Sampajañña & its place in the 8-fold path etc

most ven. bhantes, respected elders & pariyatti scholars,

kindly accept my veneration, regards and greetings.

below i am cut-pasting a discussion that i had with a viewer online. i pray to you to kindly point out errors in my understanding and correct me if i am wrong any where.

with regards & metta,

manish agarwala



An interesting dialogue with Lalit Patodia ji:

manish ji…if I ask you to name a single key word from Buddha’s philosophy…what it would be ?

i would not call buddha’s teachings as a “philosophy”. He neither established a sectarian religion nor did he preach any philosophy merely for intellectual jugglery. He taught pure dhamma (dharma) as the practical science of mind-matter with the chief aim of deconditioning the mind.

He & His entire teaching is unparalleled & matchless. yet if asked to choose one “single key word” - i would choose ‘पञ्ञा’ (pañña), which means ‘insight’.

while ‘sila’ (morality) and ‘samadhi’ (concentration of mind) were practiced even before the buddha - ‘पञ्ञा’ (pañña) or ‘insight’ as the ultimate purpose of spiritual practice leading to nibbāna (Enlightenment) and the ending of the cycle of birth & death was the unique contribution of the buddha.

the single word that epitomizes and surmises the entire mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta sutta (which is a very important key discourse for meditation practice) and has been used innumerable times in this discourse is ‘pajānāti’.

therefore, i choose ‘पञ्ञा’ (pañña), which means ‘insight’, as the most important “single key word” from the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma.

And in my opinion, the best one line summary of the abhidhammic aspect of buddha’s vipassanā teachings or the most pithy one line essence of buddha-dhamma for vipassanā bhavanā is:
paññattiṃ ṭhapetvā visesena passati’ti vipassanā

the purpose of vipassanā bhavanā is to develop experiential insight - भावनामयी पञ्ञा (bhavanāmayi pañña)

so, i prefer to choose पञ्ञा (pañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ out of the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma.

incredibly beautiful expression manish , i always thought a 'deep observation of reality ’ was his perrenial teaching but now thanks… you have opened up a different window…and ofcourse my take here is ’ deconditioning '.

it is important to go to the fundamentals and see how a word / terminology was used before the buddha or exclusively by the buddha and how that particular word / terminology is placed within the structure of buddha-dhamma. finally, only a fundamental & unique concept can be a ‘keyword’.

vipassanā is for development of experiential paññā (insight) which deconditions the mind (visankhara-gatam-cittam). so, paññā covers all 3 types of insight (sutamayi, cintāmayi & bhavanāmayi) and vipassanā is part of the paññā section of the 8-fold path. so, paññā covers vipassanā and deconditioning of mind.


  1. understanding all the dimensions of the word ‘धम्म’ [‘dhamma’ (dharma)] in the light of all the teachings of the buddha covers everything!

‘dhamma’ is the tipitaka and buddha Himself is ‘dhammakayo’ and He is seen within the ‘dhamma’! so, although the term ‘dharma’ was in vogue even before the buddha - the multifaceted expression of ‘dhamma’ in the tipitaka includes many unique aspects exclusive to the pantheon of buddha’s teachings.

so, undoubtedly ‘dhamma’ is the central keyword of buddha’s teachings (sikkhā / sikshā) and represents all His teachings in one single word. but, when i choose ‘paññā’ (पञ्ञा) - i choose it as the ‘single keyword’ out of the entire corpus of ‘buddha-dhamma’!

  1. i prefer to choose पञ्ञा (pañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ out of the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma. why?

interestingly, whenever the buddha enumerated the 8-fold path (ariyo aṭṭhaṇgiko maggo) - His sequence was always paññā, sila, samadhi and not sila, samadhi paññā! so, pañña is basic, fundamental and the ultimate aim. the perfection of sila is not a forcibly imposed doctrine of moral restraint but, is something that goes hand-in-hand with, supported by and due to experiential paññā! thus, the samadhi in buddha’s sequence of paññā, sila, samadhi becomes ‘kusala cittassa ekaggata’ i.e. concentration of the (purified) wholesome mind! this scheme of spiritual development is a unique contribution of the buddha!

  1. it is only this paññā (insight) that destroys avijjā (ignorance) and leads to vimutti (deliverance) and it is possible to do so only through the ‘ekāyano maggo’ cattāro-satipaṭṭhāna-bhavanā of buddha-dhamma. such a teaching of nibbānic paññā-bhavana for the complete ending of all sufferings (dukkha) and the repeated cycle of birth & death is found only in buddha-dhamma and nowhere else! in the mahāparinibbāna sutta - the buddha categorically stated and confirmed it by saying: samano natthi bahire!

therefore, i choose पञ्ञा (pañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ out of the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma.

