Sampajañña - a source collection

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Sampajañña is one of the key terms in meditation, yet there is not much to find about it. Since there are no specific scholarly articles about sampajañña, this wiki is dedicated to shed some light on the otherwise underdeveloped recognition for this term.

Table of Contents 1. Etymology 1. Translation 1. Suttas 1. satipaṭṭhāna and sammā sati 1. Jhāna 1. samādhi-bhāvanā 1. in the gradual training 1. Abhidhammapitaka 1. Commentaries 1. Miscellaneous 1. Frequency

Sampajañña has no direct vedic parallel.

  • saṃjñā - to agree, to bring harmony (Vedic), to acknowledge (Pāṇini), to know well (Rāmāyaṇa)
  • samprajñā - to distinguish, discern, know accurately (Mahābhārata, Patañjali Yoga Sūtra)

Pali sam-pa-jañña (-jāna, -jānya)

  • sam-pa - prefixes meaning ‘intensifying’, ‘completing’
  • jañña (jāna, jānya) - knowing, understanding


  • clear comprehension (Soma, Ñāṇaponika, Sujato, Anālayo, Bodhi)
  • full awareness (Bodhi, Kuan, Ñāṇamoli, Gethin, Holder)
  • situational awareness (Sujato)
  • clear awareness (Walshe)
  • clear knowing (Anālayo)
  • alertness (Thānissaro)


Sampajañña appears usually in connection with sati, mostly in three contexts, 1. the awareness of bodily processes, 2. the ‘satipaṭṭhāna auxiliary formula’ and 3. the third jhāna

1. Awareness of bodily processes

Mostly (sati-)sampajañña appears as a practice consisting of an awareness of bodily processes. Similar descriptions appear in different contexts, namely the gradual training (e.g. MN 27) and satipaṭṭhāna (e.g. MN 10).

A bhikkhu is one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning… when looking ahead and looking away… when flexing and extending his limbs… when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl… when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting… when defecating and urinating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent. (MN 10, §8)

Kuan in Mindfulness in Early Buddhism quotes a variation in AN 6.29

Being mindful (sato), a monk goes forward… goes back… stands… sits… lies down… undertakes walking up and down. This subject of mindfulness… leads to mindfulness and full awareness.

2. The satipaṭṭhāna auxiliary formula

The ‘satipaṭṭhāna auxiliary formula’ (Sujato, A History of Mindfulness) appears frequently in satipaṭṭhāna contexts, e.g. MN 10 § 3, MN 51 §3, MN 77 § 15, MN 118 §24, MN 125 §22, MN 141 §30

ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ
ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and aversion for the world

3. The third Jhāna

After being mentioned in the gradual training or satipaṭṭhāna practice Sampajañña reappears in the third-jhāna-formula

With the fading away as well of rapture, I abided in equanimity, and mindful and fully aware, still feeling pleasure with the body, I entered upon and abided in the third jhāna, on account of which noble ones announce: ‘He has a pleasant abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.’ (MN 4, §25)

Further appearances in the suttas

Additionally Anālayo collected a few more appearances of sampajañña in the suttas (satipaṭṭhāna, The Direct Path to Realization, 2006, ch. II.3). Among those the important ones are

  • MN 41, §9 we have “in full awareness he speaks falsehood”.
  • SN 47.35 (and similarly AN 4.41) has “And how does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Feelings [perceptions, thoughts/vitakkā] are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away.”

See for further details the mentioned works by Kuan, Anālayo, and Sujato. For variations in the gradual training see here, and also AN 10.99, AN 4.198).

The Abhidhamma Dhammasangani describes paññindriya (the faculty of wisdom) (§11) and applies the same description to sammādiṭṭhi (§20), paññabalam (the power of wisdom) (§29), amoho (absence of dullness/delusion) (§34), sampajañña (§53), and vipassanā (§55):

The insight which there is on that occasion is understanding, search, research, searching the Doctrine, discernment, discrimination, differentiation, erudition, proficiency, subtlety, criticism, reflection, analysis, breadth, sagacity, a “guide”, intuition, intelligence, a “goad” ; wisdom as faculty, wisdom as power, wisdom as a sword, wisdom as a height, wisdom as light, wisdom as glory, wisdom, splendour, wisdom as a precious stone ; the absence of dullness, searching the Truth, right views.

asampajañña is defined in the Vibhanga as ‘the absence of knowledge and vision’ (Abhidhamma Vibhanga §906).


