Mindfulness is a wonderful and basic practice of the Buddha Dharma. If we think about it, it is necessary for everything we do. There are many teachings of this from Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha.
Without mindfulness we cannot fully address what we are doing. Instead, when we talk with someone our mind may be on other matters. Then we may not fully hear what is being said. Our replies will not be to the point. If we are with a family member or friend it is difficult to hear their heart if there is no practice of minduluness. When we do some physical work we make mistakes, cause an accident or not take care of tools and implements. Practising maindfulness is to focus on what is actually present in this moment and situation.
When this practice is started we become aware of our mind as well as our surroundings. It can be a surprise to discover how scattered the mind is. It will jump from one thought to another, often with no reasonable sequence. Random thought patterns will arise, even while we try to focus and think about something we are doing.
Buddha Dharma is something we practise. It may have many philosophies but what is important is how it can help us. When mindfulness is practised then mindfulness will improve. By practising mindfulness the mind will become more focused, Our distractions and vexations will subside. Concerns of how we have been and how we will be, fade as we have more energy for what we are doing right now. We can see how our energy is dissipated by these concerns of the past and future. We can find more vitality in practising a focused mindfulness with mind and energy.
In the Zen or Ch'an school there is the story of Dogen, as a young monk, seeing an old tenzo or cook in the monastery. The old tenzo was drying some vegetables in the sun. Here is Dogen's story of the situation.
'He carried a bamboo stick but had no hat on his head. The sun's rays beat down so harshly that the tiles of the walkway burned one's feet. He worked hard and was covered with sweat. I could not help but feel the work was too much of a strain for him. His back was a bow drawn taught, his long eyebrows were crane white.
I approached and asked his age. He replied he was sixty-eight years old. Then I went on to ask why he never used any assistants.
He answered "Other people are not me".
"You are right", I said. "I can see that your work is the activity of the Buddha- Dharma, but why are you working so hard in this scorching sun?"
He replied, "If I do not do it now, when else can I do it?"
There was nothing else for me to say.'
Here is a wonderful story of strong mindfulness of the tenzo. The young Dogen further wrote of the insight and significance that he saw and learnt. Here is an old monk doing what was needed to be done even though the situation was difficult with the heat and the strain on his sixty-eight year body.
I think the tenzo was so mindful that he was intimately assoicated with his work. "Other people are not me". His practice was so strong that he did not think about getting help. His practice was his alone. Others cound not do it for him. Of course it is fine to have help. Practising in a temple is supportive, but in the end we are responsible for our own practice even when we do it with others.
The tenzo also said "If I do not do it now, when else can I do it". Isn't this really taking responsibility for the situation? Something needed doing and he simply did it. Practising mindulness focuses the mind, energy and body. With this focus we are better able to give and be of help in our life situations.