Mindfulness is not Sati?

Many people  (especially those who intensively try to put the Buddhas eightfold path into practice) have thought about the meaning of samma sati or “right mindfulness”. In fact, the meaning of this important aspect of Buddhist practice had troubled me for a long time 🙂 (1)

The problem occurs when we start looking closer at the oldest Buddhist scriptures available, the Pali texts and look for the meaning and connotations of this important Buddhist term. Before we begin, however,  a very short introductory remark:

Why is ‘sati’ so important with regard to the path to Nibbana?

Because it is at the center core of the entire Buddhist meditation:

“Now what is concentration, lady, what is its topic, what are its requisites, and what is its development”

“Singleness of mind is concentration, friend Visakha; the four foundations of sati are its topic; the four right efforts are its requisites; and any cultivation, development, & pursuit of these qualities is its development.” [Dhamma Dinna in MN 44]

So, what is wrong with translating sati as mindfulness? Well for one, the word does mean something different, as almost any pali dictionary would show:

Sati (f.) [Vedic smṛti: see etym. under sarati2] memory, recognition, consciousness, D i.180; ii.292; Miln 77 — 80; intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness, alertness, lucidity of mind, self — possession, conscience, self — consciousness D i.19; iii.31, 49, 213, 230, 270 sq.; A i.95; Dhs 14; Nd1 7; Tikp 61; VbhA 91; DhsA 121; Miln 37; etc. [link]

and under sarati we find:

Sarati2 [smṛ, cp. smṛti=sati; Dhtp 248 “cintā”; Lat memor, memoria=memory; Gr. me/rimna care, ma/rtu witness, martyr; Goth. maúrnan=E. mourn to care, etc.] to remember D ii.234; Vin i.28; ii.79; J ii.29. …. — Caus. sāreti to remind Vin ii.3 sq., 276; iii.221; sārayamāna, reminding J i.50; ppr. pass. sāriyamāna Vin iii.221; w. acc. D ii.234; w. gen. Dh 324; J vi.496; with foll. fut. II. (in ˚tā) Vinii.125, 4; iii.44, 9, etc. — Caus. II. sarāpeti Vin iii.44; Miln 37 (with double acc.), 79. [link]

Well, what the heck does remembering (->sati, nominalized from the verb sarati, to remember) or remembrance have to do with mindfulness?

There are two ways we can solve this mystery: We can look at the actual meditation technique the Buddha wanted us to perform and which he used the term sati for. From there we look at our experience and chose the best English equivalent which comes to our mind. Think Vipassana. Think Noting. Though many people will think “slow motion” and mistake it for sampajanna, but more about this below.

The other approach is a linguistic / historic approach. And though in terms of practice the Vipassana exercises have always made sense to me, especially compared to the instructions by the Buddha found in hundreds of Suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya  etc… i always wondered about the linguistic puzzle – sati seemed to imply something different than ‘mindfulness’. Either the term was not translated precise enough or some background information felt missing.

Nowadays when we are interested in practicing mindfulness in a Buddhist context we tend to think about Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and Ledi Sayadaw and Goenka retreats who brought the Vipassana Meditation from the jungle back into mainstream Theravadan teaching. Whenever you have a chance and study their explanations on how to put the Sati Patthana Sutta into practice they will talk about “Labelling” or “Noting” sense impressions (and in their pali expositions will use the term sallakheti – as did Ven. Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhimagga (2).

But back to the use of sallakkheti. Where did this term come from? While the Commentarial literature uses the term sallakheti, meaning “to label”, when describing the intrinsics of Vipassana practice, sure the Buddha never did! He never used a word like sallakkheti but sati instead! Hence the scepticism of so many people in the beginning towards Burmese vipassana. So, where is the connection, what are we missing?

It is literacy!

Why would the Buddha make use of a term of which basically no one at his time had any practical experience with? Writing, though known, was only used for correspondences between kings – on a highly official basis. Performed by a guilt of writers. No one ordinary used writing for making shopping lists – even the Brahmins did not dare to entrust anything of (religious) importance to the fragility of palm leaves in a tropical climate.

