The Buddha’s discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness, The Maha Satipatthana Sutta (the Great Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness) is remarkable that it opens with an initial assurance and concludes with a final guarantee. The assurance is that the four foundations constitute a Path that goes one way – and, one way only – and that is to the purification of beings, to the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, to the disappearance of pain and grief, to the attainment of the true way, to the realisation of Nibbana. The guarantee is that if anyone were to develop them at most for seven years or at least for seven days, one of two Fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now or, if there is a trace of clinging left, non-return.
Unlike in the heyday of Buddhism, the significance of these two striking features of the discourse is not fully appreciated by many who take up the practice of satipatthana (establishment of mindfulness) today. For them it is only a half-hearted pre-school training for attainments in some Buddha Sasana (the Buddha’s Dispensation) to come – a mere preference to be credited to some future account. Hence if someone rediscovered the relevance of the Buddha’s assurance and guarantee even today by treading the Path in earnest, it will indeed serve as heartening news to many.
The upasika (devotee) whose devotion to the practice of satipatthana forms, as it were, the central theme of this work, is one such rare witness to the validity of the Buddha’s assurance and guarantee. Though born in a non-Buddhist family, she developed such a profound interest in meditation that she found the need to re-assess her convictions in the light of Buddhist Scriptures. She discovered her first kalyanamitta (spiritual friend) in her own household assistant who gave her the first lessons in anapanasati (awareness of brearh, mindfulness of the breath). It was in her early seventies that she found her next kalyanamitta (spiritual friend) and guide, in the Meditation Master of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya (a forest monastery). From then onwards, it was for her a fully devoted and whole-hearted endeavour to attain the highest. As to how she attained what she attained in seven years of striving amidst household chores, maternal duties and infirmities of old age, her letters themselves will bear testimony.
Inspiring as her letters arc, we have some hesitation in placing them before the public at large and this for two reasons. First, there is a section of public opinion which looks down on such publications, casting serious imputations upon the persons concerned. This attitude is very often prompted by either Puritanism or obscurantism. Secondly, there are the risks involved in publicity, in the case of a meditator. Charlatans as well as the over-enthusiastic will flock in their hundreds out of idle curiosity, with little or no regard for a meditators love for solitude.
It might be disappointing for some readers, therefore, to find that we have kept her identity anonymous. But they are at full liberty to discover the secrets of her success through her own writings and for that, we may offer some clues too – perseverance, humility, obedience, gratitude.
Readers who tend to become curious about the identity of the upasika whose progress in meditation is revealed in these pages are, therefore, kindly requested to respect her anonymity.