Difference between sati and sampajanna

There’s nothing in the suttas that supports that. The focus throughout is on attention and energy in transforming present moment events into a profitable direction for reducing suffering.

Even for the bodhisatta, MN 19 shows he was concerned with developing renunciation, non-ill will, and harmlessness, and eradicating their opposites.

I am developing my understanding of Buddhist explanation of cosmic evolution in DN27 Aggañña Sutta (2nd part in particular) and how it relates to Darwin’s theory of evolution based on observation of life forms in the planet. Just like we breathe in and out our Universe also contracts and expands over eons of time. Ancient Indian Science was based on science of consciousness (Vijnana) unlike here in the West. To this day word for Science in India is ‘Vijnana’. Consciousness can be seen as awarized energy particles like photons filling up boundless infinite space. First conscious beings were orb like mental beings of light in the infinite space. They sometime even show up in smart phone pictures. We as humans have the power to consciously and intentionally direct our evolution upward through the Noble 8-fold path. I find Agganna sutta: knowledge of beginings, mind-stretching as it stretches my imagination in many ways. I would not call it creation story, it is more how things evolve from luminous consciousness to dense physical plane.

Hello, :earth_americas:

I have read through some posts in a few threads here and I’m not quite clear on what is sati and what is sampajanna.

Can I ask my question this way: if I’m sitting and watching my breath, and my mind wanders, and I’m completely lost in discursive thought… and then aha! I realize that I’m lost in thought, remember what I am supposed to be doing, and I bring attention back to my breath, and expand my general awareness a bit.

So that now I’m sitting there watching my breath, and I’m aware that I’m sitting there watching my breath in a room in my house, and I’m also slightly watching my thoughts like a sentry.

Which part of that whole sequence of events is sati, and which is sampajanna? Is the “aha!” remembering, and the sentry watching what’s going on = sati, and the clear present moment awareness that I’m sitting there doing what I’m doing = sampajanna?

Thanks for attempting to clear something up that has eluded me for months now.


Welcome to the Forum, Chris. Any questions: just ask! We are glad to have you with us. :slight_smile:

(But please be aware that answers to questions about practice will be answered in general terms, as we avoid discussing personal issues in this Forum, and the details you describe here will be taken as a general example of anybody meditating.)


Being unable to understand the difference between sampajanna and sati arises because the practitioner hasn’t got the correct grasp of mindfulness in the first place. Sati is a process involving memory, where events are compared with dhamma already known. Sampajanna is the part of the sati process that is alert to present events in the mind and activities of the body as they are happening.

“Just as the royal frontier fortress has a gate-keeper — wise, experienced, intelligent — to keep out those he doesn’t know and to let in those he does, for the protection of those within and to ward off those without; in the same way a disciple of the noble ones is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. With mindfulness as his gate-keeper, the disciple of the noble ones abandons what is unskillful, develops what is skillful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is blameless, and looks after himself with purity. With this sixth true quality is he endowed.”—AN 7.63


Sati - ‘Awareness’

Sampajanna - ‘ The constant thorough understanding of impermanence’

Ātāpī sampajāno satimā - ‘Ardent with awareness of mind and body at the level of sensations and with constant thorough understanding of impermanence’

-And how, meditators, does a meditator understand thoroughly? Herein, meditators, a meditator knows sensations arising in him, knows their persisting, and knows their vanishing; he knows perceptions arising in him, knows their persisting and knows their vanishing; he knows each initial application (of the mind on an object) arising in him, knows its persisting and knows its vanishing. This, meditators, is how a meditator understands thoroughly.

In the above statement, it becomes clear that one is sampajana only when one realizes the characteristic of impermanence, and that too on the basis of experience of sensation (vidita vedana). If it is not realized through vedana, then it is merely an intellectualisation, because our fundamental contact with the world is based on sensation. It is directly through sensation that experience occurs. The statement further indicates that sampajana lies in experiencing the impermanence of vedana, vitakkavedana, vitakka (the initial application of the mind on an object) and sanna (perception). Here we should note that impermanence of vedana is to be realized first because according to the Buddha-
Everything that arises in the mind is accompanied by sensation.

