One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”
“No,” answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No,” Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake,” Buddha replied.
Without mindfulness (also known as “sati” or “watchful mind”) we are only half awake. Without full awareness our spiritual lives are stagnant. We cannot improve and transform ourselves, appreciate others, or see life as it really is. As Thoreau writes, “Our life is frittered away by details.” Thus it is an aid to mindfulness to do only one thing at a time with full awareness, rather than attempting several things at once. “Simplify! Simplify!”
Loving Kindness Meditation helps awaken the ability to see and appreciate others more fully and objectively. It helps remove our cloudy and subjective reactions to them. We can also practice mindfulness by slowing down and fully noticing the richness of the experience of life. It is an awakening to the beauty of things as they really are. After all, this is the aim of Buddhist practice- to see things as they really are. Bodhicitta is the awakened mind, the mind of all buddhas which Buddhists aspire to.
As Vajragupta writes in Fully Awake With Mindfulness, “For example, to be aware of the truth of impermanence not just theoretically but as something deeply known, so that when confronted with death or change we respond with equanimity rather than horrified surprise. and our practice of all other levels of awareness), we can develop it along the way, too. By practicing Metta Bhavana, for instance, we become more aware of what others are really like, and our view of them is less colored by our own likes and dislikes, our fears and projections.”
In this excerpt from Walden, Thoreau poetically explains the importance of mindfulness and the awakened mind.
“It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? … If they had not been overcome with drowsiness they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. . .
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”
-Henry David Thoreau, Excerpted from Walden, Life in the Woods, 1854