What if we have found an earlier Satipatthana-Mula?

Part I: Satipatthana-Mula in Bhante Sujato’s A History of Mindfulness
Part II: Satipatthana in the Samyutta Nikaya/ Agama

【Part I: Satipatthana-Mula in Bhante Sujato’s A History of Mindfulness】

According to A History of Mindfulness, Dhammānupassī refer to the five hindrances & seven factors of awakening. I was amazed by the Bhante’s depth of study.


Bhante’s comparison between the Vibhaṅga, Dharmaskandha, Śāriputrābhidharma, Theravāda Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, Sarvāstivāda Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra, Ekāyana Sūtra, and Prajñāpāramitā was summarized in chapter 15. The Sattipathana Mula was restored on page 310-316. I consider them the most important pages in the book. These were also nicely tabulated on wikipedia :

In summary, this restoration regarded dhammānupassī as the practice of five hindrances and seven factors of awakening, ie the “principles to liberation”.

Now, here is a question for you all: what if we materials not yet taken into consideration?


【Part II: Satipatthana in the Samyutta Nikaya/ Samyukta Agama】

Considering the relationship between,
(A) Dhammānupassanā the fourth establishment of mindfulness
(B) Impermanence, disenchantment, non-craving, letting go, and
(C) The seven factors of awakening.

We can invited to examine the views below.

  1. “A History of Mindfulness” stated that [A] = [C].
  2. Such restoration has not taken the entire Linked Discourses into consideration.
  3. In the samyuttas, [C] is not a subset of [A].
  4. [B] was also considered a practice of [A].
  5. [A] should be interpreted based on the self-explanatory SN/SA rather than later materials.
  6. Satipatthana is closely linked to an early version of dependent origination.

Conclusion: The true Satipatthana-mula is found in the Samyutta Nikaya / Samyukta Agama.

Let me explain…


The Satipatthana Mula as restored in “A History of Mindfulness” stated that [A] = [C].

Such restoration has not taken the entire Linked Discourses into consideration.

For instance, satipatthana remains plain and simple in SN 47. No where could the reorganized and expanded version of MN 10 be found. Could we find an earlier Satipatthana in the SN/ SA?

In the samyuttas, the seven awakening factors are NOT a subset of dhammānupassanā.

Let’s take a look at SN 54.13 or SA 810:

Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body, their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness… investigation… energy… rapture… tranquility… immersion… equanimity, they develop it and perfect it.

Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of feelingsminddhamma, their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness… investigation… equanimity; they develop it and perfect it.

That’s how the four kinds of mindfulness meditation are developed and cultivated so as to fulfill the seven awakening factors.

This is also true in SA 281:


Another example would be SN 47.10 (SA 615).

The seven factors are intertwined with all four aspects of mindfulness, suggesting one thing: the factors of awakening are NOT a subset of dhammānupassanā!

The last tetrad of anapansati was also a practice of dhammānupassanā.

Again in SN 54.13 (SA810):

I’ll breathe in observing impermanence … fading away … cessation … letting go… At such a time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of dhamma — keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world…

The contemplation of aniccānupassī, virāgānupassī, nirodhānupassī, and paṭinissaggānupassī were cleary seen as dhammesu dhammānupassī. So, I am afraid satipatthana is not just a samatha practice, but also a vipassana.

Dhammānupassanā should be interpreted based on the self-explanatory SN/SA rather than later materials.

Dhammānupassanā in a nutshell, is to see things as they truly are for understanding and liberation to be realized:

The third teacher who does not have the view that in the present world there truly is a self, or the view that in the afterlife there [truly] is a self ― this is the Tathāgata, the arahant, the fully awakened one, who in the present has abandoned craving, become separated from desire, has made them cease, and has attained Nirvāṇa.” SA 105

Contacted, one feels, intends, and perceives. So these things too are tottering and toppling; they’re impermanent, decaying, and perishing. SN35.93

愚癡無聞凡夫於色見是我,若見我者,是名為行… 無明觸(受)生愛,緣愛起彼行。SA 57

They regard form as self. But that regarding is just a conditioned phenomenon… When an unlearned ordinary person is struck by feelings born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That conditioned phenomenon is born from that. So that conditioned phenomenon, that craving, that feeling, that contact, and that ignorance are also impermanent, conditioned, and dependently originated. That’s how you should know and see in order to end the defilements in the present life.” SN22.81


Satipatthana is closely linked to an early version of dependent origination
Comparing the SA and the SN, I found that the four aspects of meditation are ultimately a pratice framework based on an early form of dependent origination and psychology.

Dependent origination Aspect of mindfulness Practices Examples
Contact Body Sense restraint, awareness of bodily activity, contemplating the body SN 35.247, SN 24.20, Ud 3.5, Mahasamghika vinaya
Feelings Feelings Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral SN 36.3, SN 36.6
Volition, craving, aversion Mind Awareness of the mind, unification SN 35.94, SN 35.95
Perception, grasping, formations Dhamma Truly seeing, non-grasping SN35.93, SN22.52, SN22.90, SN22.7, SN22.56, SN22.81, SN12.43, SN46.6

So here is my conclusion, the true Satipatthana-mula is found in Samyutta Nikaya / Samyukta Agama. Please don’t hesitate let me know if there’re any mistakes or invalid points. Thank you!


Interesting proposal! It’s always nice to see people building on your work.

Just a couple of details.

This is not really what I was saying with the Satipatthana Mula.

The point of the dhammanupassana is that it sees the meditation as impermanent (etc.). It’s not just seeing the hindrances and awakening factors, but investigating them in terms of causality. That’s why I translate dhamma here as “principle”.

So yes, the awakening factors (and the hindrances) are intertwined at all levels of meditation practice. They are not a subset of dhammanupassana. The point is, in dhammanupassana we learn to understand and perfect them through the contemplation of causality.

Further, a reminder based on several arguments developed in A History of Mindfulness. It is generally true that texts grow over time, and we can therefore hypothesize that when directly comparing texts the shorter is likely to be the earlier. At the same time, however, it is clearly the case that the bulk of short suttas on any major topic are meant to be interpreted in light of the fundamental longer suttas, especially the Vibhanga suttas, of which I posit that the Sattipatthana Mula is one.

This is a kind of information compression. When reading, say, dependent origination, we don’t repeat the basic definitions every time, we put them in one or more central places and bear these definitions in mind when reading other places.

Thus there is, in my view, no reason to think that the texts of SN/SA are, on the whole, any earlier than the Satipatthana Mula. Obviously there is a great deal of uncertainty when we are creating reconstructed texts, but if we assume that the reconstruction is on the right lines, then I see these as pertaining to the same historical period. The Satipatthana Mula would have originally belonged to the same collection that we now have in SN/SA. The mere fact that it has been moved doesn’t mean that it is later.

Perhaps you disagree. But you have to make the case, and simply being shorter, simpler, or contained in SN/SA is not enough.


Delighted to see your personal reply, Bhante!

Thank you for your kind explanation. “To investigate the hindrances and awakening factors through contemplating casuality.” Now I understand more what is meant by “observing principles”.

Concerning the historicity of the Satipatthana-Samyutta (samyutta) in the SA/SN and the Satipatthana-Mula (mula) now surviving in the Vibhanga, we arrived at two possible conclusions. Either:

1) The samyutta was a condensed version of the mula, the two originally belonging to the same collection, as Bhante suggested, OR

2) The mula was an expansion of the samyutta, as assumed in my essay.

Let me share a little more about proposal two here. The assumption that the SN/SA came before the MN/MA was suggested by Master Yin Shun in his untranslated book 原始佛教聖典之集成. His anga-theory was also mentioned in A History of Mindfulness. Bravely applying this to the Satipatthana Sutta, I was amazed by what I found - exclusively from the highly coherent and self-explanatory chapters in the SN/SA!

Still, as Bhante mentioned, we need to consider both possibilities. Here, I have to admit that I lack evidence to refute either one. Proposal 1 is also sound and valid indeed. So I will keep my heart open.

A great thanks to Bhante for all your wonderful comparative studies and the judicious approach taken.

With gratitude,
Red Muntjac

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Hi @redmuntjac

I think there are a couple of important points you’ve missed. There’s a lot of detail to go into with satipaṭṭhāna, so I think I’ll just stick to the most fundamental observation I had about this.

