Meaning of 'sampajañña' / 'clear comprehension'

From Ajahn Brahmali’s 2017 talk on AN 10.61, he explained the meaning of “Clear Comprehension” (Sampajañña) : … there are 4 components to the meaning of “Clear Comprehension”. He pointed out the two most important are (1) purpose (2) suitability. He skipped over the other two components.

Searched for the other two meanings: on wikipedia entry for Sampajañña, under “canonical commentary” is the following:

While the nikayas do not elaborate on what the Buddha meant by sampajañña, the Pali commentaries analyze it further in terms of four contexts for one’s comprehension:[10]

* purpose (Pāli: sātthaka): refraining from activities irrelevant to the path.
* suitability (sappāya): pursuing activities in a dignified and careful manner.
* domain (gocara):[11] maintaining sensory restraint consistent with mindfulness.
* non-delusion (asammoha): seeing the true nature of reality (see three characteristics).

reference[10] listed:
Anālayo (2006), pp. 143-5; Bodhi (2005), p. 442, n. 34; and, Nyanaponika (1996), p. 46.
reference[11] listed:
While the other three types of sampajañña have standard English translations, gocara has been translated in a variety of ways. Gocara (Pāli) generally means “pasture” or “grazing”, based on go (cow) and cara (walking). Thus, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 254, provides a somewhat literal definition of gocara-sampanna as “pasturing in the field of good conduct”. See also Anālayo (2006), p. 56, where, for instance, he notes: “A discourse in the Anguttara Nikāya compares the practice of satipatthāna to a cowherd’s skill in knowing the proper pasture for his cows.” In this article, the translation of gocara as “domain” is based on Bodhi (2005), p. 442, and Nyanaponika (1996), pp. 49-51. Alternatively, Soma (2003), pp. 61, 64, translates gocara as “resort,” while Anālayo (2006), pp. 143, 145, uses the literal translation of “pasture”.

How these four meanings originated is still not very clear.

From Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Buddha’s Words”, Chapter VIII - Notes [34] provides this explanation:

[34] Sampajañña, clear comprehension, is analyzed in the commentaries into four types: (1) clear comprehension of the purpose of one’s action; (2) clear comprehension of the suitability of one’s means to the achievement of one’s purpose; (3) clear comprehension of the domain, that is, not abandoning the subject of meditation during one’s daily routine; and (4) clear comprehension of reality, the awareness that behind one’s activities there is no abiding self. See Soma, The Way of Mindfulness, pp. 60–100; Nyanaponika, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, pp. 46–55.

The English translation of “Sampajañña” into “Clear Comprehension” seems quite straight forward and clear on the surface, yet there is more to its meaning!

Based on AN 10.61, “mindful with clear comprehension” is not the same as “restraint of the five senses” and also not the same as “wise attention” (yoniso manisikara), because one is the nutriment for the other. There seems to be some overlap of meaning though: wise attention leading to mindful & clearly comprehend, leading to restraint of the senses.

It’s not easy to fully understand the suttas without listening to explanations from Dhamma teachers.


I’ve found Ajahn Sumedho’s teachings very useful on this subject. Below are two essays on the subject.

Here is a link to an article from 2015. It contains material in the book ‘The Sound of Silence’.

Ajahn Sumedho talks about Sati Sampajanna as “intuitive awareness”.

Here is a link to an essay from 2017

Ajahn Sumedha describes an excersize where…
“I have found this exercise very revealing. When I did it, it became very clear what awareness, apperception, sati-sampajañña, is.”

I hope this is of some benefit :slight_smile:

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If you want to know what it does, study what the verb form of that is doing “pajānāti” in the suttas. the commentaries, early and modern day, are someone else’s concise abstract summary. Hard to digest. It’s best to go into the wild and observe the animal in its native habitat doing its thing, then you’ll get a good feel for it.

pajānati happens all over the place in MN 10

some other prime examples:

superpower of mind reading, is the same exact passage as MN 10 satipatthana citta-anupassasna

STED 6ab #3: cetasā cetoparicca pajānāti.

