What is the difference between sati (mindfulness) and sampajañña (awareness, clear comprehension)?

Please provide examples.

  • sampajāna is not "awareness". the english term "awareness" are far too general & vague to be used for any Pali term. Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 10:18
  • 1
    Thanks for your question. After so many years, I think i now know what sampajana is according to the suttas rather than only according to experience. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 3:10

3 Answers 3


Sati means to 'remember' (SN 48.10) or 'bring to & keep in mind' (MN 117).

Sampajana is situational wisdom; the right or thorough understanding of or for a situation.

Sampajana is from the words saṃ & pajāna (cp. pajānāti). It appears suttas such as MN 118, AN 3.121 & SN 12.28 indicate mere pajānāti might be a level of knowing or recognition that is not as complete as sampajana.

For example, in MN 118, pajānāti is only used with the most basic practise, namely, knowing long & short breathing. In AN 3.121, pajānāti is used for the recognition of the arising of defilements (which means the mind does not have thorough understanding; if defilements are arising). In SN 12.28, pajānāti of Dependent Origination is called 'one endowed with a trainee’s knowledge’; ‘one who has entered the stream of the teaching’. Thus, mere pajānāti appears different to saṃ + pajāna, namely, "thorough" or "complete" understanding.

While the suttas do not explain much about sampajana, when SN 47.35 briefly defines 'sampajana', it uses the word "vidita" (pp. of vindati), which means "to understand" or "understood", as Bhikkhu Bodhi appeared to properly translate as "understood" (and Sujato & Thanissaro improperly translated as "known").

And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Here, bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu feelings are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Thoughts are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Perceptions are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension.

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Thus, it appears obvious "sampajjana" means to thoroughly or completely understand something or a situation with right understanding rather than to have mere "bare awareness". "Bare awareness" without understanding (similar to a small child ignorantly looking non-judgmentally at the ocean, not understanding its danger) is not "sampajana".

For example, in MN 66 and SN 12.17, the word "vidita" means "to understand" rather than merely "experience with bare awareness", as follows:

Because I understand the diversity of faculties as it applies to this person.

Indriyavemattatā hi me, udāyi, imasmiṃ puggale viditā.

MN 66

However, I have recognized individual differences.

Api ca mayā puggalavemattatā viditā”ti.

SN 12.17

MN 66 & SN 12.17 seem to show Bhikkhu Sujato and particularly Bhikkhus Thanissaro (with his "bare awareness") provide inaccurate translations & explanations of SN 47.35.

In summary, sati delivers & maintains sampajjana. They work together.

Please refer to Ajahn Jayasaro You Tube or Ajahn Buddhadasa Part II. The Use of Dhamma.

  • Thanks for the answer and also for the Ajahn Jayasaro video. SN 48.10 is very good for sati. Unfortunately, the eponymous Sati Sutta (SN 47.35) which talks about sati and sampajanna is not clear at all.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 13:39
  • This essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu is also helpful. He wrote: "Directions such as “bring bare attention to the breath,” or “accept the breath,” or whatever else modern teachers tell us that mindfulness is supposed to do, are actually functions for other qualities in the mind. They're not automatically a part of sati, but you should bring them along wherever they're appropriate."
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 13:39
  • Thanks. Interestingly, in SN 47.35, sampajāno is defined without sati, but sati is defined with sampajāno included in it. "Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ;"
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 3:04
  • Interesting? The answer is Bodhi. Of course sati is defined with sampajāno. Samma sati is about the right things (and not wrong things) to remember or bear in mind. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 3:07

Sati is often translated as "mindful of." So Ānāpānasati means: "mindfulness of in-and out-breathing" or "conscious of in-and-out breath" However, part of the act of doing this is partially somatic, your body experiencing itself, your emotions, thoughts, etc. experienced as they are in and of themselves. It's not a purely mental exercise. It's not reflecting on or thinking about, or placing in a conceptual context. Sati, in and of itself, can lead to a profound stillness of mind and body. Sampajañña, on the other hand, uses the mental and emotive faculties to deeply investigate, discriminate, comprehend, and reach conclusions. Principally, to deeply understand the impermanence of all things. Combined with sati, one comprehends Sunyata, emptiness, impermanence, non-existence of a permanent self, and that identifying with self or sense of permanence only leads to suffering in this life.


I believe in Pali Canon they are used synonymically.

In my understanding,

Sampajanna simply means: being self-aware, not getting carried away (esp. by emotions), paying attention to what you're doing.

Sati has a similar meaning, except the emphasis is on remembering the instructions, remembering the teaching, remembering your vows, remembering what you promised you will and won't do and why.

  • I marked this answer down for the following reasons: (i) it appears the two terms are not synonymic. As Ajahn Jayasaro has said, sati is concentration faculty and sampajana is wisdom faculty. The two terms may be generally used together in the same contexts but they are not used synonymically; (ii) sampajanna is essentially engaging wisdom, which is not really highlighted in the answer above; (iii) sati is well-explained but it excludes the fact that sati also means remembering to engage sampajanna. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 2:49
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    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 10:04

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