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Translations of
Englishclear comprehension,
clear knowing,
fully alert,
full awareness,
Sanskritसंप्रजन्य (saṃprajanya)
Paliसम्पजञ्ञ (sampajañña)
Glossary of Buddhism

Sampajañña (Pāli; Skt.: saṃprajanya, Tib: shes bzhin) is a term of central importance for meditative practice in all Buddhist traditions. It refers to “The mental process by which one monitors one’s own body and mind. In the practice of śamatha, its principal function is to note the occurrence of laxity and excitation.”[1] It is very often found in the pair ‘mindfulness and introspection’ or ‘mindfulness and clear comprehension) (Pali: Sati sampajañña, Skt.: smṛti saṃprajanya).

Sampajañña has been variously translated into English as "clear comprehension",[2] "clear knowing,"[3] "constant thorough understanding of impermanence",[4] "fully alert"[5] or "full awareness",[6] "attention, consideration, discrimination, comprehension, circumspection", [7] and “introspection.”[1]

Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism entry[edit]

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism entry says;

“saṃprajanya . (P. sampajañña; T. shes bzhin; C. zhengzhi; J. shōchi; K. chŏngji正知 ). In Sanskrit, “clear comprehension,” “circumspection,” “introspection”; a term that is closely related to, and often appears in compound with, mindfulness (S. SM Ṛ TI , P. sati). In descriptions of the practice of developing meditative absorption ( DHYĀNA ), sm ṛ ti refers to the factor of mindfulness that ties the mind to the object, while sa ṃ prajanya is the factor that observes the mind to determine whether it has strayed from its object. Specifically, Pāli sources refer to four aspects of clear comprehension, which involve the application of mindfulness in practice. The first is purpose (P. sātthaka), viz., whether the action will be in the best interests of oneself and others; its principal criterion is whether it leads to growth in dharma. Second is suitability (P. sappāya): whether an action is in accord with the appropriate time, place, and personal capacity; its principal criterion is skillfulness in applying right means (P. upāyakosalla; S. UPĀYAKAUŚALYA ). Third is the domain of meditation (gocara): viz., all experiences should be made a topic of mindful awareness. Fourth is nondelusion (asammoha): viz., recognizing that what seem to be the actions of a person are in fact an impersonal series of mental and physical processes; this aspect of sa ṃ prajanya helps to counteract the tendency to view all events from a personal point of view. Sa ṃ prajanya thus expands upon the clarity of thought generated by mindfulness by incorporating the additional factors of correct knowledge ( JÑĀNA ) or wisdom ( PRAJÑĀ ).”[8]

From the Pali Canon[edit]

Clear comprehension is most famously invoked by the Buddha in tandem with mindfulness practice in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:

Herein (in this teaching) a monk lives contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;
he lives contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;
he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;
he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief.[9]

Clear comprehension develops out of mindfulness of breathing (ānāpānasati) and is subsequently present in tandem with mindfulness for all four satipaṭṭhāna-s.[10][9]

Canonical commentary[edit]

While the nikayas do not elaborate on what the Buddha meant by sampajañña, the Pali commentaries analyze it further in terms of four contexts for one's comprehension:[11]

  • purpose (Pāli: sātthaka): refraining from activities irrelevant to the path.
  • suitability (sappāya): pursuing activities in a dignified and careful manner.
  • domain (gocara):[12] maintaining sensory restraint consistent with mindfulness.
  • non-delusion (asammoha): seeing the true nature of reality (see three characteristics).

