Either Ven. Thanissaro is missing something, or I am

And I’m sure that I am…
Been listening to his series entitled mindfulness and concentration on the DhammaTalks app (which is awesome btw) and he goes over the factors of mindfulness in depth but not mindfulness of Dhammas. After mindfulness of mind he wraps it up but then goes into suttas that apply to summing up the teaching, so it wasn’t a time issue. So in regards to my post title I seriously doubt he forgot so it’s obviously me that is missing something here. Is mindfulness of dhammas interelated to the other 3 factors. Hmmmm?

My guess is that the suttas he went into were the very ‘Dhammas’ that you are looking for. These are the principles or natural laws underpinning the Buddhas teaching; including conditionality, causality, impermanence, non-self and the 4 Noble truths - basically all the conceptual structures that the Buddha developed to describe the natural laws of existence in Samsara.


Note that the series is called “mindfulness and concentration,” and the fourth foundation of mindfulness is concerned with insight. In part 4 Thanissaro talks about ‘analysing’ the jhanas, that means applying discernment to evaluate the faults in one level, as a means of motivating the move up to the next. This is described in Anguttara Nikaya 5.28, and because Thanissaro’s teaching in general is jhana-centered, he relegates insight simply to this function, but in reality it has a greater role to play. An analogy can be made equating the fourth foundation of mindfulness with fire and its capacity to transform clay into pottery, to boil water for cooking, or to cause air to rise. The fourth foundation operates dynamically on the other three by focussing on the process of their impermanence, and how it is achieved:

" He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen.[15(MN 10   Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta | The Establishing of Mindfulness Discourse) And he discerns how there is no further appearance in the future of sensual desire that has been abandoned."—Majhima Nikaya 10

In his text introduction to Majhima Nikaya 10 Thanissaro gives more information on the action of the fourth foundation. Again it has a bias toward jhana, whereas the focus of the four noble truths is removal of suffering through insight. Concentration does not suffice to bring liberation because it fails to touch the defilements at their fundamental level.

" The word “origination,” here, does not mean that one is focused simply on the arising of phenomena. Instead, it means being focused on how phenomena arise in connection with causes. The “phenomenon of origination and passing away” covers events either directly or indirectly related to one’s chosen frame of reference. “Directly” means changes in the frame of reference itself. For instance, when focused on the body, one may notice what causes breath sensations to arise and pass away within it. “Indirectly,” here, means events in any of the other three frames of reference as they relate to the body. For example, one might notice what causes feelings of pleasure or mental states of irritation to arise and pass away in connection to events in the body. Or one might notice lapses of mindfulness in one’s focus on the body.

Of course, to see causal relations requires that the meditator consciously try to effect changes in events, to see which events actually have a causal relationship to one another and which ones don’t. Here again, ardency in the practice of right effort and right concentration is what allows for this sort of understanding to arise.

In every case, when skillful or unskillful mental qualities—such as the factors for awakening or the hindrances—arise and pass away, one is encouraged to foster the factors that strengthen jhāna and eliminate those that weaken it. This means actively getting engaged in maximizing skillful mental qualities and minimizing unskillful ones. One thus develops insight into the process of origination and passing away by taking an active and sensitive role in the process, just as you learn about eggs by trying to cook with them, gathering experience from your successes and failures in attempting increasingly difficult dishes."

Hi Joel

Mindfulness of Dhammas is generally interpreted in two different ways:

  1. Mindfulness of mind-objects
  2. Mindfulness of the core-teachings or core-principles.

Possibly Thanissaro adopted the 2nd interpretation above in the audio.

Regards :slightly_smiling_face:

Awesome everyone thanks. You all make a lot of sense and will be very helpful upon further study

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I’m getting back into this study again today. So he mentions mindfulness as keeping something in mind and alertness as watching what we may be doing as skillful or unskillful. That I already had a firm understanding and application of but where is this definition of alertness mentioned in the actual 8/path. ?

Hi Joe,

Why not take a look at his meditation guide instead of trying to figure these things out piecemeal? This might make more sense.

He also has several other free books about other aspects of Buddhism, such as “On the path” regarding the Noble Eightfold Path. They are available on the same website.



I’ve studied his meditation techniques extensively, but I’m glad you brought that up, there is something in his teaching technique that always confuses me. For instance in this particular study on mindfulness he mentions that the Buddha himself said keep the body in mind as a place of reference. That makes a lot of sense in formal or mechanical meditation practice but he mentions through out the day. Is he literally saying focus on the body in and of it self while u go through the day?

