Though “mind the gap” is a warning, drawing attention to a potential hazard in the immediate future. This is different to remembering what we’ve just experienced.
I took it to be about the present moment: pay attention to the gap as you step onto the train.
Like the sutta simile of the man with a container of oil on his head, and a man with a sword who will cut his head off if he spills it… SuttaCentral
In the context of Satipatthana, sati is the taking hold (i.e. keeping in mind) of the object-support (ārammaṇa):
where the object-support (ārammaṇa) can be of four kinds, corresponding to body, etc.:
Tattha ārammaṇe pakkhanditvā upaṭṭhānaṭṭhena paṭṭhānaṃ, satiyeva paṭṭhānaṃ satipaṭṭhānaṃ. Ārammaṇassa pana kāyādivasena catubbidhattā vuttaṃ ‘‘cattāro satipaṭṭhānā’’ti. Tathā hi kāyavedanācittadhammesu subhasukhaniccaattasaññānaṃ pahānato asubhadukkhāniccānattatāgahaṇato ca nesaṃ kāyānupassanādibhāvo vibhatto.
Similarly in Abhidharma-samuccaya:
“What are the objects (ālambana) of the application of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna)? They are the body (kāya), feeling (vedanā), mind (citta) and mental qualities and objects (dharma). Or [they are] things pertaining to oneself (ātmāśraya-vastu), things experienced by oneself (ātmavastu) and qualities pertaining to the defilement and purification of oneself (ātmasaṃkleśavyavadānavastu).”
“The cultivation of mindfulness (smṛtibhāvanā) [is accomplished] by counteracting the minor defilement of confusion (forgetfulness) (saṃmosa) with regard to the teaching of the Blessed One (bhagavatah śāsane).”
Dan Lusthaus writes:
"The initial sense of ālambana seems to presuppose something similar to how the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya defined viṣaya and ālambana: that a viṣaya is a causally active entity functioning in its sphere, while an ālambana is that of viṣaya that conveys it to cognition by causing the cognition to notice it. … Vasubandhu makes it clear that the ālambana is part of an act of consciousness, i.e., a mental appropriation of sensory objects (including mental objects). Once taken up, it forms a mental image (ākāra) in the mind which is a “replica” (sādṛśya) of the viṣaya.
In the context of Satipatthana, sati is directly related to functions of memory, and is rightly called ‘remembrance’ (saraṇa):
Tattha, katamā sati?
Herein, what is mindfulness?
Yā sati anussati …pe…paṭissati sati saraṇatā,
That which is mindfulness, recollection, …pe…recall, mindfulness, remembrance,
dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā,
bearing (in mind), not losing, not confusing,
sati Satindriyaṁ Satibalaṁ Sammāsati:
mindfulness, the Faculty of Mindfulness, the Strength of Mindfulness, Right Mindfulness:
ayaṁ vuccati ‘sati’.
this is said to be ‘mindfulness’.
Satiyeva satipaṭṭhānaṃ. Atha vā saraṇaṭṭhena sati, upaṭṭhānaṭṭhena paṭṭhānaṃ. Iti sati ca sā paṭṭhānaṃ cātipi satipaṭṭhānaṃ. Idamidhādhippetaṃ.
Yadi evaṃ kasmā ‘‘satipaṭṭhānā’’ti bahuvacanaṃ? Satibahuttā. Ārammaṇabhedena hi bahukā etā satiyo.
So there’s no real difference in meaning of sati between the context of Satipatthana and the context or recollections, remembrances (e.g. of Tathagata) - it’s just that sati may have take up various object-supports (ārammaṇa). The unified meaning of sati across the contexts is illustrated in Mahaniddesa:
Satoti catūhi kāraṇehi sato – kāye kāyānupassanāsatipaṭṭhānaṃ bhāvento sato, vedanāsu…pe… citte… dhammesu dhammānupassanāsatipaṭṭhānaṃ bhāvento sato.
Aparehipi catūhi kāraṇehi sato – asatiparivajjanāya sato, satikaraṇīyānaṃ dhammānaṃ katattā sato, satiparibandhānaṃ dhammānaṃ hatattā sato, satinimittānaṃ dhammānaṃ asammuṭṭhattā sato.
Aparehipi catūhi kāraṇehi sato – satiyā samannāgatattā sato, satiyā vasitattā sato, satiyā pāguññatāya sato, satiyā apaccorohaṇatāya sato.
Aparehipi catūhi kāraṇehi sato – sattattā sato, santattā sato, samitattā sato, santadhammasamannāgatattā sato. Buddhānussatiyā sato, dhammānussatiyā sato, saṅghānussatiyā sato, sīlānussatiyā sato, cāgānussatiyā sato, devatānussatiyā sato, ānāpānassatiyā sato, maraṇassatiyā sato, kāyagatāsatiyā sato, upasamānussatiyā sato. Yā sati anussati paṭissati sati saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā sati satindriyaṃ satibalaṃ sammāsati satisambojjhaṅgo ekāyanamaggo, ayaṃ vuccati sati. Imāya satiyā upeto hoti samupeto upagato samupagato upapanno samupapanno samannāgato, so vuccati sato.
