Much Ado about Titles - putting the Gatā in Kāyagatāsati

There have been a few threads analyzing the sutta/meditation title of Ānāpānassati, but we haven’t had any discussing the oft-referenced Kāyagatāsati. What does the gatā mean in “Kāyagatāsati”?

Let’s discuss.


Kayagatāsati means mindfulness going to/directed at the body.

  1. Gata (p. 242) Gata Gata [pp. of gacchati in medio – reflexive function] gone, in all meanings of gacchati (q. v.) viz. 1. literal: gone away, arrived at, directed to (c. acc.), opp. ṭhita: gate ṭhite nisinne (loc. abs.) when going, standing, sitting down (cp. gacchati 1) D i.70; opp. āgata: yassa maggaŋ na jānāsi āgatassa gatassa vā Sn 582 (cp. gati 2). Also periphrastic (=gacchati 5 b): aṭṭhi paritvā gataŋ “the bone fell down” J iii.26. Very often gata stands in the sense of a finite verb (=aor. gacchi or agamāsi): yo ca Buddhaŋ . . . saraṇaŋ gato (cp. gacchati 4) Dh 190; attano vasanaṭṭhānaŋ gato he went to his domicile J i.280; ii.160; nāvā Aggimālaŋ gatā the ship went to Aggimālā J iv.139. <-> 2. in applied meaning: gone in a certain way, i. e. affected, behaved, fared, fated, being in or having come into a state or condition. So in sugata & duggata (see below) and as 2nd part of cpds. in gen., viz. gone; atthaŋ˚ gone home, set; addha˚ done with the journey (cp. gat – addhin); gone into: taṇhā˚ fallen a victim to thirst, tama˚ obscured, raho˚, secluded, vyasana˚ fallen into misery; having reached: anta˚ arrived at the goal (in this sense often combd with patta: antagata antapatta Nd2, 436, 612), koṭi˚ perfected, parinibbāna˚ having ceased to exist. vijjā˚ having attained (right) knowledge; connected with, referring to, concerning: kāya˚ relating to the body (kāyagatā sati, e. g. Vism 111, 197, 240 sq.); diṭṭhi˚ being of a (wrong) view; sankhāra˚, etc. – Sometimes gata is replaced by kata and vice versa: anabhāvaŋkata>anabhāvaŋ gacchati; kālagata>kālakata (q. v.).
    agata not gone to, not frequented: ˚ŋ disaŋ (of Nibbāna) Dh 323; purisantaraŋ ˚ŋ mātugāmaŋ “a maid who has not been with a man” J i.290.
    sugata of happy, blessed existence, fortunate; one who has attained the realm of bliss (=sugatiŋ gata, see gati), blessed. As np. a common Ep. of the Buddha: Vin i.35; iii.1; D i.49; S i.192; A ii.147 et passim (see Sugata). – D i.83; Sn 227 (see expl. KhA 183).
    duggata of miserable existence, poor, unhappy, ill-fated, gone to the realm of miscry (duggatiŋ gata PvA 33, see gati) Pv i.62; ii.317; duggata – bhāva (poverty) J vi.366; duggat – itthi (miserable, poor) J i.290; parama – duggatāni kulāni clans in utmost misery (poverty) PvA 176. – Compar. duggatatara DhA i.427; ii.135.
    – atta (fr. attā) self – perfected, perfect D i.57 (expl. by koṭippatta – citto DA i.168); cp. paramāya satiyā ca gatiyā ca dhitiyā ca samannāgata M i.82; – addhin (adj. of addhan) one who has completed his journey (cp. addhagata) Dh 90; – kāle (in gata – gata – kāle) whenever he went J iii.188; – ṭṭhāna place of existence PvA 38; =gamana in āgata – ṭṭhānaŋ vā: coming and going (lit. state of going) J iii.188; – yobbana (adj.) past youth, of old age A i.138; Sn 98=124. - Link

So, in that way, we could also say in the context of satipaṭṭhāna, vedanāgatāsati would be a synonym for vedanānupassanā?

Do you think there’s any justification for the sense of “going/traveling within the body” or “arrived at the body”? (more grounded/embodied than the more abstracted “directed towards”)

I suppose you could. Perhaps not exactly a synonym though since anupassana means something like repeated seeing whereas sati is closer to remembrance or bearing in mind.

I just have the dictionary definition. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know the particular associations that might arise within an ancient Indian meditator’s mind when they hear ‘kāyagatāsati’. If it’s helpful for you to think of going within the body that’s great but I wouldn’t necessarily read that into the text, nor would I consider the text to exclude such a way of thinking about it.


This is interesting. would you share your thoughts in more detail

I don’t mean to imply anything mysterious. I just very basically mean an embodied form of mindfulness vs a more abstracted one.

And I wanted to get at what exactly gata meant in this context (‘gacchati’ in traditional Buddhist chants for instance means something like “go to”).

I am no Pāli scholar, but I know Ven. Anālayo, a serious scholar of Early Buddhist Texts across all extant languages, teaches an embodied form. How much of this is actually based in exact passages I’m not sure.

Putting it like that makes me wonder whether mindfulness of the body can be anything other than rooted in the body; an abstracted mindfulness of the body wouldn’t be terribly mindful! I get it that mindfulness of the mind or of dhammas can be embodied to different degrees, and what I’ve taken from Anālayo’s trenching is to try and contain even these within mindfulness of the body.


I wouldn’t necessarily say that; for instance, in the practice of asubhasasaññā one might mindfully be reviewing a corpse, external to oneself, and abstracted in that sense.

Practically, I could also recognize a mindfulness of one’s own body that is abstracted in the sense of having some mental “distance” between body and “observer”/consciousness.


@SCMatt I concede your first point. And in so doing realise how the different grammatical categories English requires have narrowed my understanding: I’ve always interpreted ‘the body’ to apply to ‘one’s body’ rather than ‘a body’. I think I’ve now managed to learn just enough Pali to see that this assumption was unwarranted. Thanks. :pray:

I’m not sure about your second point. Intuitively it ‘feels’ wrong to me, but I don’t have enough language to attempt to argue my position. Basically I would like to say that there can be different levels of mindfulness; however I realise that these could be called something else. :slight_smile:


Compounds of the type ‘X-gata-’ exist also in Sanskrit with exactly the same meanings given in Polarbear’s post, viz. ‘concerning/regarding/belonging to X’.

I think kāya-gatā sati can be simply translated and understood as ‘mindfulness regarding the body’.


Thanks for the responses! :slightly_smiling_face: Especially, the linguistic analyses.

but lol, I just realized I had posted almost exactly the same question a year or so ago: :upside_down_face:

There are some great posts there from @Gabriel and @chansik_park; with many sutta references.

Kayagatasati, the word kaya can be physical body and mind matter

Technically that’s correct, but in the first foundation of the Satipatthana sutta it refers to the physical body, because the third and fourth foundations deal with the mind. Context is a more reliable guide to understanding than translation. The scientific mind of separation is opposite to the non-diffuseness of the mind turned towards nibbana.

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I would suggest all words might need clarify, namely, ‘kaya’, ‘gata’ and ‘sati’.

Regards :slightly_smiling_face: