Mindfulness, right mindfulness and attention in Abhidhamma

It is not clear whether these terms (in Pali, sati, sammāsati and manasikāra) have the same meaning across the various versions of Abhidhamma, and (in each case, if they differ) how they differ among each other.

Interesting topic. I think, though, any discussion of Abhidhamma/Abhidharmas needs to be very clear about what is said in the Canonical Abhidhar/mmas and what is in commentaries, such as the Abhidhammattha Sangaha, and what is stated in the modern notes to the translations.

Unfortunately, trawling through the Abhidhamma is a lot more time-consuming than skimming the Abhidhammattha Sangaha.

However, these may be helpful:

Thanks! I’ve also started to look for some links here on SC. One helpful bit of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Sangaha is the Appendix giving textual source for mental factors.

Factor                    Dhs              Vism.          Asl.
attention                 -                152            175
mindfulness               14               141            159


By reading point of controversy, my understanding is Theravadin think that Sati is a wholesome mental state only. This is in line with Abhidhamma.
I haven’t read sutta Abhidhamma though.

Then the question comes why it is say Samma Sati in Noble Eightfold Path. Is there a Mitya Sati?
The way I understand “right” is not the correct translation for “Samma”.

Technically, Points of Controversy is part of the Abhidhamma, though presumably a relatively late addition…

It slips from my mind.

In addition to the general links I gave above, this specific one is interesting:

I am getting the following impression: when there is mindfulness as well as attention associated with a citta, they don’t necessarily have the same object. The attention must have the same object as the citta, but the mindfulness is about remembering, so it can have the object of a past citta. Does this make sense?

In terms of seventeen thought moments, where does Sati and Manasikara fitting?

My understanding is that there is not just one Theravadin Abhidhamma, so maybe Dr. Gethin is correct (that sati is always kusala) according to some source. However, I have been reading Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of Anuruddha’s Abhidhamma Sangaha, and in there, sati is given as (exclusively) a universal factor for the beautiful (sobhana, not unwholesome) cittas, which are not all wholesome (kusala). In particular, the cittas of Arahants are sobhana but not kusala.

According to this same source, right mindfulness is a subcategory of mindfulness where the object of consciousness is within the four foundations, e.g. body as body, etc. So this source does not support the assertion that Theravadan Abhidhamma classifes all mindfulness as right mindfulness, even though it is all sobhana.

The paucity of English translations of more Abhidhamma texts makes it difficult for us linguistically-challenged folks to delve any deeper. In any case, this is a very complex subject, and I don’t find such long reactions surprising.

Yes, HHDL and his companions were comparing Dr. Gethin’s report with Abhidharmasamuccaya & Abhidharmakośa, I think.

It seems that they expected them to be mostly the same, but perhaps that only how I interpreted the dialogue.

So do you think that Dr. Gethin misspoke? Perhaps he mean to say that sati is exclusively sobhana?

I am not an Abhidhamma expert. I found this on the internet:

‘lofty’, beautiful, pure, are called, in Abh. S., all states of consciousness excepting the unwholesome and those without roots (ahetuka).

It’s from Wisdom Library. It is an unsourced quote from the Pāli Canon, I think. I’ll need to do more research before I can say more useful things to you, I apologize.

25 Lofty, pure (sobhana)
(a) primary (in every lofty consciousness)
Confidence (saddhā)
Mindfulness (sati)
Moral shame (hiri)
Moral dread (ottappa)
Generous (alobha)
Hatelessness (adosa)
Equanimity (tatramajjhattatā)
Tranquillity of mental factors (kāya-passaddhi)
Tranquillity of consciousness (citta-passaddhi)
Agility or lightness of mental factors (kāya-lahutā)
Agility or lightness of consciousness (citta-lahutā)
Elasticity of mental factors (kāya-mudutā)
Elasticity of consciousness (citta-mudutā)
Adaptability of mental factors (kāya-kammaññatā)
Adaptability of consciousness (citta-kammaññatā)
Proficiency of mental factors (kāya-pāguññatā)
Proficiency of consciousness (citta-pāguññatā)

These are the factors they are talking about? Yes?

From Anuruddha, there are two more universal sobhana factors: mental and physical rectitude (ujjukatā). Otherwise, the list is in agreement.

Perhaps so. If he had said that, it would be in agreement with the material in Anuruddha.

Yes. Consciousness (citta) is divided into unwholesome (akusala), rootless (ahetuka) and beautiful (sobhana). Mental factors (cetasika) (which is the category that mindfulness belongs to) are divided into unwholesome, ethically variable (aññāsamāna) and beautiful. Beautiful mental factors arise together with beautiful consciouness only, and similarly with the unwholesome. So either way you look at it, mindfulness is a sobhana cetasika and a univeral factor for sobhana citta, but is not exclusively wholesome (kusala), as it can be associated with a number of resultant (vipāka) and functional (kriyā) cittas.

What is the difference between attention (manasikaara), and Sati?
Attention is universal according to Abhidhamma.

Right. Dr. Gethin mentions this in the video. manasikāra is truly universal - it is associated with all cittas, while mindfulness (sati) is not.

