Forget "mindfulness". remembering = sati / smṛti / 念

Mindfulness is an excellent translation for “sati”, but while the ‘memory’ aspect of mindfulness is hinted at with “mindfulness”, I believe english readers don’t really perceive that aspect of it. Perhaps some of the unfortunate present day misunderstandings of sati, like “choiceless awareness” and “present moment awareness” would not have happened if “memory” was the english translation.

I’m guessing the person who coined “mindfulness” was trying to fit the context of sati in the sense of “presence of mind”, which works for most EBT occurrences.

I’m thinking sati translated as “memory” will feel a little awkward (because of not having the “presence of mind” as fluently expressed in many contexts), but perhaps that’s a better tradeoff than the negative aspects of “mindfuness” devoid of the memory/recollection connection?

What do you guys think? I’m assuming in the Buddha’s tiime, when people heard the word “sati”, the concept that they immediately understood was “memory and presence of mind”.

Anyway, I’m going to experiment with translating “sati” as “memory” and see how that goes.

CPED and PTS dictionary has:

sati c
sati: memory; mindfulness. (f.)

Sati (f.) [Vedic smṛti: see etym. under sarati2] memory, recognition, consciousness, D i.180; ii.292; Miln 77 – 80 intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness alertness, lucidity of mind, self – possession, conscience self – consciousness D i.19; iii.31, 49, 213, 230, 270 sq. A i.95; Dhs 14; Nd1 7; Tikp 61; VbhA 91; DhsA 121 Miln 37; upaṭṭhitā sati presence of mind D iii.252, 282 287; S ii.231; A ii.6, 218; iii.199; iv.232; It 120 parimukhaŋ satiŋ upaṭṭhāpetuŋ to surround oneself with watchfulness of mind M iii.89; Vin i.24, satiŋ paccupaṭṭhāpetuŋ to preserve

ah, I see Bhante @Sujato messsage 2 in this thread answers my question very well:

Bhante what are you translating sati as nowadays? Are you using “retention”? Do you have different translations for different contexts?


I’m still using mindfulness most of the time, and memory on occasion.


Mindfulness has a deeper meaning than memory.
I do not think memory is a good substitute for mindfulness.

rememberness = sati / smṛti / 念

I’ve got the perfect translation for sati.
Remember-ness. And Remember-ful, depending on what case we’re declining.

The “mindful” non-absentmindess, presence of mind meaning is still implied with “rememberness”, but the exciting feature of “remember” is that it covers two critical functions missing from “mindfulness”: memorizing, and recalling what was memorized long ago.

SMRTI = You (S)uppose to (M)emorize and ®ecollect (T)errific (I)deas.
SATI = You (S)uppose to (A)ctualize (T)errific (I)deas

SN 48.9 definitions of 5ind

(3. Sati: Rememberness)

♦ “katamañ-ca, bhikkhave, sat-indriyaṃ?
"{And}-what, monks, (is) rememberness-faculty?
idha, bhikkhave, ariya-sāvako
Here, monks, (a) disciple-of-the-noble-ones,
satimā hoti
{is} rememberful,
paramena sati-nepakkena samannāgato
supreme rememberness-(and)-prudence (he) possesses,
cira-katampi cira-bhāsitampi
(what was) {done}-long-ago, {spoken}-long-ago,
saritā anussaritā —
(he) remembers (and) recollects -
idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sat-indriyaṃ.
this (is) called, *********, rememberness-faculty.

Cognizance perhaps? This character can mean “to remember” but also simultaneously “to expect” depending on context. It can also simply mean “to think about (X)”.

Now the 7sb (awakening factors) makes more sense.

  1. rememberness-awakening factor
  2. Dhamma investigation awakening factor.

What is #1 remembering? Dhamma. What is #2 investigating? The dhamma that you’re remembered, recalling from #1. This is an oral tradition. If you don’t clearly remember the pieces of Dhamma that lead to nirvana, you can’t use it properly. If you don’t remember it at all, you can’t use it all. Recall the fortress simile with rememberness as the gatekeeper. Rememberness has no weapons (Dhamma that he memorized). So to have weapons, you must memorize it.

the traditional “Mindfulness”, presence of mind, as 7sb factor #1, doesn’t feel so integrated and crucial to the causal sequence as “rememberness” does.

I’d like to hear more about what you know of that in the samma sati, sati-indriya, and sati-sambojjhanga context in chinese.

The chinese use 念 as their translation of sanskrit smṛti.

I asked a native Buddhist Chinese, they said the 念, “nian”, character component pictures are interesting. the “heart” at the bottom would correspond to citta/heart/mind. The picture on top of the heart represents “today”. Or present moment, so the thought in the heart in the present moment. They said “reading”, the chinese character for that would usually add a “mouth” picture to the bottom “nian” character.

So I’m interested to hear some more perspectives. But looking up smrti (sanskrit), it definitely emphasizes memory. And the PTS dictionary lists “memory” first under “sati”.

The “mindful” non-absentmindess, presence of mind meaning is still implied with “rememberness”

It doesn’t sound that way to my ear. It sounds wonky, and furthermore it has lost the whole of the presence-of-mind component. A synonym for your neologism here would be “reminiscence”, which is a lot closer to papanca than it is to sati.

…but the exciting feature of “remember” is that it covers two critical functions missing from “mindfulness”: memorizing, and recalling what was memorized long ago.

I feel that these aspects are in the connotations of the term. Somebody trying to practice mindfulness will already have been memorizing the steps & features of correct practice, they can notice if they remember this practice poorly or well, and so on. They know that you can only remember what you’ve payed attention to, and on it goes.

Someone wanting to do Buddhist mindfulness has already remembered the Dhamma to some extent. I fail to see the actual problem that a confusing non-natural English word is supposed to solve.

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That’s why I didn’t consdier “reminiscence”, or “remembrance”.
What I was shooting for was the active process of “remember”, which covers both memorizing, and recalling what was memorized.

sati-indriya, samma sati, are not choiceless awareness zombies or vegetables. Recall the fortress simile from AN 7.67. The gatekeeper needs to remember the bad guys, the good guys, all the clever disguises, he needs to remember dhamma, because those are his weapons. He can’t just be aware of the present. Sati is doing much more than that.

Yeah, “rememberness” is a clumsy word, but function over form baby. The dhamma is about nirvana, not about looking pretty. And Mindfulness was probably a neologism when it was first introduced.

Something I consider when I think of how 念 is able to carry these multiple meanings is, I think, to borrow a term from the Netflix series Stranger Things, what is an expectation, or a prediction, or even a contemplation, but something of a “now memory”.

For instance, there is a measurable delay between happenings and experiences of them.

This is something of a personal contrivance, and less to do with historically verifiable facts about the Chinese mindset concerning 念.

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That’s a good point.
referring to the gatekeeper simile again, the gatekeeper has to be cognizant if he let’s the wrong guy into the fortress, or he used a grenade when a bow and arrow would have been a stealthy cleaner hit (not alerting the other enemy troops), all of these considerations require memory of past, and measuring against future consequences. The present moment awareness choiceless nonjudgmental zombie gatekeeper is gonna be dead meat.

My vote would be for “Remindfulness” (source given later).

“Retention”, mentioned in a page linked to earlier, is really quite nice (though mostly only properly captures the memory connotations). Two words together, e.g. “retentive awareness”, would easily capture both (re)tention and (at)tention meanings. Now, if only we could lop off the “re” and “at” in those words and do some kind of weird merge, we might get somewhere. ?? “Re(at)tention” ?? But, no, that’s pretty horrible really :wink: , and “retention attention” is quite a mouthful (even if it rhymes)! :slight_smile:

Though, a quick google search later, it seems there hasn’t been any lack of past attempts at this exercise, e.g. see from here:

Alternate translations

The terms sati/smriti have been translated as:

  • Attention (Jack Kornfield)
  • Awareness
  • Concentrated attention (Mahasi Sayadaw)
  • Inspection (Herbert Guenther)
  • Mindful attention
  • Mindfulness
  • Recollecting mindfulness (Alexander Berzin)
  • Recollection (Erik Pema Kunsang, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)
  • Reflective awareness (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)
  • Remindfulness (James H. Austin)[18]
  • Retention
  • Self-recollection (Jack Kornfield)

That’s a miscellaneous mix, which includes some awareness-based ones, some memory-based ones and combinations of both.

Berzin’s “Recollecting mindfulness” does at least capture both meanings, but needs two words (a whole range of similar double-word combinations are possible). Austin’s “Remindfulness” cleverly sneaks a memory reference, i.e. “remind”, into a single word. IMO that’s the best single-word combination I’ve seen so far.

Another idea that only just occured to me now, which comes with its own problems, is:
recollectedness” (combining “recollect” and “collectedness”) with the original word itself having certain meditative connotations. “Rightly recollected”? “Right recollectedness”? It’s an interesting word game alright.

Austin’s “Remindfulness” isn’t half bad though (and is even a real word in its own right).


It does not matter what terminology we use we will never understand the meaning of one word without further explaining it.
For example, Buddha used the same old word such as Nirvana and gave a different meaning to it. Even the word Sati itself does not convey the message of Satipathana.

