essential element of wisdom. The purpose of this article is to examine the three major trainings of the Buddhist path, as well as some of the key Buddhist theoretical constructs, in order to explore their contribution to the gradual development of experiential self-knowledge and wisdom. In Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is practised in the context of a moral and philosophical system, and the mind is described as a sequence of momentary mental states, each distinct and discrete, their connections with one another being causal. We explain how a clear understanding of mindfulness within the context of this broader theoretical framework can be helpful to individuals engaging in different levels of the mindfulness meditation practice, and how this understanding can result in more sustained outcomes for mindfulness interventions. Further explorations are made into how various barriers and motivators to mindfulness meditation can be better understood by linking the theoretical aspects with current research literature on mindfulness.
KeywordsMindfulness Meditation Self-knowledge Wisdom Attachment Subjective experience Buddhist psychology
The authors would like to thank Venerable S. Dhammika, Dr. Anjani Karunaratne and Dr. Paul Ritvo for reviewing an earlier version of this manuscript and providing helpful feedback. We also express our gratitude to a Buddhist meditation teacher in Sri Lanka who prefers not to be named, for providing guidance on theoretical aspects of Buddhist teachings.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Author Nandini Karunamuni declares that she has no conflict of interest. Author Rasanjala Weerasekera declares that she has no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
The authors received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
- Abhidhamma Pitaka. (2005). The Basket of Abhidhamma. Access to insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/abhi/index.html.
- Amaro, A. (2003). Small boat, great mountain: Theravadan reflections on the natural great perfection. Redwood Valley, CA: Abhayagiri Monastic Foundation.Google Scholar
- American Mindfulness Research Association. (2015). Publications. Retrieved from https://goamra.org/publications/.
- Anālayo, B. (2006). Satipatthana: The direct path to realization. Cambridge, UK: Windhorse.Google Scholar
- Bāhiya Sutta Ud1.10. (1994). Bāhiya. Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.1.10.than.html.
- Benson, H. (1976). The relaxation response. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
- Bodhi, B. (2006). The Noble Eightfold path: The way to the end of suffering. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved from http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh308.pdf.
- Bodhi, B. (2012). The numerical discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Bodhi, B., & Nārada, M. (2012). A comprehensive manual of Abhidhamma. Onalaska, WA. Pariyatti Publishing.Google Scholar
- Brahm, A. (2006). Mindfulness, bliss, and beyond: A meditator's handbook. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Buttle, H. (2015). Measuring a journey without goal: Meditation, Spirituality, and physiology. BioMed Research International. ID 891671. doi: 10.1155/2015/891671.
- Chah, A. (2007). Meditation: A collection of talks on cultivating the mind. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.Google Scholar
- Cook, E. W., Pasricha, S., Samararatne, G., Maung, U., & Stevenson, I. (1983). Review and analysis of "unsolved" cases of the reincarnation type: II. Comparison of features of solved and unsolved cases. The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 77(1), 45–62.Google Scholar
- Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491–516. doi: 10.1037/1053-04184.108.40.20610.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Deikman, A. (2000). A functional approach to mysticism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7(11–12), 75–92.Google Scholar
- Dhamma. (2005). Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/index.html.
- Dhammika, S. (1991). Good question, good answer. Singapore: Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society. Retrieved from http://www.goodquestiongoodanswer.net.
- Ellamil, M., Fox, K. C., Dixon, M. L., Pritchard, S., Todd, R. M., Thompson, E., & Christoff, K. (2016). Dynamics of neural recruitment surrounding the spontaneous arising of thoughts in experienced mindfulness practitioners. NeuroImage, 136, 186–196. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.04.034.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Garland, E. L., Farb, N. A., Goldin, R. P., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2015). Mindfulness broadens awareness and builds eudaimonic meaning: A process model of mindful positive emotion regulation. Psychological Inquiry, 26(4), 293–314. doi: 10.1080/1047840X.2015.1064294.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Gleig, A. (2012). Wedding the personal and impersonal in west coast Vipassana: A dialogical encounter between Buddhism and psychotherapy. Journal of Global Buddhism, 13, 129–146.Google Scholar
- Gotink, R. A., Chu, P., Busschbach, J. J., Benson, H., Fricchione, G. L., & Hunink, M. M. (2015). Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs. PloS One, 10(4), e0124344. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124344.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Gu, J., Strauss, C., Bond, R., & Cavanagh, K. (2015). How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 37, 1–12. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2015.01.006.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Gunaratana, H. (2011). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Hagen, S. (2013). Buddhism plain and simple: The practice of being aware, right now, every day. New York: Broadway Books.Google Scholar
- Haraldsson, E., & Samararatne, G. (1999). Children who speak of memories of a previous life as a Buddhist monk: Three new cases. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 63, 268–291.Google Scholar
- Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 537–559. doi: 10.1177/1745691611419671.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hyland, T. (2017). McDonaldizing Spirituality: Mindfulness, Education, and Consumerism. Journal of Transformative Education. doi: 10.1177/1541344617696972.
