Are You Awake But Wilfully Unmindful?

The more mindful we are,
the more alive we are.


On the feeder bus to the subway station after work today, I was wondering what to write for this week’s article in this column. I whipped out my phone and surfed some news for inspiration. Tired from not sleeping enough last night, I dozed off, with the phone in my hand. What seemed like a few minutes later, I felt a nudge. The man sitting on the inside of the double-seater had stood up and was pushing his way to get out without warning. Rudely awakened, I moved to let him through, while saying softly enough for him to hear – ‘You could say “Excuse me”?’ Suddenly, he glared at me and snapped, ‘Bloody hell! You were playing with your phone!’ I replied sheepishly, ‘I fell asleep.’ He didn’t buy it. As he exited the bus, he continued glaring at me through the window. I gave him a salute. A gesture of apology and respect it was, but in his foul mood, it is even likely that he sees it as sarcasm?

In a recent Dharma class, I was sharing on how the lack of awareness causes needless suffering to oneself and others. This incident is a good example. On my part, my lack of awareness in mindfully reading made me doze off, thus conditioning the unhappiness. On the man’s part, his lack of awareness made him assume I was wide awake and engrossed in a game, to the extent of ignoring him. If he was more mindful, he would have noticed that my phone was displaying only text, and that I was nodding off. Surely, blaming someone asleep for not seeing one is hardly fair. To be fair, perhaps he did say ‘Excuse me’ loudly, while I was too switched off? We’ll now never know… The man was so unmindful of what could had gone wrong, despite an explanation, that he continued to suffer from anger. He assumed I was someone ‘awake but wifully unmindful’. But isn’t this person exactly him?

We all have the choice – of how long we wish to torment others and ourselves with our lack of awareness. Yet, ironically, those who suffer the most from the lack of awareness are seldom aware of this choice, while they unmindfully, and thus seemingly choicelessly create misery for oneself and others. The least mindful are thus by default the least happy. On the other end of the spectrum are the Buddhas, who have perfected their mindfulness of all phenomena, who have realised True Happiness, as expressed by their ever radiant smiles. Many years ago, I would have been pissed off by the man’s behaviour, and probably snapped back. This round, I was only taken aback. Thankfully, there was enough awareness not to add fuel to the fire of the man’s anger. With some mindfulness, Dharma inspiration for writing can strike at the most unexpected moments. This is one of such! – Shen Shi’an

Without awarenss that we cause our own suffering,
we can never cease our suffering.



  • I saw a similar incident today in the train as well. The lady was shouting “excuse me” rather angrily because there were some “unawared” people near the train door playing either with their handphones or perhaps dozing off.

    I hope that lady won’t have a foul mood because of such unintentional inconvenience.

    You are quite brave to say it softly to that man. If I were you, I won’t even dare to correct his action.

  • Coincidentally, I also made a mindfulness blunder yesterday while replying to an email. I wasn’t mindful of the other party’s situation and blindly made a suggestion. Then when he replied with a question and while I was typing a reply, it suddenly dawned on me where my suggestion would lead to. Luckily he was my sibling so I have some liberty to ask him to ignore my writing. So, I think we not only should be awake and mindful to a stranger but even more so to our closed ones!

  • as a new buddhist of some 6 months, i still find it strange that someone would analyse rudness in that way, my celtic responce would have been to tell the angry one to f*** off and left it at that.

    ngo phat

  • Hmmm… with calm and clear analysis, no one would have to suffer. Amituofo


  • State of unawareness = Unenlightened?
    Maybe because we are still attached to things and our beliefs, that’s why we are still unenlightened.

    Yes, sufferings are caused by our own selves and ego, assumptions, etc
    But if the person had self-cultivated, perhaps he would have realized it’s not worth it to lose his temper.

    One of my previous encounters was last year, a woman (‘auntie’) pushed through people on the train when she reached her exit. She didn’t even say ‘excuse me’ and anyhow push. She pushed my classmate and never say sorry, my classmate just said ‘really too much!’ in Mandarin.

    Are some of us really ‘zhi mi bu wu’?

  • Not long ago, I came upon some of Shengyan 法师 ‘s teachings, a couple of which resurfaces in my mind frequently. Paraphrasing, one of them talks about adversity being our best teacher. I’ve since started treating nasty and difficult people or situations as my teacher dishing out surprise tests to enable me to do a reality check on my propensity to generate bad karma through my body, speech and mind.

    The other useful one is about treating everyone as a Boddhisattva but ourselves as a 凡夫 which I interpret to be an ordinary unenlightened being. Through this, I try to see difficult people as infallible Boddhisattvas and myself as the one with the problem – the one who needs to cultivate mindfulness of body, speech and mind. Otherwise I may unwittingly generate negative karma. I remember reading somewhere about what the Dalai Lama once said: That we should be grateful to all beings (including our adversaries) because they are the ones who provide us with the conditions to cultivate and practice to become a more skillful person. Amituofo

  • For the first, I think it’s part of your self-cultivation, to cultivate the perfection of patience (& ultimately, other perfections as well.)

    For the second, this can prevent arrogance in your cultivation, I believe.. 🙂 I recall this story of a conversation between a monk and a king. The monk told the king he sees the king as a Buddha to him, the king replied saying he sees the monk as a ‘piece of shit’, and the monk said the phrase ‘a buddha sees everyone as a buddha; whereas a piece of shit sees everyone as a piece of shit’. =)

    Another aspect of this could be equality in treatment of all sentient beings.


  • The title caught my attention for further reading as it reminds me of myself that how wildfuly unmindful I can at times. And it also helps me to reflect on how easy that one can fall in the trap of being unmindfulness.

  • TO become aware, live in the moment, to watch your thoughts, feelings and sensual sensations as they are, calmly and clearly, before responding to them.


  • To be aware is to see things as they are but ultimately it’s only from our own perspective, which may be wrong.
    Sometimes it’s good to be “70% awake but 30% ignorant”. In that way, we won’t take ourselves too seriously.

  • Fearless tenderness; Sad and tender heart, raw and beautiful heart you are willing to share with others…

  • Develop the mind of equilibrium.
    You will always be getting praise and blame,
    but do not let either affect the poise of the mind:
    follow the calmness, the absence of pride.

    ~ The Buddha (Sutta Nipata)

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