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Yes, there are limits to what a word or even two can do. There’s even a lot to be said for just leaving a few key words untranslated, leaving people attach their own meanings, much like “jhana” seems almost as common as “concentration” these days. Might make things easier if the term “sati” itself similarly caught on.

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Here’s Ajahn Jayasaro talking for 4 minutes about the meaning of Sati and Sati Sampajanna.

“What does sati mean? What does mindfulness mean?..It means not forgetting”.


I do like rememberful. But is is leaning too far the other direction? With mindfulness there is the cultivation of the attention aspect to the detriment of the recollection. With rememberfulness the recollection is emphasised to the the detriment of ‘now-ness’.

I think as practitioners it’s good to keep coming back and asking ‘what is sati?’. It hones our practice. For beginner practitioners awareness might be enough to train their minds but as we continue our practice we will should keep honing this quality.

A word that doesn’t make it in the above list, which I quite like to include in my overview of sati, is attentiveness. It has the quality of paying attention to the now, with care (attending). It also has a sense of clarity to it which might address the recollective aspect, to some degree. I’m not proposing this as a singular answer. More adding to the thought-sphere.


A term that I think captures most of the meanings pretty well is “minding” (or “mind” in transitive verb form), that also kind of has an element of caution and care — which is nice. Unfortunately, it’s an archaic usage and probably doesn’t mean much to the modern common ear.

Mind is also related to memory
mind is a more present tense process, whereas re-mind is a returning-to process.

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Much ado…

Stick with the word sati – any English (or other) term inevitably requires qualifying explanation, and too often reduction of scope of meaning.

I think one of the reasons “mindfulness” was coined in the first place is because it fits grammatical cases well in the EBT contexts it’s used in, whereas ‘memory’, ‘retention’, is harder to decline/conjugate.

retention makes me think of water retention and fluid retention first for some reason. Memory is not the first thing i think of when I see “retention”.

re-mindfulness is quite clever, but to me, it doesn’t have the holistic oral tradition aspect of memorizing and recollecting important dhamma teachings. It only has the aspect of non-forgetfulness, non-absentmindedness.

recollectedness could work, but it doesn’t have the “memorize” aspect of the oral tradition angle as “remember” does. ‘Remember’ is a verb for memorizing and for recollecting, which is why I like it so much.

There’s also sarati (remember) and anussarati (remember and recollect and remind), and manasi karoti is usually translated as “attention”, so that should be taken into consideration of what “sati” should be.

I would prefer to have just gone with “memory” for sati, but couldn’t figure out a coherent way to grammatically conjugate it in the common contexts.

He also does say it means remembering dhamma (teachings) as a secondary meaning. His interpretation is legitimate, but I would say remember dhamma is (1A), non-forgetfulness is (1B). This is an oral tradition, and the first thing people in his audience at that time are going to understand is sati = memory.

I do disagree with him on his explanation of right effort/ vigor (viriya) though. The simile of not squeezing the bird in the hand too tight only occurs once in the EBT AFAIK, in MN 128. There’s also a simile of the lute where the monk Sona was practicing too hard and thinking of disrobing. But otherwise, by far if you were to tally up all the times the Buddha talks about the energy in our practiced, is biased heavily towards pushing people to exert and extraordinary superhuman amount of effort, energy, desire for liberation.

If you compare to the sanskrit smrti, in hinduism smrti has two meanings 1: memory. 2: the body of hindu teachings they’ve memorized.

I don’t think sati as “rememberful” is leaning towards a wrong direction, it’s being steered back to its original meaning. the english word “mindfulness” has connotations of attention, bare awareness, choiceless awareness, because we’ve been influenced by people who subscribe to that view.

Leaving “sati” untranslated is a legitimate option, but just as using “mindfulness” as a translation has the problem of everyone who’s learned mc-mindfulness meditation from their hot yoga class at the gym thinks they know what “mindfulness” means, every buddhist thinks they know what “sati” means.

that’s a revelation! So memory and recollection was already built into the “mind”, “minding”, and “mindfulness” right from the beginning, but it lost that meaning over time. If people nowadays knew memory access was built in, then “mindfulness” is the perfect translation. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I think with psychologists and watered down mcmindfulness meditation hijacking the word “mindfulness” and infusing it with their own meaning, it’s time to abandon that sinking titanic and latch on to a different word. That’s another reason I don’t like “remindfulness”, it just sounds like you’re getting a slightly improved version of “mindfulness” rather than returning to the roots of the oral tradition.


"Not forgetting " or “remembering” seems clear enough to me, rather than inventing new words like “rememberful” or “rememberness” - which sound quite clumsy, (No offence intended!) - and which people with English as a second language would be unlikely to find in an English dictionary.