If you wanted to make a shopping list at the time of the Buddha, if you wanted to catch and ‘note’ and witness something, you needed to use …yes,  your memory! The notion of labelling and noting makes sense to us in an age of literacy. Or to listeners / readers at the time of Buddhaghosa (and probably even before that, approx. since the 1st century before CE when the Buddhist texts were put to palm leafes for the first time) and literacy and writing started to replace what until then was an extraordinarily and highly cultivated general ability to memorize and to mentally take note.

2500 years ago the Buddha did not say to his monks: “Whenever you see a form, hear a sound, etc. just ‘take a note‘”. And so he did not say “please label the sense impressions”.

But he used the proper pali word for the same activity based on the prevalent oral culture and so he asked people to use “sati” or “remembering” to “take a (mental) note”  to “mentally witness” of what just occured.

Therefore, we could very well render samma sati in the noble eightfold path as “right noting” or “right witnessing” or “right attention”.

Now, based on this observation, the following utterances make even more sense:

yoniso manasikara” (Important: not just attention – but attention directed towards the source)

“ditthe ditthamattam” – in the seen only the seen, [Udana 1.10]

iti pajanati

And so, yes, it is about the direct experience, the direct seeing (therefore the additional use of words like vi-passati, nyana-dassana, pajanati, pacca-vekkhati, etc. etc.  when describing the mediators activity- all related to the action of seeing not thinking or reflecting or pondering over.) Thus the 4 sati-patthana, or foundations/pillars of sati are used as anchor points for our concentration. A highly concentrated mind, based on a firm grounding and preliminary training in keeping moral precepts is able to create a mental differential between the point of concentration and the sense objects ‘catching our awareness’ = their rising and falling… Thus, while sati has a very specific meaning (Buddha loved clarity, like any other good scientist 🙂 Sati or Vipassana meditation can and should never be done without the proper preparation.

By now you will wonder how the term sati became so established as “mindfulness”. Well, mindfulness will be a result of ones practice of noting, especially during the noting…during the seeing. However, the best term translated as mindfulness is in fact a separate pali word called “sam-pajanna“, lit. ‘to know together with’ – so to know while you do something that you do it, as in this exercise:

“Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.

“In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or focused externally… unsustained by anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself. [Funny how this part gets always neglected though it seems to be the central part in the whole practice of the 4 satipatthana – but more on this one maybe another time]

“Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante sampajānakārī hoti, ālokite vilokite sampajānakārī hoti, samiñjite pasārite sampajānakārī hoti, saṅghāṭipattacīvaradhāraṇe sampajānakārī hoti, asite pīte khāyite sāyite sampajānakārī hoti, uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakārī hoti, gate ṭhite nisinne sutte jāgarite bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti.[MN 10, link]

And this concept has been moved to the forefront in many essays about Theravadan (sati-) meditation.

Even if sati and sampajanna go together, the unclear understanding of sati lead to such strange believes that if you just ate your ice-cream with intense scruteny and would deeply “mindfully” indulge into your emotions while eating it, you would practice for enlightenment. While this way of observation definitely intensified the sense impressions (due to the simple fact of strong concentration) it does little to actually see the rising and falling of those sense impressions. You could say that this ability/wisdom(3), to eventually see the rising and falling (appearing and disappearing) of sense impressions is the demarkation line between proper practice of sati according to the suttas and indulgence in sensual pleasures with hightened concentration.

It is this wisdom of seeing the rising and falling which will make the mind turn away from samsara, sure, realizing its frame like structure makes the movie’s compelling story and its grasp on our minds fade and dispassion and eventually freedom will result – bhavanirodho nibbanam. While the Buddha explained this pretty clearly he also said that there can be something called “wrong sati” or miccha sati (wrong attention) – So, quite contrary to popular believe, mindfulness per se is not “inherently good” – if it does not go to the root of the experience it might easily turn into some form of … shall we say Tantrism? Definitely a deeper enjoyment of the sensual experience due to strong concentration but without the disillusioning effect of samma sati – a noting which needs to be done in the right fashion (i.e. in an un-identifying manner, deconceptualizing).
Unfortunately, while eating that ice-cream and just “being with the activity” we are carried away by a stream, a wave of sights, tasts, feelings, thoughts – which we do not see as such: We outright identify with them in every moment; object and consciousness establishing reality which we grasp/become and this is where our thirst is working  – it’s not the ice cream’s fault that we suffer…so when people start thinking of what they have to give up in order to overcome their craving – right there, right at that moment, right in that very thought alone lies freedom and bondage – Mara binding them to existance they suffer when the ice melts. And death smiles knowing you won’t escape – or you smiling, because you already did escape 🙂

