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 Contents1. 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