Contemporary commentary[edit]

Critical to Right Mindfulness' purpose (Nyanaponika)[edit]

In a correspondence between Bhikkhu Bodhi and B. Alan Wallace, Bhikkhu Bodhi described Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's views on "right mindfulness" and sampajañña as follows,

... I should add that Ven. Nyanaponika himself did not regard “bare attention” as capturing the complete significance of satipaṭṭhāna, but as representing only one phase, the initial phase, in the meditative development of right mindfulness. He held that in the proper practice of right mindfulness, sati has to be integrated with sampajañña, clear comprehension, and it is only when these two work together that right mindfulness can fulfill its intended purpose.[13]

Use day and night (Thầy Thich Nhat Hanh)[edit]

Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, has written with regards to the aforementioned verse in the Satipatthana Sutra, on the topic of sampajañña, the following,

This exercise is the observation and awareness of the actions of the body. This is the fundamental practice of the monk. When I was first ordained as a novice forty-eight years ago, the first book my master gave me to learn by heart was a book of gathas[14] to be practised while washing your hands, brushing your teeth, washing your face, putting on your clothes, sweeping the courtyard, relieving yourself, having a bath, and so on.
... If a novice applies himself to the practice of [this] ... exercise, he will see that his everyday actions become harmonious, graceful, and measured. Mindfulness becomes visible in his actions and speech. When any action is placed in the light of mindfulness, the body and mind become relaxed, peaceful, and joyful. [This] ... exercise is one to be used day and night throughout one's entire life.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wallace, B. Alan (2016). Heart of the Great Perfection. MA, USA: Wisdom publications. pp. 629 (e-book). ISBN 978-1-61429-236-4. Glossary=introspection (Tib. shes bzhin, Skt. saṃprajanya). The mental process by which one monitors one’s own body and mind. In the practice of śamatha, its principal function is to note the occurrence of laxity and excitation.
  2. ^ Commentary (543 B.C.); Payutto (1972) Dictionary of Buddhism; TW Rhys Davids (1921); Bodhi (2005), p. 283; and, Soma (2003), pp. 60-100.
  3. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 141 ff.
  4. ^ VRI (1996), pp. 8-11.
  5. ^ Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta [The Establishing of Mindfulness Discourse] Majjhima Nikaya 10. (Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu). Retrieved from
  6. ^ a b Nhat Hanh (1990), pp. 50-51.
  7. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 690, entry "Sampajañña".[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr., Jr. Lopez Donald S. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, USA: Princeton University Press. pp. 57190 (kindle Ebook location). ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3.
  9. ^ a b Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness, translated from the Pali by Nyanasatta Thera [1]
  10. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 141-2.[2]
  11. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 143-5; Bodhi (2005), p. 442, n. 34; and, Nyanaponika (1996), p. 46.
  12. ^ While the other three types of sampajañña have standard English translations, gocara has been translated in a variety of ways. Gocara (Pāli) generally means "pasture" or "grazing", based on go (cow) and cara (walking). Thus, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 254[permanent dead link], provides a somewhat literal definition of gocara-sampanna as "pasturing in the field of good conduct". See also Anālayo (2006), p. 56, where, for instance, he notes: "A discourse in the Anguttara Nikāya compares the practice of satipatthāna to a cowherd's skill in knowing the proper pasture for his cows." In this article, the translation of gocara as "domain" is based on Bodhi (2005), p. 442, and Nyanaponika (1996), pp. 49-51. Alternatively, Soma (2003), pp. 61, 64, translates gocara as "resort," while Anālayo (2006), pp. 143, 145, uses the literal translation of "pasture".
  13. ^ Wallace & Bodhi (2006), p. 4. According to this correspondence, Ven. Nyanaponika spend his last ten years living with and being cared for by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Bhikkhu Bodhi refers to Ven Nyanaponika as "my closest kalyāṇamitta in my life as a monk."
  14. ^ A gāthā (Pāli) is a verse of four half-lines (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 248). For Thầy Thich Nhat Hanh, these verses generally bring one's awareness cheerfully back to the simple task at hand. Perhaps Thầy Thich Nhat Hanh's most famous gatha is:
    Breathing in, I calm my body,
    Breathing out, I smile.
    Dwelling in the present moment,
    I know this is a wonderful moment. (Nhat Hanh, 1990, p. 46.)


External links[edit]