Kāyagatāsati/Kāyānupassanā – Mindfulness Immersed in the Body?

Dear Thomas

You mentioned “mindfulness is for samatha/ samadhi”. What makes you think so?



I recommend you read 'A History of Mindfulness by Bhante Sujato. It is available online for free. If you want a more concise understanding, read the second half. The first half is about building on the research of Ven. YinShun to study the structure of the SN/SA suttas. The second half is on satipaṭṭhāna itself as orignally understood and its evolution.

Briefly, as for satipaṭṭhāna being about developing samādhi, this is just standard noble eightfold path:
‘Sammā sati - Sammā samādhi.’ This a major theme of the History of Mindfulness book though with a lot of detail, so if you’d like to learn more, again, read that. Essentially, satipaṭṭhāna has evolved over time to be understood as an ‘insight’ practice, especially since colonial influences on Buddhism in Burma but also before then in the later exegetical traditions which paved the way.

The conclusion you’ve come to around dhammānupassanā is not far from the same conclusions that we arrive at with comparative historical research into the satipaṭṭhāna sutta(s) themselves. Many people understand it as ‘dhammā’ in the sense of the experience of ‘manas/mano,’ i.e. “ideas,” “mental phemomema,” “thoughts” or “mind object.” While this is somewhat related, it is likely more about understanding the qualities/principles of conditionality that lead one into samādhi, and then develop further to fulfill those same principles/qualities for full awakening. (The same principles that lead to right samādhi lead to full awakening; the principles just have to be developed and then understood). Bhante Sujato translates it as ‘principles,’ others prefer ‘mental qualities’ (Ajahn Brahmali, Ajahn Thanissaro, etc.)

When talking about the six-senses, ‘dhammā’ has the meaning of the sense-experience of the mind. But in the context of the eightfold path, meditation, and mental development, it almost always is used in a different context: the context of ‘wholesome and unwholesome dhammās.’ That is, the principles or qualities which shape the mind and that we work on abandoning or developing. Examples are ‘dispassion (virāga),’ ‘longing (abhijjhā),’ ‘mindfulness (sati),’ etc. And these are usually explained in the context of ‘yoniso manasikārā,’ or wise and rational attention that understands things in terms of the conditional principles of their arising/ceasing/development. This is the same ‘dhamma’ that is in ‘dhammavicaya’ as an awakening factor after mindfulness (sati). There, again, dhamma is also analyzed in more detail in terms of wholesome/unwholesome and yoniso manasikārā. The four satipaṭṭhānā are meant to fulfill the seven awakening factors, so the language surrounding both overlaps quite a bit.

The short of it is that by comparing the different versions of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta(s), as well as references in other suttas and even analysis of the sutta which are older than later developments, we can see that dhammānupassanā almost certainly originally contained the seven awakening factors, and likely the five hindrances. Everything else seems to be a later expansion as the sutta became a dumping ground for different practices and frameworks, and ‘dhamma’ is a particularly ripe word because of the evolution of Buddhism towards the Abhidhamma movement and doctrinal categories.

The unique aspect of this section in common across parallels is not like the other applications of mindfulness where one is simply observing phenomena (they know X; they know non-X). Rather, it is described: ‘they know X; they know non-X; they know how X arises; they know how X ceases; and they know how X is to be worked with to result in awakening,’ essentially. So as has been pointed out by Bhante Sujato, Bhikkhu Anālayo, and many others, this section is unique for understanding the principles of the mind that condition and determine the mind in terms of wholesome/unwholesome, and how they arise/cease/evolve.