Soma Thera in his translation of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta and its commentary and sub-commentary (Soma Thera, The Way of Mindfulness) has

One who is clearly comprehending is one who knows according to every way, intensively, or (item by item) in a detailed way. […]
There are these four kinds of comprehension: clear comprehension of purpose, of suitability, of resort, and of non-delusion.

The sub-commentary of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta reads

The discerning of things rightly, entirely and equally is clear comprehension.


What is it to be “completely conscious”? To be conscious is to be aware. It is to be completely conscious rightly. There are four kinds in being completely conscious rightly. […1.] of oneself; […2.] of one’s distinctive mark; […3.] undeludedly; […4.] basically. Here, to be completely conscious of the four postures, is […1.]. Entering solitude is […2.]. To know the eight worldly conditions is […3.]. To dwell on the object of concentration is […4].
[…] Non-bewilderment is its salient characteristic; decision is its function; investigation of states is its manifestation; to consider rightly is its near cause.
(Vimuttimagga, 8.2, transl. from the Chinese by Ehara, Soma Thera, Kheminda Thera)


Full awareness has the characteristic of non-confusion. Its function is to investigate (judge). It is manifested as scrutiny. Viss, IV.172

"Occurences in the Sutta Pitaka"

                          DN	MN	SN	AN	KN	Total
of the actual formula	  14	14	4	2	0	34
of the string "sampajaññ" 58	18	52	114	2	244
of the string "sampajān"  261	268	193	264	34	1020

The Path(s) to Awakening
Meaning of 'sampajañña' / 'clear comprehension'

Nice! Would you be interested to make this a wiki topic?


sure, does it just mean changing the category and including a table of content?


Pretty much, yes. It also means we’ll be able to edit it!


Well-done Gabriel!:anjal:


i didn’t see an option for me to edit that entry, here’s another definition from AN 4.41. i believe there are one or two suttas in the satipattana SN 47 that defines it exactly the same way

(vedana, sanna, vitakka are known as they arise, persist, cease)

“katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satisampajaññāya saṃvattati? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno viditā vedanā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti; viditā saññā … pe … viditā vitakkā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satisampajaññāya saṃvattati.


@frankk when I try to edit a wiki I go directly underneath the wiki entry, and on the left side of the ‘reply’ button there are three dots. When I click the dots I get the edit-pencil. Is it the same for you?


What about the gradual training? In a lot of those formulations sampajañña is a separate training. Also, there might be some connection to sense restraint in addition to sati. Along those lines, I remember hearing somewhere that sampajañña is more concerned with the 5 lower senses whereas sati is more of a manas function… I’ll see if I can find a source for that.


Personally I like it when sutta quotes differentiate between formulas that appear very often, and cases that appear in individual cases or in a few suttas only.

If the text is different than “going… looking… flexing…” you should definitely include it.

What I don’t have is reasonings of different teachers and scholars about how sampajanna is connected to other doctrinal concepts or put to practice. A concise description of that under a new headline would be surely welcome!


wisdom-in-action (Buddhadasa)
clear comprehension (Payutto)

Buddhadasa was chosen as a Thai representative at the 6th Buddhist Council and has numerous Honorary Doctorates by Thai universities. At least in Thailand, he was/is considered a leading scholar, despite some of his non-mainstream views

P.A. Payutto is a foremost Thai scholar

as a Wiki article, it is probably appropriate to avoid the perception of sectarianism

The second dhamma is sampajanna. Sampajanna is wisdom as it meets up with and immediately confronts a problem, as it deals with and wipes out that problem – this is wisdom-in-action. It is only that wisdom specifically related and applied to a particular situation or event. Nonetheless, you may have come across a variety of translations for “sampajanna,” which can be rather confusing. We recommend that you remember it as “wisdom-in-action.” Even better, learn the Pali word about which there is no doubt. The word “wisdom” encompasses many meanings and understandings, we can’t even begin to estimate its content. However, the word “sampajanna” is far more limited in its meaning. It is exactly that wisdom directly needed for the problem that confronts us. Active wisdom isn’t general, it is a matter of particulars.

