Difference between sati and sampajanna

  1. Looking for differences of these two, how to practice in actual and some examples or experiences that you may have.
  2. What are the relationship of these 2 in practice? example: is sampajanna need to be focus first before sati? etc…

Mindfulness precedes clear knowing:

“Such cooperation of mindfulness with clear knowledge, which according to the “definition” is required for all satipaììhãna contemplations, points to the need to combine mindful observation of phenomena with an intelligent processing of the observed data.
Thus “to clearly know” can be taken to represent the “illuminating” or “awakening” aspect of contemplation. Understood in this way, clear knowledge has the task of processing the input gathered by mindful observation, and thereby leads to the arising of wisdom.”—Analayo


Ven Sujato translates Sati as ‘Mindfulness’ and Sampajanna as ‘Situational Awareness’… see this thread for Sampajanna and this thread for Sati and here for the relationship.

Here is a story that Ajahn Sumedho once told about the relationship between the two…

If I just follow the view that I’ve got to be mindful, I can be quite heedless.
One example of this is when I was at Wat Pah Pong. I would
go on almsround to Bahn Gor, which is a three kilometer walk.
One day it looked like it was going to rain and we thought it
advisable to take our umbrellas. So I took my umbrella and
started off. But then it didn’t rain and so we put our umbrellas
outside the village so we wouldn’t have to take them into the
village. I said to myself: “You must be mindful, Sumedho, and
when you come back from your almsround you must remember
your umbrella. Remember where it is so that you can take it
back to the monastery.” So I went on almsround being very
mindful of each step, got back to the monastery and realized
I’d forgotten my umbrella.


Is the comparison between a mindfulness pointed toward an an object vs so called “open” mindfulness aware of broader inputs (e.g. sensory inputs as well)?

It seems like there’s a slight difference between Anālayo’s and Sujato’s translations of sampajanna, A’s version is post-sati, about the processor and subsequent wisdom, and S’s version is an expanded field of awareness itself, almost like a different flavor of sati.


Well, as we can see from the previous threads on the topic (referenced above) there is no consensus even between the experts. I personally tend to think of Sampajanna as ‘being fully present and understanding what’s going on right now’ and Sati as ‘knowing why/where/how I got here’.


Sati (satimā) is related to the right mindfulness while saṃpajāna (saṃpajañña) related to the right understanding. In sutta (SuttaCentral MN 117), the Buddha said three factors - right understanding, right effort and right mindfulness - keep running and circling around, so it seems that they cannot be divided in case of an activity but can be divided in case of the meaning. In case of an activity we have to have sati to get saṃpajāna. To know something clearly, we have to be mindful of it properly. There is another one, ātāpī meaning ardent, which is related to the right effort. In case of an activity, we have to have energy to be mindful of something. These three play a very important role in practicing any type of satipaṭṭhāna.


There don’t seem to be many suttas that explicitly distinguish between sati and sampajanna.
SN47.35 is the one such sutta:

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should dwell mindful and clearly comprehending. This is our instruction to you.

“And how, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu mindful? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body … feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu is mindful.

“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Here, bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu feelings are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Thoughts are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Perceptions are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension.

“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should dwell mindful and clearly comprehending. This is our instruction to you.”

SN47.2 is another. There the sati description is very similar but the sampajanna description is more along the lines of situational awareness:

“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is one who acts with clear comprehension when going forward and returning; when looking ahead and looking aside; when drawing in and extending the limbs; when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; when eating, drinking, chewing his food, and tasting; when defecating and urinating; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, speaking, and keeping silent. It is in such a way that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension.

Sati and sampajanna crop up in other places but usually just as a pair, e.g. they are both listed as factors specifically of the third jhana.


Examples of mental (as distinguished from the elementary bodily) situational awareness:

He, beyond any concept, wise,
would say, ‘I speak’;
would say, ‘They speak to me.’

knowing harmonious gnosis
with regard to the world,
he uses expressions
just as expressions.”—-SN 1.25

“28. Just as one upon the summit of a mountain beholds the groundlings, even so when the wise man casts away heedlessness by heedfulness and ascends the high tower of wisdom, this sorrowless sage beholds the sorrowing and foolish multitude.”—-Dhp 28

These show that when when mindfulness is applied then wisdom results. If sati and its memory of dhamma were not used in conjunction with sampajanna, then the situational awareness would not be wise. Sampajanna is focussed on properly comprehending the present, while sati’s business is applying lessons from the past.


sadhu sadhu sadhu…appreciate all the links!


Yes, it seems correct to say so. According to Choong Mun-keat, he comments on SN47.2 and its corresponding SA 622:

p. 216 in the-fundamental-teachings-of-e-buddhism 2000.pdf (83.0 KB)

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Here is a description that I thought catches the essence of it - from the book clearing the path . A letter sent by Bhikkhu Nanavira to a lay disciple.
Letter.pdf (66.2 KB)


I confess I haven’t read all the threads, on Sati and Sampajanna here, I am inclined more and more to call Samma Sati as ‘Wholesome Awareness’ and Sampajanna as ‘Contextual Awareness’, which includes present moment ‘Situational Awareness’.

Contextual Awareness includes historical, evolutionary, intersectional even non-local perspective. Sampajanna is related to Panna, insight or intuitive wisdom. I define ‘Awareness’ as ‘timeless, unbounded untainted heart-mind or spacious serene sky-like undefiled wholesome Citta’, something that includes both local and non-local superconscious mind. Children more easily access this level of knowing or natural awareness. I am guessing at least some of us recall events or moments (in our own early experience), of sati-sampajanna, heightened awareness or clear comprehension of what is going on in the whole scene.

So Sati-Sampajanna go together. Sati is remembering from our evolutionary memory encoded in our whole body-heart-brain. I do not know if I am way off here from others.


Most of what you say is correct, but this is incorrect. While the evolutionary memory only perpetuates suffering, being based on greed, hatred, and ignorance (it’s the laws of conventional reality that keep people in check), samma sati involves memory of dhamma, which has to be intentionally planted in the mind at some previous stage of learning. Thus through mindfulness and right choices (appropriate attention) the raw material of existence can be transformed into progress on the path:

" it (right mindfulness) remembers lessons drawn from right view in the
past—both lessons from reading and listening to the Dhamma, as well as lessons
from reading the results of your own actions—that can be used to shape this
activity in a more skillful direction: to act as the path to the end of suffering, "—Thanissaro

Ajahn Brahmali explains clearly the difference in his AN 10.61 talk. They are different. Sampajanna is the main focus at the beginning of the practice. Sati is a more advanced practice. AN10.61 Avijja Sutta - Ignorance (part one) | Ajahm Brahmali | 13 November 2016 - YouTube

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To simplify things, by evolutionary memory I mean ‘inner knowing’. When you were a child playing with other children in a safe environment, do you remember seeing yourself or the world as overcome by greed, hate, delusion? Or did you feel some sense of goodness or wholeness too in you and everything around you? Did you have some sense of right and wrong conduct within you without being told? If you did than ‘dhamma’ is already within you, or in your conscious awareness.

Because as human beings, we all have the faculty of ‘Awareness’ (mindfulness) and the ability to observe not just external environment but our internal consciousness of mind-body activity, there is a possibility to turn six sense consciousness inward, let go of the fear of unknown and naturally wake up from the ‘dream of repeated samsaric existence’ with a handful of essential teachings and faith in Buddha.

"So, according to Uggahamana’s words, a stupid baby boy, lying on its back is consummate in what is skillful, foremost in what is skillful, an invincible contemplative attained to the highest attainments.”—-MN 78

Children are also subject to the three unwholesome roots, and they gradually activate with age. The only way to remove them is through the practice of the noble eightfold path. The inner knowledge then had is:

“one should know that ‘These are unskillful habits,’ I say. With regard to that point, one should know that ‘That is the cause of unskillful habits’…‘Here unskillful habits cease without trace’…‘This sort of practice is the practice leading to the cessation of unskillful habits,’ I say.”—-MN 78

The modern error of the inherently pure mind:


Yes! Mundane world is blind and appears to be full of defilements and afflictions. The whole path is about stepping out of unwholesome/unskillful to wholesome/skilful.

So, according to Uggahamana’s words, a stupid baby boy, lying on its back is consummate in what is skillful, foremost in what is skillful, an invincible contemplative attained to the highest attainments.”—-MN 78

I looked up the Sutta to see who uggahamana was and the context here. Actually it is Buddha who describes Uggahamana to Pancakanga, the carpenter as:

“Rather, he stands on the same level as a stupid baby boy lying on its back.”

Buddha is very aware of who Uggahamana is and the kind of company he keeps. Samana-Mundika Sutta: Mundika the Contemplative

“Now on that occasion Uggahamana was sitting with his large following of wanderers, all making a great noise & racket, discussing many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.”

If one cannot recognize one’s own wholesome conduct and remember one’s wholesome state of mind one cannot enter wholesome or right view. Why the original meaning of Sati is ‘remembering’ or ‘recollection’.

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Sati is like the white blood cell, you know, the cell that is responsible for our immune system, sampajanna is when sati sees a thought (or a mental object) come passing by and recognize it for what it is. Then sati eats it up if it is defilement or if it’s not related to the meditation objects. Sati let it go by if it’s friendly to the work you’re doing. The more sati eats the stray thoughts, the more it grows, and when it is full and well-fed, it will always stay active, and you are protected from the mental defilements. When sati is not around or when its sampajanna eyes get blurry and can’t see or recognize which is which, the mental defilements (which is like malaria) will eat up all your red blood cell i.e. your samadhi (concentration), which is what nourish your mind and keep it happy and contented. And when the mind is well fed with the oxygen-rich blood, it’ll grow strong in pannā (wisdom).i.e. that which knows the root cause of the disease that you’ve been subject to, and will get rid of it and cure it once and for all. So sati is like the defender, sampajanna is like the defender’s 20/20 vision eyes, samadhi is like the builder, and pañña is like the warrior who goes out and attacks and deals the enemy the final blow.