An Exposition of Right Mindfulness


Ven. P. A. Payutto


Translated from the Thai by Dhamma-Vijaya





Sammasati: An Exposition of Right Mindfulness
Sati as Appamada
The Social Value of Sati
The Role of Sati in the Process of Wisdom-Development
Satipatthana as Sammasati
The Essence of Satipatthana
Practice as Process
The Fruits of Practice
For What Reason is the Sati Which Keeps Abreast of the Present Moment
an Important Foundation of Vipassana?




The present volume, in its original Thai version, is a part of a large volume entitled "Buddhadhamma", occupying 21 out of 1,145 pages (approximately a 55th) of the whole work. The "Buddhadhamma" is divided into two main parts, namely Part I on the Middle Teaching expounding the knowledge of nature and the natural law, and Part II on the Middle Way dealing with the Buddhist practice which consists in the application of that knowledge to the creation of the Noble Life. The Middle Way or the practice as described in Part II is defined as the Noble Eightfold Path. Of the eight factors of the Noble Path, Sammasati or Right Mindfulness is the seventh one. It is this seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path that is the subject matter of the present translation, as evidenced in its title, Sammasati: An Exposition of Right Mindfulness.

    The Thai version of Sammasati was published separately as a booklet by the Dhamma Study-and-Practice Group towards the end of B.E. 2528 (1985 C.E.). "Dhamma-Vijaya", the present translator, read the original Thai version. He found it interesting and helpful to the practitioner of Buddhism, and took upon himself the task of translating it into English. It is, consequently, through the efforts of Dhamma-Vijaya that the English version of Sammasati has come into being.

    Not only encouraging the translation of the work into English, Khun Panita Angchandrpen has but also been enthusiastically urging the publication of the translation and has intently overseen the book through the printing process. It is through her zealous and active goodwill that this English version has come to appear in the present book form.

    In place of a compositor, Phra Maha Insorn Cintapa˝˝o Duangkid has relentlessly managed to get through the whole task of word processing. His increasing mastery of desktop publishing on a microprocessor has rendered the production of the book labour-saving, time-saving and money-saving.

    My thanks go to all whose names are above-mentioned for their generous help in bringing about this publication and to Khun Panya Vijinthanasarn for the design of the cover.


Phra Dedvedi (Prayudh Payutto)  
May 15, B.E. 2531 (1988 C.E.)  


An Exposition of Right Mindfulness


In the Noble Eightfold Path, the practice leading to the complete cessation of Unsatisfactoriness, Sammasati is counted as the second factor of the Samadhi Section, the 'Higher Mental Training'. The usual definition of sammasati given in the Discourses is as follows:

"Bhikkhus. What is sammasati? This is call sammasati, namely, that a bhikkhu in this Dhamma Vinaya:

"1. Contemplates the body in the body with effort, sampaja˝˝a and sati, eradicating covetousness and distress with regard to the world;[1]

"2. Contemplates feeling in feelings with effort, sampaja˝˝a and sati, eradicating covetousness and distress with regard to the world;

"3. Contemplates the mind in the mind with effort, sampaja˝˝a and sati, eradicating covetousness and distress with regard to the world;

"4. Contemplates dhammas[2] in dhammas with effort, sampaja˝˝a and sati, eradicating covetousness and distress with regard to the world." [D.II.313]

    Another definition, which appears in the Abhidhamma texts, is as follows:

"What is sammasati? Sati means to bear in mind or bring to mind. Sati is the state of recollecting, the state of remembering, the state of non-fading, the state of non-forgetting. Sati means the sati that is a Spiritual Faculty, the sati that is a Spiritual Power, Sammasati, the Sati that is an Enlightenment Factor, that which is a Path Factor and that which is related to the Path. This is what is called sammasati." [Vbh.105, 286]

    Sammasati, as defined in the Discourses, is a synonym for the principles of Dhamma known as the Four Satipatthana. The four elements of this group have the abbreviated names of:

  1. Kayanupassana (contemplation or mindfulness of the body);
  2. Vedananupassana (contemplation or mindfulness of feelings);
  3. Cittanupassana (contemplation or mindfulness of mind);
  4. Dhammanupassana (contemplation or mindfulness of dhammas).

    Before investigating the meaning of sammasati in terms of the Four Satipatthana, it would seem appropriate to make a few general points on the subject of sati to serve as a basic foundation for our study.


Sati as Appamada

Sati is most simply rendered as 'recollection', but such a translation may convey the idea that it is simply an aspect of memory. While memory is certainly a valid element of sati's function, it does not do full justice to the essential meaning of the term. For to speak in the negative vein, apart from its meaning of 'non-forgetting' (the direct counterpart of the positive term 'recollection'), sati also refers to 'non-carelessness', 'non-distraction', 'non-fuzziness and confusion'. These negatively expressed meanings of sati point to the positive qualities of care, circumspection, alertness to one's duties and the condition of being constantly present in the awareness of the various things which come into contact with one and responding to them appropriately.

    Particularly when speaking of ethical conduct, the functioning of sati is often compared to that of a gatekeeper, whose job is to keep his eyes on the people passing in and out, regulating affairs by permitting entrance and egress to those for whom it is proper and forbidding it to those for whom it is not. Thus sati is of major importance in the field of ethics. It oversees us in the performance of our duties and guards and restrains us by preventing our taking foolish pleasure in the bad and by preventing badness from sneaking into the mind. Put in simple terms, sati reminds us to do good and to give no ground to the bad.

    Buddhadhamma strongly emphasizes the importance of sati at every level of ethical conduct. Conducting one's life or one's Dhamma practice constantly governed by sati is called 'appamada', or heedfulness. Appamada is of central importance to progress in a system of ethics, and is usually defined as non-separation from sati. This may be expanded on as implying constant care and circumspection, not allowing oneself to stumble into harmful ways; not allowing oneself to miss any opportunity for betterment; a clear awareness of what things need to be done and what left undone; non-negligence; and performing one's daily tasks with sincerity and with unbending effort towards improvement. It may be said that appamada is the Buddhist sense of responsibility.

    From the point of view of its significance, appamada is classified as an 'internal factor', as is yoniso-manasikara (skilful reflection), and forms a pair with its external counterpart, kalyanamittata (association with good and noble friends). The Buddha's words describing the significance of appamada sometimes overlap those describing that of yoniso-manasikara, for these two dhammas are of equal importance, though differing in application. Yoniso-manasikara is a member of the Pa˝˝a Section; it is a tool to be used. Appamada, on the other hand, is a member of the Samadhi Section; it is that which governs the use of the tool of yoniso-manasikara, urges its employment and constantly inspires one to further progress.

    The importance and extent of the application of appamada at various levels of practice of ethical conduct may be seen from the Buddha's own words in the following examples:

"O Bhikkhus. The footprints of all land-bound creatures fit within the footprint of the elephant; the elephant's footprint is said to be the supreme footprint in terms of size. Similarly all skilful dhammas have heedfulness as their base, converge within the bounds of heedfulness. Heedfulness may be said to be supreme amongst those dhammas." [S.V.43]

"I see no other dhamma which is as much a cause for arising of as-yet unarisen skilful dhammas and the decline of already arisen unskilful dhammas as heedfulness. When one is heedful, as-yet unarisen skilful dhammas will inevitably arise and unskilful dhammas that have already arisen will inevitably decline." [A.I.11]

"I see no other dhamma that is so conductive to supreme benefit ..." [A.I.16]

"I see no other dhamma that is so conducive to the stability, the non-degeneration, the non-disappearance of the True Dhamma as heedfulness." [A.I.17]

"Looking at it as an 'internal factor' I see no other dhamma so conducive to supreme benefit as heedfulness." [A.I.16-17]

    Even the Pacchimavaca, the last instructions given by the Buddha before he entered Parinibbana, concerned appamada:

"All conditioned things are subject to decay.
Strive on with heedfulness." [D.II.156]

"Just as the light of dawn precedes the sunrise and is its harbinger; so the perfection of heedfulness leads to and is the harbinger of the Noble Eightfold Path ... The single dhamma which is of most assistance in the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path is the perfection of heedfulness ... I see no other kind of dhamma which has such power to cause the as-yet unarisen Noble Eightfold Path to arise, and the Noble Eightfold Path which has arisen to come to maturity and completion. A bhikkhu who is heedful may expect to develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path." [S.V.31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 41-45]

"O Bhikkhus, you should apply appamada in four areas:
Abandon unwholesome action. Cultivate good actions. Neglect neither.
Abandon unwholesome speech. Cultivate good speech. Neglect neither.
Abandon unwholesome thoughts. Cultivate good thoughts. Neglect neither.
Abandon wrong views. Cultivate Right View. Neglect neither.
When a bhikkhu has abandoned unwholesome actions, cultivated good actions ... abandoned wrong views and cultivated Right View, he will feel no apprehension or fear regarding his coming death." [A.II.119-120]

