Satipatthana Sutta

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The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta[1] (MN 10) (Sanskrit: Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra स्मृत्युपस्थान सूत्र, Chinese: 念處經; The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness) and the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta[2] (DN 22) (The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness) are two of the most important and widely studied discourses in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. The former is also found in the Āgamas of other early schools, and has been embraced by contemporary Mahayana practitioners such as Thich Nhat Hanh.[3]

These discourses (Pāli: sutta) provide a means for practicing mindfulness in a variety of contexts and potentially continuously. Famously, the Buddha declares at the beginning of this discourse:

"This is the direct way [Pāli: ekāyano ... maggo],[4] monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the extinguishing of suffering and grief, for walking on the path of truth, for the realization of nibbāna...." (Vipassana Research Institute, 1996, pp. 2, 3.)

The meditation techniques identified in this sutta can be practiced individually or successively or in an interwoven fashion.


Title translation and related literature[edit]

English translations of the title, "Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta," include:

According to Anālayo (2006, pp. 29–30), Thanissaro (2000) and Nyanaponika (1996, pp. 9–10), part of the reason for the variety in this title's translation has to do with how the compound Pāli word "satipaṭṭhāna" is analyzed. It can be interpreted as "sati-paṭṭhāna" ("foundation of mindfulness") or "sati-upaṭṭhāna" ("presence of mindfulness").[5]

In regard to the prefix "Maha-" in the Pāli title of DN 22, this simply means "great," or "larger" and likely refers to DN 22's expanded section on mindfulness of the Fourth Noble Truths.

Two suttas that focus on practice are the Anapanasati (Mindfulness of Breathing) and the Satipatthana (Four Foundations of Mindfulness).

The Anapanasati Sutta translations and commentaries include one by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhadasa’s Mindfulness with Breathing for Serious Beginners, Larry Rosenberg’s book Breath by Breath, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Breathe! You Are Alive.

Satipatthana Sutta translations and commentaries include the Thanissaro’s, Soma Thera’s The Way of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Transformation and Healing, and Goenka’s Satipatthana Sutta Discourses.

Various Recensions & Canonical placement[edit]

In the Chinese Canon, the Nian Chu Jing (念處經, Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra), based on a Sarvastivadin source, is found on page 582 of the Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 1, Madhyama Āgama No. 26.[6] A second version with the The Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra was not translated into Tibetan,[7] except as part of the long Prajñapāramita Sūtra into which it had been incorporated.[8] There does exist in Tibetan translation a "Saddharma Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra" (dam pa'i chos dran pa nye bar bzhag pa'i mdo//dampé chödren panyé barzhak pé do) but this is a very large early Mahayana sutra and is an entirely different text.[9] Ven. Ajahn Sujato completed an extensive comparative survey of the various recensions of Sutta, entitled A History of Mindfulness.[10] These various versions are quite similar.

In the Theravadin Pali Canon, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the tenth discourse in the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) and is thus often designated by "MN 10"; in the Pali Text Society (PTS) edition of the Canon, this text begins on the 55th page of the first volume of its three-volume Majjhima Nikaya (M), and is thus alternately represented as "M i 55."

As for the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, this is the 22nd discourse in the Digha Nikaya (DN) and is thus often designated by "DN 22"; in the PTS edition of the Canon, the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta begins on the 289th page of the second volume of the PTS' three-volume Digha Nikaya (D), and is thus alternately represented as "D ii 289."

In post-canonical Pali literature, the classic commentary on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (as well as for the entire Majjhima Nikaya) is found in Buddhaghosa's Papañcasudani (Bullitt, 2002; Soma, 2003).


