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The Mindfulness Sutta

 The Shorter Sutta on the Placements of Mindfulness

Translation from the Pali by Christopher McLean

 

Modern Western Use of Mindfulness: An Introduction by the translator

This text has had a major influence on the development of Buddhist contemplative and meditation practice in all schools. The word "satipatthana" is the name for an approach to self-awareness aimed at establishing sati, remembrance or mindfulness. The term sati comes from the Vedic (Sanskrit ) word smṛti, and is related to the verb sarati = to remember or to keep in mind.

'Sati' is sometimes interpreted by Western meditation teachers as non-judgemental awareness, or bare attentiveness; and so, too, in this light, Western psychotherapy has tended to emphasise mindfulness as the skill of being present with whatever arises in one's immediate experience. Of course, psychotherapists (a town of which I count myself a member) do also commonly see mindfulness as a support for changing our life in positive directions; in particular, as a support for cultivating healthier patterns of thinking and feeling. This is beneficial.

And, naturally enough, non-judgemental awareness and the capacity to cultivate good mental health are important aspects of satipatthana. However, our primary text, the satipatthana-Sutta goes further. It has, as its context, the desire for a distinctive kind of freedom, freedom from the deepest conditioning of human perceptivity. This is the subject of the fourth topic, the fourth placement of mindfulness. This context is also explicitly stated at the beginning of the sutta, and in its conclusion. 

Hence, the original text, presents the processes of mindfulness with this specific guiding intention: the desire for full awakening; the desire for realisation of the unconditioned, the deathless, or nibbāna. The role of Buddhist cultivation of mindfulness, then, is to keep consciousness grounded in the present moment in a specific, appropriate way, a way that will keep it on the path of this full awakening.

Note on the translation: I name this the 'shorter' sutta, because there is another longer version of the Mindfulness Sutta; it is called the 'Maha' or Great Sutta on the Placements of Mindfulness. (See Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation of this, the Digha Nikaya 22). That version greatly amplifies the section in the present sutta which is presented here as: 'Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of the four ennobling realities.’ The 'Maha' version, by exploring in more detail what the four ennobling realities are, goes more thoroughly into this issue of the particular 'remembrance' that is intended by the specifically Buddhist use of the English word 'mindfulness.'

This translation will be an on-going revision. This page will also be expanded as soon as possible, to include: extensive notes on the translation (which has features different from many other translations), a commentary, referrals to other translations, and suggestions for further study. Feedback on the translation is welcome.

Christopher McLean,
Blackheath
NSW Australia,
April 2012

 

 

The Shorter Sutta on the Placements of Mindfulness

MN 10: satipaṭṭhānasuttaṃ

 

‘This path goes one way only’

Thus have I heard: On one occasion the illustrious one was living in the Kuru country, at a town of the Kurus named Kammasadhamma. There he addressed the almsmen: "Almsmen."

"Venerable Sir," they replied.

The illustrious one said: "Almsmen, this path goes one way only, this path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the way, for the realisation of nibbāna – that is to say, the path of the four placements of mindfulness.

"What are the four? Here, Almsmen, an almsman dwells contemplating the body in the body, feeling-tones in the feeling-tones, mind-states in the mind-states; and mental processes in the mental processes themselves. He contemplates – ardent, mindful, and in full comprehension, having put away longing and distress regarding the world.

Contemplating the body - mindfulness of breathing

"And how, Almsmen, does an almsman dwell contemplating the body in the body? Here an almsman, having gone to a forest or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down; and having folded his legs crosswise, sits with his body erect, and puts mindfulness to the fore. He breathes in mindfully and he breathes out mindfully. Whether breathing either a long or short breath, an in- or out-breath, he knows: ‘I breathe in long’; or, ‘I breathe out long.’ Or, ‘ I breathe in short’; or ‘I breathe out short.’

And he trains in this way: ‘I shall breathe in, experiencing the whole breathing body.’ ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole breathing body.’ He trains: ‘I shall breathe in calming everything that makes up the body.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out calming everything that makes up the body.’ Just as a skilled acrobat or his apprentice, when making a long stretch, knows: ‘I make a long stretch’; or, when making a short stretch, knows: ‘I make a short stretch’ ; so too, breathing in or out, long or short, an almsman knows: ‘I breathe in long’, ‘I breathe out long,’ and so on. And, he trains in calming everything that makes up the body: ‘I shall breathe in calming the body,’ and ‘I shall breathe out calming the body.’

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in the body. 

Contemplating the body - the four postures

"Again, Almsmen, when walking an almsman knows: ‘I am walking’; when standing, he knows: ‘I am standing’; when sitting, he knows: ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, he knows: ‘I am lying down’; or, whatever his body’s disposition, he knows accordingly.

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. 

“This, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in the body.

Contemplating the body – full awareness

"Again, Almsmen, an almsman is one who acts in full comprehension when going backward and forward. He acts in full comprehension when looking ahead and behind, when bending and stretching his limbs, when wearing his robes and carrying his bowl. He acts in full comprehension when when eating and drinking, tasting and chewing. He acts in full comprehension when shitting and peeing; and when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent.

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. 

“This, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in a body.