"O Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should look after his mind with sati by being heedful of four matters, namely by determining that:
'My mind will not attach to those dhammas which encourage attachment;
'My mind will not be averse to those dhammas which encourage aversion;
'My mind will not be deluded by those dhammas which encourage delusion;
'My mind will not be intoxicated by those dhammas which encourage intoxication.'
When a bhikkhu's mind, through absence of lust, does not attach to those dhammas which encourage attachment, is not averse ... is not deluded ... is not intoxicated, he will be without dread or perturbation, fear or horror, and will feel no need to believe in anything, even the words of a sage." [A.II.120]

"Question: 'Is there any single dhamma which provides both sorts of benefit, both present and immediate benefit and future or higher benefit?'
Answer: 'Yes, there is.'
Question: 'What is that dhamma?'
Answer: 'That dhamma is heedfulness.'" [A.III.364; S.I.86]

"O King, that Dhamma which has been well expounded by me is for those with good and noble friends[3], good and noble companions, good and noble people as associates. It is not for those with foolish immoral friends, foolish immoral companions, foolish immoral people as associates ... The possession of good and noble friends is equal to the whole of the holy life.

"Therefore, O King, you should resolve thus: 'I will be one who has good and noble friends, good and noble companions, good and noble people as associates.' The monarch who thus possesses good and noble friends should conduct his life in reliance upon the principle of non-neglect of skilful dhammas.

"When the King is heedful, conducts his life relying on heedfulness, then the Inner Circle, the Nobles of the Court ... the Royal Guard ... right down to the townsfolk and villagers will all think, 'His Majesty the King is a heedful person, he conducts his life relying on heedfulness. We also will be heedful people, we also will live relying on heedfulness.'

"O King, if you are a heedful person and conduct your life in reliance upon heedfulness you will be cared for and protected. The Inner Circle will receive care and protection ... everything right down to the houses and barns of your subjects will receive care and protection." [S.I.87-89]


The Social Value of Sati

In the following quotation from the Sedaka Sutta, the Buddha's words describing the value of sati bring out well the closeness, in practical terms, of its nature and value to that of appamada. The passage helps to further clarify our understanding of both of these dhammas, and, at the same time, to demonstrate the Buddhist attitude towards life in its social dimension. It testifies that Buddhadhamma sees the internal life of the individual as intimately related to the external life of society and holds that values in the two realms are inseparably connected, that they correspond, and are, in fact, identical:

"O Bhikkhus. Once upon a time, a bamboo-acrobat set up his pole and called to his pupil, saying, 'Come, my lad, climb the pole and stand on my shoulders', and the pupil did as he was bidden. Then the bamboo-acrobat said to his pupil, 'Now, my lad, you look after me well and I'll look after you. By watching and protecting each other in this way, we will show off our skills, get a good fee, and come down safe from the bamboo pole.'

"At these words, the pupil said to the acrobat, 'Master, it can't be done like that. You look after yourself, Master, and I will look after myself. If we both watch and protect ourselves then we will be able to show off our skills, get a good fee, and come down safe from the bamboo pole.'

"The Blessed One said, 'That was the correct way of practice in that case. In the same way as the pupil spoke to his master, Bhikkhus, when thinking, 'I will protect myself' you must practise satipatthana (be mindful), and when thinking, 'I will protect others' you must also practise satipatthana.'

"O Bhikkhus, protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself. And how does one, in protecting oneself, protect others? By earnest practice, cultivation and development (of satipatthana). In this way, by protecting oneself, one protects others. And how does one, in protecting others, protect oneself? By forbearance, by non-violence, by possessing a heart of metta and compassion. In this way, by protecting others, one protects oneself.

"'I shall protect myself,' with this intention, Bhikkhus, satipatthana should be practised.

"'I shall protect others,' with this intention, Bhikkhus, satipatthana should be practised.

"Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself." [S.V.168-169]

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1. "Whatever is of a nature to dissolve (paloka), Ananda, this is called the world in the Discipline of the Noble. Now what is of a nature to dissolve? The eye, Ananda, ... visible objects ... visual consciousness ... visual contact ... the ear ... sounds ... mind contact, and whatever arises conditioned by mind contact, felt as pleasant or painful or neutral -- that is of a nature to 'dissolve'." (Translator) [Back to text]

2. All mental and physical phenomena. [Back to text]

3. A good and noble friend, or kalayanamitta, is said to have the following seven qualities: He inspires love, respect and emulation; he is a counsellor and a patient listener; he is able to deliver deep discourses or to treat profound subjects; he never leads one in harmful or useless pursuits. (Translator) [Back to text]