In this sutta, the Buddha identifies four references for establishing mindfulness (satipatthana): body, sensations (or feelings), mind (or consciousness) and mental contents. These are then further broken down into the following sections and subsections:

  1. Body (Kāyā)
  2. Sensations/Feelings (Vedanā)
    • pleasant or unpleasant or neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant (neutral) feelings
    • worldly or spiritual feelings
  3. Mind/Consciousness (Cittā)[11]
    • lust (sarāga) or without lust (vītarāga)
    • hate (sadosa) or without hate (vītadosa)
    • delusion (samoha) or without delusion (vītamoha)
    • contracted (sakhitta) or scattered (vikkhitta)
    • lofty (mahaggata) or not lofty (amahaggata)[12]
    • surpassable (sa-uttara) or unsurpassed (anuttara)[13]
    • quieted (samāhita) or not quieted (asamāhita)
    • released (vimutta) or not released (avimutta)
  4. Mental Contents (Dhammā)[14]


Personality-based typography[edit]

According to Analāyo (2006, pp. 24–25) and Soma (2003, pp. xxii - xxiv), the Papañcasudani recommends a different satipaṭṭhāna depending on whether a person:

  • tends more toward affective craving or intellectual speculation; and,
  • is more measured in their responses or quick reacting.

Based on these two dimensions the commentary's recommended personality-based satipaṭṭhāna is reflected in the grid below.

  experiential orientation
reactivity /
slow body mind
quick sensations mental contents

Soma (2003, p. xxiv) adds that all practitioners (regardless of their character and temperament) should also practice mindfulness of Postures (moving, standing, sitting, lying down) and Clear Understanding, about which he writes: "The whole practice of mindfulness depends on the correct grasp of the exercises included in the two parts referred to here."

Single-focused, successive and simultaneous practices[edit]

There are a variety of ways that one could use the methods described in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta including:

  1. Focus on a single method.[15] The method most written about in the English language is that of mindfulness of breath.[16]
  2. Practice the various methods individually in succession.
  3. Maintain breath mindfulness as a primary object while using other methods to address non-breath stimuli.[17]
  4. Practice multiple methods either in tandem or in a context-driven manner.[18]

See also[edit]

  • Related discourses:
  • Related practices:
  • Related concepts:


