Are the topics for recollection "just" recollections?

I hope this isn’t too jumbled as a reply. I tried to write something more like an essay and gave up when the “proliferation” went too far. Mostly, I think kāyagatāsati didn’t originally mean “mindful of one’s body” but “mindful of oneself.” But clearly that isn’t the case in many Theravāda readings.

It looks to me like the Theravāda tradition has multiplied the number of passages in which kāyagatāsati occurs, which is something that appears to have happened with the similes about the “body” being drenched in joy and happiness as well. This probably happened because the two things - the abodes of mindfulness and kāyagatāsati - were conflated as synonymous. Or something. It’s hard to tell.

None of the Chinese parallels support the occurrence of kāyagatāsati in this passage. EA 38.8 doesn’t even mention “body.” It’s simply focused mindfulness and an undistracted mind (念專精,意不錯亂) that controls the six senses at the conclusion of the sutra. SA 1171 mentions the first abode of mindfulness.

In SA 1175, there are four gates, one for each of the four abodes of mindfulness.

I think that kāya sometimes functioned as a shorthand for oneself or the whole person. That’s certainly the case in Chinese, but some passages in Indic show that pattern, too. So, I think “mindfulness of body” sometimes could mean something as natural as “mind yourself” in practice. Theravādins have fallen into literalism with kāya, but reading it that way renders some passages incomprehensible. What is “body witnessing”? In Chinese, it clearly means a personal realization, as opposed to taking someone else’s word for it, which is an important theme for Buddhists. The third jhāna is the same. It’s personally experiencing for oneself what noble sages talk about experiencing.

We have to remember that there was an ideological problem with the concept of a “person” or “self.” The concept had to hide behind other words like kāya or nāmarūpa after pudgala became anathema. And that word was itself a replacement for a modified concept of atma. So, I think Theravādins, like the other anti-Pudgalavādins, suffered from philological distortions as a result, and this is still happening to this day. People argue incessantly about kāya and avoid the obvious reading that it sometimes refers to oneself as a whole. The result is that the original meaning of some passages is obscured by ideological angst, as it were. At least, that’s my working theory.

Again, EA 37.6 doesn’t mention mindfulness of “body,” but just a mindful or focused mind. In MA 24 and AN 9.11 I have to wonder how we would understand the expression kāye kāyagatāsati if we read kāya as just the physical body. Doesn’t it simply mean “one who is mindful of themselves”? Someone who isn’t mindful of themselves can easily break precepts. It makes sense to me, and that’s the way EA 37.6 reads, which isn’t so formalized a text as the AN and MA versions. But someone has decided to reinterpret the sutra to refer specifically to mindfulness of body exercises, and then it becomes confusing. This may have been because one of the last analogies in which Sāriputra says he is repelled by his body. That occurs in EĀ 37.6, but it’s the only place in the entire sutra that “body” is mentioned. The rest of the analogies don’t suggest he is talking about body mindfulness to me. It makes much better sense to read it as being mindful or oneself and accepting of whatever is encountered, which eliminates hostility.

There’s a similar expression used in other sources when describing mindfulness of breathing, such as EĀ 17.1. I think it must refer to the happiness one feels when they’ve established themselves in a state of samādhi and have been released from the hindrances and afflictions (at least temporarily).

The expression 正念樂住 only occurs in this one sutra. If I search for 念樂住, what I find is the third jhāna … the meaning is probably the same as I suspect for the mindfulness of breathing. Being in mindful samādhi is a happy time because the causes of suffering have been suspended.

There’s also an interesting passage in SA 615 (SN 47.10) that puts more of a gloss on the expression:

Their mind being concentrated, the noble disciple will train in this way: “In regard to this subject, the outwardly distracted mind has been collected and made to stop. Not producing feelings and ideas and having examined ideas, there is no perception or investigation. Detached and mindful, it abides happily. Having abided happily, it’s truly known.”

So, yes, I think it refers to the happiness of having put the mind to rest all the outside distractions and afflictions, which also results to clear thinking.

The Chinese equiv. 身作證 occurs in many contexts and clearly means “to realize for oneself” or “personally realize.” “Body witness” is simply a bizarre reading to me. It’s another example of how this literalism renders passages incomprehensible.

念其身 and 念隨身 could be translations of kāyagatāsati. There’s a qualifier like upanibandha that’s been added. Which is par for the course when comparing Sarvāstivāda and Theravada texts.

But reading it as “body” doesn’t make sense for some of those exercises. It may have originally meant “one’s actions” in general.


There are some passages in the suttas where kāya refers to all 5 aggregates.

Glad to see the details here and this was my thinking as well.

My working hypothesis is along the same lines as yours: that ‘kāyagatāsati’ originally meant, as you say, ‘mindfulness of oneself,’ which included the physical, affective, mental, and principled aspects of oneself. This seems it was explicitly broken up into the four satipatthānā (where kāya is specifically the physical, + vedanā, citta and dhammā). Either that, or ‘kāyagatāsati’ is a general shorthand for this, and the four satipatthānā are a more specific and detailed framework for the context of meditation. Then, at some point, because ‘kāya’ refers to the physical body in the four satipatthānā, ‘kāyagatāsati’ was re-interpreted and understood to refer to ‘kāyānupassanā.’ It’s likely that this was not just one simple change, but maybe a vague and occasional understanding of the term that became more solidified through generations of evolution with the texts, until eventually there was only a connection with textual and exegetical sources where words were under much more literalist scrutiny and evaluation.

I agree with you that ‘kāya’ is often best rendered as ‘person’ or even ‘self,’ similar to how ‘ātman’ originally meant ‘body’ in Sanskrit, or ‘attapatilābha’ which means ‘personal existence/incarnation,’ lit. ‘acquisition of a self.’ Sometimes it means ‘body’ of course, and I don’t think these two senses were really understood as separate originally. To experience something ‘with the body’ means ‘in this very flesh body’ i.e. one’s current personal incarnation — even if the experience of the physical body is absent in the experience (like experiencing the formless attainments ‘with the body,’ or ‘personally/directly/for oneself’).

I think this does support the reading of ‘kāyagatāsati’ as mindfulness of the body, though; it specifically singles out 身 rather than the four abodes together, which does seem to mean the body. It’s interesting in it’s own way though, in revealing how this source understood the abodes of mindfulness. In the end it may not be so different, as I have thought that the first abode of mindfulness is meant to include all six senses, and this passage I was unaware of seems to be implying precisely that. The idea being that the first abode is the place of sense impingement itself, the second the feelings involved, the third the mind-state in relation to the stimuli, and the fourth being the mental qualities arising alongside and governing the corresponding mind-state. ‘Kāyagatāsati’ would be a catch-all for all of this, just as the ocean includes all streams (AN 1.575).

The EA passage is also interesting/revealing and I think it points to them understanding these passages as being about mindfulness of oneself, i.e. the six-sense body / whole person, and de-emphasizes the ‘kāya’ literalism.

Yes, same in Indic sources that it clearly means ‘personally’ as opposed to hearsay. I think part of it is just, like I said before, words becoming isolated and removed from a more natural, spoken and living context. Then ‘kāya’ comes to be equated with ‘physical fleshy sensual body’ and getting people to accept a deviation from that supposedly standard meaning becomes difficult. Fortunately it’s becoming more and more acknowledged from what I’ve seen.

Interesting sutta, yeah. I agree that the discourse seems more to be about self awareness, restraint and mindfulness to be grounded and unaffected. I know Bhante Anālayo was also of the opinion that the final two similes in AN 9.11 / MA 24 were likely later additions, probably because of the usual term ‘kāya.’ The simile of the carcass around the neck is used elsewhere to refer to being horrified by something, but here it seems it was connected with the physical body again.