First, I will just say that the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta at MN 10 and parallels is likely pulled from the saṁyutta collection and then expanded. This is common with MN/MA suttas; several are expansions or mere copies of material from the SN/SA. It was probably the original ‘vibhaṅga’ sutta which analyzes the meaning of a standard doctrinal formula, such as we find in the other saṁyuttas for the iddhipādas, indriyas, bojjhaṅgā, etc. What this means is that the definitions provided there likely are SN/SA material when we reduce it to the most likely common core, and that is the 31 parts, feelings, mind states, and seven awakening factors + five hindrances. This was addressed in A History of Mindfulness and in Master Yinshun’s work, etc.

But let’s say you want to limit your survey to the SN/SA, which is reasonable enough as an inquiry. There is some important information there in SN 54 (Ānāpāna-saṁyutta) which gives some explanations of each satipaṭṭhāna. For dhammānupassanā, it says the following:

Having seen with wisdom the giving up of covetousness and displeasure, they watch closely over with equanimity.
So yaṁ taṁ hoti abhijjhādomanassānaṁ pahānaṁ taṁ paññāya disvā sādhukaṁ ajjhupekkhitā hoti.
Therefore, at such a time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.
Tasmātihānanda, dhammesu dhammānupassī bhikkhu tasmiṁ samaye viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṁ.

This is the sentence explaining how the observation of anicca/virāga/nirodha/paṭinissagga fulfills the dhammānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna. Notice it does not say that ‘anicca’ is a “certain dhamma among dhammas,” like the explanation of kāyānupassanā with the breath. Rather, it specifically references giving up ‘abhijjhādomanassa’ (called ‘akusalā dhammā’; unwholesome dhammas) and watching over with equanimity (form of ‘upekkhā,’ the last of the seven awakening factors).

So if we take the material in the Ānāpāna-saṁyutta as more indicative of satipaṭṭhāna practice, it is still explaining dhammānupassanā in terms of removing unwholesome dhammas (abhijjhādomanassa / the five hindrances) with wisdom (understanding how they arise/cease) and developig wholesome dhammas (→ equanimity). This is precisely the evolution found in common in the *Satipaṭṭhāna-Mūla.

How does this relate to the observations in the fourth tetrad? Well, we just have to again look at the seven awakening factors as defined across the suttas, including the common satipaṭṭhāna material. There, each factor is said to be developed dependent on ‘viveka,’ then virāga and nirodha culminating in vossagga, which is a synonym of paṭinissagga.

The dhammānupassanā passage on the awakening factors says the contemplation entails:

They understand how the awakening factor that has not arisen comes to arise; and how the awakening factor that has arisen becomes fulfilled by development.

And the hindrances:

They understand how [the hindrance] arises; how, when it’s already arisen, it’s given up; and how, once it’s given up, it doesn’t arise again in the future.

How do the awakening factors — culminating in upekkhā — come to be fulfilled by development? Through viveka, virāga, and nirodha culminating in vossagga (i.e. paṭinissagga). So the final tetrad of ānāpānassati is showing dhammānupassanā in full force: the completion of abandoning the hindrances with wisdom (i.e. seeing how they cease to arise), establishing all 7 awakening factors, and then bringing them to fulfillment all the way.

This is the common theme in ānāpānassati: it provides an example only of the strongest positive qualities developed in mindfulness meditation. For feelings, it is about pleasant nirāmisā feelings like pīti and sukha. For the mind, it is about developing samādhi/cetovimutti. For dhammas, it is about developing and fulfilling the awakening factors all the way. It does not go into the other side, that is, unpleasant feelings + negative mind states + the hindrances. This is because, I believe, the satipaṭṭhāna analysis is giving the full range of what the practice entails from both angles: what is to be abandoned, and what is to be developed. The mindfulness of breathing instructions simply show the positive development that results and the direction this goes in.

Just a note too that we see this also in SN 47.42 / SA 609. There, it says that ‘dhammas’ originate from manasikāra. Notice that this is how the awakening factors are said to arise, with yoniso manasikāra, at SN 46 and everywhere in the suttas, and the hindrances the same, from ayoniso manasikāra. ‘Dhammas’ in the context of samādhi almost always refer to these qualities or mental principles that govern the mind and arise/cease according to particular principles.



This role of manasikāra is so crucial and seems to me to not get the attention (pardon the pun) it deserves.