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Path Factors

Satipaṭṭhāna is the Pāli word for the Buddhist concept of the establishment or foundations of mindfulness. The corresponding word in Sanskrit (Skt.) is smṛtyupasthāna and in Chinese it is ‘mindfulness-place’ (念處).

Satipaṭṭhāna is a compound word, consisting of sati ("to remember"), and upaṭṭhāna ("attendance", underscoring the mental qualities co-existent with or antecedent to mindfulness) or paṭṭhāna ("setting forth," "starting point," "foundation," underscoring the object used to gain mindfulness).

The fourfold "establishment of mindfulness" (Pāli cattāro satipaṭṭhānā) is set out in the Satipatthana Sutta for attaining and maintaining moment-by-moment mindfulness or retention (Sati) of four domains, "constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings which would power future experience into rebirths."[1] The four domains are:[2]

  • mindfulness of the body;[3][web 1]
  • mindfulness of feelings or sensations (vedanā);[4]
  • mindfulness of mind or consciousness (citta);[5] and
  • mindfulness of dhammās (the elements of the Buddhist teachings).[6]

The Buddha referred to the fourfold establishment of mindfulness as a "direct" or "one-way path" for purification and the realisation of nirvana.[note 1]

The modern Theravadan Buddhism and the Vipassana or Insight Meditation Movement promote satipatthana as key techniques for achieving mindfulness, promoting "mindfulness" as meaning barefull attention instead of the recollection of the dhamma.


Satipaṭṭhāna is a compound term that has been parsed (and thus translated) in two ways, namely Sati-paṭṭhāna and Sati-upaṭṭhāna. The separate terms can be translated as follows:

  • Sati - Pail; Sanskrit smṛti. Smṛti originally meant "to remember," "to recollect," "to bear in mind," as in the Vedic tradition of remembering the sacred texts. The term sati also means "to remember." In the Satipațțhāna-sutta the term sati means to remember the wholesome dharmas, whereby the true nature of phenomena can be seen,[7] such as the five faculties, the five powers, the seven awakening-factors, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the attainment of insight.[8]
  • Upaṭṭhāna - "attendance, waiting on, looking after, service, care, ministering"[web 2]
  • Paṭṭhāna - "setting forth, putting forward;" in later Buddhist literature also "origin," "starting point," "cause."[web 3]

The compound terms have been translated as follows:

  • Sati-upaṭṭhāna - "presence of mindfulness" or "establishment of mindfulness" or "arousing of mindfulness," underscoring the mental qualities co-existent with or antecedent to mindfulness.
  • Sati-paṭṭhāna - "foundation of mindfulness," underscoring the object used to gain mindfulness.

While the latter parsing and translation is more traditional, the formter has been given etymological and contextual authority by contemporary Buddhist scholars such as Bhikkhu Analayo and Bhikkhu Bodhi.[note 2]

Anālayo argues from an etymological standpoint that, while "foundation [paṭṭhāna] of mindfulness" is supported by the Pāli commentary, the term paṭṭhāna (foundation) was otherwise unused in the Pāli 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.[9]

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[note 3] where a translation of "foundation of mindfulness" is best supported.[10] Soma uses both "foundations of mindfulness" and "arousing of mindfulness."[11]

Within Buddhist teachings[edit]

In the Satipațțhāna-sutta the term sati means to remember the dharmas, whereby the true nature of phenomena can be seen.[7] According to Paul Williams, referring to Erich Frauwallner, mindfulness provided the way to liberation, "constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings which would power future experience into rebirths."[1][note 4] According to Vetter, dhyana may have been the original core practice of the Buddha, which aided the maintenance of mindfulness.[12]

The four foundations of mindfulness are one of the seven sets of "states conducive to enlightenment" (Pāli bodhipakkhiyādhammā) identified in many schools of Buddhism as means for progressing toward bodhi (awakening). In the Noble Eightfold Path, they are included in sammā-sati and, less directly, sammā-samādhi. Sati is recommended as a "one-way path" for the purification from unwholesome factors, and the realization of Nibbana.[note 5]

In the Pāli 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[14] including two popular discourses delivered to the townspeople of Sedaka, "the Acrobat"[web 4] and "the Beauty Queen".[web 5]

Mindfulness of dhammas[edit]

"Dhammas" is often translated as "mental objects". According to Anālayo[15] translating dhamma as "mental object" is problemmatic for multiple reasons. The three prior satipatthāna (body, sensations, mind) can become mental objects in themselves, and those objects, such as the hindrances, aggregates and sense bases, identified under the term dhamma are far from an exhaustive list of all possible mental objects. Anālayo translates dhamma as "mental factors and categories," "classificatory schemes," and "frameworks or points of reference to be applied during contemplation".[16]

Anālayo[17] quotes Gyori[18] as stating that contemplation of these dhamma "are specifically intended to invest the mind with a soteriological orientation." He further quotes Gombrich[19] as writing that contemplating these dhamma teaches one "to see the world through Buddhist spectacles."

Contemporary exegesis[edit]

The four foundations of mindfulness are regarded as fundamental in modern Theravadan Buddhism and the Vipassana or Insight Meditation Movement. In this approach the emphasis is on mindfulness itself, as bare attention, instead of on the objects, mental states to be guarded, and the teachings to be remembered. The four foundations (Satipaṭṭhāna) meditation practices gradually develop the mental factors of samatha ("calm") and vipassana ("insight"). Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes that "satipatthana practice is often said to be separate from the practice of jhana," but argues that mindfulness is also an aid in the development of concentration.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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 Pāli 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)
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ pp. 1660, 1928 n. 180
  4. ^ Frauwallner, E. (1973), History of Indian Philosophy, trans. V.M. Bedekar, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Two volumes., pp.150 ff
  5. ^ "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,[subnote 1]
    for the realization of Nibbāna,
    that is, the four establishments of mindfulness.[subnote 2] The wholesome establishments of mindfulness are contrasted with the unwholesome qualities of the five strands of sensuality, namely pleasant sensations from the eye, the ear, the tongue and the body.[13]
  1. ^ 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...."
  2. ^ SN 47.1 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1627). Also see DN 22, MN 10, SN 47.18 and SN 47.43.


  1. ^ a b Williams 2000, p. 46.
  2. ^ Mindfulness in Early Buddhism: New Approaches through Psychology and Textual Analysis of Pāli, Chinese and Sanskrit Sources by Tse-fu Kuan. Routledge:2008 ISBN 0-415-43737-7 pgs i, 9, 81 [1]
  3. ^ (Pāli: kāya-sati, kāyagatā-sati; Skt. kāya-smṛti)
  4. ^ (Pāli vedanā-sati; Skt. vedanā-smṛti)
  5. ^ (Pāli citta-sati; Skt. citta-smṛti)
  6. ^ (Pāli dhammā-sati; Skt. dharma-smṛti)
  7. ^ a b Sharf 2014, p. 942.
  8. ^ Sharf 2014, p. 942-943.
  9. ^ Anālayo (2006), pp. 29-30
  10. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1504
  11. ^ Soma (1941/2003)
  12. ^ Vetter 1988.
  13. ^ SN 47.6 (Thanissaro, 1997) and SN 47.7 (Olendzki, 2005).
  14. ^ Samyutta Nikaya, Ch. 47. See Bodhi (2000), pp. 1627ff.
  15. ^ Anālayo 2006, pp. 182-86
  16. ^ Anālayo 2006 p. 183
  17. ^ Anālayo 2006 p. 183, nn. 2, 3
  18. ^ Gyori 1996, p. 24
  19. ^ Gombrich 1996, p. 36
  20. ^ " Maha-satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference" (DN 22), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, .


Printed sources[edit]


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