Also, ‘kāye kāyagatāsati’ is an odd reading. Elsewhere, it is either ‘kāye kāyānupassī…’ (the first abode of mindfulness) or ‘kāyagatāsati.’ This is the only place the wording seems to overlap, and it really doesn’t make much sense IMO, even less so in the context of the sutta. It’s probably some kind of textual confusion, or evidence of ‘kāyagatāsati’ gradually becoming confused with ‘kāyānupassanā.’

I found an interesting connection here.

‘Sātasahagata’ occurs with ‘kāyagatāsati,’ but it also occurs in the passages at AN 8.63 and MN 128 which divide the jhānas not into four, but with a different division of samādhi states.

imaṁ samādhiṁ savitakkampi savicāraṁ bhāveyyāsi, avitakkampi vicāramattaṁ bhāveyyāsi, avitakkampi avicāraṁ bhāveyyāsi, sappītikampi bhāveyyāsi, nippītikampi bhāveyyāsi, sātasahagatampi bhāveyyāsi, upekkhāsahagatampi bhāveyyāsi.

Here, ‘sātasahagata’ is standing in for the equivalent of the third jhāna, as it comes after being rid of vitakka, vicāra, pīti but before upekkhā.

What’s interesting about this is the earlier connection with the third jhāna and ‘kāya’ in the ‘kāyena’ expression (personally experiencing …). Given the extreme rarity of the phrase ‘kāyagatāsati sātasahagatā,’ and the rarity of ‘sātasahagata’ in general, it seems highly unlikely to be a mere coincidence that both of these terms occur in unique contexts of the third jhāna, supported also by the āgama renderings of parallel translations. Factoring in the EA 17.1 reading, ‘kāyagatāsati sātasahagatā’ is probably just meant to mean something like ‘develop joyful samādhi in yourself.’ You direct mindfulness inwards to yourself away from the world of sensuality and develop samādhi full of joy, perhaps referring to the third jhāna specifically. That’s the impression I’m getting here. Not the Theravādin one, which the commentary defines along the lines of first jhāna from contemplating body parts.

Looks like you came to the same conclusion!

The Pāli equivalent to that section of SA 615 is:

ajjhattaṁ satimā sukhamasmī
‘Mindful internally [or: within myself], I’m happy.’

So this ‘internal’ / ‘oneself’ matching pairs well.

I’m really derailing the original thread at this point! It is related to the 10 recollections though. All of this is making me wonder about how the Chinese sources represent and understand the four abodes of mindfulness in the SA and EA. I know the EA understands the first abode in the Ekāyana-sūtra as very much about the anatomical/physical body, which is supported by comparative study of the other satipatthana-suttas. Anatomical parts is how the EA passage on the ten recollections also understands recollection of the body, i.e. kāyagatāsati in the Pāli list. But in contexts outside doctrinal compilations, do you get the same impression of the first or all four abodes?

I’d also be interested to understand the simile at SA1175 better. In the Pāḷi, the pair of messengers is said to approach the city from four directions (east, west, north, south), even though it was said that there are six gates to the city. At SN 54.10 (and SA 813 with basically the same simile), the same anaology of something (here a chariot) coming from the east, west, north, then south stands for the four abodes of mindfulness. So it seems that maybe the Chinese preserves a more original reading. But the Chinese also seems to refer to the six internal āyatanas:

所謂城者,以譬人身麁色,如篋毒蛇譬經說。善治城壁者,謂之正見。交道平正者,謂內六入處。 四門者,謂四識住。四守門者,謂四念處。城主者,謂識受陰。使者,謂止、觀。如實言者,謂四真諦。復道還者,以八聖道。

In the dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, 六處 is said to be a later synonym of 六入. I can’t find an entry for them being combined, so not entirely sure what it refers to here from the simile. I also have no idea what the 四識住 (stations/abodes of consciousness) are — the four elements?
I tried to build a chart comparing the components of the simile, but some of the terms are confusing to me so it’s hard to follow without taking a long time to break it apart. Seems that maybe the senses are the paths which enter into the gates of the four abodes of mindfulness, i.e. they are all governed by/come under the four abodes.