para-sattānaṃ para-puggalānaṃ
other-beings, other-people,
cetasā ceto
their-minds, with-his-mind,
paricca pajānāti.
(he) distinguishes (and) understands.
Sa-rāgaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sa-rāgaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
with-passion ** (in their) mind, 'with-passion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
vīta-rāgaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vīta-rāgaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
without-passion ** (in their) mind, 'without-passion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
sa-dosaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sa-dosaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
with-aversion ** (in their) mind, 'with-aversion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
vīta-dosaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vīta-dosaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
without-aversion ** (in their) mind, 'without-aversion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
sa-mohaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sa-mohaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
with-delusion ** (in their) mind, 'with-delusion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
vīta-mohaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vīta-mohaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
without-delusion ** (in their) mind, 'without-delusion (in their) mind' (he) understands.
saṃkhittaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘saṃkhittaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
restricted ** mind, 'restricted mind' (he) understands.
vikkhittaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vikkhittaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
scattered ** mind, 'scattered mind' (he) understands.
mahaggataṃ vā cittaṃ ‘mahaggataṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
enlarged ** mind, 'enlarged mind' (he) understands.
a-mahaggataṃ vā cittaṃ ‘a-mahaggataṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
un-enlarged ** mind, 'un-enlarged mind' (he) understands.
sa-uttaraṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sa-uttaraṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
with-superior [but surpassable] ** mind, 'with-superior mind' (he) understands.
an-uttaraṃ vā cittaṃ ‘an-uttaraṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
un-surpassable [nothing-higher] ** mind, 'un-surpassable mind' (he) understands.
samāhitaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘samāhitaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
concentrated ** mind, 'concentrated mind' (he) understands.
a-samāhitaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘a-samāhitaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
un-concentrated ** mind, 'un-concentrated mind' (he) understands.
vimuttaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vimuttaṃ citta’nti pajānāti;
released ** mind, 'released mind' (he) understands.
a-vimuttaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘a-vimuttaṃ citta’nti pajānāti’’.
un-released ** mind, 'un-released mind' (he) understands.

AN 4.41 vidita synonymous with pajānati in this context

(3. For sati and sampajaññāya)

Katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhi-bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā
{and} what, *********, concentration-development, when developed (and) pursued,
Sati-sampajañ-ñāya saṃvattati?
(to) mindfulness-(and)-clear-comprehension (it) leads?
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno
Here, monks, a-monk:
viditā vedanā uppajjanti,
known (are) feelings (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
viditā saññā uppajjanti,
known (are) perceptions (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
viditā vitakkā uppajjanti,
known (are) thoughts (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhi-bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā
This, *********, concentration-development, when developed (and) pursued,
Sati-sampajañ-ñāya saṃvattati.
mindfulness-(and)-clear-comprehension (it) leads-to.
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Clear comprehension of feelings (vedana): SN36.12 SuttaCentral
CC helping in removing defilements SN36.3 SuttaCentral, AN10.55
Cause of CC is due to lack of wise ‘attention’ (ayonisomansikara), lack of CC leads to lack of sense restraint, etc… (indriyasamvara) AN10.62 SuttaCentral
CC in the third jhana: DN9 SuttaCentral, also DN111
Helps with insight AN10.54
Helps with Mindfulness of Death AN6.20 SuttaCentral
Mindfulness and CC helps with penetration into the Four Noble Truths SN56.34 SuttaCentral
Lack of CC linked to craving AN6.114
CC has a role in: virtue, right immersion, right view and release/enlightenment. AN4.194 SuttaCentral

I think it helps to have a term like ‘Clear comprehension’, which might Buddhist hybrid English but thereby not letting the meaning dissolve into the ‘soup’, as it were of general English meaning.

CC seems to be the wisdom, in sati.

with metta

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Hi Viveka: thanks for providing the links.

First I read the Lion’s Roar piece which is supposed to be adapted from the book “Intuitive Awareness”. I find the ideas in this shorter article very scattered, all over the place, and left me totally confused about what Ajahn Sumedho was trying to say in general, and in specific to the meaning of “sati sampajanna”. May be it’s just me, but it does not help me at all to expand my understanding of sampajanna. So I have no plan to read the longer book.

(BTW: the title of the book from the link is “Intuitive Awareness” not “The Sound of Silence”.)

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Thanks frankk.

My knowledge of Pali is close to zero and I am not particularly interested in Pali etymology. For me it is enough to find out what “sampajanna” means in the context of AN 10.61 & 10.62, without further complexity of studying the word “pajānāti”.

My goal is just to understand and figure out how to cultivate “sati sampajanna” as it is the nutriment to “restraint of the senses”, eventually leading to “samadhi”, “liberation” & “insight of liberation”.

SCMatt: thanks for the relevant links. Perhaps I missed the two links when searching for previous discussions on the topic. I plan to read through the discussions on these threads.

I am not sure if you are for or against the term “clear comprehension”. Clear comprehension is clearly related to “Right View” & “Wisdom” too.

While reading as many of the suttas containing the term “clear comprehension” would certainly be beneficial, past teachers who studied them & wrote the commentary were trying to save us the trouble of re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. If Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ajahn Brahmali etc agree with using the commentary then it is good enough for me, for now.

It’s worth noting the commentary description of CC in terms of “purpose”, “suitability”, “domain” & “seeing reality” involves making wise judgment, and not just “bare attention” or mere “intuitive awareness” as described by Ajahn Summedho.

Oh well :slight_smile: different things suit different people. Also the title of the chapter is intuitive awareness in a book of compiled teachings by Ajahn Sumedho called the Sounds of Silence. I have a copy of the book - so I can verify it does exist :smiley:


Here’s a compilation of some quotes about the notion of ‘sampajañña’, all of them pointing to the, more or less, same understanding, that is, “full self-awareness of one’s own behaviour or exertion at this very moment”. (The highlighting in bold font is mine in all cases).

The common example of everyday usage that occurs many times in the suttas is:

Sampajānamusāvādo (sampajānamusā) = conscious lie.

