I have noticed the following translation in MN10:

And again, monks, a monk, when he is walking, comprehends, ‘I am walking’; or when he is standing still, comprehends, ‘I am standing still’; or when he is sitting down, comprehends, ‘I am sitting down’; or when he is lying down, comprehends, ‘I am lying down.’ So that however his body is disposed he comprehends that it is like that.


I find this in all translations of Ven Sujato and Ven Thanissaro's translations as well.

But when I checked the Sinhalese translations, I can't see this was translate as "i am".

  • I wonder if one can translate a different (hybrid) language to English word to word, with same grammar rule. Obviously in Chinese Agama, it doesn't read so clumsy as that. I can only say, digging the word meaning, esp. an unnatural (hybrid/artificial) language, is futile to extract the correct method Feb 3, 2019 at 16:51
  • @Mishu米殊 Chinese verbs don't conjugate, and nouns don't decline, right? What is the literal (word-for-word) translation of the Agama -- is there a pronoun in it, like "I"? Or is it just the verb without a "subject" (an action without an agent): like "lying down", not "I lying down"?
    – ChrisW
    Feb 3, 2019 at 18:46
  • See further discussion in Sutta Central:discourse.suttacentral.net/t/major-translation-error-in-mn-10/…
    – SarathW
    Feb 4, 2019 at 1:43
  • See further discussion in Dhamma Wheel:dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=33528
    – SarathW
    Feb 4, 2019 at 1:46
  • 1
    Grammar is a later tool used to measure Chinese. Classical Chinese is more like putting together signs, the channel of transmitting meanings perhaps more like mind to mind. There definitely has no "I" or whatever pronoun, same character can represent a verb, a noun, or even an adjective. Word-for-word for example: sit-then-know-sit (as said Chinese are signs putting together, it could even be reduced to sit-know-sit, further reduced to sit-sit, it still transmits the same meaning perfectly, with the later the better; but not all people are smart enough... Feb 4, 2019 at 4:51

3 Answers 3


Furthermore, when a mendicant is walking they know: ‘I am walking.’

Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu gacchanto vā ‘gacchāmī’ti pajānāti

From my very little understanding of Pali, "gacchāmi" means "I am walking" because the verb conjugation -mi is only used for first person singular in present tense, hence the "I am" is optional. The subject is optional.

Similarly, "gacchasi" means "you are walking" but "you are" is optional because the verb conjugation -si is for second person singular in present tense. The subject is optional.

Similarly, "gacchāma" means "we are walking" because the conjugation -ma is for first person plural in present tense. The subject is optional.

However, for "gacchati" which means "he/she/it is walking", and "gacchanti" which means "they are walking", a subject is not optional and must be clearly specified because it is not obvious from the verb conjugation who it is referring to.

Of course, in continuing conversation, third person subject (singular or plural) may be omitted, if it was explicitly stated in the previous part of the conversation i.e. implied. At least, I guess so.

Please see here.


The "I am" (in the English translation) is implied by the conjugation of the verb (as said in ruben2020's answer).

In Pali, verbs are "conjugated" -- i.e. their endings change to denote "which person?" and "how many?" (as well as, "which tense?").

That's true of other languages (e.g. Latin):

  • amo ("I love")
  • amas ("you love")
  • amat ("he/she loves")
  • etc.

In English verbs don't conjugate, instead they're nearly invariant and instead there's a separate personal pronoun, e.g. ...

  • I run
  • you run
  • he run[s]
  • we run
  • you run
  • they run

... i.e. you get the person and the number from the added pronoun, not from conjugating the verb-ending. Alternatively ...

  • I am running
  • you are running
  • etc.

In languages which conjugate it's ungrammatical not to (conjugation is required) -- i.e. I expect that you can't (with good grammar) use a verb in a Pali sentence without conjugating it.

The conjugation is just "conventional" though -- maybe you shouldn't read too much into it -- and it is NOT meant to mean ...

I am thinking. Oh my God: 'I am' thinking. So, "I am"! ... "I AM!"