The second explanation given by the Buddha of sampajanna emphasises that it must be continuous. He states-
And how, meditators does a meditator understand thoroughly how does a meditator understand thoroughly?? Again, meditators, a meditator in going forwards and backwards understands impermanence thoroughly, in looking straight ahead and sideways understands impermanence thoroughly, in bending and stretching understands impermanence thoroughly, in chewing and drinking, eating and savouring understands impermanence thoroughly, in wearing the double fold robe, alms bowl and single fold robe (in the case of a monk), understands impermanence thoroughly, in attending to the calls of nature understands impermanence thoroughly, in walking, standing, sitting, sleeping and waking, speaking and remaining silent understands impermanence thoroughly.

The emphasis on continuity of sampajanna is very clear. One should develop constant thorough understanding of impermanence.

With proper understanding of the teaching of Buddha, it becomes clear that if this continuous sampajanna consists only of the thorough understanding of the processes of walking, eating and other activities of the body, then it is merely sati. If, however, the constant thorough understanding includes the characteristic of arising and passing away of vedana (sensations) while the meditator is performing these activities, then this is panna. This is what the Buddha wanted people to practise.

In order to put sampajanna into practice, the technique of vipassana meditation becomes a constant. Every moment aware, every moment equanimous. Ardent in awareness of sensations. Working equanimously, giving importance to the subtler sensations as they arise and pass. Equanimous with the solidified sensations as they arise and pass. Aware of the apparent reality of solidified sensations, developing samadhi to become aware of the subtlest reality of subatomic sensations arising and passing with great rapidity. Aware, equanimous, this is how we practice vipassana, this is how we practice sampajanna.

Referenced from the Vipassana Research Institute (VRI)


You will find quite a lot of material that bears on your question if you dig around in these search results @chris


Thanks for the replies, I think part of the issue is that I have read many explanations or translations of the terms and many of them contradict. I’ll have to do some more reading and let things settle in my mind. peace,

The Vipassana organization’s approach is not step-by-step understanding as in the suttas, it is a fait accompli by someone who has studied and practiced and come up with a concentrated method then presented it publicly. It’s a canned product that’s why impermanence and feeling are bundled up in it. So the practitioner has to decide whether to accept the Vipassana (capital V) method, or investigate the suttas independently and form their own conclusion according with experience. The emphasis on feeling and impermanence is correct, but the problem is their role is not fully understood unless the suttas are studied from the ground up. Using the Anapanasati and Satipatthana suttas as a basis it is seen how feeling is developed in the body then how feelings are separated into those profitable to the practice and those unprofitable. Impermanence doesn’t figure until after basic skills have been developed. It is a more gradual and organic development.

If a practitioner decides to study the suttas there should be awareness different suttas refer to different levels of practice without advertising it unless it is examined who the sutta was delivered by/to. The mindfulness & alertness described in SN 36.7 is different to that described for beginners (as in the Satipatthana sutta), because it applies to the sickroom (thus impermanence). Three levels of practice are described in the Satipatthana sutta, the beginner’s dealing with the body (feelings, mind, dhamma) in and of itself. The second more advanced deals with the perception of impermanence. The third refers to arahants who have severed attachment:

"In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body. Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world.”—-MN 10

Sampajanna would be subject to different definitions at different levels, as can be seen in the commentarial description of it as:

“regarding the purpose, the suitability, (inclusion in the meditative) domain, and the undeluded conception of the activity concerned”(Nyanatiloka).

The final stage of undeluded conception would refer to recognition of impermanence. Reflecting on impermanence in the sickroom would be an undeluded conception of the immediate situation as a mental event, whereas the beginner’s definition of sampajanna refers to physical situations, “the body in and of itself”.

