Robustness of a good simile

AN 7.67, the fortress simile, is an especially excellent sutta, because of the robustness of the similes really show how the 8aam path factors, and the 5ind work together, and how they’re interdependent and holistic.

The MA 3, the chinese parallel to AN 7.67, for right mindfulness, is even better. Where AN 7.67 has “a wise gate keeper”, MA 3 has a “general who is wise and sharp witted” as the gatekeeper.

(6. sati/mindfulness → wise gatekeeper)

  1. Just as a general is appointed as gatekeeper to the king’s border

town, one who is sharp-witted and wise in making decisions, brave

and resolute, of excellent counsel, who allows entry to the good and

keeps out the bad, to ensure peace within and to control outside enemies;

in the same way the noble disciple continuously practices mindfulness,

achieves right mindfulness, always recalling and not forgetting what

was done or heard long ago.

This is how the noble disciple gains the

“gatekeeping general” of mindfulness, which removes what is evil and

unwholesome and develops wholesome states.

“A wise” gate keeper is obviously referencing the close connection between pañña/wisdom, right view, right intention. “A wise general” one ups that by closely integrating wisdom, mindfulness, AND right effort (the army, which the general is part of). So the gatekeeper isn’t just a wimpy nerdy egghead, and he doesn’t just blow a whistle and wait for the army to show up, he leads the attack by himself. Kilesas shows up at the door, he just pulls out the sword and takes care of business on the spot.

You can see the robustness of the gatekeeper simile when you apply some of the modern wrong interpretations of “right mindfulness.”

What’s going to happen when the gatekeeper is standing there with choiceless awareness, only aware of the beautiful present moment, not aware of the past and future consequences, gentle and non judgemental? Then the kilesas are going to march right through the gate without resistance. You better believe the general is judgemental and decisive in action.

Also, we can see SN 45.8 definition of samma sati as being only the 4sp (satipatthana) is problematic here. 4sp covers atapi, sati, sampajano, but without a little more explanation of what that entails, again the gatekeeper is not going to be able to do his job. Memory is important, discernment is important, the gatekeeper needs a long memory, a sharp wit, and the ability to discern very subtle defilements that could slip by with a clever disguise.

For that, sati-indriya fills in the gap:

ariyasāvako satimā hoti paramena satinepakkena samannāgato cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā.

remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago.


Nice @frankk ! - as usual.

I love these similes that give a straight definition of these unobvious terms like sati.
Who can still speak about “non judgemental awareness” after that?

SN 35.245 (with its parallel in SN 35.245) is quite similar to AN 7.67.
The difference between SN 35.245 & SA 1175, is that the latter (agama) has four gatekeepers, corresponding to the four satipaṭṭhāna - while the former (nikaya) has only one.

SN 45.8 has very poor (if no) parallels in SA 784, T 112 and Arv 7, as far as mindfulness is concerned. So what’s left, is a quite perfect parallel between both SN 45.8 and SA 1175 - In which mindfulness has much to do with the four satipaṭṭhānā.
And we have also some quite perfect parallels, as far as “being just mindful” (discerning & aware,) is concerned - (SN 35.245 & AN 7.67, with their MA 3 parallel).

I don’t think that there is any ambiguity between being mindful, [as in being aware and discerning] - and doing the four satipaṭṭhānā.

I suppose that gatekeeping is just a twofold process:

  • first, the general keeps the enemy at bay. That is to say that one has to be aware of something (wrong, or even right - bad, or even good).
  • but to do so the general must fight a battle. That is to say that one has to do the four satipaṭṭhāna.

It is all about the process of discerning, (being mindful of) a wrong thing; then the process of acting against it.
“Right” mindfulness is that latter process.

I like also SN 35.238.
It definitely shows that we are “attacked” by the external.
And gatekeeping (against the external agression of the six senses,) seems to be, that one should get into the internal process of the four satipaṭṭhāna.

Moreover, as shown below, one should “recollect” (aka sati), by getting focused on the breath (or something else) - while calming the saṅkhārā.
Gatekeeping seems to have much to do with reaching that “recollection” ability.
Isn’t the underlying and primary meaning of sati (smṛti) about recollection?

As far as recollection (sati) is concerned, you might be interested by the following:

If I understood the matter right, it seems that recollection (in ānāpānasati e.g.,) has to do with focusing on the breath (RPFN), while calming the bodily & mental saṅkhāras (DMN)
In unisson - cooperatively.


It seems to me you are referring to the problem of using samma sati / 4sp as a substitute for the eightfold path. Or, more precisely, the use of a single satipatthana (usually, body and feeling) as substitute for all 4sp, and hence, substitute for (and divorced from) the entire 8fp?

I mean, we shouldn’t expect all limbs of the 8fp to be defined in a way that recursively includes the entire 8fp in them :slight_smile:

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No, I’m just talking about the ability of right mindfulnness of doing it’s job of being mindful. Memory is an important part of sati. Sati-indriya definition explicitly points that out, whereas if we take samma sati as only the 4sp, memory and recollecting important things memorized, isn’t explicitly stated.

Maybe in the Buddha’s time, the words sati, and sarati (recollecting) automatically points to the memory connection, but in the english EBT world, that connection is lost. And even if it is implicity in the word “sati”, 4sp definition doesn’t explicitly describe how that memory is to be used.

In the gatekeeper simile, it becomes clear the gatekeeper has to have a long memory which is accurate and reliable, and ability to recall it quickly and on demand, to spot evil doers in clever disguises. The general has to know who he can let in, who’s bringing a trojan horse, etc. Just doing 4sp, all four of them, doesn’t fill in the “memory” connection.

The scope of the general’s attention is dynamic. It can be wide, it can be narrow and small, as needed.

In modern times, there’s this wrong idea that mindfulness is a broad field of open, choiceless awareness, and samadhi is “one pointed”, tiny spot of attention. This is very wrong, and the gatekeeper simile shows how that samadhi has to be dynamic and directed to whatever field size is necessary to kill the kilesas. Mindfulness, jhana, samadhi, can be big, small, tiny, wide, expansive, as necessary.


@suci1 I can’t really comment on the article, except to say that the first few lines did make me think of the impotance of mindfulness directed “internally and externally, and both internally and externally” as in the satipatthana sutta MN 10.