This is a quite interesting discussion, but I wonder if we should start a separate thread, as we seem to have strayed away from the topic.

This is my determination, to the best of my knowledge, from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Sangaha:

Seventeen Thought Moments – Analysis according to attention and mindfulness

Example: A human being who is not an Arahant sees a very great (atimahantaṃ), desirable (iṭṭha), visible object (rūpārammaṇa), (called, say, O2) on the sensuous plane (kāmabhūmi) with wise attention (yoniso manasikāra)

…Stream of bhavanga (life-continuum):
because this is a human being, we know that the bhavangas are wholesome-resultant (kusala-kamma-vipāka), having an object (called, say, O1) of consciousness that is the same object as in the rebirth consciousness of this being, the factor of attention (manasikāra) is universal so must be present to some degree, and there is no mindfulness (sati).

  1. Past life-continuum (atita-bhavanga), attention on O1, no mindfulness
  2. Vibrational life-continuum (bhavanga-calana), attention on O1, no mindfulness
  3. Arresting life-continuum (bhavanga -upaccheda), attention on O1, no mindfulness
  4. Five-door adverting (pañcadvārāvajjana), attention on O2, no mindfulness
  5. Eye-consciousness (cakkhu-viññāna), wholesome-resultant, attention on O2, no mindfulness
  6. Receiving-consciousness (sampaṭicchana-citta), wholesome-resultant, attention on O2, no mindfulness
  7. Investigating-consciousness (santīrana-citta), wholesome-resultant accompanied by joy, attention on O2, no mindfulness
  8. Determining-consciousness (voṭṭhabbana-citta), wholesome-resultant, attention on O2, no mindfulness
    9-15. … Javana (all identical cittas), with wise attention on O2 and so javana cittas are wholesome, and so are accompanied by mindfulness to some degree
  9. Registration-consciousness (tadārammana-citta), wholesome-resultant accompanied by joy, attention on O2, no mindfulness
  10. Registration-consciousness (tadārammana-citta), wholesome-resultant accompanied by joy, attention on O2, no mindfulness

…Stream of bhavanga, attention back to O1, no mindfulness

Some of the details of the consciousness process will be different if the example is different; e.g., depending on the “vividness” of the object, registration may not be reached, or the number of javana cittas may be fewer. The process will also be slightly different if the object presents at the mind door, if the individual is in jhana, or is an Arahant.

Some things are the same across all such variations:

  • attention occurs in all cittas (it is a universal mental factor) but its object shifts from the “life-continuum object” to the object sensed by the sense base at the point of the adverting consciousness;
  • mindfulness, if it occurs at all in the process, is in all cittas of the javana phase and only there.

EDITTED: for clarity

please delete

consciousness (citta) and associated mental factors (sampayutta cetasika) always have the same object. In “sobha.na” consciousness both sati (mindfulness) and “manasikaara” (attention) are associated mental factors, but they have the same object as all other cetasikas, and the consciousness itself. Different objects are possible only in different mind moments. In the case of javana consciousness even different processes of consciousness (citta viithi) are required for different objects.
The difference between manasikaara and sati is in the quality of attention. The mental factor of “manasikaara” is associated with ALL types of consciousness, even with immoral consciousness (akusala citta), and with consciousness without root-cause (ahetuka citta). But “sati” (mindfulness) is only associated with “sobha.na” consciousness.

This is Abhidhamma at the level of the standard Pali text Abhidhammattha-sangaha, based on a standard list of 72 phenomena which have ultimate reality (paramattha dhamma).
In the canonical text Dhammasanga.nii (first book of the Abhidhamma Pi.taka) the types of conciousness described in the first chapter are associated with much longer lists of mental states (cetasika-s), that are not yet condensed to a standard list of 52 items. They include many synonyms.

This is an earlier type of exegesis, which is less consistent than the later standard lists. It works with standard lists of couplets and triplets of Dhamma terms. But when it comes to details it works with synonyms to explain the meaning.

Other books of the Abhidhamma Pi.taka work with other methods, like for example permutations (dhaatukathaa, yamaka, pa.t.thaana). We have to remember that the early texts were not written books, but oral compositions to be recited, memorized, and handed down by learning the text by heart.

Regarding the difference in the association of attention versus mindfulness, that was where the discussion started. We have been trying to understand the difference in the nature of these two factors that give rise to this difference in association.

Since the difference is not in regard to the object, then let me summarize the definitions (again, drawing from the Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Sangaha)

attention: conducting (sāraṇa) of the associated mental states to the object
mindfulness: not wobbling (or floating) away from its object

attention: yoke the associated states to the object
mindfulness: absence of confusion or non-forgetfulness

Manifested as
attention: confrontation with an object
mindfulness: guardianship, or state of confronting an objective field

Proximate Cause:
attention: the object
mindfulness: strong perception, or the four foundations of mindfulness

This seems pretty helpful, although I am confused by the term “objective field”.

Regarding the proximate cause, that seems to offer the clue to the difference between mindfulness and right mindfulness.