Contemplating the body - impurity - the bodily parts

"Again, Almsmen, an almsman reviews this same body up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair, bounded by the skin, as full of many kinds of impurity thus: ‘In this body there is head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, small intestines, bowels, stomach and its contents, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, oils, saliva, snot, lubricants of the joints, and urine. Just as though there were a bag - in this case with an opening at both ends - full of many sorts of grain, such as hill rice, husked rice, beans, peas, millet, and white rice, and a man with sound eyes were to open it and review it thus: ‘This is hill rice, this is husked rice, these are beans, these are peas, this is millet, this is white rice.’ So too, an almsman reviews this same body, up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair, bounded by the skin, as full of many kinds of impurity thus: ‘In this body there is head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, and so on.’

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in a body.

Contemplating the body - the primary elements

"Again, Almsmen, an almsman views this same body, whatever his posture, whatever it’s activity, as consisting of elements thus: ‘In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element.’ Just as though a skilled butcher or his apprentice had killed a cow and was seated at the crossroads with it cut up into pieces; so too, an almsman reviews this same body as consisting of elements thus: ‘In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element,’ however the body is placed, whatever his activity, he views it thus. 

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in a body.

Contemplating the body - the nine charnel grounds contemplations

"Again, Almsmen, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, one, two, or three days dead - bloated, livid, and oozing matter - an almsman compares this same body with that one thus: ‘This body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.’

"Likewise, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, or various kinds of worms. Or, as though he were to see a skeleton with flesh and blood, held together with tendons; or, a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, held together with tendons; or, a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together with tendons. Or, as though he were to see disconnected bones scattered in all directions - here a hand-bone, there a foot-bone, here a ankle-bone, there a shin-bone, here a thigh-bone, there a pelvis, here a back-bone, there a rib-bone, here a breast-bone, there a neck-bone, here a jaw-bone, there a tooth, and there the skull. Or, as though he were to see bones bleached white, the colour of hells. Or, bones heaped up, more than a year old. Or, bones rotted and crumbled to dust. [In each case] an almsman compares his own body with the corpse thus: ’This body, too, is of this same nature. This body will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.’

"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the body, or the vanishing factors in the body; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the body. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a body' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how an almsman dwells contemplating the body in a body.

Contemplating the feeling tones

"And how, Almsmen, does an almsman contemplate the feeling-tones of experiences, in feeling-tones? Here, when feeling a pleasant experience, an almsman knows: 'I am feeling a pleasant feeling-tone'; when feeling a painful experience, he knows: 'I am feeling a painful feeling-tone.' When feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant experience,' he knows: 'I am feeling a feeling-tone which is neither-painful-nor-pleasant.'

“And further, when experiencing a pleasant experience of a carnal kind, he knows: 'I am feeling a pleasant carnal feeling-tone.' When experiencing a pleasant experience of a kind free from the carnal, he knows: 'I am feeling a pleasant feeling-tone which is not of the carnal.'

“When experiencing an unpleasant experience of a carnal kind, he knows: 'I am feeling an unpleasant carnal feeling-tone.' When experiencing an unpleasant experience of a kind free from the carnal, he knows: 'I am feeling an unpleasant feeling-tone which is not of the carnal.'

When experiencing a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling of a carnal kind, he knows: 'I am feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant carnal feeling.' When experiencing a neither-painful-nor-pleasant experience of a kind free from the carnal, he knows: 'I am feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling-tone which is not of the carnal.'

"In this way he dwells contemplating the feeling-tones in the feeling-tones with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the feeling-tones, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the feeling-tones. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a feeling-tone' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus an almsman dwells contemplating the feeling-tones in feeling-tones.

Contemplating states of the heart-mind (citta)

"And how, Almsmen, does an almsman dwell contemplating the states of the heart in the states of the heart-mind (citta)? Here an almsman knows the citta affected by animal desire as a citta affected so, and citta unaffected by animal desire as citta so unaffected. He knows the citta affected by aversion as a citta affected by aversion, and so for the citta unaffected by aversion. He knows a citta affected by delusion as a citta affected by delusion, and a citta unaffected by delusion as a citta unaffected by delusion. 

“He knows a tense citta as a tense citta, and a scattered citta as a scattered citta as scattered citta. He knows an expansive citta as an expansive citta, and a contracted citta as a contracted citta. He knows a surpassable citta as a surpassable citta, and unsurpassable citta as unsurpassable citta. He knows a composed citta as composed citta, and agitated citta as agitated citta. He knows an unfree citta as an unfree citta, and a free citta as a free citta.

"In this way he dwells contemplating the states of the citta (heart-mind) in the citta (heart-mind) with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the citta, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the citta; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the citta. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a state of the citta' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus an almsman dwells contemplating the states of the citta in the states of the citta.

Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of the ‘five limiting states’

"And how, Almsmen, does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves? Here an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in terms of the five limiting states. And how does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes in terms of the five limiting states? Here, there being sensual desire in him, an almsman knows : ‘There is sensual desire in me’; or there being no sensual desire in him, he knows: ‘There is no sensual desire in me.’ He knows how the not-yet-arisen sensual desire can arise. And he knows the abandoning of already-arisen sensual desire; and the preventing of not-yet-arisen sensual desire.’ And so for ill-will, dullness-and-apathy, restlessness-and-worry, and doubt. He knows their presence, knows they can arise in the future, knows their present abandoning and knows the prevention of their future arising.