“In the context of satipatthãna, the range of what a meditator “knows” includes, for example, identifying a long breath as long, or recognizing one’s physical posture.51 But with the later satipatthãna contemplations, the meditator’s task of knowing evolves until it comes to include the presence of discriminative understanding”—Analayo


OK, I’ll take a shot … (OPINION only. I’m not a Dhamma teacher! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:)







Clear, present moment awareness = Sampajanna

Linking the present moment with past, seeing the bigger picture, using memory to provide background = Sati

Sati+Sampajanna = Mindfulness. You need a blend of both. This becomes the fuel for the Twin Engines of Awakening - being able to skillfully observe and investigate one’s experience of the Mind/Heart stream (Citta) in real time.


Sampajanna is a further enhancement of Sati AFAIK. It is a pair of words that always go together like for example “nitty-gritty”.
In Sinhala, we say “sudhdha paviththra” where the two words mean the same with only a subtle difference which cannot be separated. If we literally translate “Sudhdha” it means “clean”, and “Paviththra” means clean (more).
So if “sati” is being mindful “sampajanna” is being thoroughly mindful throughout.
With Metta


Pali loves using close synonyms. English loves clear distinctions. And so we try to understand each other. The PTSD (Pali Text Society Dictionary) entries show something of the challenge:

attention, consideration, discrimination, comprehension, circumspection AN.i.13 sq.; AN.ii.93; AN.iii.307; AN.iv.320; AN.v.98 sq. SN.iii.169; DN.iii.213 (sati + samp . opp. to muṭṭha-sacca asampajañña ), DN.iii.273. Description of it in detail at DN-a.i.183 sq. = Vb-a.347 sq., where given as fourfold , viz sātthaka˚, sappāya˚, gocara˚, asammoha˚, with examples Often combined with sati , with which almost synonymous,* e.g. at DN.i.63; AN.i.43; AN.ii.44 sq.; AN.v.115


memory, recognition, consciousness, DN.i.180; DN.ii.292; Mil.77–Mil.80 intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness alertness, lucidity of mind, self-possession, conscience self-consciousness DN.i.19; DN.iii.31, DN.iii.49, DN.iii.213, DN.iii.230, DN.iii.270 sq. AN.i.95; Dhs.14; Mnd.7; Tikp.61; Vb-a.91; Dhs-a.121; Mil.37;

Maybe we should accept that the two words are * "almost synonymous" and not attempt too strenuously to over-define them.

(OPINION only.)


Yes, I agree with you. In practice sampajanna ‘awareness’ not only applies to body (all bodily postures and movements), but also equally for feeling, mind, and phenomena. Body and mental components are closely connected. One simply cannot manage well of mind or consciousness (feeling, mind, phenomena) without having awareness to bodily actions, including sleeping and keeping silence, according to SN 47.2 = SA 622.
Cf. p. 216 in Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (83.0 KB)

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I like your comparison between the two definitions. It’s as if I’m standing in a room where many different conversations are simultaneously occurring. One conversation catches my interest and I turn my full attention to it, listening, gathering information, using my mind’s faculties to grasp the gist of what is being said. At some point I’m able to form an understanding of what is being said, what the subject is all about, what its point is, where it leads, its consequences, its affect. As I continue to direct sati to stay alert and diligent, sampajañña brings circumspection and wisdom.


My understanding of sati and sampajanna is like this: sati is when the mind can stay focus and remain focus on one thing not wondering off. When the mind wonders off and one is aware and pull the mind back that would be Sampajanna. So sati would come first then Sapajanna but both go together.

For example: If I can stay focus on my breaths for 5 minutes during any anapanassati meditation, I would say to myself I have good sati. If my mind wonders off from my breaths to other things long before I am aware of it, I would say I don’t have good sampajanna.

The Buddha refers to sati as an intelligent gate keeper:

"Just as a citadel has a gatekeeper who is astute, competent, and intelligent, who keeps strangers out and lets known people in, in the same way a noble disciple is mindful." AN7.67 SuttaCentral

The Buddha also called one who is practicing satipatthana as one who has sati. And, one who has sampajanna as one who see thing as arise, remain, and go away.

"And how is a mendicant mindful? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. That’s how a mendicant is mindful.

And how is a mendicant aware? It’s when a mendicant knows feelings as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know thoughts as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know perceptions as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. That’s how a mendicant is aware. A mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you.” SN47.35 SuttaCentral