  1. after introspective and thoughtful reflection, i have arrived at the conclusion that:

A) ‘धम्म’ (dhamma) is the best single word that represents the entire corpus of buddha’s teachings (sikkhā).

B) ‘विपस्सना’ (vipassanā) is best single word that aptly surmises the entire meditative practical aspect (patipatti) of buddha-dhamma.

C) about your interesting & thought provoking question: i prefer to choose ‘पञ्ञा’ (pañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or the ‘central keyword’ out of the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma. the reasons & detailed analysis of my choice - as elaborated above.

D) the final purpose & goal of buddha-dhamma is of course: nibbānassa sacchikiriyaya! and as the buddha pointed out - there is only one single taste throughout all His teachings i.e. vimutti-rasa - the taste of deliverance from all sufferings! this may be called the ‘central theme’ of buddha-dhamma! seyyathapi bhikkhave mahasamuddo ekaraso lonaraso, evam eva kho bhikkhave ayam dhammavinayo ekaraso vimuttiraso! (cullavagga, vinaya pitaka)

any differing views are most welcome for further study, analysis and introspection.


i had chosen ‘पञ्ञा’ (pañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ out of the entire corpus of buddha-dhamma. but, on further reflection, it emerged that ‘pañña’ too is a vast term and some aspects of sutamayi & cintāmayi pañña (theoretical & intellectual insight) were known even before the buddha.

it is actually ‘SAMPAJAÑÑA’ - the comprehension of the true characteristics of nāma-rupa - which makes buddha’s pañña teachings unique and matchless.

the expressions & terms used/cited by me above namely: ‘ekāyano maggo’, ‘samano natthi bahire’, ‘cattaro-satipatthāna bhavanā’, ‘vipassanā’, ‘unique’, ‘unparalleled’, ‘matchless’, ‘nibbānic’, ‘vimutti’ etc. should actually be seen in connection with ‘sampajañña’.

it is only because of this experiential bhavanāmayi insight of ‘sampajañña’ (through the vipassanic tilakkhanānupassanā)
does ‘vedanā paccayā tanhā’ become ‘vedanā paccayā pañña’ leading to the deconditioning of mind.

i would like to further sharpen & revise my previous opinion and choose ‘संपजञ्ञ’ (sampajañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ of buddha-dhamma.

whenever the buddha was asked about ‘sammā sati’ - he replied connecting ‘sati’ with ‘sampajañña’ and enumerated all four-satipatthānas. thus, it is clear that ‘sampajañña’ is the term of central importance in vipassanā meditation and is the unique contribution of the buddha to mankind for deliverance from their manifold sufferings.

therefore, i choose ‘संपजञ्ञ’ (sampajañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ of buddha-dhamma. sampajañña is the knowledge of the true characteristics of nāma-rupa (tilakkhanānupassanā) and it is found nowhere else outside the pantheon of buddha’s teachings.

of course, pañña is supreme & central in buddha-dhamma. but, the bhavanāmayi pañña (experiential insight) aspect of pañña is the unique contribution of the buddha which is not found elsewhere.

vipassanā is bhavanāmayi pañña and sampajañña is part of vipassanā-bhavanā. true vipassanā bhavanā happens when ‘pajanāti’ progresses to ‘sampajānati’ and culminates in ‘parijānāti’. the knowledge of arising-n-passing-away under the mahasatipatthana sutta format is sampajañña.

ven. ledi sayadaw clarifies that all types of vipassanā comes under dhamma-vicaya bojjhaṅga and vipassanā is a function of pañña cetasika.

sampajañña comes under samma-ditthi of the 8-fold path but, since samma-sati includes both sati & sampajañña and samma-sati is equivalent to cattaro-satipatthana-bhavanā - the tilakkhananupassanā vipassanā is samma-sati as well as samma-ditthi and the samma-samadhi herein in khanika-samadhi (upacara-samadhi of first jhana) from moment-to-moment.

i choose ‘संपजञ्ञ’ (sampajañña) as the ‘single keyword’ or ‘central keyword’ of buddha-dhamma. sampajañña is the knowledge of the true characteristics of nāma-rupa (tilakkhanānupassanā) and it is found nowhere else outside the pantheon of buddha’s teachings.

i may place this write-up before learned monks & pariyatti scholars for further guidance.