You can understand satipatthāna as having two wings or sides. One is the side with the observation of body, feelings, and mind. The other is the side with observation of [mental principles]. I think that this is more or less correct and a useful framework. When we arouse, establish, or apply mindfulness, we do so in some domain of the body (say, the breath). Within that domain, various feelings will arise dependent on the domain of the body we are contemplating. And the mind will develop in relation to those feelings, either with a state of greed/aversion or more peace and leaning into samādhi. Dhammānupassanā provides the understanding of the principles behind this so as to lead the mind in the right direction with correct application of mind/attention (yoniso manasikārā). It is what understands the driving principles that lead the mind towards mindfulness of the body, the development of wholesome feelings, and the inclination of the mind-states away from desire/aversion and towards samādhi. So we are not just observing the first three willy-nilly; rather, we are also understanding the principles that drive and evolve the first three to steer us in the right direction. Finally, we can look deeper at these principles and bring them to fruition and full awakening once we have successfully established sammā samādhi.

You can see how this aspect of dhammānupassanā echoes throughout the other three applications of mindfulness, as it is the force behind ‘rid of covetousness and displeasure towards the world’ in the definition of right mindfulness, and it also appears in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta as observing the nature of arising, ceasing, and both within each framework. That is, not just observing the body, feelings, or mind, but also understanding and seeing their conditionality via development of the mental principles behind them. While one aspect of it is about understanding the nature of experience in more general terms, such as the conditionality of feeling, I think it could also be about this process within meditation. For example, one sees that the mind is stained by greed. Then they see what principles are driving the greedy mind to arise, and how does it cease. As they become more skilled at this, they understand the nature of the mind in terms of arising and ceasing and can more readily shape the conditions of mind. This is dhammānupassanā, but it’s specifically seeing the dhammas in regards to each particular framework (body, feelings, mind). This is one way of understanding that arising-ceasing refrain, at least.

The last section of ānāpānassati which is said to fulfill dhammānupassanā is contemplating impermanence, + ‘virāga’ ‘nirodha’ and ‘vosagga.’ The seven awakening factors are said to be developed dependent on ‘virāga,’ ‘nirodha,’ and ‘paṭinissagga’ (synonym of ‘vosagga’). So the last step of dhammānupassanā is understanding ‘how the awakening factors are brought to fulfillment,’ and that would be by fully developing all of them up to equanimity (upekkhā) with virāga, nirodha, and paṭinissagga. This is precisely what the Ānāpānassati sutta describes, and it says that the contemplations there fulfill dhammānupassanā because:

Having seen with wisdom the giving up of covetousness and displeasure, they watch over closely with equanimity.

‘Covetousness and displeasure’ are, essentially, the hindrances and unwholesome qualities that drive the mind away from the peace of samādhi and awakening. Note how it says they see their giving up ‘with wisdom,’ i.e. one understands them as conditional mental principles and works with the conditions to remove them. And then they ‘watch over closely with equanimity,’ which is the last of the seven awakening factors. These are brought to fulfillment when the mind uses the awakening factors to incline towards awakening, and this begins with seeing impermanence for dispassion, cessation, and relinquishment.

As for the original thread and how this all fits into kāyagatāsati, I think that kāyagatāsati is basically a term for all four satipaṭṭhānā as a unified practice. It is the turning of mindfulness/sustained recollection and observation inwards towards our experience rather than outwards lost in the world of the senses (incl. the mind). As I said above, when we are mindful of the body, this includes feelings and the state of mind there, and it is motivated and governed by understanding of mental principles (i.e. knowing unwholesome principles as they arise/cease and how to direct the mind in the correct direction of the awakening factors). So this is really all one simultaneous practice, even though it will unfold in a progressive refinement and different aspects can be focused on more at any given time.


According to SN47.4 = SA 621. See also pp. 217-8 in the above-mentioned book by Choong Mun-keat.

According to A History of Mindfulness, Dhammānupassī means to contemplate the five hindrances & seven factors of awakening.

Thank you @Vaddha for your insightful sharing. I was aware of Bhante Sujato’s mentioning of Master Yinshun’s anga theory. And I was certainly amazed by the rest of his book.


Bhante’s comparison between the Vibhaṅga, Dharmaskandha, Śāriputrābhidharma, Theravāda Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, Sarvāstivāda Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra, Ekāyana Sūtra, and Prajñāpāramitā was summarized in chapter 15. The Sattipathana Mula was restored on page 310-316. I consider them the most important pages in the book, which were also nicely tabulated on wikipedia:

It is obvious that this restoration regarded dhammānupassī as the practice of five hindrances and seven factors of awakening, ie the principles to awakening. I guess we’re on the same page? You agreed with this too, @thomaslaw?

