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I was reading a book where author defined Mindfulness (sati) using these three analogies from different suttas:

  • The Buddha compares mindfulness to a gatekeeper for a frontier fortress. [Kimsuka Sutta]

  • There’s another passage where the Buddha says that mindfulness is like a goad. Most of us have gotten away from animal husbandry and farming, and so we don’t even know what a goad is. It’s a long stick with a sharp point. You use it to poke your animals when they’re going the wrong direction, or if they’re standing still when they should be going. The implication here is that the ability to remember what’s skillful and what’s not, and to be able to give yourself a little push or a poke in the right direction: That’s what mindfulness does for you.

    And sometimes it’s more than just a little poke.

    (May be he is referring to Patoda Sutta. But I'm not very sure because Buddha didn't mentioned Mindfulness in this Sutta. Please provide me correct sutta if there is.)

  • There’s another passage where the Buddha says that when you see that something unskillful has arisen in your mind, then you act as if your hair were on fire. You do everything you can, as quickly as you can, to put it out. You’re relentless and mindful in being focused on putting out the fire, and nothing else.

And other definitions which is written in Wikipedia:

  • Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.

    (Authour refers it as equanimity)

But as I understand, I will only call Gate-keeper analogy as Mindfulness. And other analogies falls in the category of Right Effort and Right Resolve.

If we look at MN 117 :

"One makes an effort for the abandoning of wrong resolve & for entering right resolve: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right resolve."

Please correct me if I misunderstood this.

  • Please also see Difference between sati and sampajanna – ruben2020 Jun 12 at 7:44
  • I read Dhammadhatu answer. According to his answer, Sati = to remember, Sampajanna = to thoroughly or completely understand something or a situation with right understanding rather than to have mere "bare awareness". I think Sampajanna comes under Right Effort though they need eachother (look MN 177 which I have mentioned). So do you mean mindfulness means 'to remember or keep in mind'? – rht Jun 12 at 11:33
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Jun 12 at 14:40
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Sati

That which is mindfulness, recollection, recall, mindfulness, remembrance, bearing (in mind), not losing, not confusing, mindfulness, the Faculty of Mindfulness, the Strength of Mindfulness, Right Mindfulness: this is called ‘mindfulness.’

Therein what is mindfulness-awakening-factor? Herein a monk is mindful, furnished with excellent mindfulness-penetration, he remembers, remembers constantly, what has long been done and long been said (concerning release). This is called mindfulness-awakening-factor.

Unshakability by negligence as the meaning of the power [strength] of mindfulness

The mindfulness which on that occasion is recollecting, calling back to mind; the mindfulness which is remembering, bearing in mind, the opposite of superficiality and of obliviousness; mindfulness as faculty, mindfulness as power, right mindfulness—this is the faculty of mindfulness that there then is.

These are theravadin abhidhamma and patisambhidamagga excerpts

The Blessed One said, “Suppose, monks, that a large crowd of people comes thronging together, saying, ‘The beauty queen! The beauty queen!’ And suppose that the beauty queen is highly accomplished at singing & dancing, so that an even greater crowd comes thronging, saying, ‘The beauty queen is singing! The beauty queen is dancing!’ Then a man comes along, desiring life & shrinking from death, desiring pleasure & abhorring pain. They say to him, ‘Now look here, mister. You must take this bowl filled to the brim with oil and carry it on your head in between the great crowd & the beauty queen. A man with a raised sword will follow right behind you, and wherever you spill even a drop of oil, right there will he cut off your head.’ Now what do you think, monks: Will that man, not paying attention to the bowl of oil, let himself get distracted outside?” “No, lord.” “I have given you this parable to convey a meaning. The meaning is this: The bowl filled to the brim with oil stands for mindfulness immersed in the body. Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.’ That is how you should train yourselves.” https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.020.than.html

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Conventionally, we understand that being mindful while driving is prudent and safe. This conventional perspective of mindfulness is effective in that it allows us to approach the suttas and immersion itself:

MN118:24.5: kāye kāyānupassī, bhikkhave, tasmiṃ samaye bhikkhu viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ.

MN118:24.5: at that time they’re meditating by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

As we meditate further, we start noticing subtleties. For example, there is sampajāno and satimā (i.e., "aware and mindful"). The implication is simple. There can be awareness. There can be mindfulness.

Investigating further, looking very closely, we find:

AN4.35:2.5: Satimā kho pana hoti cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā

AN4.35:2.5: They are mindful, able to remember and recollect what was said and done long ago.

And from this rare quote, we can understand that mindfulness remembers.

Notably, mindfulness is almost always spoken of in conjunction with awareness. Clearly, one must be mindful AND aware. Total recall without awareness is incomplete.

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Samma Sati (right mindfulness) is the practice of Satipathana.

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There are two questions:

  1. What is the English definition of 'mindfulness'?
  2. or What is the correct definition of 'sati', the pali word often translated as 'mindfulness'?

The English definition of 'mindfulness' has been hijacked. What was once based on the Buddha's definition of 'sati' (and 'sampajano'), has been hijacked and transformed by two major forces in the modern world.

a) Buddhist teachers, even famous and intelligent ones, perhaps influenced by each other and modern psychotherapy's version of 'mindfulness', generally understand 'mindfulness' as a kind of choiceless bare awareness. Not properly differentiating between 'sati' and 'sampajano', and not understanding the core suttas, they've ended up with not only a watered down 'sati', but a dangerously wrong interpretation that misses some of the most important aspects of 'sati'.

a) Modern psychotherapy reshapes the watered down Buddhist misinterpretation from (a) into a secular method of meditation for stress relief. Certainly still a very useful tool, hence its popularity, but throws out some of the most important benefits of the real 'sati'.


The correct definition of 'sati', the pali word often translated as 'mindfulness' can only be determined from a careful comprehensive study of the early suttas.

My detailed analysis can be found here: 👑8☸ → 7🐘 Sammā Sati

There's a summary of the main points at the end of this post -- sati is "remembering"or "memory".

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  • I am downvoting this answer due to unsubstantiated speculations, and because several of these statements regarding psychotherapy simply aren't true. Mindfulness in psychotherapy is the opposite of being "choiceless". Also, it is very much retaining other "benefits of the real sati", and covers a lot more than "stress relief". Denigrating the purpose of psychotherapy - that is to help people to better health - is uncalled for. – Erik Jun 12 at 13:00
  • @Erik It seems to be substantiated by Wikipedia -- e.g. Choiceless awareness ("One term that is often used as a near-synonym is mindfulness"), and, Mindfulness ("Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment") -- isn't that so? – ChrisW Jun 12 at 13:45
  • @ChrisW I don't think it's fair to shift the onus of proof from the original posters claims onto me. I also don't believe that i am responsible for correcting others misconceptions, but i will react when health professionals honest work and/or goodwill is unjustly put down. Lastly, i am fine with agreeing to disagree regarding these things. – Erik Jun 12 at 14:10
  • @Erik I didn't read frankk's answer as even 'putting down' medical professionals (it says, "certainly very useful tool"); only as saying that modern definition/practice isn't an accurate guide to, not even the same thing as, the contexts in which the word sati is used in the suttas. – ChrisW Jun 12 at 14:15
  • @erik, from a perspective of sati that's part of an integrated solution that aims to complete eradicate suffering and rebirth (in EBT original core teachings), compared to whatever the best version of psychotherapy version of 'mindfulness', is a world of difference. The criticism is not to denigrate psychtherapy but to lament that people who understand 'mindfulness' as psychotherapy's definition miss out on the world transcending implications from the EBT. – frankk Jun 12 at 17:55

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