  1. ^ M.i.56ff.
  2. ^ D.ii.290ff.
  3. ^ Nhat Hanh 2005
  4. ^ While recognizing that ekāyano ... maggo is "more commonly" translated as "the only path," Anālayo (2006, pp. 27-29) argues that ekāyano ... maggo is best translated as "direct path" based on the contextual meaning of ekāyano in the Mahāsīhanāda Sutta (MN 12, Ñanamoli & Bodhi, 1994, where ekāyano describes a "one way only" path), its absence from other suttas, implications of speedy realization within the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta itself, and commentarial elaboration. The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25) appears to support Anālayo's assessment in their entry for "Ayana": "ekāyano maggo leading to one goal, a direct way" (retrieved 15 May 2010 from
  5. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 29-30, argues that the analysis of the term as sati-upaṭṭhāna is a more etymologically correct derivation as upaṭṭhāna appears both throughout the Pali Canon and in the Sanskrit translation of this sutta; whereas the paṭṭhāna is only found in the Abhidhamma and post-nikaya Pali commentary.
  6. ^ The full text of this sutra in Chinese is at An English translation (Nhat Hanh & Laity, 1990) is at
  7. ^ The Faith to Doubt: Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty. by Stephen Batchelor. Parallax Press Berkeley: 1990 pg 8
  8. ^ A History of Mindfulness: How Insight Worsted Tranquillity in the Satipatthana Sutta by Ajahn Sujato, p. 164
  9. ^ The "dhyāna" chapter of the "Bodhisattvapiṭaka-sūtra" dissertation by Kusumita Priscilla Pedersen. Columbia University 1976 pg 64
  10. ^ A History of Mindfulness: How Insight Worsted Tranquillity in the Satipatthana Sutta by Ajahn Sujato
  11. ^ Regarding English translations of citta, Thanissaro (2000) and VRI (1996) translate it as "mind" while Nyanasatta (1994) and Soma (1999; 2003) translate it as "consciousness." Partly based on material from this discourse, Oxford-trained Dr. Sue Hamilton argues that citta is best translated as "state of mind" while viññāa is "consciousness of" (Hamilton, 2001, pp. 105-114).
  12. ^ Mahaggata is literally "become great." According to the Pali commentary, amahaggata (not become-great) refers to the "conscious state of the plane of existence of sense experience" (kāma), while mahaggata refers to the higher planes of forms (rūpāvacara) and formlessness (arūpāvacara) (Soma, 2003, p. 115).
  13. ^ The commentarial treatment of anuttara ("unsurpassed") and sa-uttara ("surpassable") is similar to its analysis of mahaggata ("become great") and amahaggata ("not become great") above (Soma, 2003, p. 115).
  14. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 182-86, justly points out that translating dhamma as "mental object" (or anything similar, such as "mental contents" in this article) is problemmatic for multiple reasons including that the three prior satipatthāna (body, sensations, mind) can become mental objects in themselves and that those objects (such as the hindrances, aggregates and sense bases) identified under this satipatthāna (dhamma) are far from an exhaustive list of all possible mental objects. Thus, Anālayo more closely identifies this sutta's dhamma as "mental factors and categories," "classificatory schemes," and "frameworks or points of reference to be applied during contemplation" (p. 183). Anālayo (p. 183, nn. 2, 3) quotes Gyori (1996, p. 24) as stating that contemplation of these dhamma "are specifically intended to invest the mind with a soteriological orientation," and Gombrich (1996, p. 36) as writing that contemplating these dhamma teaches one "to see the world through Buddhist spectacles."
  15. ^ In support of a single-method practice, Analāyo (2006), p. 22, comments:
    Several [Pali Canon] discourses relate the practice of a single satipaṭṭhāna directly to realization. Similarly, the commentaries assign to each single satipaṭṭhāna meditation the capacity to lead to full awakening. This may well be why a high percentage of present-day meditation teachers focus on the use of a single meditation technique, on the ground that a single-minded and thorough perfection of one meditation technique can cover all aspects of satipaṭṭhāna, and thus be sufficient to gain realization.
    Among those teachers who Analāyo uses to exemplify this teaching method are S. N. Goenka and Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo. While justifying such a practice, Analāyo (2006), p. 23, nonetheless adds this caveat:
    Thus any single meditation practice from the satipaṭṭhāna scheme is capable of leading to deep insight.... Nonetheless, an attempt to cover all four satipaṭṭhānas in one's practice ... ensures speedy progress and a balanced and comprehensive development.
  16. ^ Also see the Anapanasati Sutta.
  17. ^ This is espoused in various ways – either implicitly or explicitly – by numerous teachers such as Gunaratana, 1996; Goldstein, 1987; and, Nhat Hanh, 2005. In such an approach, the central instructions relate to breath meditation but additional instructions are provided for dealing with mindfulness in daily life (Clear Comprehension) and unwholesome mental content such as the Hindrances or the fetters (which are referenced in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta in regard to sense-base mindfulness). Typical of such approaches, Thanissaro (2000) writes:
    At first glance, the four frames of reference for satipatthana practice sound like four different meditation exercises, but MN 118 makes clear that they can all center on a single practice: keeping the breath in mind. When the mind is with the breath, all four frames of reference are right there. The difference lies simply in the subtlety of one's focus. It's like learning to play the piano. As you get more proficient at playing, you also become sensitive in listening to ever more subtle levels in the music. This allows you to play even more skillfully. In the same way, as a meditator get more skilled in staying with the breath, the practice of satipatthana gives greater sensitivity in peeling away ever more subtle layers of participation in the present moment until nothing is left standing in the way of total release.
  18. ^ For instance, Analāyo (2006), pp. 21-23, has pointed out that the first three body-centered methods suggest different depths or a progression of practice based on one's activity. For example, one engaged in simply walking or standing (two of the so-called "postures") could be mindful of gross sensory stimulation; then when one is silent and planning to speak, one could first contemplate one's purpose in speaking (indicative of Clear Comprehension); in addition, while one is sitting still with a focus on one's in-breath and out-breath, one is able to pursue a deeper development of samatha and vipassana as part of formal breath meditation.


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