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In the Buddhist tradition, satipaṭṭhāna (Pāli; Skt. smṛtyupasthāna) refers to foundations for (paṭṭhāna; pasthāna) or the presence of (Pali upaṭṭhāna; Skt. upasthāna) "mindfulness" (Pali sati; Skt. smṛti). The Buddha is recorded as having said that this framework for establishing mindfulness is the "direct" or "one-way path" (Pali ekāyano maggo) to the realisation of nirvana.
The "four foundations of mindfulness" (Pali cattāro satipaṭṭhānā) are canonically described bases for maintaining moment-by-moment mindfulness and for developing mindfulness through meditation. The four foundations of mindfulness are:
- mindfulness of the body (Pali: kāya-sati, kāyagatā-sati; Skt. kāya-smṛti)
- mindfulness of feelings (or sensations) (Pali vedanā-sati; Skt. vedanā-smṛti)
- mindfulness of mind (or consciousness) (Pali citta-sati; Skt. citta-smṛti)
- mindfulness of mental phenomena (or mental objects) (Pali dhammā-sati; Skt. dharma-smṛti)
Satipaṭṭhāna is a compound term that has been parsed (and thus translated) in two ways:
- Sati-paṭṭhāna which has been translated as "foundation of mindfulness," underscoring the object used to gain mindfulness.
- Sati-upaṭṭhāna which has been translated as "presence of mindfulness" or "establishment of mindfulness" or "arousing of mindfulness," underscoring the mental qualities co-existent with or antecedent to mindfulness.
While the former parsing and translation is more traditional, the latter has been given etymological and contextual authority by contemporary Buddhist scholars such as Bhikkhu Analayo and Bhikkhu Bodhi.
Satipaṭṭhāna is a way of implementing the right mindfulness (sammā-sati) and, less directly, the right concentration (sammā-samādhi) parts of the Noble Eightfold Path. Satipaṭṭhāna meditation develops the mental factors of vipassana (insight) and samatha (calm). Satipaṭṭhāna is practiced most often in the context of Theravada Buddhism although the principles are also practiced in many traditions of Buddhism which emphasize meditation such as the Sōtō Zen tradition.
The four satipaṭṭhāna are one of the seven sets of bodhipakkhiyādhammā (Pali for "states conducive to enlightenment") identified in many schools of Buddhism as a means for achieving Enlightenment or Awakening (bodhi).
In the Pali Canon, this framework for systematically cultivating mindful awareness can be found in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta ("Greater Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness," DN 22); the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta ("Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness," MN 10), and throughout the Satipaṭṭhāna-samyutta (SN, Chapter 47). The Satipaṭṭhāna-samyutta itself contains 104 of the Buddha's discourses on the satipaṭṭhānas including two popular discourses delivered to the townspeople of Sedaka, "the Acrobat" (Thanissaro, 1997a) and "the Beauty Queen" (Thanissaro, 1997b).
Key discourses among these identify the value of this practice in this manner:
- Bhikkhus, this is the one-way path for the purification of beings,
- for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation,
- for the passing away of pain and displeasure,
- for the achievement of the method,
- for the realization of Nibbāna,
- that is, the four establishments of mindfulness.
Repeatedly in these discourses one finds the establishing of mindfulness explicated by the refrain:
- [One] remains focused on the body ... feeling ... mind ... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.
The aforementioned wholesome establishments of mindfulness are contrasted with the mind-ensnaring qualities of:
- The five strands of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable by the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. Sounds cognizable by the ear.... Aromas cognizable by the nose.... Flavors cognizable by the tongue.... Tactile sensations cognizable by the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing.
Satipatthana vs. Jhana
Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
- ... Though there is neither canonical nor commentarial basis for this view, it might be maintained that satipatthana is called ekayaa magga, the direct path, to distinguish it from the approach to meditative attainment that proceeds through the jhanas or brahmaviharas. While the latter can lead to Nibbana, they do not do so necessarily but can lead to sidetracks, whereas satipatthana leads invariably to the final goal.
- See the Satipatthana sutta (MN 10; DN 22); as well as SN 47.1, 47.18 and 47.43. These five discourses are the only canonical sources for the phrase, "ekāyano ... maggo" (with this specific declension).