Sorry for assuming you hadn’t. I’m no specialist but the sense I get from his talks is that one should generalize from the four postures into trying to maintain mindfulness thorough the day in any situation. (If that even is generalizing, we’re usually in one of these four postures, aren’t we?) He seems to recommand using the breath to do this because it is dynamic, but I don’t see why whole body awareness couldn’t work.

Does it have such a bias?

The above is correct.

The above is also correct, however, for me, the translation of “sampajana” as “alertness” is poor. I prefer the traditional translation of “clearly comprehending”. I also like “circumspection”.

It is very important to know the words “sati” & “sampajana” are generally used together. What Thanissaro has taught above is found in the teaching of the factors of enlightenment, as follows:

And what fuels the arising of the awakening factor of mindfulness, or, when it has arisen, fully develops it? There are things that are grounds for the awakening factor of mindfulness. Frequent proper attention to them fuels the arising of the awakening factor of mindfulness, or, when it has arisen, fully develops it.

And what fuels the arising of the awakening factor of investigation of principles, or, when it has arisen, fully develops it? There are qualities that are skillful and unskillful, blameworthy and blameless, inferior and superior, and those on the side of dark and bright. Frequent proper attention to them fuels the arising of the awakening factor of investigation of principles, or, when it has arisen, fully develops it.

AN 46.2

Or AN 7.67 uses an excellent synonym for ‘sampajana’, namely, ‘nepakka’:

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. They have utmost mindfulness and alertness (satinepakkena), and can remember and recall what was said and done long ago. A noble disciple with mindfulness as their gatekeeper gives up the unskillful and develops the skillful, they give up the blameworthy and develop the blameless, and they keep themselves pure. This is the sixth good quality they have.

AN 7.67

PTS Pali English Dictionary


neuterprudence, discrimination, carefulness; usually as [with] sati˚


The Noble Eightfold Path is explained in SN 45.8, including the following:

And what is right mindfulness?

Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sammāsati?

It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware [alert; clearly comprehending] and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ;

SN 45.8

The words sati & sampajana are not directly defined in SN 45.8 but are defined elsewhere.

“Sati” is defined in MN 117 and SN 46.3:

Mindfully they give up wrong view and take up [keep in mind] right view: that’s their right mindfulness.

So sato micchādiṭṭhiṁ pajahati, sato sammādiṭṭhiṁ upasampajja viharati, sāssa hoti sammāsati.

MN 117

as they recollect and think about that teaching.

So tathā vūpakaṭṭho viharanto taṁ dhammaṁ anussarati anuvitakketi.

At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness;

SN 46.3

Sampajana (aware; alert; clearly comprehending) is defined SN 47.35 in however the definition is not clear:

And how is a mendicant aware?

Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno hoti?

It’s when a mendicant knows feelings as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away.

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno viditā vedanā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṁ gacchanti.

They know thoughts as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away.

Viditā vitakkā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṁ gacchanti.

They know perceptions as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away.

Viditā saññā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṁ gacchanti.

That’s how a mendicant is aware.

Evaṁ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno hoti

SN 47.35

The key term above seems to be “viditā”. I personally disagree with Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation above of “know”, which makes the sampajana above sound like the practice of vipassana (seeing arising & passing). I prefer Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of “viditā” as “understood”.

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.


Since you have taken a recent interest in Ajahn Buddhadasa, I would recommend his explanation of the subject, found here: Bhikkhu Buddhadasa - Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease :dizzy:


Sati (mindfulness, reflective awareness, recollection) is the quick awareness and recall of the things which must be recalled. It must be as quick as an arrow. We also can describe sati as a vehicle or transport mechanism of the fastest kind. This most rapid transport doesn’t carry material things, it carries wisdom and knowledge. Sati delivers paññä (wisdom) in time to meet our needs. Through the practice of mindfulness with breathing, sati is trained fully.


The second dhamma is sampajanna. Sampajanna is wisdom as it meets up with and immediately confronts a problem, as it deals with and wipes out that problem – this is wisdom-in-action. It is only that wisdom specifically related and applied to a particular situation or event. Nonetheless, you may have come across a variety of translations for “sampajanna,” which can be rather confusing. We recommend that you remember it as “wisdom-in-action.” Even better, learn the Pali word about which there is no doubt. The word “wisdom” encompasses many meanings and understandings, we can’t even begin to estimate its content. However, the word “sampajanna” is far more limited in its meaning. It is exactly that wisdom directly needed for the problem that confronts us. Active wisdom isn’t general, it is a matter of particulars.

