Pajānāti or "knowing" - What can we know?

Not sure which category this belongs to. I’m hearing someone’s teaching about “knowing”. Here are some of the notes I took (below). I’m interested in reading much more about this but find little about it on the internet except to point to suttas which are confusing for me. I’m a newbie to suttas and I need some help in interpreting. In particular, I want to understand what kinds of things we can know. The person I am listening to listed a few things which are also below but I wish I could find some further reading to help me clarify. Anything you know about I could read?

My notes:
Knowing is different from awareness. Knowing is the clear recognition of some aspect of the present moment. Knowing has a beginning and an end. Awareness is the capacity to register what’s happening in the world, the flow of experience. Knowing is more intimate than awareness. It is a moment of heightened awareness. It is not the same as mental noting. It’s more intentional and conscious. Practicing knowing can help us live in awareness more fully. Knowing takes effort. Our relationship to the knowing is important because it can change the knowing (contract it). Pajanati. There is freedom in knowing.

What can we know?

  • Length of breath
  • Different qualities of the mind when the mind is caught up or not caught up in greed, hatred and delusion (e.g. clinging)
  • When we are having a liberating insight
  • After a person has had a deep release, they know how they are changed
  • The entire course of practice, before, during, after enlightenment
1 Like

We can know that all conditioned things are impermanent, ultimately unsatisfactory, and devoid of a permanent essence.

And we can know if we understand those qualities or not.


We can know old age and death are impending even though youth and health are all that is evident.

You may find it interesting to have a look at the Satipatthana Sutta and see how the verbs pajānāti, sikkhati, and the phrase, ‘kāye kāyānupassī viharati’ (literally ‘one dwells as a body-contemplator in regard to the body’), are used.

Additionally, if you have access to Ven. P.A. Payutto’s “Buddhadhamma” (freely available on line), there is a great section towards the beginning called “Buddhist Epistemology”.
The part titled “Wisdom Development” has a brief discussion of saññā (perception) ditthi (view), and ñāna (direct knowledge).

1 Like

DN 22 & MN 10

@patricia, is the person you are listening to a public figure? It might help us if we knew who you were talking about, but I appreciate if you don’t want to share.

You may also find it interesting to explore pajānāti in the

I found this one on the Four Noble Truths:

And how does a mendicant see clearly?
Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cakkhumā hoti?
It’s when a mendicant truly understands: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ‘idaṁ dukkhan’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhasamudayo’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodho’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti.
That’s how a mendicant sees clearly.
Evaṁ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cakkhumā hoti.


The Anapanasati sutta (Majhima Nikaya 118) concludes with the section on ‘clear knowing and release’.
This refers to the cycle of mental preoccupation with worldly events being broken and an escape is found by training in an alternative focus, the breath or the body and (training) in its consequent arising of joy as described in the four tetrads of the sutta.

Gradual understanding of the difference between the worldly and unconditioned, and practising this is “clear knowing and release.”

1 Like

I could not find the word ‘pajānāti’ or an equivalent in AN 3.39. AN 3.39, which seems to exactly describe what you wrote above, seems to use the term ‘paṭisañcikkhato’, which refers to ‘thinking’.

PTS Pali English Dictionary


to think over, to discriminate, consider, reflect

Is your post attempting to offer a personal/idiosyncratic interpretation of MN 9, SN 12.28, etc?

HI @patricia ! one thing I have been tumbling over in my brain is this analogy between the proof of Pythagoras’s theorem and the Buddhist concept of pajānāti or “clearly knowing”.


So if we look at a right triangle, we will be “aware” that the hypotenuse is longer than the length of the other two sides, every triangle we look at we will have the same “awareness” of one side of the right triangle being longer than the other two. After a while we may even start to be “aware” that there seems to be a kind of “proportion” whereby the length of the hypotenuse seems to be “proportionate” to the lengths of the other two sides.

If we think and ponder and play with this experience of triangles for long enough, and rearrange them and try nd figure out what is going on, we may one day come to the insight that Pythagoras famously had, that the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

Now I would really suggest that you research a few explanations of this proof, and satisfy yourself that it is true. I give a “visual explanation” above, but it doesn’t fully capture what knowing the Pythagorean theorem amounts to. To get that experience you really have to be able to understand the proof, and feel confident that you could prove it yourself.

Point is that once you have prooved for yourself that the Pyhagorean formula is true, then there can NEVER BE AN AWARENESS OF A RIGHT TRIANGLE that makes you doubt it, ANY RIGHT TRIANGLE WHATEVER will confirm the pythagorean theorem.

Now there are an infinite number of possible right triangles, and you have experienced a tiny tiny fraction of them, but you CLEARLY KNOW that ALL right triangles MUST exhibit this same proportionality regardless of whether you have experienced them or not.

This is a very different thing to “awareness” this is something that transcends experience, in that it applies equally to things you have experienced, things you might experience, and things you will never experience.

The Buddha claimed that people could KNOW they had ended the corruptions that led to rebirth. that they could KNOW nibanna, not be temporarily aware of it, but KNOW it, a knowledge independent of any particular awareness of any particular experiences but applying to all awarenesses in all possible experiences.

