I read the following on the internet:

About this unusual understanding of sati ("Sati is never present moment awareness") I hope the reader of this answer put some time reading the suttas to come to his/her own conclusion about what sati can refer to.

Where is the Palis suttas is 'sati' defined as 'present moment awareness'?


Sutta does not define that 'sati' as present moment awareness. Mindfulness in Buddhist teaching is much more than the english meaning of mindfulness and the the general mindfulness taught in the west. To understand the meaning of 'Sati' we should have a good understanding of the following two Suttas.




Putting aside the fact that pāli->english translators have chosen the word "mindful" (mindfulness, mindfully, etc) to translate sati in many occasions, and that this word is associated with awareness...

Suppose a man would enter a thorny forest. There would be thorns in front of him, thorns behind him, thorns to his left, thorns to his right, thorns below him, thorns above him. He would go forward mindfully (satova), he would go back mindfully (satova), thinking, ‘May no thorn prick me!’

-- SN 35.244

The above passage explains how a person is attentive to the surrounding dangers while moving around. sati is used to characterize his attitude. I suppose one can choose to read this passage as meaning strictly that the words 'May no thorn prick me!' is in that man's mind. However, such a reading doesn't seem very appealing: how having these words in mind would help this person in this dangerous situation?

On another vein, SN 48.11 defines the satindriya as the result of the satipatthana practice. And we all know that satipatthana is not a mere memory exercise.

While I never believed sati to mean what is usually called "bare awareness", I'd be very cautious about completely divorcing the meaning of sati from awareness (e.g. of what is going on, of what one is doing or of something present in the present moment).

For the reader looking for further information, I suggest looking for translators comments and books dealing with this subject (e.g. "Mindfulness in early buddhism" by Tse-fu Kuan).

  • The sutta says: "mindfully (satova), thinking, ‘May no thorn prick me!’". This is thinking & recollecting the wisdom of avoiding suffering. Mindfulness here is recollecting wisdom about how to avoid suffering rather than "present moment awareness". For example, if in the present moment, I think about how to kill a person in the present moment, is that more mindful about thinking about ordaining as a monk in the future? Aug 9 '17 at 6:14
  • SN 48.11 is simply does not provide an answer. It is says nothing. Aug 9 '17 at 6:18

Sati is defined in the Sati Sutta (SN 47.35).

Relevant words from that definition seem to me to be viharati and ...passī:

  • viharati -- stay, abide, dwell, sojourn
  • ...passī -- observing

So, "to dwell observing": that is more-or-less "present moment awareness", isn't it?

Also maybe Thiago meant SN 48.10 rather than SN 48.11.

The definition there is the same as in SN 47.35, i.e.,

Katamañ-ca, bhikkhave, Satindriyaṁ?
And what, monks, is the Faculty of Mindfulness?

Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako satimā hoti,
Here, monks, a noble disciple is mindful,

paramena satinepakkena samannāgato,
endowed with superior mindfulness and carefulness,

cirakatam-pi cirabhāsitam-pi saritā anussaritā.
remembering and recalling what was done a long time ago and what was said a long time ago.

So kāye kāyānupassī viharati,
He dwells contemplating (the nature of) the body in the body,

ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ.
ardent, clearly knowing, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world.

Vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati,
He dwells contemplating (the nature of) feelings in feelings,

ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ.
ardent, clearly knowing, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world.

Citte cittānupassī viharati,
He dwells contemplating (the nature of) the mind in the mind,

ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ.
ardent, clearly knowing, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world.

Dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati,
He dwells contemplating (the nature of) things in (various) things

ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ.
ardent, clearly knowing, and mindful, after removing avarice and sorrow regarding the world.

Idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, satindriyaṁ.
This, monks, is called the Faculty of Mindfulness.

... except that it also introduces two other concepts at the beginning, i.e. "carefulness" and "remembering and recalling".

Bikkhu Bodhi said,

Even the word sati, rendered mindfulness, isn’t unproblematic. The word derives from a verb, sarati, meaning “to remember,” and occasionally in Pali sati is still explained in a way that connects it with the idea of memory. But when it is used in relation to meditation practice, we have no word in English that precisely captures what it refers to. An early translator cleverly drew upon the word mindfulness, which is not even in my dictionary. This has served its role admirably, but it does not preserve the connection with memory, sometimes needed to make sense of a passage.

... so it implies "remembering" too

  • If viharati & passī were sati then wouldn't they be called 'sati'? Aug 15 '17 at 0:45
  • Maybe "sati" should have been translated into English as "remindfulness".
    – Carl G
    Feb 22 '19 at 12:52

There are variant "present" words' meanings in tipitaka and commentaries because of variant sutta contexts such as ability of listener, etc.

Commentaries collected "present" words in tipitaka as 3 periods: present by rebirth period, present by doing period, and present by citta&rūpa arising period. Another "present" word that focus on arising khandha, now.

present by birth period (addhāna-paccupanna)

The kammaṭṭhāna teacher, such as buddha, will teach this meaning to the beginner practitioner who has gotten jhāna or uggatitaññū/diṭṭhicarita-vipacitaññū. So this meaning always use in suttanta-pitaka especially paṭiccasamuppāda. So in abhidhamma-pitaka, vibhaṅga that was memorized by sariputta-mahāsāvaka then retaught in his literal, wrote that paṭiccasamuppāda by rebirth, is suttanta-method. And in paṭisambhidāmagga, that author by sāriputta-mahāsāvaka, wrote that viññāṇa-paṭiccasamuppāda is rebirth (paṭisaṇdhi). Also bhaddekarattasutta.

present by doing period (santati-paccupanna)

The kammaṭṭhāna teacher, such as buddha, will teach this meaning to a fool who can not get high level vipassanā (udayabbayañāṇa) or neyya/taṇhācarita-vipacitaññū. For the example in mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta "sāmissaṃ vā sukkhaṃ vedanaṃ vediyamāno sāmissaṃ sukkhaṃ vedanaṃ vediyāmīti pajānāti". Or in commentary such as arūpadhammānaṃ upaṭṭhānākārakathā and indriyatikkhakāraṇanavakakathā of visuddhimagga.

***Doing period is period between after come from the hotter temperature place then sit in the colder place, between the temperature changing is present doing period. Another same vīthi's javanāni are present doing period.

present by citta&rūpa period (khaṇa-paccupanna, paccuppannā dhammā)

***Khaṇa is the smallest period in the universe. It is just arising part+lving part+vanishing part (3 anukhaṇa) of citta&rūpa. There are more than trillion khanā while just snapping fingers. Every suffering truth that have own causes to make it's arising, has their own khaṇa period. So 11 group khandha have their own present arising: past khandha arising, future khandha arising, present khandha arising, self khandha arising, others khandha arising, not smooth khandha arising, smooth khandha arising, good khandha arising, and bad khandha khandha arising. So past and future khandha are reality, that is the object of vipassanā meditation, too.

Arising Present khandha As the Object Of Vipassanā Meditation

The kammaṭṭhāna teacher, such as buddha, will teach this meaning to the advance practitioner who can clearly comprehend paṭiccasamuppāda. Because practitioner who already understand paṭiccasamuppāda, has already seen anicca/dukkha/anatta-lakkhaṇa of the whole khandha (11 group khandha: past, future, present, self, others, not smooth, smooth, good, and bad khandha). He already has auto clearly comprehended in them, so when he is sitting to do vipassanā meditate, without the other jobs, his object should be the present himself that comprehending another object. Present himself, arising khandha khaṇa, is the closest khandha to be attached by taṇhā/diṭṭhi/māna. The mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta's commentary very focus in this meaning, because kuru people are uggaṭitaññū.