  • manish

Hello. My understanding is ‘sampajañña’ is the application of knowledge or wisdom previously learned or previously experienced (rather than ‘sampajañña’ being direct insight).

For example, you have a good meditation and the thought arises: “I am an enlightened being!”. If the mind has ‘sampajañña’ after the arising of that thought, ‘sampajañña’ will say: "The Buddha taught to abandon the wrong views of ‘I am’ and of ‘an existent being’ ".

In summary, my understanding is ‘sampajañña’ is the use of past knowledge rather than the development of present knowledge. :slightly_smiling_face:

For example, from the two translations of SN 47.35 below, I choose that of Bhikkhu Bodhi:

And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Here, bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu feelings are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Thoughts are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. Perceptions are understood as they arise, understood as they remain present, understood as they pass away. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension. Bodhi

And how is a mendicant aware? It’s when a mendicant knows feelings as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know thoughts as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. They know perceptions as they arise, as they remain, and as they go away. That’s how a mendicant is aware. A mendicant should live mindful and aware. This is my instruction to you.” Sujato

The word bolded is:

past participle

Therefore, the above verse is not about observing or knowing the arising, existence & passing of feelings, perceptions & thoughts. Instead, the above verse is about understanding how to properly relate to feelings, perceptions & thought when they arise. For example, if I have to give a public Dhamma talk to a room a pretty ladies, there is the understanding the charming thoughts/words I might use are not-self (rather words of a Great Handsome Guru). :slightly_smiling_face:

In summary, in the N8FP, the place of ‘sampajañña’ is using whatever knowledge & experience you have learned to ‘quality control’ the meditation.

1 Like

dear @CurlyCarl
my perspective & interpretation is in accordance with theravada burmese vipassana traditions of sayagyi u ba khin / s n goenka ji. you may refer to the publications of vipassana research institute (VRI), igatpuri (india) for their interpretation of sampajañña. in sayagyi u ba khin tradition - sampajañña is equivalent with the bhavana of anicca or dukkha or anatta and this interpretation is in accordance with the tipitaka.

Thank you. It seems there is no evidence of the above statement in the Tipitaka.

The Suttas say very little about sampajanna and give the clear impression in satipatthana & anapanasati that sampajana is merely a support for the establishment of samadhi. For example:

  • MN 117 says right mindfulness (which includes sampajanna) is one of seven supports for Noble Right Samadhi.

  • MN 117 also introduces the Tenfold Noble Path (also often found in the Anguttara Nikaya). Here, the 9th factor called Right Knowledge is obviously different from the ‘sampajana’ included in the 7th factor called Right Mindfulness.

  • In MN 118, every step of practise is done with ātāpī sampajāno satimā; including the steps of stilling the kayasaṅkhāraṁ, stilling the cittasaṅkhāraṁ, gladdening the mind & immersing the mind in samādhi. Since these four steps are mostly samatha & samadhi, they obviously are not predominately “vipassana”; yet MN 118 seems to clearly say they are practised with ātāpī sampajāno satimā as the foundation.

  • MN 149 also includes sampajanna as part of Right Mindfulness and then says when the Noble Eightfold Path is developed, two qualities proceed in conjunction: samatho & vipassanā. Therefore, in MN 149, it seems clear sampajanna is something different to vipassana.

  • AN 4.41 describes four types of samadhi development, where the samadhi development that leads to mindfulness and awareness (sampajaññā) is differentiated from the samadhi development that ends the asava (defilements). In summary, in AN 4.41, what is called satisampajaññā is not the same as what is called udayabbayānupassī (observing rise & fall ).

In short, I thought of the above five examples spontaneously within the time it took me to write the post. I imagine I could list more. I have never thought about this topic before. Therefore, it seems very simple, according to the Suttas, that sampajanna is not a synonym of vipassana. :dizzy:

On the other hand, the Abhidhamma Vibhanga says:

“Sampajāno”ti tattha katamaṁ sampajaññaṁ? Yā paññā pajānanā vicayo pavicayo dhammavicayo sallakkhaṇā upalakkhaṇā paccupalakkhaṇā paṇḍiccaṁ kosallaṁ nepuññaṁ vebhabyā cintā upaparikkhā bhūrīmedhā pariṇāyikā vipassanā sampajaññaṁ patodo paññā paññindriyaṁ paññābalaṁ paññāsatthaṁ paññāpāsādo paññāāloko paññāobhāso paññāpajjoto paññāratanaṁ amoho dhammavicayo sammādiṭṭhi— idaṁ vuccati “sampajaññaṁ”. Iti imāya ca satiyā iminā ca sampajaññena upeto hoti …pe… samannāgato. Evaṁ bhikkhu sato sampajāno abhikkamati, sato sampajāno paṭikkamati, sato sampajāno āloketi, sato sampajāno viloketi, sato sampajāno samiñjeti, sato sampajāno pasāreti, sato sampajānakārī hoti, saṅghāṭipattacīvaradhāraṇe sato sampajānakārī hoti, asite pīte khāyite sāyite sato sampajānakārī hoti, uccārapassāvakamme sato sampajānakārī hoti, gate ṭhite nisinne sutte jāgarite bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti.

“Aware” means: Therein what is awareness? That which is wisdom, understanding, investigation, research, truth investigation, discernment, discrimination, differentiation, erudition, proficiency, subtlety, analysis, consideration, breadth, sagacity, guidance, insight, awareness, goad, wisdom, controlling faculty of | wisdom, power of wisdom, sword of wisdom, tower of wisdom, light of wisdom, lustre of wisdom, splendour of wisdom, jewel of wisdom, absence of dullness, truth investigation, right view. This is called awareness. Thus of this mindfulness and this awareness he is possessed,* furnished. Thus a bhikkhu mindful and aware approaches; mindful and aware he departs; mindful and aware he looks ahead; mindful and aware he looks around; mindful and aware he bends; mindful and aware he stretches; mindful he acts with awareness; in bearing the outer robe, the alms-bowl and the under robe, mindful he acts with awareness; in eating, in drinking, in chewing, in tasting, mindful he acts with awareness; in obeying the calls of nature, mindful he acts with awareness; in walking, in standing, in sitting, in sleeping, in waking, in talking, in being silent, he acts with awareness.


Therefore, as I would expect, the perspective & interpretation of the Burmese vipassana traditions seem in accordance with the generalisations of the Abhidhamma but not in accordance with the precision of the Suttas. This said, the quote above about sampajanna is from the Abhidhamma Vibhanga about Analysis of Jhāna. Therefore, it seems even the Abhidhamma is saying sampajjana is merely a support for the development of jhana (samadhi). :pray:t2:

1 Like

@CurlyCarl the uddeso of the mahasatipatthana sutta & also the sampajañña pabbam (kayanupassana, mahasatipatthana sutta) are confirmatory evidence from the sutta-pitaka. of course, more evidence can be cited from samyutta nikaya etc. but, a matter of patipatti cannot be understood by study of pariyatti alone. the inherent meaning of buddha-vacana becomes clear only by actual experiential bhavanāmayi pañña. it may be fruitless to elaborate it further.

you may consider giving a fair trial to the teachings of sayagyi u ba khin / goenkaji by practicing vipassana as taught in their tradition. if after sufficient in-depth practice as per their instructions - you find that their teachings are not in accordance with buddha-dhamma (in the suttas as well as abhidhamma) - then you may reject it.

btw - the tradition of sayagyi u ba khin has been endorsed by ven. webu sayadaw who was reputed as an arahat and is based on the theoretical foundation of aggamahapandita ven. ledi sayadaw.

it may be fruitless to debate any further.

with regards & much metta,

Certainly, when a person does not quote any texts but simply posts names of holy books & names of their holy gurus then, yes, the debate is fruitless. In my post, I posted many quotes from Sutta & Abhidhamma. But you posted no quotes.

The above traditions are rarely discussed on internet forums due to close to universal disagreement with their ideas. For example, their ideas about anapanasati are so wrong, merely a short sentence reply (such as the only feelings in anapanasati are rapture & happiness) is warranted.

Therefore, to reiterate, sampajanna seems to be only a basic teaching in the Suttas, again from AN 10.61:

Thus associating with good persons, becoming full, fills up hearing the good Dhamma. Hearing the good Dhamma, becoming full, fills up faith. Faith, becoming full, fills up careful attention. Careful attention, becoming full, fills up mindfulness and clear comprehension. Mindfulness and clear comprehension, becoming full, fill up restraint of the sense faculties. Restraint of the sense faculties, becoming full, fills up the three kinds of good conduct. The three kinds of good conduct, becoming full, fill up the four establishments of mindfulness. The four establishments of mindfulness, becoming full, fill up the seven factors of enlightenment. The seven factors of enlightenment, becoming full, fill up true knowledge and liberation. Thus there is nutriment for true knowledge and liberation, and in this way they become full.

In conclusion, you asked a question on this forum and I answered your question with many quotes from the Suttas. :pray:t2: