Currently on SuttaCentral, the main translation for sampajañña is “situational awareness.” I understand why this is the case, but I think it has a big flaw with an easy solution.
This term has a rather common meaning in English that does not correspond to sampajañña. Here is a definition of SA (situational awareness):
[S]ituational awareness is adaptive, externally-directed consciousness that has as its products knowledge about a dynamic task environment and directed action within that environment.
… foundation for successful decision-making across a broad range of situations, many of which involve the protection of human life and property, including law enforcement, aviation, air traffic control, ship navigation, health care, emergency response, military command and control operations, transmission system operators, self defense and offshore oil management.
I’ve been trained in ‘situational awareness,’ and I’ve spoken to some other people (even a monk!) who have as well in previous jobs or life experience. It’s becoming a much more common skill to have, and is usually in the context of self defense or emergencies as the Wiki entry says. People more familiar agree that it is not the same as sampajañña; it’s a rather distinct mindset.
In fact, you are almost blending yourself out of the scenario and staying hyper alert of external surroundings (i.e. awareness of your situation). This includes the placing of objects, people’s posture and movements, the exit and entrance, your location in terms of theirs, etc. It’s a rather critical and decision-making state of mind.
In contrast, sampajañña and sampajāno seem to mean ‘self-awareness’ or ‘self-aware.’ This word implies a kind of presence and attentiveness to one’s personal actions and one’s relationship to their environment, but in a different way. It implies being restrained and controlled generally, or just simply being aware of oneself rather than merely focused on all of the externals of the world and absorbed in sense experience (as situational awareness tends to imply a strong absorption in a complex task and external environment). In meditation, it is the same self-awareness; situational awareness would be a horrible thorn to jhāna.
“Mindful and self-aware” fit rather well together and I am almost certain that this is the meaning of the word. I think the connotations of it are perfect for its Buddhist usage, it’s clear, and it’s simple. It can be a more daily kind of self-awareness in everyday actions and activities with a slight moral tinge, or it can be a more introspective and meditative self-awareness of one’s mind. Let me know your thoughts.