the 4 'foundations of mindfulness', lit. 'awareness
of mindfulness' (sati-upatthāna), are:
- mind and
- mind-objects. -
For sati, s. prec.
A detailed treatment of this subject, so important for the
practice of Buddhist mental culture, is given in the 2
Satipatthāna Suttas (D.22; M.10), which at the start as well as the conclusion, proclaim the weighty
words: "The only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the
overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of pain and grief, to the
entering of the right path, and to the realization of Nibbāna is the 4
foundations of mindfulness."
After these introductory words, and upon the question which
these 4 are, it is said that the monk dwells in contemplation of the body, the
feelings, the mind, and the mind-objects, "ardent, clearly conscious and
mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief."
These 4 contemplations are in reality not to be taken as
merely separate exercises, but on the contrary, at least in many cases,
especially in the absorptions, as things inseparably associated with each other.
Thereby the Satipathāna Sutta forms an illustration of the way in which these 4
contemplations relating to the 5 groups of existence (khandha)
simultaneously come to be realized, and finally lead to insight into the
impersonality of all existence.
(1) The contemplation of the body (kāyanupassanā)
consists of the following exercises:
- mindfulness with regard to in-and-outbreathing
- minding the 4 postures (iriyāpatha),
- mindfulness and clarity of consciousness (satisampajañña, q.v.),
- reflection on the 32 parts of the body (s.
- analysis of the 4 physical elements (dhātuvavatthāna),
(2) All feelings (vedanānupassanā) that arise in the
meditator he clearly perceives, namely:
- agreeable and disagreeable feeling of body and mind,
- sensual and super-sensual feeling,
- indifferent feeling .
(3) He further clearly perceives and understands any state of
consciousness or mind (cittānupassanā), whether it is
- greedy or not,
- hateful or not,
- deluded or not,
- cramped or distracted,
- developed or undeveloped,
- surpassable or unsurpassable,
- concentrated or unconcentrated,
- liberated or unliberated.
(4) Concerning the mind-objects (dhammānupassanā),
- he knows whether one of the five hindrances (nīvarana) is present
in him or not, knows how it arises, how it is overcome, and how in future it
does no more arise.
- He knows the nature of each of the five groups (khandha),
how they arise, and how they are dissolved.
- He knows the 12 bases of all mental
activity (Āyatana): the eye and the visual object, the ear and the
audible object, .. mind and mind-object,
- he knows the fetters (samyojana) based on them, knows how they arise, how they are overcome, and how in
future they do no more arise.
- He knows whether one of the seven factors of
enlightenment (bojjhanga, q.v.) is present in him or not, knows how it
arises, and how it comes to full development.
- Each of the Four Noble Truths (sacca) he understands according to reality.
The 4 contemplations comprise several exercises, but the
Satipatthāna should not therefore be thought of as a mere collection of
meditation subjects, any one of which may be taken out and practised alone.
Though most of the exercises appear also elsewhere in the Buddhist scriptures,
in the context of this sutta they are chiefly intended for the cultivation of
mindfulness and insight, as indicated by the repetitive passage concluding each
section of the sutta (see below).
The 4 contemplations cover all the 5 groups of
existence (khandha), because mindfulness is meant to encompass the
whole personality. Hence, for the full development of mindfulness, the practice
should extend to all 4 types of contemplation, though not every single exercise
mentioned under these four headings need be taken up. A methodical practice of
Satipatthāna has to start with one of the exercises out of the group
'contemplation of the body', which will serve as the primary and regular subject
of meditation: The other exercises of the group and the other contemplations are
to be cultivated when occasion for them arises during meditation and in everyday
After each contemplation it is shown how it finally leads to
insight-knowledge: "Thus with regard to his own body he contemplates the
body, with regard to the bodies of others he contemplates the body, with regard
to both he contemplates the body. He beholds how the body arises and how it
passes away, beholds the arising and passing away of the body. 'A body is there'
(but no living being, no individual, no woman, no man, no self, nothing that
belongs to a self; neither a person, nor anything belonging to a person; Com.):
thus he has established his attentiveness as far as it serves his knowledge and
mindfulness, and he lives independent, unattached to anything in the world.''
In the same way he contemplates feeling, mind and
In M.118 it is shown how these four foundations of
mindfulness may be brought about by the exercise of mindfulness on in-and-out
- The Way of Mindfulness, tr. of Sutta and
Com., by Soma Thera (3rd ed; Kandy 1967, BPS). -
- The Heart of Buddhist
Meditation, by Nyanaponika Thera (3rd ed.; London. Rider & Co.).
Foundations of Mindfulness (tr. of M. 10), Nyanasatta Thera (Wheel 19).
Satipatthāna Sutta and its Application to Modern Life, V. F. Gunaratna
(WHEEL 60). -
- The Power of Mindfulness by Nyanaponika Thera (WHEEL 121/122).