The Pali phrase "ekāyano ... maggo'" has been translated as:
- "direct path" (Bodhi & Gunaratana, 2012, p. 12; Nanamoli & Bodhi, 1995; Thanissaro, 2008)
- "one-way path"(Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1627-8, 1647-8, 1661)
- "the only way" (Nyanasatta, 2004; Soma, 1941/2003)
- "the one and only way" (Vipassana Research Institute, 1996, pp. 2, 3)
- Mindfulness in Early Buddhism: New Approaches through Psychology and Textual Analysis of Pali, Chinese and Sanskrit Sources by Tse-fu Kuan. Routledge:2008 ISBN 0-415-43737-7 pgs i, 9, 81 
- For the traditional use of the translation, "foundations [paṭṭhānā] of mindfulness," see, e.g., Gunaratana (2012) and U Silananda (2002). For appraisals supporting the parsing of the suffix as upaṭṭhāna, see, e.g., Anālayo (2006), pp. 29-30; and, Bodhi (2000), p. 1504. Anālayo argues from an etymological standpoint that, while "foundation [paṭṭhāna] of mindfulness" is supported by the Pali commentary, the term paṭṭhāna (foundation) was otherwise unused in the Pali nikayas and is only first used in the Abhidhamma; in contrast, the term upaṭṭhāna (presence or establishment) can in fact be found throughout the nikayas and is readily visible in the Sanskrit equivalents of the compound Pāli phrase satipaṭṭhāna (Skt., smṛtyupasthāna or smṛti-upasthāna). Thus Anālayo states that "presence of mindfulness" (as opposed to "foundation of mindfulness") is more likely to be etymologically correct. Like Anālayo, Bodhi assesses that "establishment [upaṭṭhāna] of mindfulness" is the preferred translation. However, Bodhi's analysis is more contextual than Anālayo's. According to Bodhi, while "establishment of mindfulness" is normally supported by the textual context, there are exceptions to this rule, such as with SN 47.42 (pp. 1660, 1928 n. 180) where a translation of "foundation of mindfulness" is best supported. Soma (1941/2003) uses both "foundations of mindfulness" and "arousing of mindfulness."
- For an example of a Zen master's explicit use of this type of meditation, see Nhat Hanh (2005).
- Samyutta Nikaya, Ch. 47. See Bodhi (2000), pp. 1627ff.
- Bodhi (2000, SN 47 n. 123, Kindle Loc. 35147) notes: "Spk [the commentary to the Samyutta Nikaya] explains the 'method' (ñāya) as the Noble Eightfold Path...."
- SN 47.1 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1627). Also see DN 22, MN 10, SN 47.18 and SN 47.43.
- Thanissaro (1997). See other suttas in this samyutta for the repetition of this refrain. What Ven. Thanissaro translates here as "alert" is the Pali word, "sampajāno," which others translate, for instance, as "clearly comprehending" (e.g., see Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1627ff.).
- SN 47.6 (Thanissaro, 1997) and SN 47.7 (Olendzki, 2005).
- Nanamoli & Bodhi (1995), n. 135, Kindle Loc. 20360.
- Anālayo (2006). Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications. ISBN 1-899579-54-0.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-168-8.
- Gunaratana (2012). The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Pub. ISBN 978-1-61429-038-4.
- Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans.) (1995), The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Somerville: Wisdom Pubs ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
- Nhat Hanh, Thich (trans. Annabel Laity) (2005). Transformation and Healing : Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness . Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. ISBN 0-938077-34-1.
- Nyanasatta Thera (2004). Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness (MN 10). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.nysa.html.
- Nyanaponika Thera (1954). The Heart of Buddhist Meditation.
- Olendzki, Andrew (2005). Makkata Sutta: The Foolish Monkey (SN 47.7). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.007.olen.html.
- Silananda (2002). The Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Boston: Wisdom Pub. ISBN 0-86171-328-1.
- Soma Thera (1941; 6th ed. 2003). The Way of Mindfulness. Kandy: BPS. ISBN 955-24-0256-5. Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wayof.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997). Sakunagghi Sutta (The Hawk) (SN 47.6). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.006.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997a). Sedaka Sutta: At Sedaka (The Acrobat) (SN 47.19). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.019.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997b). Sedaka Sutta: At Sedaka (The Beauty Queen) (SN 47.20). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.020.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2008). Satipatthana Sutta: Frames of Reference (MN 10). Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html.
- Vipassana Research Institute (trans.) (1996). Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Great Discourse on Establishing Mindfulness. Seattle, WA: Vipassana Research Publications of America. ISBN 0-9649484-0-0.
- Satipaṭṭhāna-related discourses in the Pali Canon:
- Commentary on the Satipatthana sutta
- Link to free online class on Satipaṭṭhāna given by Sayadaw U Silananda
- "Agendas of Mindfulness," by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a discourse on Satipaṭṭhāna
- "Satipatthana Vipassana" or "Insight through Mindfulness," by Mahasi Sayadaw
- Global Online Satipatthana Recitation
- Saddhamma Foundation Information about practicing Satipatthana meditation.