"In this way he dwells contemplating mental processes, with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the mental processes, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the mental processes; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the mental processes. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a mental process’ is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. Thus, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the five limiting states.

Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of ‘the five aggregates’

"Further, Almsmen, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in terms of the five aggregates brought about by clinging. And how does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the five aggregates brought about by clinging? Here an almsman knows: ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling-tone, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is volition, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.’

"In this way he dwells contemplating mental processes, with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the mental processes, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the mental processes; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the mental processes. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a mental process’ is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. 

Thus, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the five aggregates brought about by clinging.

Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of ‘the six sense-bases’

"Again, Almsmen, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the six internal and external bases. And how does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the six internal and external bases? Here an almsman knows the eye, he knows forms, and he knows the fetter that arises dependent on both; and he also knows how the not-yet arisen fetter can arise. And he knows the abandoning of the already-arisen fetter; and the preventing of the not-yet-arisen sensual fetter.’ And so for the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and its [bodily experiences], the mind and mental processes. He knows the presence of the fetters dependent on these, he knows the fetters can arise in the future. He knows the abandoning of fetters that are present, and he knows the prevention of their future arising. 

"In this way he dwells contemplating mental processes, with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the mental processes, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the mental processes; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the mental processes. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a mental process’ is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. Thus, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the the six internal and external bases.

Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of ‘the seven factors of awakening’

"Again, Almsmen, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the seven factors of awakening. And how does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes in the processes themselves in terms of the seven factors of awakening? Here, there being the mindfulness-factor-of-awakening present in him, an almsman knows: ‘There is the mindfulness-factor-of-awakening present in me.’ Or there being no mindfulness-factor-of-awakening in him, he knows: ’There is no mindfulness-factor-of-awakening present in me.’ And, he also knows how there comes to be the arising of the not-yet-arisen mindfulness-factor-of-awakening, and how the arisen mindfulness-factor-of-awakening comes to fulfilment through development.

"And so for the investigation-of-experiences factor of awakening in him, the energy factor of awakening, the rapture factor of awakening, the tranquillity factor of awakening, the concentration factor of awakening, the equanimity factor of awakening. [That is,] an almsman knows: ‘There is [such-and-such a] factor of awakening present in me.’ Or, he knows: ‘[Such-and-such a] factor of awakening is not present in me.’ He also knows how [such-and-such] a not-yet-arisen factor can arise in him; and how [such-and-such] an arisen factor of awakening can come to fulfilment by development.

"In this way he dwells contemplating mental processes, with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the mental processes, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the mental processes; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the mental processes. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a mental process’ is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. Thus, an almsman dwells contemplating the mental processes in the mental processes in terms of the seven factors of awakening.

Contemplating mental processes in the light of the teaching of ‘the four ennobling realities’

“Again, Almsmen, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes as mental processes in terms of four ennobling realities. And how does an almsman dwell contemplating mental processes as mental processes in terms of four ennobling realities? Here an almsman knows as it actually is: ‘This is suffering’; he knows as it actually is: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; he knows as it actually is: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; he knows as it actually is: ‘This is the the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’

In this way he dwells contemplating mental processes in the mental processes themselves with reference to the internal, the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, he dwells contemplating the arising factors in the mental processes, or he dwells contemplating vanishing factors in the mental processes; or he dwells contemplating both the arising and vanishing factors in the mental processes. Or else, the mindfulness that 'There is a mental process' is simply established in him. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, he is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. Thus, an almsman dwells contemplating mental processes as mental processes in terms of the four ennobling realities.

‘This path goes one way only’

"Almsmen, if anyone should develop these four placements of mindfulness in such a way for seven years, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now; or if some trace of clinging remains, the state of non-return can be expected.

"Let alone seven years, Almsmen, if anyone should develop these four placements of mindfulness in such a way for six years – for five, for four, for three, for two, or for one year – one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now; or if there is a trace of clinging left, the state of non-return can be expected.

"Let alone one year, Almsmen, if anyone should develop these four placements of mindfulness in such a way for seven months – for six months, five months, four months, three months, two months, one month, or for half a month – one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or if there is a trace of clinging left, the state of non-return can be expected.

"Let alone half a month, Almsmen, if anyone should develop these four placements of mindfulness in such a way for seven days, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or if there is a trace of clinging left, the state of non-return can be expected.

"So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘Almsmen, this path goes one way only, this path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the way, for the realisation of nibbāna – that is to say, the path of the ‘four placements of mindfulness.’"

That is what the illustrious one said. Those present were delighted and satisfied with what he spoke.

 

Mindfulness Sutta © 2012, Christopher McLean


 

Christopher McLean

 Blackheath, NSW 2785.  

Phone: 61 2 4787-5662

 

 

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This page was created by Christopher McLean, © 2012
 Blackheath, NSW 2785.   Phone: 61 2 4787-5662
  
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