This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 5 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.
Slightly edited to improve readability
Attention rooted in reality, which is how I chose to translate yoniso manasikara, is more related to being present, using the mindfulness of the present. To know what is arising in terms of the reality that’s unfolding. That’s how you should see attention rooted in reality. But then there is the evolution of that, as it starts to progress to attention, informed by the four Noble Truths, or attention informed by Right View.
In the case when Right View is established in an arahant, at the level of feeling, they see what is arising with that attention rooted in reality. They automatically understand it to be impersonal, to be impermanent and not worth holding on to.
Mindfulness is translated from sati, which comes from the Sanskrit Smṛti. It is related to the English word of recollection, or memory. It’s remembering to keep one’s attention, or understanding where one’s attention is going, and then bringing it back to the object of meditation, in the case of meditation. Attention rooted in reality is just, in the passive sense of the word, the attention that one is using. But the mindfulness is the application of that attention to the mental object, or the object of meditation. So, when you have the application of using that intention towards the meditation object, that is mindfulness.
And then you have collectedness, which is the samadhi aspect. When that attention continuously flows towards the object of meditation, that creates a collected mind.
Attention, in that sense, is triggered, or kicked off, by mindfulness?
Yes, you can say that in the beginning it’s starting off with mindfulness. The mindfulness is the intention of paying attention. In the beginning process of meditation, when you start your meditating, you’re having the intention to pay attention to your object. That kicks it off. As your attention sways, you’re using the mindfulness to bring it back again.