(1) A recent discussion on a similar thought here and here . This is how i would reconcile these two positions: The aspect of memory/remembering which Ven. Thanissaro focuses on is the aspect of noting/labeling using a concept like “form, form” or “feeling, feeling” to stop the proliferating process of the mind in its tracks. Concentration is needed to not get overwhelmed by overpowering sense impressions and to at least find some temporary footing at a meditation object. However, the use of names to unlock the mystery of name-and-form in this vipassana exercise has as its goal to create an extreme clear vision (nanadassana) of what is happening in each moment of the interplay of the five groups of grasping in each moment of being/life. So yes, it is bare attention, but not in an indulging sense but rather in a very controlled and precise deep way. A method which will after diligent application create a direct experience/seeing of the rising and falling of all sense impressions/5 groups of grasping leading to the peace of nibbana as described above and other places.

(2) guess where the Burmese ‘re-discovered this practice from’ 🙂 – while the ZEN Buddhists were fascinated by Visuddhimagga’s (actually Vimuktimargas see comments below) concentration/jhanic/dhyanic/chan/zen aspects, the Burmese were even more impressed by its explanations about how to reach full enlightenment by insight meditation).

(3) Terms like these show the more active and “knowing/knowledge through observation” quality of “panna” or “wisdom” as it is usally translated  moving it much closer to the practice of sati then any form of abstract knowledge: manasikārakusalatā paññā – wisdom from proper attention, āyatanakusalatā paññā – wisdom from skill with regard to the senses, paccuppannānaṃ dhammānaṃ vipariṇāmānupassane paññā udayabbayānupassane ñāṇan – wisdom through a following-seeing of objects in the present moment as they change, follow-seeing of the appearing and disappearing.

(4) Two most interesting book on this topic are “In the mirror of Memory”  edited by Janet Gyatso (esp. Collette Cox’ article), a wonderful compilation of all kinds of Indian sources on the connection between sati

…Mindfulness is chosen here not, as in many cases, to avoid confusion with the psychological function of smrti as memory, but precisely for the opposite reason; that is, to indicate at the outset what this chapter will illustrate: that the contexts for the operation of smrti suggested by the term mindfulness actually encompass the psychological functions of memory as they were understood within Indian Buddhism. [link]

and memory and “Mindfulness in Early Buddhism” by Tse-fu Kuan. Just don’t forget to practice 🙂

Next in this series: Coming back to remember: Sati II


UPDATE: For those of you who found this post via a search engine or direct link, I would like to invite you to read the following post on yoniso manasikara” and “understanding vipassana” in addition to the above article. The closer you look at sati the more obvious it is how “remembering” (one’s object) is essential to what samma sati was intended to mean and how that faculty of the mind, which keeps us on an object is utilized for jhanic meditation as well as in observation of the six sense-spheres. You might also be interested in Malunkyaputta’s Vipassana instruction. Please also check out How To Really Cleanse Your Mind as it focuses on the memory aspect for sati even further with some influence on my understanding due to great Sutta Dhamma talks by Mahamevnawa monks in recent months.

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  1. gzza

    Interesting post. However, I think it is unlikely that the Zen tradition had much familiarity with Buddhaghosa. The approach to meditation of the Zen and Mahamudra traditions is based on a Mahayana paradigm which is not necessarily congruent with the Nikaya/Agamas.

    • theravadin

      Buddhaghosas work of course originated in Sri Lanka in the 5th century AD and was based on Arahant Upalis “Vimuttimagga”. The Vimuttimagga found its way into the Chinese Canon early on (6th century AD).

      Samghapala (459-524 C.E.), the translator of the Chinese ver sion of the A-yu-wang jing, was a monk from the kingdom of Funan (in the eastern part of present-day Thailand), who came to China during the Qi dynasty (479-501 C.E.) and stayed at Zheng guan Monastery in the capital, where he studied Mahayana texts under the Indian monk Gunabhadra and “mastered the languages of several countries”. When Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty came to power, he invited Samghapala in the fifth year of Tian jinn (506 C.E.) to translate Buddhist texts into Chinese. In the course of the subsequent seventeen years, he translated eleven Buddhist texts into Chinese, making a total of forty-eight fascicles, including the A yu-wang jing and the Vimuktimarga, with the assistance of Chinese Buddhist monks and lay scholars under imperial patronage. In the fifth year of Pu-tong (524 C.E.), he died of illness at the age of sixty-five at Zheng-guan Monastery.

      From there the description of the various samatha meditation objects and there practice were accessible to many Zen masters.

      For instance, even the story of the lost oxen originates from the Vimuttimagga/Visuddhimaggas description of the insight knowledges (see http://theravadin.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/vipassana-knowledge-and-the-path-to-nibbana/)



  2. gzza

    Interesting, I didn’t know that, thanks. However, it seems to me the theory behind the praxis – that just “being with the activity” is liberative – is clearly drawn from other sources rather than a misreading of Visuddhimagga. I don’t know if yo meant to imply that though.

  3. theravadin

    gzza, thanks for your comments. Well, to be honest, i do not know where the idea that “simply to be with the activity” will lead to Nibbana originated from…it sounds and feels like a very New Age – like concept and there being so much movement between concepts of New Age, Western Philosophy and ‘popular’ mainstream Buddhism it may have evolved through a combination of those sources.

    For me, looking at the Satipatthana Sutta, i can only see the above referenced exercise of “knowing while doing” (i.e. the term sampajanna) to relate to such an understanding of sati.

    It is not easy to understand the reasoning for vipassana if one just did a couple of vipassana seminars because of a gift certifcate :-)…Seen within the idea of the 4 noble truth and the eightfold path of course, they make perfect sense!

    Unfortunately the Dhamma and reason behind these methods became neglected when vipassana was transferred to the West. Of course, once the core of understanding of the why and how of vipassana was left in Asia or to a few scholars the method would sooner or later be turned into whatever direction the users would use it for. I think this is what we see today.

    Therefore a more holistic approach would never start vipassana without at least some practice of sila and samadhi, as the Buddha taught. Especially the lack of emphasizing sila is disconcerting. Vipassana being a very sharp tool which cuts through delusions should be used carefully. But these are just my six cents…

  4. gzza

    I think to just “simply to be with the activity” could be glossed a number of different ways, and it could very well be just something New Agey. However, it could also plausibly be said to be a legitimate meditation instruction in the Zen tradition, or in Vajrayana practice. Of course, it would have to come with sufficient context to be understood correctly.

    It may not be consistent with the instructions in the Agamas/Nikayas, but that doesn’t mean it is New Age by default.

  5. theravadin

    True, and again: To me it seems to be a matter of mistaking or mixing sati (remembering/noting/witnessing quality) with sampajanna (The exercise to be conscious of ones own activities while performing them).

    The point i wanted to make is that the term “mindfulness” fits perfectly for what the Buddha taught as “sampajanna”.

    Translating “sati” as “mindfulness” then misses the richness of the original concept of sati and its application in meditation, i.e. something closer to our understanding of vipassana meditation.

    Thus, one could say that this post tries to reconcile or bridge modern vipassana explanations/descriptions with the most ancient Buddhist texts which do not talk about labeling but sati.
    Though they seem to be different terms, they are in fact identical (in praxis).

    From a Theravadin perspective it is great to understand and see how current practice resembles the methods used by the Buddha 2500 years ago and so the path to Nibbana (and understanding what happens on this path) is not some mythical ideal but can become a personal experience.

    Anyway, to meditators in a Burmese/Sri Lankan Vipassana lineage that is not new news, i guess 🙂

    Thank you for your comments!

  6. khandy

    This post is interesting.