We can compare Dhamma with the medicine chest in our house. In it we store a wide variety of drugs, pills, capsules, ointments, powders, and syrups for possible use. When we’re actually sick, we must choose from among the many the one drug which will be effective in treating our ailment. We can’t take them all; we take just what is needed to cure our illness here and now. The same is true for Dhamma. Understand that there’s an incredible amount of what we call Dhamma and paññä, but that we only apply a little bit at a time. We apply just that portion which can take care of the immediate situation. Know how to use the Dhamma, the paññä, which is exactly relevant to our situation and problem. The Dhamma or wisdom which controls that situation and problem is what we call “sampajanna.”

Buddhadasa (The Natural Cure For Spiritual Disease)

A noteworthy clause is the second, ‘Sampajano’, rendered as ‘There is clear comprehension (sampajañña)’. Sampajañña is a dhamma which usually appears coupled with sati. Sampajañña is the wisdom-faculty (pañña). Thus the training in sati is one element in the process of wisdom development. Sampajañña (pañña) is the clear and penetrative understanding of the object or action fixed upon by sati in regard to its purpose, its nature and the way to proceed in relation to it, free from delusion and misunderstanding

Payutto (Sammasati : An Exposition of Right Mindfulness)


This already sounds like an ‘interpretation’ rather than what could be the actual teaching because the translation might also read:

a bhikkhu is one who acts with clear-comprehending-wisdom when going forward and returning; …

The very quote from MN 122 shows that more is going on that mere awareness of body movements:

When a monk dwells in this way, if his mind inclines to walk, he walks, thinking: “While I am walking thus, no evil unwholesome states of covetousness and dejection will flow into me.” Thus he is fully aware of that. MN 122


Again, the above reads like a mere subjective interpretation. It might possibly be better if the term ‘sampajjana’ is used in the text untranslated, which allows the reader substitute the various terms to decide which translation works best for them, namely:

Sampajañña reappears in the third-jhāna-formula…

With the fading away as well of rapture, I abided in equanimity, and mindful and sampajāno …



Just to note that simply adding a post to the Wiki category doesn’t automatically make it a wiki. We must also use the tools at the bottom of the post to make Wiki, and also change ownership to Wiki. Obviously it would be better to automate this process, so we’ll look into that.


Sorry bhante, I didn’t get it yet, do I still have to do something so that others can edit the wiki? I couldn’t find any buttons to change ownership for example…


To my knowledge Payutto and Buddhadasa didn’t write in English. When looking for translations I had also German original work from Nyanaponika and Analayo, and both chose different renderings in German, they made a different choice in English which speaks for itself. If Payutto and Buddhadasa were not proficient in English the wording was not their choice but one of their translators.


But still it is worth listing them, no?
In the case of Buddhadasa he did indeed appoint very few disciples to officially translate his words, I am sure that the English rendering wisdom-in-action was as well based on his full explanation of it (in Thai) as possible.


Sorry, i should have said, i’ve done that now. I think it requires admin privileges or something, I’m not sure exactly who can do it. Anyway, for now I’ll do it.


Respectfully, this infers these Westerners can know Pali better than Buddhadasa & Payutto could know English. It also infers Buddhadasa & Payutto would be careless about their teachings.

Buddhadasa spoke English and both Buddhadasa and Payutto worked very closely with translators. I personally heard Buddhadasa speak many times & often he would interject & interrupt the translator to correct the translator’s errors.

In fact, there are talks on the internet by Buddhadasa speaking English, which display word choices & articulateness that I personally am incapable of.

Talk 1 880102 (0) [Welcoming Dhamma students, spoken in English by Buddhadasa]

Talk 2 Retreat Talk - June 1990



i couldn’t find the pencil yesterday, but now i see it under the 3 dots. thanks


wiki question:

is there a way to do subsections that show up in table of contents? if so, how many levels in the tree are possible?

conjugations and declensions:
maybe under etymology, we could have a subsection that lists all the possible variations of sampajanna, then in the SC suttas it could link to this wiki page whenever any variation of sampajanna is clicked on.


“Occurences in the Sutta Pitaka”

                                DN	MN	SN	AN	KN	Total
of the actual formula	        14	14	4	2	0	34
of the string "sampajaññ"	58	18	52	114	2	244
of the string "sampajān"	261	268	193	264	34	1020



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