This traditional definition of sati as keeping in mind the object-support (ārammaṇapariggahita) agrees with the “dhāraṇatā” from Dhammasangani 16:
And with “Questions of Milinda” (Milinda-pañha 37-38):
evaṃ kho, mahārāja, upaggaṇhanalakkhaṇā sati.
“Just so, Your Majesty, does sati have the characteristic of taking hold.”
This keeping in mind, ‘taking hold’ (pariggahita) of one or another of satipaṭṭhanas as an object-support (ārammaṇa) is expounded in Satipatthana sutta, and explained in more detail in Satipatthana-vibhanga:
Kathañ-ca bhikkhu ajjhattaṁ kāye kāyānupassī viharati?
And how does a monk dwell contemplating (the nature of) the body in the body in regard to himself?
So taṁ nimittaṁ āsevati bhāveti bahulīkaroti svāvatthitaṁ vavatthapeti,
He practices, develops, makes much of that attunement, and fixes it,
so taṁ nimittaṁ āsevitvā bhāvetvā bahulīkaritvā svāvatthitaṁ vavatthapetvā,
and after he has practised, developed, made much of that attunement, and fixed it,
bahiddhā kāye cittaṁ upasaṁharati.
he focuses his mind on another’s body.
where “nimitta” (representation, attunement, often mistranslated as ‘sign’) is a type of “ārammaṇa” (object-support), and “svāvatthitaṁ vavatthapeti” is close to “pariggahita”.
As explained in the Commentary, only one of Satipatthanas is taken up for keeping in mind/remembrance (sati):
"apica tasmiṃ janapade catasso parisā pakatiyāva satipaṭṭhānabhāvanānuyogamanuyuttā viharanti, antamaso dāsakammakaraparijanāpi satipaṭṭhānappaṭisaṃyuttameva kathaṃ kathenti. udakatitthasuttakantanaṭṭhānādīsupi niratthakakathā nāma na pavattati. sace kāci itthī “amma tvaṃ kataraṃ satipaṭṭhānabhāvanaṃ manasikarosī”ti pucchitā “na kiñcī”ti vadati. taṃ garahanti “dhiratthu tava jīvitaṃ, jīvamānāpi tvaṃ matasadisā”ti. atha naṃ “mā dāni puna evamakāsī”ti ovaditvā aññataraṃ satipaṭṭhānaṃ uggaṇhāpenti. yā pana “ahaṃ asukaṃ satipaṭṭhānaṃ manasikaromī”ti vadati. tassā “sādhu sādhū”ti sādhukāraṃ datvā “tava jīvitaṃ sujīvitaṃ, tvaṃ nāma manussattaṃ pattā, tavatthāya sammāsambuddho uppanno”tiādīhi pasaṃsanti.
Further, in that territory of the Kuru people, the four classes — bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, upasaka, upasika — generally by nature were earnest in the application of the Arousing of Mindfulness to their daily life. At the very lowest, even servants, usually, spoke with mindfulness. At wells or in spinning halls useless talk was not heard. If some woman asked of another woman, “Mother, which Arousing of Mindfulness do you practice?” and got the reply, “None at all,” then that woman who replied so was reproached thus: “Your life is shameful; though you live you are as if dead,” and was taught one of the kinds of Mindfulness-arousing. But on being questioned if she said that she was practicing such and such an Arousing of Mindfulness, then she was praised thus: “Well done, well done! Your life is blessed; you are really one who has attained to the human state; for you the Sammasambuddhas have come to be.”"
"kāyānupassīti kāyamanupassanasīlo, kāyaṃ vā anupassamāno.
“kāye”ti ca vatvāpi puna “kāyānupassī”ti dutiyaṃ kāyaggahaṇaṃ asammissato vavatthānaghanavinibbhogādidassanatthaṃ katanti veditabbaṃ. tena na kāye vedanānupassī vā, cittadhammānupassī vā, atha kho kāyānupassīyevāti kāyasaṅkhāte vatthusmiṃ kāyānupassanākārasseva dassanena asammissato vavatthānaṃ dassitaṃ hoti.
“Kayanupassi = “Contemplating the body.” Possessed of the character of body-contemplation, or of observing the body.
Why is the word “body” used twice in the phrase: “Contemplating the body in the body?” For determining the object and isolating it, and for the sifting out thoroughly [vinibbhoga] of the apparently compact [ghana] nature of things like continuity [santati].
Because there is no contemplating of feeling, consciousness nor mental objects in the body, but just the contemplating of the body only, determination through isolation is set forth by the pointing out of the way of contemplating the body only in the property called the body.”
Such keeping in mind/remembrance of one or another of Satipatthanas as a whole sphere (gocara) is described in the Satipatthana sutta itself:
Atthi kāyoti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya patissatimattāya.
Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance.
Atthi vedanāti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya patissatimattāya.
Or his mindfulness that ‘There are feelings’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance.
Atthi cittanti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya patissatimattāya.
Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a mind’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance.
Atthi dhammāti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya patissatimattāya.
Or his mindfulness that ‘There are mental qualities’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance.
with more details in Dvedhavitakka sutta:
Seyyathāpi bhikkhave gimhānaṃ pacchime māse sabbasassesu gāmantasambhatesu gopālako gāvo rakkheyya. Tassa rukkhamūlagatassa vā abbhokāsagatassa vā satikaraṇīyameva hoti: etaṃ gāvoti. Evameva kho bhikkhave satikaraṇīyameva ahosi: ete dhammāti.
“Just as in the last month of the hot season, when all the crops have been gathered into the village, a cowherd would look after his cows: While resting under the shade of a tree or out in the open, he simply keeps himself mindful of ‘those cows.’ In the same way, I simply kept myself mindful of ‘those mental qualities.’”
Mindfulness of an object, in the present moment (mindfulness).
Mindfulness of a past object (memory).
Mindfulness of a future object (anticipation)!
Thank you for the informative post. In particular thanks for introducing me to the term saṃmosa, which I have added to the Voice examples to bring up suttas that explain what happens when we forget what was Done & Said long ago.
Thanks for the detailed analysis, but I’m still not convinced. To me recollecting things and holding attention on an aspect of experience are quite different activities, and the connection is very tenuous. IMO it is less problematic to simply observe that sati has different meanings in different contexts.
If you are interested in making the connection stronger between remembrance and awareness, I can attest that listening to the suttas and attending mindfully to the current task (e.g., walking meditation) works wonders.
Do you mean you’re listening to suttas while walking, or do you mean you’re remembering stuff from suttas while walking? In either case your attention is being split between different activities, rather than focused on one frame, as per satipatthana. Though i realise there are practical differences between on and off the cushion practice.
Absolutely. The task at hand is “walking meditation listening to the suttas”. I find that in doing this:
- I learn more about the suttas than just reading at the laptop
- I am much more aware of where my feet go and no longer stumble on sharp seeds walking barefoot (I don’t have my glasses on and am placing feet by feel)
- I am also counting my breaths
This requires relaxed awareness, not the holding-breath, frowning type of awareness of threading a needle. Quite different awareness!
In the “mind the gap” example, there is a bit of a protective function (don’t mind the gap and you might fall in) which is also part of sati in the suttas.
Sati does seem to have a range of nuances, any one of them might be more highlighted in a certain context. I do think it’s important to also consider the historical context, the importance of memory in the spiritual traditions of NorthEastern India at that time. The Buddhist contribution is in redefining smṛti to cover these nuanced functions.
I was still considering “mind the gap” and hadn’t responded immediately. The phrase “protective function” was helpful here. Thanks!
Climbers have rituals and observances of “protective function”. We habitually double check everything. And we can do so under duress in stressful conditions with minimal awareness. This is why I hesitated on the “mind the gap”. I hesitated because as a climber I can mindlessly go through safety rituals and observances. In particular, even being mindless I can indeed protect myself, snapping into wakefulness if the ritual fails at some point. Therefore, I think sati has to be more than just protective function. I do agree that with sati our guard is up and ready.
I.e., with sati one minds the gap. Minding the gap may or may not involve sati.
I see a lot of this as appropriate attention. “Mind the gap” is simply a reminder to pay attention to the gap!
We memorise the four foundations of mindfulness, so that we may be reminded to be mindful, at the appropriate moment, to body, feelings, mind and dhamma. Some of this can be done from memory (contemplating the elements, foulness of different organs) or in front of that object of mindfulness.
That approach sounds a bit random. Do you that mean you’re mindful of whatever catches your attention? I prefer a bit of structure.
Beautiful expression Karl!
this too explains what is mindfulness;
The Blessed One said, “Suppose, monks, that a large crowd of people comes thronging together, saying, ‘The beauty queen! The beauty queen!’ And suppose that the beauty queen is highly accomplished at singing & dancing, so that an even greater crowd comes thronging, saying, ‘The beauty queen is singing! The beauty queen is dancing!’ Then a man comes along, desiring life & shrinking from death, desiring pleasure & abhorring pain. They say to him, ‘Now look here, mister. You must take this bowl filled to the brim with oil and carry it on your head in between the great crowd & the beauty queen. A man with a raised sword will follow right behind you, and wherever you spill even a drop of oil, right there will he cut off your head.’ Now what do you think, monks: Will that man, not paying attention to the bowl of oil, let himself get distracted outside?”
“I have given you this parable to convey a meaning. The meaning is this: The bowl filled to the brim with oil stands for mindfulness immersed in the body. Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”
I think Sati means you have to remember the mental states (wholesome ,unwholesome, universals etc) and apply them to your action. (body,mind,speech)