P.S. It is very very deep,very hard to explain. Please see every reference to understand "present".

  • bhaddekarattasutta refers to the "present dhammas" or "present sense objects" Aug 15 '17 at 8:44
  • paṭisaṇdhi is not in the suttas. viññāṇa-paṭiccasamuppāda is not rebirth. paṭisambhidāmagga is not sutta. Aug 15 '17 at 8:46
  • Search "atītamaddhāna" in tipitaka. See how to use the word. Then go back to read bhaddekarattasutta. Reader always destroy tipitaka, so buddha had chosen reciting, not reading. Before I decide something, I will make the research first. You make the same mistake like your teacher, buddhadāsa, who lazy to learn, then try to cut tipitaka instead. So he never understand why commentary who memorized tipitaka decide to comment like the text that buddhadāsa cutted off. Commentary declare themselves to keep tipitaka, not to cut off or modify tipitaka like buddhadāsa already done.
    – Bonn
    Aug 15 '17 at 10:05
  • atītamaddhāna is about the past Aug 15 '17 at 10:33
  • ‘‘sace maṃ, bhante, evaṃ puccheyyuṃ – ‘ahosi tvaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ, na tvaṃ na ahosi; bhavissasi tvaṃ anāgatamaddhānaṃ, na tvaṃ na bhavissasi; atthi tvaṃ etarahi, na tvaṃ natthī’tiฯ evaṃ puṭṭho ahaṃ, bhante, evaṃ byākareyyaṃ – ‘ahosāhaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ, nāhaṃ na ahosiṃ; bhavissāmahaṃ anāgatamaddhānaṃ, nāhaṃ na bhavissāmi; atthāhaṃ etarahi, nāhaṃ natthī’tiฯ evaṃ puṭṭho ahaṃ, bhante, evaṃ byākareyya’’ntiฯ
    – Bonn
    Aug 15 '17 at 10:47

The word 'sati' means to 'remember', 'bring to mind' or 'keep in mind' as follows:

And what is the faculty of mindfulness? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. SN 48.10

One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one's right mindfulness. One is mindful to abandon wrong speech & to enter & remain in right speech: This is one's right mindfulness. One is mindful to abandon wrong action & to enter & remain in right action: This is one's right mindfulness. MN 117

When the suttas used phrases, such as "remains focused on the body", this is a pre-occupation of mindfulness rather than mindfulness itself:

He remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called the faculty of mindfulness.

Thus mindfulness above does more than to just remember to 'focus' (poor translation). It also remembers to put away greed & distress & to abide without greed & distress.

Mindfulness means remembering or keeping in mind what you must remember to do. For example, if my current duty or purpose is to work (rather than post on a chatsite), I should be mindful of my work (instead of getting distracted on a chatsite).

Similarly, if my duty is to focus on the body in & of itself, that is the pre-occupation of mindfulness rather than mindfulness itself.

Therefore, present moment awareness can be a result, product, object or pre-occupation of mindfulness but is not mindfulness itself.

For the mind to have present moment awareness, it must stop thinking. The role of mindfulness here is to remember to not think. The awareness (consciousness, observantness) arises automatically. It is not mindfulness but only a product of the mindfulness that remembers to stop thinking (about the past or future).

  • 1
    Why or how is the distinction (between "mindfulness means remembering what you must remember to do" and "what you must remember to do is remain observant") important or consequential?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 15 '17 at 1:23
  • Regarding your last paragraph: it is similar to how, when conversing, it is necessary to remember to stop talking and listen. The mind can think, but if it only thinks, it gets nowhere.
    – user2341
    Nov 5 '17 at 13:39
  • Thank you for your explanations. I am trying to understand which Pali word corresponds to "present moment awareness". And which Pali word corresponds to "mindfulness itself". Do you know which Pali words are appropriate for these concepts?
    – Carl G
    Feb 22 '19 at 12:49

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