    Let’s bring the Four Noble Truths, which of course include the Noble Eightfold Path, back to the object at hand: what is being observed right now. In this context, most, if not all, conventional (doctrinal, traditional, academic, scholastic) interpretations of the eight factors of the Path are simply got thrown out of the window. The eight factors are not meant for proper social conduct in the general sense. No, they are meant for meditation practice. What does Right Speech really mean? (Noble silence, no story making, no inner chattering about the present object.) What does Right Action really mean? (Be prompt, be precise.) What does Right Livelihood really mean? (Be honest. Don’t “steal” if you happen to enjoy it, and don’t “kill” if you happen to hate it. Stay cool and deal with it squarely: don’t undervalue nor overvalue it. And, also, be meditative in all circumstances of daily life.) Plus, all the factors are supposed to be exercised together, concurrently, in a mutually supportive manner, and not as a linear or spiral sequence, or whatever. Together, they are aimed specifically at the present object of consciousness. Ah, quite interesting indeed.

    Sati. Some smart guy translated it was mindfulness and we’re now stuck with it, aren’t we? In fact, we have a whole list of questionable translations that cause all sorts of misunderstanding by people already acquainted with psychology and philosophy. The Nikaya meanings of citta and vinnana (sorry, no Pali diacriticals) have nothing to do with mind and consciousness as such. Even some contemporary Theravadin elders speak of mind as some kind of essence that is always there — well, the knowing arises and passes away according to conditions, and there is no “permanent self” by any other name! And, of course, nama and rupa have nothing to do with mind and matter! But I digress… Sati does imply taking (mental) note of the present object, not letting it slip by unnoticed — attentive awareness. Yes, sati goes hand in hand with sampajanna, this latter implying clarity with respect to the object’s nature and characteristics. This is why Vipassana means more than just “bare awareness.” Vipassana develops the awareness that is capable of purifying, of avoiding unwholesome complications. Practitioners are not zombies, they learn to be awake and know very clearly.

    A good start, indeed.

  7. khandy

    I have come across a misleading Western interpretation of sati that goes something like this: Now, with mindfulness practice, I am able to eat the orange mindfully. I enjoy deeply every piece of the orange, savouring its wonderful taste in my mouth, slowly, gently… And I feel so grateful to Mother Nature and alll beings who have, in diverse ways, brought this orange to me.

    What was he talking about? That is no mindfulness practice. That is sensual attachment! The ‘I’ continues to be amplified.

    I guess certain people are not clear about the object of contemplation, and how it is supposed to be noted and understood. I feel that Vipassana cannot be properly practised without a basic introduction to Ultimate Reality (Paramattha).

    • theravadin

      Intense enjoyment of sensual impressions perceived as mental development 🙂

      As much as i cherish Thich Nhat Hanh’s poetic rendition of the Buddha’s life in his book “Old path white clouds” you are right, there too is his conceived story of the Buddha teaching children how to meditate by being aware of the taste of a mandarin. It seems easy to teach awareness as a sensual enjoyment and probably makes especially sense to us Westerners 🙂 – but nevertheless it is directly opposed to the way the Buddha instructs his students: The world is on fire, he says. What is on fire? The six senses, their feelings, perceptions, consciousness. Seeing this we let go. In a fundamental way.

      Thanks for you comments, khandy!

    • I’m going to play “Mara’s advocate” here…

      I once felt very much the same as both of you and characterized the “I-making” and “self-indulgence” of the Western interpretation of sati. Over time, I have come to see the fault in judging such practices this way.

      In Zen, students are told what they need to hear to do what they need to do. (Morpheus says, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”) One reason they use the scriptures so little is to prevent misinterpretations. Problems arise when students think they understand a particular aspect of the Dhamma, but in reality, do not.

      The instruction given in this passage has nothing to do with I-making and self-indulgence. Such comments are equal to a Zen practitioner telling a Theravadin that he is indulging in piti & sukkha and needs to back off–lest he not enter “right” jhana.

      In fact, for those that have experience of at least first jhana, I can give you an excellent comparison. Have you ever used metta as the object of concentration to enter first jhana? How you kind of go “inside” the feeling–for lack of better words? The instructions given about the orange will lead to a very similar results.