As an aside, when Ven. Yuttadhammo for example describes "noting" something in meditation, he uses the present participle form -- e.g. "Breathing ... breathing", rather than, "I am breathing, I am breathing". This (i.e. without the personal pronoun, without the whole "I am" part of the so-called present continuous phrase) isn't ordinarily/conventionally grammatical (to be grammatical, a sentence usually requires a subject as well as a verb), but is maybe better suited to the occasion and purpose (i.e. of noting but without wanting to reinforce a self-view).

If I look at the French translation of the sutta, I see "Je marche", which translates to English as either "I walk" or "I am walking".

I don't know the Sinhalese language but I think Wikipedia says it doesn't conjugate:

Sinhalese distinguishes three conjugation classes. Spoken Sinhalese does not mark person, number or gender on the verb (literary Sinhalese does). In other words, there is no subject–verb agreement.

Maybe that's why there is no equivalent in the Sinhalese translation -- i.e. the grammar doesn't require it.

  1. It's the outspoken translation. Nothing is wrong by the context. See Ruben's answer.

  2. However, the obvious serious wrong is the vocabulary translation. Pajānāti means "comprehension", it doesn't means "know".

Furthermore, when a mendicant is walking they know comprehension: ‘I am walking.’

Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu gacchanto vā ‘gacchāmī’ti pajānāti

  1. The Atthakathā explains the comprehension, Sampajañña, to four here. These four comprehensions have two levels:

    3.1. The samatha level in MN KāyagatāsatiSutta which taught to the beginner, neyya. The listeners in this Sutta are the newbies, so the Sutta's structure point to Jhāna, CittaVisuddhi, at the end of each section.

    The practitioner begins by ĀnāpanassatiJhāna in sitting meditation, and keep to meditate Ānāpānassati in Section on postures and Section on sampajañña. This is the basis.

    3.2. The vipassana level in MN MahāsitipaṭṭhānaSutta which taught to the high level vipassanā practitioners, ugghaṭitaññū, in Kuru Kingdom. All of the listeners in this Sutta already practiced these 21 sections, but the end of each section, samudayavayadhammānupassivā dhammasamiṃ Viharati (the practitioner comprehensions the origin and the cessation in all practiced practices and the comprehending mind), is their last lesson of the practice, so MahāAtthakatha said many listeners enlightened as Arahanta after the listening.

    This level appeared in explained in MN MahāsitipaṭṭhānaSutta's Atthakathā. It's not for the beginner. If the beginner start from this explanation, he is going to stick at the 10 imperfections/defilements of insight, Vipassanūpakkilesa. This explanation is very popular however most of teachers, today, give it the the improper practitioners.

    That's why most of them can't enlighten in seven years according to the end of this Sutta. The sequence level is very important, when the practitioner cross the sequence, it means the defilements of insight still remain.

    The question owner creates this question because he thinks follow to this level.

  2. the meaning of the comprehends is the same as above wiki link, except the fourth.

    4.1. The sampajañña of samatha level is...

    when a mendicant is walking they comprehends: ‘I am walking for the purpose, suitability, and domain of the non-delusion in the breath meditation’.

    4.2 The sampajañña of vipassanā level is...

    when a mendicant is walking they comprehends: ‘I am walking for the purpose, suitability, and domain of the non-delusion in the aggregates in the Dependent Origination cycle’.

    4.3 How can I know that explanation?

    I understand it from Sutta context after I recited and memorized MahāsatipaṭṭhānaSutta Pali for ten years (so I often tell you all to memorize the pāli to study Sutta). The context is already arranged from the basic to the advance like in the explanation in Netti.

    Pajānāti has already appeared before the Section on postures in the summary Section of this sutta, Ānapanassati Section, and almost all other Sections as well. It means the Section on postures must translate with those all sections as I translated above.

    So, what is written in wikipedia, it is wrong...

    While the nikayas do not The Sutta has already elaborated on what the Buddha meant by sampajañña as "the keeping comprehension of current meditation in four main postures and seven sub-postures", the Pali commentaries analyze explain it further in terms of four contexts for one's comprehension

    Actually, pajānāti and sampajañña is already elaborated in Sutta's context clearly already.

  • I don't edit wikipedia because I don't know how to summarize this answer into the encyclopedia writing.
    – Bonn
    Feb 3, 2019 at 14:22

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