Another common example is from the context of Satipatthana:

Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante sampajānakārī hoti, ālokite vilokite sampajānakārī hoti, samiñjite pasārite sampajānakārī hoti, sa"nghāṭipattacīvaradhāraṇe sampajānakārī hoti, asite pīte khāyite sāyite sampajānakārii hoti, uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakārī hoti, gate ṭhite nisinne sutte jāgarite bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti.

"Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he maintains awareness; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he maintains awareness.

To say it simply, ‘sampajañña’ is the awareness that "now I am doing such and such."

Source: “Pali Term: Sampajañña,” in Dhamma Wheel Buddhist Forum, Web:, 2010, URL: (last access, June 26, 2018)

One quality that’s always appropriate in establishing mindfulness is being watchful or alert. The Pali word for alertness, sampajañña, is another term that’s often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean being choicelessly aware of the present, or comprehending the present. Examples in the Canon shows that sampajañña means being aware of what you’re doing in the movements of the body, the movements in the mind. After all, if you’re going to gain insight into how you’re causing suffering, your primary focus always has to be on what you’re actually doing. This is why mindfulness and alertness should always be paired as you meditate.

Source: Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “Mindfulness Defined,” in Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 1 December 2012, URL: (last access, June 26, 2018)

There must be both sati and sampajañña. Sati is recollection and sampajañña is self awareness. Right now you are clearly aware of the breath. This exercise of watching the breath helps sati and sampajañña develop together. They share the work. Having both sati and sampajañña is like having two workers to lift a heavy plank of wood. Suppose there are two people trying to lift some heavy planks, but the weight is so great, they have to strain so hard, that it’s almost unendurable. Then another person, imbued with goodwill, sees them and rushes in to help. In the same way, when there is sati and sampajañña, then pañña (wisdom) will arise at the same place to help out. Then all three of them support each other.

Source: Chah, Ajahn (1994) “Meditation,” in Living Dharma, Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, URL: (last access, June 26, 218).

sampajāna: [sam+pa+jāno] ‘endowed with constant discernment of impermanence’ - adjective derived from sampajañña. The Buddha gives two different explanations of the term, shedding light on the two aspects of its meaning:

  1. the first one, which is the actual definition, is found at SN 47.35 and focuses on the understanding of anicca;

  2. the other one, which is not truly a definition, since it defines the term on the basis of sampajañña, is found at DN 16, and focuses on the importance of constancy [intent, purport, deliberateness, purposefulness, self-consciousness, thoughtfulness]. A semantic analysis of this definition is available here

The Buddha frequently reminds the bhikkhus to be both sato and sampajāna, which shows that these two attitudes complete each other.

sampajañña: thorough understanding, constant discernment of impermanence. The term is derived from the verb jaññā (to know, to understand) and intensified by the addition of the intensifying prefix pa- and then, of the prefix sam- which denotes the completeness (or here the constance) of the action. The term appears in the vast majority of cases in combination with sati, either as two separated words or in the compound sati·sampajañña. There is no definition of sampajañña alone, but a definition of sati·sampajañña is found at AN 8.9: it is identical with the definition of sampajāna given at SN 47.35.

Source: “sampajāna” & “sampajañña,” in the Glossary of Buddha-vacana website, Web:, n. d., URL: (last access, June 27, 2018)

Along with Sati Sutta (SN 47.35 (S v 180)) and Nanda Sutta (AN 8.9 (A iv 166)), see also the next source: “Satisampajañña,” in Formulae of Buddha-vacana website, Web:, n. d., URL: (last access, June 27, 2018)


Sati is mindfulness (and memory, when it is developed to a great degree) and this means that sampajanna has to mean something other than mindfulness/memory.

Being aware of what someone is doing in the present moment, - is mindfulness, as it is possible to be aware without any real understanding of what is going on- ie watching without ‘Right view’, which has prepared the mind for the giving rise to insight. Those who know the dhamma well, will have Right view well developed. Saiti without Right view, generally leads to psychological well being, but not stream entry or higher attainments in the Buddhist path.

Watching the body and being aware is calming, but watching the arising and passing away nature of movements (anicca sanna) leads to both samadh and insight (panna). Sampajanna seems to point to the wiseness of awareness’ rather the the unintelligent awareness of a video camera.

Purpose, domain, suitability and non-delusion seems to be about choosing which subjects are suitable for sati-sampajanna, rather than an explanation of sampajanna, itself. They are useful for which objects are suitable for satipatthana.

The wisdom of samapjanna is related to Buddhist insights, therefore not general ‘wisdom’. Intuitive awareness sounds like a subliminal process, therefore not worth talking in terms of applying oneself. Sampajanna as per the suttas seems more overt than subconscious. Situational awareness is broad and may refer to non-wisdom related awareness as well. Clear comprehension would be my preference as 1. it is already well known, and people know what is being referred to 2. while it is technical terms (jargon) of sorts, it isolates a specific ‘Buddhist’ word or meaning.

Etymology would be useful, in this case, after the word sampajanna has been understood in it’s context, in the suttas.

with metta,