      [For those without jhana experience, but philosophical education, the experience is somewhat like Henri Bergson’s descriptions of getting “in the middle” of a color or some other mental object of sense perception. See Mind & Matter by Bergson.]

      While I doubt I will ever leave the Theravadin tradition, I have become perplexed over the amount of elitism and finger-pointing I see from those that identify themselves with the tradition. I think we all need to learn to be captains of our own ships, and spend less time worrying about how others practice.

      I’m not preaching without reason on this. This very act is what held me back in meditation practice for quite sometime. The contempt for others became painfully intense. However, when I was finally able to let go of it, I made progress as if I was catapulted…it was truly amazing.

      My progress came with a real gift, too, and I think most advanced meditators begin to see this sooner or later: most all of the major meditation methods work. (Though for different reasons and in different ways.) Having this knowledge has helped me to become much more tolerant. Yet, I had to develop the tolerance prior to the attainment of the understanding. This is fundamentally important.

  8. Greg

    I admire your careful use of philology and historical context in the service of understanding the dharma. However, I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions.

    One need not have practical experience of writing to understanding the concepts “labeling” and “noting.” They don’t have to mean “write down.” They can just as easily mean “verbally designate.” People know how to verbally designate regardless of whether or not they are literate.

    • theravadin

      Actually, I completely agree with you 😉 It looks more complicated but I was trying to get myself into the mindset of the Pali texts and how describe the meditative process which modern Vipassana calls “labeling”. If you do that investigation you see a lot of references to memory (in the form of “sati”) and contemplation (in the form of direct quotes). In an oral society that is the context mindfulness meditation methods would then be explained (as we see in the early Buddhist texts) and in later centuries, when writing became more important, you can see how people who still understood the essence of these meditation principles simply used other (for them) more contemporary words to describe the same process. These are of course just my musings on the shift of “quote + iti” (early canon) towards the commentarial description of vipassana (noting). Thanks for stopping by and taking your time to comment. Lot’s of metta, a theravadin

  9. Greg

    My understanding is, later Sarvastivadins understood the relationship between memory and mindfulness as follows: one employs memory in the sense that one remembers the instruction to be mindful when one notices that ones mind has begun to wander.

  10. theravadin

    Yes, in my own personal studies of sati in the context of the Pali canon I think the Buddha himself makes that point. Just look at samma sati => samma samadhi pahoti. Who develops right remembering (to put it into a term closer to what we just mentioned) he develops right (mental) collectedness. This is such a straight forward, clear cut and simple to understand idea, that it makes perfect sense and could also have been understood to the paddy farmer who just became an arahant listening to the Buddha. I think there is enough overwhelming evidence in the canon to support such an interpretation of what sati really meant in the early days. However, an even more important idea then is how samma-ditthi drives this samadhi in the direction of understanding anicca, dukkha and anatta, triggering a disenchantment with the six sense spheres and a cessation defined as Nibbana. I think it all fits in very nicely 😉 Thanks again for your feedback!

  11. Thanks a lot Theravadin!!!

    I searched a lot about a clarification why definition of sati wrongly turned into mindfulness.
    Alan wallace polemical stated an old and modern vipassana and that the modern version is wrong because it doesn’t follow the same definition of the sati given by Buddha & Buddhagosha, then “remebering”. At page 60 of his book he gives the definition of Gunaratana of mindulness:”non conceptual awareness, bare attention that stay in the present”. And stated that’s wrong ’cause different from Sati. Wallace is clearly a tibetan follower then a different tradition…
    Your explanation seems to me (I don’t want to run down Wallace) more realistic and deepen.
    If I understood well:

    mindfullness=“sam-pajanna“, lit. ‘to know together with’

    sati=to remember then take mental note

    Please confirm

    Thanks a lot again!!