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Namo Buddhaya!

It’s like this

There is the case where you recollect the Tathagata: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’ At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.

"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Buddha while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children. Mahanama Sutta: To Mahanama (2)

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六入處 is the same thing as 六入 and 六處. Just different translators using different expressions. For some reason, SA’s translator decided to combine the two expressions, maybe to make sure the reader understands who had seen one or other in other translations.

四識住 refers to the other four aggregates that consciousness depends upon. Cf. SN 22.54 where the P. equiv. is catasso viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo.

I would translate the parable in SA 1175 along these lines:

It’s like a king in a neighboring country who well administers a city’s walls, making the foundations of gates strong, and the plaza level. Four guards are posted in the four city gates who are astute and know who comes and goes. In the city, there is a four-way plaza (or intersection) where a bench is placed securely where the city’s lord sits. If a messenger comes from the east and asks the gatekeeper, “Where is the city’s lord?” he replies, “The lord is in the city at the head of the four-way plaza. He is sitting on the bench there.” Hearing that, the messenger goes to the city’s lord, gives him his message, and then returns the same way. Messengers come from the south, west, and north and ask the gatekeeper, “Where is the city’s lord?” They reply, “The lord is in the city at the head of the four-way plaza. He is sitting on the bench there.” Hearing that, the messengers go to the city’s lord, give him their message, and then return the same way they came.

The Buddha told the monks, "Having told this parable, now I’ll explain its meaning. The “city” is a metaphor for a person’s crude physical form … as it was explained in the Chest of Vipers Parable Sutra. The “well administered city walls” refer to right view. The “level plaza” refers to the six inner sense fields. The “four gates” refer to the four abodes of consciousness. The “four gatekeepers” refers to the four abodes of mindfulness. The “city’s lord” refers to the acquired aggregate of consciousness. The “messengers” refers to calming and contemplation (samatha & vipasyana). The “true words” refers to the four noble truths. “Returning the way they came” refers to the eightfold noble path.


Makes sense!

Ahh, I see. Those didn’t even cross my mind — I’m not sure we see it in this kind of context in the Pāli ever, i.e. “the four stations of consciousness” isn’t really a standard category to be singled out in Pāli outside of when consciousness is being juxtaposed to the other aggregates in a few texts in the khandha-samyutta. I think the usual term would be the standard nāmarūpa link, said to be co-dependent with consciousness, or just kāya again (like the *saviññānaka kāya — sentient/conscious body, meaning the whole of a being). Incidentally ‘kāya’ is the corresponding part in the Pāli simile, with consciousness ruling inside. So here ‘kāya’ is standing for the other four aggregates roughly as indicated in some places elsewhere. Just an interesting observation.

Thank you for this — it’s very helpful!

It’s a complicated image to map. I think the Indic word is probably ‘*nagara’ which is also used to mean a citadel or fortress.

What I get here is that the ‘form’ being the city/fortress is a kind of stand in for the whole person, with consciousness inside and the six sense domains. The abodes of mindfulness are the entry-ways where all information has to go through, administered by right view, to cultivate samatha and vipasyana which deliver the realization of the four noble truths to consciousness. This makes more sense to me than ‘nibbāna’ being the message of truth, and it makes more sense in terms of samatha-vipassanā than the six senses generally. But either way we see all six senses (w/ mind) included within the framework of the body or person (the plaza in the city).

I know that the Sarvāstivādins ended up focusing a lot on the realization(s) of the four noble truths in their Abhidharma, maybe this is either an influence on that or an after-effect. Either way, very nice image to contemplate and consider, and it sheds light on some of the variations in the Pāli.