I think that this pajānāti is indeed of very fundamental importance to understanding why nibanna for example is NOT the ‘same’ as the cessation of perception and feeling, the person who achieves nibanna KNOWS something, the way I KNOW the Pythagorean theorem and its proof and I KNOW that no matter what right triangle you show me of the infinite number of right triangles I have never been aware of before, NONE of those right triangles will shake my knowledge.


1 Like

Snowbird, thank you. I’d rather not say who it is. I’ve seen some discussions devolve into a critique of a person a few times and I’d rather not subject this person to that. I’ll take a look at the resources you gave. Thank you so much! The person who gave this dharma instruction using “knowing” called it out as different from seeing.

1 Like

Hello Patricia. The word ‘pajanati’ is found in many suttas, such as MN 9 (128 times), MN 10 (133 times), MN 118 (8 times), SN 12.28 (23 times), AN 3.121 (25 times), etc.

It use in MN 118 is interesting because it is only restricted to the most basic forms of knowing in steps 1 & 2. Then MN 118 uses ’ paṭisaṁvedī’ (‘feels’; ‘experiences’) for steps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 9 and ‘ānupassī’ (‘closely observing’) for steps 13, 14, 15 & 16.

I think the use of the word “awareness” is too general & too vague above. Personally, I cannot understand what the speaker is attempting to say about “awareness”. To me, it gets more confusing when it is said knowing is “intentional” & “takes effort”. In fact, when reading the sutta examples I offered, “knowing/pajanati” seems to include “mental noting” because it seems used in relation to more fleeting phenomena. For example, in MN 118, pajanati is used to directly know or note the length of each in-breath & each out-breath. In MN 9 & SN 12.28, it is used to directly know or note each discrete arising & cessation of each condition of dependent origination. Similarly, while the sutta is very general, the same principle seems to be apply to MN 10, where pajanati is used in relation to phenomena that are arising & disappearing.

Where as in MN 118, the words ’ paṭisaṁvedī’ (‘feels’; ‘experiences’) & ‘ānupassī’ (‘closely observes’) are used for more lengthy & continuous experiencing. For example, ‘pajanati’ in steps 1 & 2 applies to merely one breath moment. But ’ paṭisaṁvedī’ used in steps 3 & 4 refers to experiencing processes that continue over a lengthy prolonged period of time.

In summary, my impression is ‘pajanati’ is used for more discrete or fleeting moments/instances of knowing and, while not necessarily verbal, it very close to ‘noting’ or ‘acknowledging’. :slightly_smiling_face:

I try to regard ‘names’ as mere conventions therefore, assuming your notes are accurate, the sort of jumbled concepts in the narrative sounds like it might possibly be Joseph Goldstein or Hillside Hermitage’s Ajahn Nyanamoli. :melting_face:

1 Like

Snowbird, In DN 22, it says:

And how does a mendicant meditate observing an aspect of feelings?
It’s when a mendicant who feels a pleasant feeling knows: ‘I feel a pleasant feeling.’
When they feel a painful feeling, they know: ‘I feel a painful feeling.’
When they feel a neutral feeling, they know: ‘I feel a neutral feeling.’
When they feel a material pleasant feeling, they know: ‘I feel a material pleasant feeling.’
When they feel a spiritual pleasant feeling, they know: ‘I feel a spiritual pleasant feeling.’
When they feel a material painful feeling, they know: ‘I feel a material painful feeling.’
When they feel a spiritual painful feeling, they know: ‘I feel a spiritual painful feeling.’
When they feel a material neutral feeling, they know: ‘I feel a material neutral feeling.’
When they feel a spiritual neutral feeling, they know: ‘I feel a spiritual neutral feeling.’

This is what the teacher was talking about and about which I want to learn more.


Hi Carl, I didn’t base my answer off an occurrence of pajānāti, but that of qualities that can be practically discerned and contemplated.

Thanks for your stellar work as usual.

Yes, a good example of this kind of (directly) knowing.

Great question and inquiry.

I completely understand why you don’t want to reveal the name of the speaker. I’d be curious to know if there are Pali/Sanskrit terms they have in mind that they are translating as “awareness” and “knowing.” That might help to figure it out.

Although, even in (untranslated) English, it’s difficult to know what is meant by those terms.

Anyhow, this (“When they feel a painful feeling, they know: ‘I feel a painful feeling.’” etc.) to me sounds very close to what researchers and meditators refer to as “meta-awareness.” You can find a lot of info about that.

1 Like

Julia, Thank you for your reply. I think for mindfulness this person used “sati” and for knowing they used “pajanati”. I will look up meta-awareness. This is helpful. Thank you!

It is true that it is difficult to map some words between two languages.
This happens between modern languages as well.


CurlyCarl, thank you so much! I think you hit the nail on the head. I will use your references to read some more about pajanati and about patisamvedi and anupassi. Thank you so much. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thank you Paul for pointing this out!

1 Like

I like your use of geometry to share this with me Joseph. Thank you for your considerate and beautiful explanation!

1 Like


I know John Yates (a Theravada teacher) and John Dunne (a Tibetan scholar and teacher who draws from the Abhidharma tradition) both differentiate meta-awareness from “sati.” But I’m not sure what term(s) they translate the English “meta-awareness” from. Though meta-awareness is central to both of their understandings of practice.

I do know that meta-awareness is more broad than attention as we normally think of it. With meta-awareness, you are aware of more than just the object of your attention (such as your breath, a candle flame, etc.)… If that helps at all.

I wish you luck in your inquiry!