    Andrea from Italy, Dozza

    • theravadin

      Dear Andrea,
      Thank you so much for stopping by! The answer is: Basically, yes. Please have a look at my latest (recent) post called “how to really cleanse your mind”. In it I quote the Avijja – Sutta from AN, 10 which beautifully aligns “suta” (listening and learning, i.e. keeping in mind) the Dhamma which will lead to “yoniso manasikara” (best here:) proper reflection and that in due course will lead to “sati & sampajannya”, obviously a good memory of the Dhamma and a clear awareness of what passes through your senses, because the sutta states, if you do have that, your senses will be well guarded. The Avijja sutta goes on that this chain of events will lead to the development of the seven factors of awakening.
      It all (the eightfold path, the seven members of awakening, and suttas like this) fits very very nicely together if you include the memory (keeping in the mind) aspect of sati. Sati and still at times be seen as “mindfulness” but in most cases “sampajana-kari” actually has the exact same meaning as the English “mindfulness”, so why not translate sati slightly different to bring in the memory meaning which is clearly part of the Indian sati/smriti word sense and would better fit into the Buddha’s definition of sati being the ability to recall what was said and done long time ago…

      metta to you!

  12. Satipatthana, came from Sati = Awareness, Patthana = Base. Hence Satipatthana means base of awareness. While Sampajana means Mindfulness.
    Vipassana, came from Vi = Intensive, Passana = Contemplation. Hence Vipassana means Insight.
    Kammatthana means base of work.

    Vipassana Bhavana means insight cultivation.
    Samatha Bhavana means tranquility cultivation.

  13. excellent posts. I really enjoyed them – and let them go ;- ) The other thought I had on mindfuless as recollection is from the point of view that mindfulness for the Buddha was to be heedful. This is an important word because to pay attention or be aware now of our mental content has the purpose of mental purification. We must be aware of our behaviors, for example, to know if the are wholesome or not. If they are not wholesome we need to act differently and also note that in this situation, feelings, etc, my behavior was unwholesome and I need to be different in the future. Buddhism is a moral psychology So mindfulness esp at the beginning of one’s path is to be aware to be able to check ourself to see if I have Right speech, behavior, etc. and then as one progresses there is less checking but more free flow activity until there is only free flow activity. ciao

  14. Thank you for this beautiful exploration of Pali translation, interpretation, and the practical meaning of Sati. I would just like to point out that the Thai Forest tradition, while very much a Theravada Buddhist school akin to the Burmese lineage, has a slightly different interpretation of Sati. As taught by Ajahn Geoff, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, this translation of sati is that of active remembering, e.g. as in remembering to keep the breath in mind. To quote from his book, Right Mindfulness, Memory and Ardency on the Buddhist Path:
    “As [The Buddha] defined the term, right mindfulness (samma-sati) is not bare attention. Instead, it’s a faculty of active memory, adept at calling to mind and keeping in mind instructions and intentions that will be useful on the path. Its role is to draw on right view and to work proactively in supervising the other factors of the path to give rise to right concentration, and in using right concentration as a basis for total release.” http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/right_mindfulness_120810.pdf
    The book is an interesting treatise on the early Pali cannon’s treatment of Right Mindfulness and it’s role in the path to total release.

  15. BT Tay

    Please correct me if I am wrong .

    What is wrong with translating sati as memory/remembrance/a certain bringing to mind? In the Mahasattipatthana Sutta there occurs “atapi sampajano satima” , so it is not just any kind of memory/remembrance but memory/remembrance that has atapi sampajano . The term mindfulness does not accurately reflect atapi sampajano satima .

    It seems to me that if the sati does not have atapi sampajano as per the sutta – it is not the sati intended. It has to be atapi sampajano as per the sutta .

    Please do a thorough Pali linguistic analysis on the terms atapi sampajano satima.
    I feel that atapi sampajano has been neglected in discussions on sati . Just let the Pali speak for itself , come on.
    Please do not slant the meaning according to the atthakathas or commentaries or Visuddhimagga .

    Please correct / refute me if I am wrong .

    BT Tay
    00:49:28 6-1-2016

  16. BT Tay

    Now , for those who do the “noting” stuff , how and to what degree is the “atapi sampajano” in that act
    of noting?
    That is why I feel that we need the original Pali and try and exhaust the meaning .
    “Let the Mahasatipatthana Sutta speak for itself through the Pali”.
    Please correct / refute me if I am wrong .

    BT Tay
    00:56:45 6-1-2016

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