The five obstacles (pañca nīvaraṇāni) are afflictions of mind (cetaso upakkilesā), and weaken wisdom (paññāya dubbalī-karaṇā). According to the Bojjhaṅga Saṃyutta of SN and SA, “the two versions agree in frequently identifying the seven factors of enlightenment as the means for overcoming the five obstacles” (see p. 215 in Choong’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism).

Regarding dhammānupassī (i.e. the fourth station of mindfulness), as stated above, according to SA 622 = SN 47.2, it is about awareness (sampajāna) of body-mind (i.e. dhammā ‘phenomena’) in the present moment or movements in daily practice in the direction of “strenuous, aware, mindful, restraining covetousness and distress in the world” (p. 216).

So, it seems not just only dhammānupassī (the fourth station of mindfulness) but also all four stations (body, feeling, mind, phenomena) of mindfulness practice in SA 622 = SN 47.2 have close connection with the seven factors of enlightenment and for overcoming the five obstacles.

Is Dhammānupassanā really = 5 hindrances + 7 awakening factors ??? :thinking:

【Reviewing the Satipatthana through Samyutta Nikaya/Agama】


Exactly @Thomaslaw. I think we should reconsider the relationships between

(A) Dhammānupassanā the fourth establishment of mindfulness
(B) Impermanence, disenchantment, non-craving, letting go, and
(C) The five hindrances & seven factors of awakening.

Here are the considerations:

  1. “A History of Mindfulness” stated that [A] = [C].

  2. But this did not take into account the simplier satipaṭṭhāna-saṁyutta.

  3. In the samyuttas, [C] is not a subset of [A].

  4. [B] was also considered a practice of [A].

  5. [A] should be interpreted based on the self-explanatory SN/SA rather than later materials.

  6. Satipatthana is closely linked to an early version of dependent origination.

My conclusion: The true Satipatthana-mula is found in the Samyutta Nikaya / Agama.

Let me explain…

The Satipatthana Mula as restored in “A History of Mindfulness” stated that [A] = [C].

The above restoration did not take into account the simplier satipaṭṭhāna-saṁyutta.

Satipatthana remains plain and simple in SN 47. No where could the reorganized and expanded version of MN 10 be found!

In samyuttas, the seven awakening factors are NOT a subset of dhammānupassanā.

Let’s take a look at SN 54.13 or SA 810:

Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body, their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness… investigation… energy… rapture… tranquility… immersion… equanimity, they develop it and perfect it.

Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of feelingsminddhamma, their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness… investigation… equanimity; they develop it and perfect it.

That’s how the four kinds of mindfulness meditation are developed and cultivated so as to fulfill the seven awakening factors.

This is also true in SA 281:


Another example would be SN 47.10 (SA 615).

The seven factors are intertwined with all four aspects of mindfulness. This suggest one thing: the factors of awakening are NOT a subset of dhammānupassanā!

Also, I agree with @thomaslaw that the seven awakening factors could be the means to overcome the five hindrances.

The fourth tetrad of anapansati was also a practice of dhammānupassanā.

Again in SN 54.13 (SA810):

I’ll breathe in observing impermanence … fading away … cessation … letting go… At such a time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of dhamma — keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world…

The contemplation of aniccānupassī, virāgānupassī, nirodhānupassī, and paṭinissaggānupassī were cleary seen as dhammesu dhammānupassī. So @thomaslaw why is satipatthana just a samatha practice, and not vipassana???

Dhammānupassanā should be interpreted based on the self-explanatory SN/SA rather than later materials.

(To be continued…)

Dhammānupassanā should be interpreted based on the self-explanatory SN/SA rather than later materials.

Dhammānupassanā in a nutshell, is to see things as they truly are for understanding and liberation to be realized:

The third teacher who does not have the view that in the present world there truly is a self, or the view that in the afterlife there [truly] is a self ― this is the Tathāgata, the arahant, the fully awakened one, who in the present has abandoned craving, become separated from desire, has made them cease, and has attained Nirvāṇa.” SA 105

Contacted, one feels, intends, and perceives. So these things too are tottering and toppling; they’re impermanent, decaying, and perishing. SN35.93

愚癡無聞凡夫於色見是我,若見我者,是名為行… 無明觸(受)生愛,緣愛起彼行。SA 57

They regard form as self. But that regarding is just a conditioned phenomenon… When an unlearned ordinary person is struck by feelings born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That conditioned phenomenon is born from that. So that conditioned phenomenon, that craving, that feeling, that contact, and that ignorance are also impermanent, conditioned, and dependently originated. That’s how you should know and see in order to end the defilements in the present life.” SN22.81


6. Satipatthana is closely linked to an early version of dependent origination
The four aspects of meditation are ultimately a pratice framework based on early psychology and origination, which are already available in the SA and SN.

Dependent origination Aspect of mindfulness Practices Examples
Contact Body Sense restraint, awareness of bodily activity, contemplating the body SN 35.247, SN 24.20, Ud 3.5, Mahasamghika vinaya
Feelings Feelings Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral SN 36.3, SN 36.6
Volition, craving, aversion Mind Awareness of the mind, unification SN 35.94, SN 35.95
Perception, grasping, formations Dhamma Truly seeing, non-grasping SN35.93, SN22.52, SN22.90, SN22.7, SN22.56, SN22.81, SN12.43, SN46.6

To conclude, the true Satipatthana-mula is found in Samyutta Nikaya / Agama.

The three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path

MN 44:

Class of Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā): Right view, Right thought

Class of Morality (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla): Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood

Class of Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi): Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration

MA 210 (T1, p. 788c):

Class of Wisdom: Right view, Right thought, Right effort

Class of Morality: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood

Class of Concentration: Right mindfulness, Right concentration

(See pp. 44, 111-112, note 149 in The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism by Choong Mun-keat).

@thomaslaw As I have mentioned, it’s unfair to use later materials to interpret early teachings. I believe you know well the sequence of navanga-sasana.

Tranquillity and insight are closely interrelated in the early discourses, and it is only in later tradition that these came to be seen as two distinct paths of meditative practice.
— Analayo, Early Buddhist Meditation Studies

As stated above, “sati ‘mindfulness’ is mainly for samadha/samadhi” is found in and supported by SN/SA suttas:

So mindfulness, concentration, and right view are found in Satipatthana.

Morality (śīla, sīla) as a foundation is also found in satipatthana practice (SN 47.16 = SA 624), although sati ‘mindfulness’ is the practice of samadhi ‘concentration’ (SN47.4 = SA621).

You are right. Sila is the basis. Sati brings samadhi. Samma samadhi leads to samma ditthi, jnana, panna.

Ekayana, the path of unification, leads directly to nibbana. Insights, discovery, right view, realisation, and understanding towards the body, feeling, mind, and dhamma are inevitably involved.

Samatha and vipassana are like two wings of a bird, going hand in hand. They are not distinct practices as far as original Buddhism is concerned.

Mendicants, these four kinds of mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, lead solely to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. SN 47.32

The four kinds of mindfulness meditation are the path to convergence. They are in order to purify sentient beings, to get past sorrow and crying, to make an end of pain and sadness, to discover the system, and to realize extinguishment. SN 47.1

What is the starting point of skillful qualities? Well purified ethics and correct view. When your ethics are well purified and your view is correct, you should develop the four kinds of mindfulness meditation in three ways, depending on and grounded on ethics. SN47.3

Observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, at one, with minds that are clear, immersed in samādhi, and unified, so as to truly know the body… feelings… mind… dhamma. SN 47.4

As they meditate observing an aspect of principles, their mind becomes dispassionate, and is freed from the defilements by not grasping. That’s how someone has a free mind. SN 47.11