The same holds for the word “Dhamma,” which has an incredible variety of meanings, depending on how it is being used. When Dhamma is applied to solve a specific problem, event, or situation, there is a specific Dhamma particular to that situation. The meaning is limited to the occasion and its circumstances. In this case of Dhamma solving problems, the most precise and proper term is “dhamma-sacca” (Dhamma-Truth). Dhamma-sacca is the particular dhamma called for by the immediate situation with which we must cope, be it the onset of spiritual disease or exposure to the germs of spiritual disease. It is the use of just the right thing in a specific incident or event.

We can compare Dhamma with the medicine chest in our house. In it we store a wide variety of drugs, pills, capsules, ointments, powders, and syrups for possible use. When we’re actually sick, we must choose from among the many the one drug which will be effective in treating our ailment. We can’t take them all; we take just what is needed to cure our illness here and now. The same is true for Dhamma. Understand that there’s an incredible amount of what we call Dhamma and paññä, but that we only apply a little bit at a time. We apply just that portion which can take care of the immediate situation. Know how to use the Dhamma, the paññä, which is exactly relevant to our situation and problem. The Dhamma or wisdom which controls that situation and problem is what we call “sampajanna.”

Wonderful input all…

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Thanissaro’s bias towards jhana is due to temperament, he is a conservative and values tranquillity. This is normal as everyone has a preference for either tranquillity or insight. Additionally his teacher Ajahn Lee studied in India. He is the only leading teacher who writes comprehensively about practice and it is possible to screen out the jhana and follow his instructions while maintaining an insight practice. He is the only modern author who has been able to link suttas through meaning, casting new light on their purpose. Most practitioners who were trained in the pre-millennial era inherited an insight practice due to the influence of Bikkhu Bodhi and the other western authors writing in Sri Lanka from the vipassana viewpoint. Although of the same generation as Bikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro achieved prominence post-millennially. His book “Right Mindfulness” (2012) which is mainly about breath meditation, contains references to the process of purification through removing the defilements, but does not give it central importance, every discussion stresses the relevance to jhana. The removal of defilements is to facilitate jhana. The problem with an exclusively jhana practice is that the interrelationship between sila, samadhi, and panna stops short and is never properly understood. It implies the noble eightfold path is linear, when at its most sophisticated it is circular.

Thanissaro’s arguments on the function of the fourth foundation of mindfulness are contradictory. In the ch. 9 main discussion he writes that it is centered around the four noble truths, the understanding of which is an insight objective, then in formal conclusion makes a different statement:

" it parallels the steps of the fourth tetrad in Majhima Nikaya 118, in which the contemplation of inconstancy leads ultimately to the contemplation of relinquishment of all
fabricated phenomena, including the path"


“2) The fourth frame of reference is useful primarily for keeping unskillful
mental states at bay. In other words, it frames attention in a way that’s
helpful for subduing greed and distress with reference to the world outside
the focus of your concentration, and ultimately to the world of becoming
induced by the concentration itself.”

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The above sounds like mixing or combining MN 10 & MN 118. Monks such as Sujato have questioned the authenticity of MN 10; which in my opinion should not be mixed with MN 118.

Suttas such as SN 54.6, SN 54.2, MN 38 & MN 118 seem clear, in that the hindrances are abandoned prior to the practise of Anapanasati. Where as MN 10 introduces the five hindrances into the 4th satipatthana, which seems illogical; particularly when compared to the 4th satipatthana of MN 118.

Also, the idea of “relinquishment of all fabricated phenomena, including the path” sounds questionable. MN 117 says:

So the trainee has eight factors, while the perfected one has ten factors.

Iti kho, bhikkhave, aṭṭhaṅgasamannāgato sekkho, dasaṅgasamannāgato arahā hoti.

MN 117

@CurlyCarl I didn’t quite understand why introducing five hindrances at that stage is illogical. If one was in a jhana state, I can understand that they have been already given up but for the satipatthana one need not reach a jhana level of absorption, right? I mean, one could still contemplate fleeting mind-states arising and vanishing in terms of what kind of hindrances they correspond to, or is that not the case?

In one part of his series on mindfulness and concentration that this thread has been discussing Ven Thanissaro says the Buddha teaches mindfulness of the body as a basis for sense restraint. Can some one direct me to a sutta ?

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MN10 says that practitioners should have overcome “covetousness and grief” which sounds like a reference to the hindrances.


SN 35.247 is a sutta that shows this relationship between mindfulness of the body and sense restraint.


Wow really?? I thought this was considered one of the more important Suttas. Bhikkhu Analayo has written multiple books on it alone. Can anyone link me to Bhante Sujato’s writings on that?

14.4 Theravāda Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta