Introduction to the four foundations of mindfulness

The origin of mindfulness is based on Buddhist teachings.

In the Greater Discourse on Steadfast Mindfulness, the Buddha explained four places in which mindfulness should be established.

If one wishes to walk on the path of awakening, it is necessary to understand and practice the four-fold mindfulness.

This article is a brief discussion of the four foundations of mindfulness.

Why should you establish the four foundations of mindfulness?

Everyone talks about the importance of developing mindfulness. It is generally defined as the ability to live in the present moment without being non-judgmental.

To enhance the clarity and focus, one can practice concentration meditation in day-to-day life.

However, the ultimate goal of a serious meditator should be to gain perfect knowledge and get rid of the cycle of rebirth.

When one meditates and gains insight, he will realize all the conditioned things in this world are impermanent, suffering, and have a selfless nature.

Therefore, he sees the cycle of rebirth as dangerous and unsatisfactory.

With the understanding of the true nature of life, He will keep on meditating.

He will develop concentration meditation and insight meditation. He will follow the path of awakening, starts with the four foundations of mindfulness.

What are the four bases of mindfulness?

  • Mindfulness of the body
  • Mindfulness of the feelings
  • Mindfulness of the mind
  • Mindfulness of mental objects

1. Mindfulness of the Body

What is mindfulness of the body?

According to the Buddhist discourse, there are 14 types of meditation that one can practice to develop mindfulness of the body.

I have discussed only a few of those meditation techniques.

·        Breathing meditation

Breath is an important tool that we can use to develop concentration.

To start practicing, find a quiet spot.

Keep the body comfortably and erected.

Gently close your eyes and start observing the natural incoming breath and outgoing breath.

In meditation centers yogis (meditators) practice breathing meditation at least 8 hours per day.

Then the mind becomes calm reducing the racing thoughts.

Gradually, it becomes soft and pliant enabling the realization of the reality of life.


·        Awareness of 4 postures of the body

The four postures in which one can develop mindfulness are walking, sitting, standing, and lying down.

If the meditator can be mindful of whatever the way the body disposed of, he can develop mindfulness all the time.

Usually, we think that mindfulness can only be established when we sit crossed legs.

However, sitting crossed legs is just one way to establish mindfulness.

Walking meditation, standing meditation, and meditation while lying down are perfect postures to cultivate it.

Basically, you can be mindful all the time in every posture.

·        Awareness of the elements of the body

The human body composed of 4 elements namely, hardness, fluidity, motion nature, and fire.

Without understanding the nature of the body, one cannot realize the truth pertaining to it.

We have an attachment toward the body that cannot be uprooted without gaining insight.

For example, if touch a bone or a tooth, all that you feel is hardness. That is called the earth element of the body. Other parts of the body such as; hair, flesh, nails, etc., have hardness.

If you touch some sweat, there is fluidity. That is called the water element of the body. Blood, urine, saliva, etc. also have the same nature.

The incoming and outgoing breath is the air element of the body.

The temperature you feel in the body is the fire element of the body.

Likewise, the body consists of four great elements meaning; hardness (paṭhavī), fluidity (āpo), fire (thejo), and air (vāyo).

If you observe the world outside, everything consists of the above four great elements. Rivers, trees, mountains, vehicles, etc. are nothing but a manifestation of the four great elements.

Every conditioned thing is subject to change. In the same way, the so-called body will change.

That is why an individual gets old, his hair becomes grey and his vision becomes poor, etc. Finally, he will die and leave the body one day.

It is very important to keep on understanding these realities because you can face the different phases of life with a strong mind.

The above are some of the meditation techniques one can practice establishing mindfulness of the body.

To get a thorough understanding of this, one needs to study and practice the Great Discourse on Steadfast Mindfulness.

For more details, read

2. Mindfulness of the feelings:

Feelings are of three types; pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Out of the three, at least the first two are obvious to us.

For instance, when we see someone dear to us, we have a pleasant feeling. When we see a difficult person in life, we get an unpleasant feeling.

Generally, we think I feel happy, I feel sad, my leg is paining, etc. We link the feeling to the person.

In reality, a feeling is just a feeling. There is no strand of ownership in the feeling. When you try to own the feeling such as “I don’t like that sound”, you will suffer.

Instead, just try to be aware of the feelings of the body.

Developing mindfulness on feelings is subtler than developing mindfulness of the body.

So a meditator can first try a meditation technique mentioned under the first category such as breathing meditation or meditation on the elements of the body to cultivate mindfulness.

When your concentration becomes deep, you can start the meditation on mindfulness of the feelings.

You can observe how the feelings originate on their own and pass away with time. You cannot keep them forever even if you like or dislike them.

3. Mindfulness of the mind:

Understanding the nature of the mind is even subtler.

Mind precedes everything and we talk and act according to what we think.

Understanding the phenomena of the mind is very important to a meditator because he can engage in wholesome deeds while abandoning unwholesome deeds.

This can be possible only if he understands the scope of the mind.

For instance, think about a time you get angry.

There needs to be an object of anger and unwise thinking that generated anger.

At the moment, the mind is full of negativities such as ill will, hatred, and anger.

Without understanding the causes of anger, we try to blame the object of anger.

When we recognize how the mind works, one need not surrender to the mind. He will easily tackle the complexities projected by the mind.

4. Mindfulness of the mind objects:

In establishing mindfulness of the mental objects, one has to focus on five hindrances that cover the clarity of the mind.

They are sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and uncertainty.

Other mental objects are five aggregates, six-fold internal and external sense media, seven factors of awakening, and the noble eightfold path.

Upon the conclusion, the establishment of mindfulness is a life-long practice that needs to be done with the endeavor, clear comprehension, and clarity of the mind.

One needs to do some reading on the above because most of the concepts are not familiar to us. Also, it is difficult giving the perfect definition in English for most of the Buddhist teachings.

When there is a lack of knowledge of the key concepts of insight meditation, you cannot put that into practice. Therefore, we should spend considerable time, if not the entire life, in learning and practicing these teachings for better results.


 Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

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