All the perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas—whether past, future, or present—give up the five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom. Their mind is firmly established in the four kinds of mindfulness meditation. They correctly develop the seven awakening factors. And they wake up to the supreme perfect awakening. SN 47.12

Then Uttiya, living alone, withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute, soon realized the supreme end of the spiritual path in this very life. He lived having achieved with his own insight the goal for which gentlemen rightly go forth from the lay life to homelessness. SN 47.16

This is the observation of an aspect of principles.’ … ‘This observation of an aspect of principles should be developed.’ … ‘This observation of an aspect of principles has been developed.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.” SN 47.31

Because of developing and cultivating these four kinds of mindfulness meditation, one of two results can be expected: enlightenment in the present life, or if there’s something left over, non-return. SN 47.36

They meditate observing an aspect of principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. As they do so they completely understand principles. When principles are completely understood they realize freedom from death. SN 47.38

Good to know you finally understand that sati in SN/SA suttas is the practice of samadhi.

Note: Samma samadhi (i.e. the four jhanas) in SN/SA suttas cannot lead to samma ditthi ‘right view’ (for the development of panna).

Samma ditthi in SN/SA suttas is vipassana practice:

I have quoted 10 sutras above. They seem to tell an opposite message to yours. Would you like to have a look first?

Samma samadhi (i.e. the four jhanas) in SN/SA suttas is simply not samma ditthi.

You may read the following book, pp. 53, 60-2, 91, 192-5, 207-8, 210-1, on Right View (Sammādiṭṭhi):

The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sūtrāṅga portion of the Pāli Saṃyutta-Nikāya and the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama

@Thomaslaw, we can be more flexible in practice.

I agree with you that right view could be defined by the middle way and insights of impermanence and non-self as suggested in SA 301 and SA 262. Since contemplating the parts of body helps us understand non-self, have we not been developing right view since Part 1 of Satipatthana?

When the river of mind is still,
The bright moon is reflected clearly.

Seeing the breath, feelings, mental formations rising and falling, we already have the first taste of impermanence. Such insight is further developed in the last tetrad of anapanasati, known as dhammanupassana in SA 810, for realization of a deeper liberation.

Ideas of being and non-being could also be released, as we look further into different phenomena or mental objects.

Concerning kāyagatāsati, it originally means to establish mindfulness in the body for sense restraint and unification of the mind. Examples include:

  • SA 1165
  • SN 35.247 SA1171 (six animals)
  • SA623 SN47.20 (finest lady)
  • SA1165 SN35.243
  • SA255 SN35.132
  • Ud 3.5, Ud 7.8
  • Mahasangika Vinaya

The meaning of kayagatasati was later generalized, implying meditations involving the body (asubha-sanna, sampajanna, anapana…), such as

  • Snp 2.11
  • SN 8.4
  • EA 3.9 MN119 MA81

Mindfulness, after all, is not that complicated.

What is right mindfulness? It means to (clearly) note what is going on, remembering without error or delusion.

What is concentration? It is when the mind is undisturbed, solid, restrained, serene, and unified. SA 784

Applying mindfulness, we naturally bring it upon bodily activities, parts of body, breathing, sense restraint, feelings, mind, and other mental objects… Thus we cultivate the awakening factors (including concentration), transform the hindrances, and better understand the psyche-soma…

Yes, indeed. Sati ‘mindfulness’ practice in SA/SN sutras is in fact very practical in daily life, not a complicated theory at all.

A comparison of the different versions of the Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta, MN 10, MA98 and EA12.1, is presented in the following article, pp. 24-25 (also mentioned SN 47.2 and SA622 in pp. 22-23):

Pages 22-25 from The Importance of Pali Chinese Comparison 2005 Choong Mun-keat.pdf (1.6 MB)

Choong Mun-keat, “The importance of Pali-Chinese comparison in the study of Pali suttas”, Khthonios: A Journal for the Study of Religion, vol. II, No. 2 (June 2005), pp. 19-26.

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