- Index of Similes. (2013). Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-similes.html.
- Insel, P., Ross, D., & McMahon, K. (2013). Nutrition. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.Google Scholar
- Jayatilleke, K. N. (1968). Survival and Karma In Buddhist Perspective. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved from: http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh141.pdf.
- Jayatunga, R. (2014). Let’s be Mindful. Ganemulla, Sri Lanka: Printwell Printers.Google Scholar
- Jazaieri, H., Lee, I. A., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. (2016). A wandering mind is a less caring mind: daily experience sampling during compassion meditation training. Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(1). doi: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1025418.
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Dell.Google Scholar
- Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2). doi: 10.1177/2158244015583860.
- Keng, S., Smoski, M. J., Robins, C. J., Ekblad, A. G., & Brantley, J. G. (2012). Mechanisms of change in mindfulness-based stress reduction: self-compassion and mindfulness as mediators of intervention outcomes. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 26, 270–280. doi: 10.1891/0889-83220.127.116.110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kessler, R. C., McLaughlin, K. A., Green, J. G., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., et al. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197(5), 378–385. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.080499.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., et al. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1123–1132. doi: 10.1177/0956797612470827.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kuyken, W., Watkins, E., Holden, E., White, K., Taylor, R., Byford, S., et al. (2010). How does mindfulness-based cognitive therapy work? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48, 1105–1112. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2010.08.003.
- Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism: How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.Google Scholar
- MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., et al. (2010). Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. Psychological science, 21(6), 829–839. doi: 10.1177/0956797610371339.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mahathera, N. (1933). Buddhism in a nutshell. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/narada/nutshell.html.
- Mendis, N.K.G. (1985). The Abhidhamma in Practice. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved from http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh322.pdf.
- Mills, A., Haraldsson, E., & Keil, H. H. J. (1994). Replication studies of cases suggestive of reincarnation by three independent investigators. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 88, 207–219.Google Scholar
- Ñanamoli, T. (2013). The Buddha’s Words on Kamma: Four Discourses of the Buddha from the Majjhima Nikaya. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/wheel248.html.
- Ñanamoli, B. & Bodhi, B. (1994). The Discourse on Right View: The Sammaditthi Sutta and its Commentary. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/wheel377.html.
- Ñanamoli, B., & Bodhi, B. (1995). The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Ñanananda, B. (2007). The Magic of the Mind: An Exposition of the Kalakarama Sutta. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.Google Scholar
- Nārada, T. (2006). Everyman’s Ethics: Four Discourses of the Buddha. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved from http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh014.pdf.
- Nelson, S. K., Della Porta, M. D., Jacobs Bao, K., Lee, H. C., Choi, I., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2015). ‘It’s up to you’: Experimentally manipulated autonomy support for prosocial behavior improves well-being in two cultures over six weeks. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(5), 463–476. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2014.983959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Nimitta Sutta AN3.100. (1998). Themes. Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.100.11-15.than.html.
- Nyanaponika, T. (2008). The three basic facts of existence. Collected essays: Parts I, II and II. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved from http://www.bps.lk/library_wheels.php.
- Nyanaponika, T. (2014). The heart of Buddhist meditation. San Francisco: Weiser books.Google Scholar
- Pasanno, A. & Amaro, A. (2009). The Island: An anthology of the Buddha’s teaching on nibbāna. Redwood Valley, CA: Abhayagiri Monastic Foundation.Google Scholar
- Penrose, R., & Mermin, N. D. (1990). The emperor’s new mind: Concerning computers, minds, and the laws of physics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Peters, J. R., Smart, L. M., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., Geiger, P. J., Smith, G. T., & Baer, R. A. (2015). Anger rumination as a mediator of the relationship between mindfulness and aggression: The utility of a multidimensional mindfulness model. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(9), 871–884. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22189.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Punnaji, M. (2016). Ascending the Supernormal Eightfold Way: Ariyamagga Bhavana. Nugegoda, Sri Lanka: Litho Printers.Google Scholar
- Rāhula, W. (1974). What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
- Ricard, M. (2008). Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill. New York: Little Brown.Google Scholar
- Rinpoche, D. T., Kunsang, E. P., & Schmidt, M. B. (1998). Carefree dignity: Discourses on training in the nature of mind. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications.Google Scholar
- Rodriguez, V. B., Melero-Llorente, J., Bayon, P. C., Cebolla, S., Mira, J., Valverde, C., & Fernandez-Liria, A. (2014). Impact of mindfulness training on attentional control and anger regulation processes for psychotherapists in training. Psychotherapy Research, 24, 202–213. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2013.838651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sahdra, B., Ciarrochi, J., & Parker, P. (2016). Nonattachment and Mindfulness: Related but Distinct Constructs. Psychological Assessment, 28(7), 819–829. doi: 10.1037/pas0000264.
- Samsara. (2005). The Round of Rebirth. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca1/samsara.html.
- Sayadaw, M. (1995). Satipatthana Vipassana. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/mahasi/wheel370.html.
- Sayadaw, U. P. (2002). In this Very Life: The Liberation Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and meditation awareness training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia and pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12(2), 181–196. doi: 10.1007/s11469-013-9460-3.Google Scholar
- Shroder, T. (1999). Old souls: the scientific evidence for past lives. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
- Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, A. N., Adkins, A. D., & Singh, J. (2011). Can adult offenders with intellectual disabilities use mindfulness-based procedures to control their deviant sexual arousal? Psychology, Crime and Law, 17, 165–179. doi: 10.1080/10683160903392731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Myers, R. E., Singh, A. N. A., Singh, A. D. A., & Singh, J. (2013a). Mindfulness-based treatment of aggression in individuals with intellectual disabilities: a waiting-list control study. Mindfulness, 4, 158–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014a). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138–152. doi: 10.1007/s11469-013-9469-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12(2), 153–168. doi: 10.1007/s11469-013-9471-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Soni, R. L. & Khantipalo, B. (2006). Life’s Highest Blessings: The Maha Mangala Sutta. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soni/wheel254.html.
- Sternberg, R. (2003). Wisdom, intelligence and creativity synthesized. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511509612.
- Stevenson, I. (1990). Phobias in children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 4, 243–254.Google Scholar
- Stevenson, I. (2000b). Unusual play in young children who claim to remember previous lives. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 557–570.Google Scholar
- Stevenson, I. (2006). Half a career with the Paranormal. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 20(1), 13–21.Google Scholar
- Stevenson, I., & Keil, J. (2005). Children of Myanmar who behave like Japanese soldiers: A possible third element in personality. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19, 171–183.Google Scholar
- Sumedho, A. (2011). The Mind and the Way: Buddhist Reflections on Life. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Teasdale, W. (1999). The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Novato, California: New World Library.Google Scholar
- Thanissaro, B. (2010). The Five Aggregates: A Study Guide. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/khandha.html.
- The Dhammapada. (1996). The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom. Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.intro.budd.html.
- The Thirty-one Planes of Existence. (2005). Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html.
- Thomsen, D. K., Mehlsen, M. Y., Olesen, F., Hokland, M., Viidik, A., Avlund, K., & Zachariae, R. (2004). Is there an association between rumination and self-reported physical health? A one-year follow-up in a young and an elderly sample. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 27(3), 215–231. doi: 10.1023/B:JOBM.0000028496.41492.34.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Tucker, J. B. (2005). Life before life: a scientific investigation of children’s memories of previous lives. Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Tucker, J. B. (2013). Return to life: Extraordinary cases of children who remember past lives. Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Vasquez, E.A., Pedersen,W.C., Bushman, B. J., Kelley, N. J., Demeestere, P., & Miller, N. (2013). Lashing out after stewing over public insults: The effects of public provocation, provocation intensity, and rumination on triggered displaced aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 39(1), 13–29. doi: 10.1002/ab.21453.
- Walshe, M. (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
- Williams, M. J., McManus, F., Muse, K., & Williams, J. M. (2011). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis): an interpretative phenomenological analysis of patients’ experiences. The British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 379–397. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8260.2010.02000.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar