What is mere-bare awareness - ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya?

veneration at the feet of venerables & regards to all learned dhamma scholars!

i have prepared an analytical article on the topic on ‘mere-bare awareness’ [ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya] and am placing it at the feet of the sangha for suitable correction, guidance & admonitions and also requesting the kind attention of all learned dhamma scholars for their wise comments.

sharing the article below with veneration for the venerables & mettā for everyone,

sanghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.

manish agarwala

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WHAT IS ‘MERE-BARE AWARENESS’ [ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya]?


What is ‘mere-bare awareness’? Mere-bare awareness (ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya) is when the ‘doer’ or even the ‘observer’ does not identify itself with any object. It is the journey from from ‘doer’ to ‘observer’ to ‘observer-is-observed’ i.e. it is the journey from “I am doing” to “I am observing” to “Mere-bare knowing; Mere-bare awareness; Mere-bare observation”.

As per the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna sutta, mere-bare awareness (i.e. ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya) is the stage when the establishment of mindfulness is completed (sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti) till its fullest extent (yāvadeva).

'Atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati.
(Ānāpānapabbaṃ, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna

In his writings about the nibbānic dip of Mr. Amersfoort (Mr. ‘A’) Sayagyi U Ba Khin has mentioned that his vipassanā teaching is in accordance with Ānāpānapabbaṃ of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna

Ven. Uttamo Thera, the translator of Most Ven. Mogok Sayadaw’s talks, referred to Most Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw’s teachings and wrote thus in an article about the culmination of Ānāpānapabbaṃ of the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna sutta:

“Mere awareness and clinging to nothing: Mahāsi Sayadaw wrote in his book. By knowing in this way, there was only body existing and no thought of a person or being. So, taṇhā and diṭṭhi could not enter the mind. Except knowing the body and not clinging with other thoughts. [atthi kāyo’ ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti - manish]. To observe objectively, without getting lost in associations and reactions. Freedom from identification enables one to regard any aspect of the experience as a mere phenomenon [anatta - manish]. And then free from any self-image and attachment. Clingings are falling away. The practice of ānāpānasati comes to succeed. Other body contemplations also have to practice in this way”

In the light of Abhidhamma and as clarified by Most Ven. Mogok Sayadaw, Most Ven. Ledi Sayadaw, Sayagyi U Ba Khin & Achārya Goenkaji, it is clear that true vipassanā is concept-less understanding of the paramattha-lakkhaṇas of anicca or dukkha or anatta of nāma-rupa (mind-matter) from moment-to-moment i.e. ‘paññattiṃ thāpetvā visesena passati’ti vipassanā’.

Most Ven. Mogok Sayadaw had said on 19 October 1961:

“The 5-khandhas divided by Satipaṭṭhāna become 4-Satipaṭṭhāna. Āyatana, dhātu … etc., all are including in these 4. This is the dhamma taught by every Buddha. It looks like herding for 4-cows. Form, feeling, mind whatever you are contemplating try to discern anicca. All of them are converging at anicca. Therefore, there aren’t too many dhammas. Although the Buddha entered Nibbāna, he left 3-cups of medicines behind, anicca, dukkha and anatta medicines. Contemplate anicca more and more and become mature and then anicca become Truth of Dukkha”.

Most. Ven. Ledi Sayadaw in his Paramattha Dīpanī [§ 170 of Kammaṭṭhāna Saṅgaha, Paramatthadīpanī (9th chapter)], explains what is concept-less (paññattiṃ thāpetvā) vipassanā-bhāvana equivalent to “atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti” i.e. establishment of vipassanic mindfulness…

“Visesena passanti etāyāti vipassanā. Aniccānupassanādikā bhāvanāpaññā. Tāya hi yogino khandhesu lokiyamahājanena passitaṃ itthipurisādikaṃ niccasukhādikañca atikkamitvā visesena aniccādikameva passantīti”.

The ‘special way of seeing’ [with paññā i.e. yathābhuta-ñāṇadassana i.e. tilakkhaņa bhāvanā of paramattha sacca] is what is vipassanā.
Aniccānupassanā [the moment-to-moment experiential contemplation of impermanence] etc. are the bhāvanā [cultivation] of paññā [insight]. it is through it [tāya hi] that yogis specially see (through vipassanā eyes) only anicca [impermanence] etc. [aniccādikameva] in the khandas [5-aggregates] transcending [atikkamitvā] what many worldly beings [lokiyamahājanena] see as permanent happiness etc. of male/female (forms) etc. [itthipurisādikaṃ niccasukhādikañca].

COMMENT: “etc.” [Aniccānupassanādikā / Aniccādikameva] refers to Anicca “etc.” i.e. bhāvanā of anicca or dukkha or anatta.

All the sections of the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta pass through the stage of maturation of the understanding of ‘anicca’ and thereafter reach the stage of “ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya” i.e. mere-bare awareness of the object being observed or so to say ‘anicca’ of the mind-matter process. At this level: observer-observation-observe becomes one. All dichotomy and division ends. It is true experiential Advaita (non-duality)! It is truly reaching J. Krishnamurti’s “observer-is-observed” experientially! The ‘doer’ fell away much earlier and now the ‘observer’ too. Now it is observer-is-observed - i.e. mere-bare conflict-less & concept-less (name-less, label-less, inference-less) experiential anicca-ñāṇa i.e. “ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya”.

Anicca-ñāṇa opens the doors to anatta-ñāṇa leading to cessation or nirodha of saṅkhāra (uppajitvā nirujjhanti).

In the Meghiya Sutta, the Buddha said:
“Aniccasaññino hi, meghiya, anattasaññā saṇṭhāti, anattasaññī asmimānasamugghātaṃ pāpuṇāti diṭṭheva dhamme nibbāna”nti”

The well matured mere-bare awareness of ‘anicca’ (mere-bare anicca-ñāṇa) leads to anatta-ñāṇa where the meditator dwells in emptiness of the mind-matter process rolling on and on with ‘no control’, ‘no self’, ‘no centre’ i.e. “anissito ca viharati”. The meditator, fully detached (anissito), now dwells in ‘anatta’ [emptiness] and sees the mind-matter phenomenon as mere empty phenomena rolling on and on and does not cling to anything in the world of mind-matter i.e. dwells abiding in the abstract state of anatta-ñāṇa without identifying or relying on anything as the vantage point or ‘centre’ of his observation - anissito ca viharati. In this way he dwells detached, without clinging to anything in the world [of mind and matter] i.e. within the purview of his entire field of experience from moment-to-moment - anissito ca viharati.

The anatta-ñāṇa understanding leads to cessation (uppajitvā nirujjhanti) - tadanga-nibbuti (temporary / momentary cessation) or the nibbānic dip (nibbāna-samāpatti) or nirodha-samāpatti.

The wise meditator, in cessation, does not partake anything from the conditioned world of mind-matter and abides in momentary cessation (tadanga-nibbuti) or nibbānic dip (nibbāna samāpatti) or nirodha attainment (nirodha-samāpatti) i.e. “na ca kiñci loke upādiyati”. The worldly wheel of misery & sorrow (bhavacakka) stops and now rotates the nibbānic wheel of dhamma (dhammacakka).
Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandassa nirodho hoti’ti.

Thus, the flowchart of abhidhammic analysis of vipassanā-dhamma from the experiential perspective of a vipassanā meditator, who is practicing vipassanā in accordance with Ānāpānapabbaṃ of Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, exactly as taught by Sayaygi U Ba Khin and Pujya Achārya Goenkaji, is as follows:

Samudayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati
[i.e. observer begins concept-less (paññattiṃ thāpetvā) anicca-ñāṇa] -------> ‘atthi kāyo’ ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti [observer is established in concept-less anicca-ñāṇa] -------> Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya [mere-bare anicca-ñāṇa: observer-is-observed: mere-bare awareness of ‘anicca’] -------> anissito ca viharati [anatta-ñāṇa - empty phenomena of mind-matter rolling on] -------> na ca kiñci loke upādiyati [cessation of saṅkhāra i.e. ‘uppajitvā nirujjhanti’: tadanga-nibbuti / nibbāna / nirodha].

Analysing the above discussed stages of the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta from the general suttanta perspective in accordance with the stages of aniccānupassi - virāgānupassi - nirodhānupassi:

Samudaya…vaya…samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati [aniccānupassi : moment-to-moment anicca-ñāṇa] -----> ‘atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati [virāgānupassi : dwells in detachment] -----> na ca kiñci loke upādiyati [nirodhānupassi : cessation].

Analysing the above discussed stages of the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna sutta from the perspective of the 16 stages of insight (vipassanā-ñāṇa) in accordance with the visuddhimagga:

Samudaya…vaya…samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṃ viharati [udayabbaya-ñāṇa & bhanga-ñāṇa : anicca-ñāṇa & dissolution] -----> ‘atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya [Nibbida-ñāṇa : disenchantment] -----> anissito ca viharati [sankhārupekkhā-ñāṇa : naturally arising equanimity towards formations (not the concept of ‘equanimity’ imposed by choice & effort)] -----> na ca kiñci loke upādiyati [cessation : tadanga-nibbuti / anuloma-ñāṇa to paccavekkhana-ñāṇa].

…thus, the worldly wheel of sorrow (bhavacakka) stops and rotates the nibbānic wheel of dhamma (dhammacakka) with ‘dukkhakkhandassa nirodho’ (cessation of the entire field of misery and sorrow) and thereby fulfilling the purpose of vipassanā-dhamma in accordance with Ānāpānapabbaṃ of the Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, as taught by Sayaygi U Ba Khin and Pujya Achārya Goenkaji.




The cardinal definition of vipassanā in the burmese theravāda tradition is:
paññattiṃ thāpetvā visesena passati’ti vipassanā.

But, why is it necessary to go beyond nāma-paññatti & attha-paññatti (concepts of ‘name’ / ‘label’ or ‘meaning’ / ‘inference’) in order to begin true vipassanā?

True vipassanā is an analysis-less, inference-less, effort-less, choice-less, conflict-less, correction-less, motive-less, ideal-less, , name-less, label-less, image-less i.e. totally concept-less experiential insight of the paramattha-lakkhaṇas of nāma-rupa (anicca or dukkha or anatta) from moment-to-moment.

It is necessary to transcend paññattis in order to begin true vipassanā precisely because of two reasons, which in fact are two facets of the same reality:

A). The suttas classify the sacca (truth) into sammuti-sacca (apparent conditioned truth) and paramattha-sacca (the ultimate truth of mind-matter & nibbāna) but, abhidhamma further distinguishes between paññatti-sacca & sammuti-sacca. An arahat may use paññattis for communication but, without any micchā diṭṭhī. But, if a puthujjana (or even an ariya who has not reached arahat stage) focuses his attention on micchā diṭṭhī imbued paññattis (sammuti-sacca) - he wil not be able to develop vipassanā-ñāna because of the ‘doer-ship’ that comes along with the micchā diṭṭhī imbued paññattis.

True vipassanā begins by transcending doer-ship as has been said in the Nigaṇṭha Sutta: “Navañca kammaṃ na karoti. purāṇañca kammaṃ phussa phussa vyantīkaroti”

B). The development of vipassanā-ñāna is dependent on the continuous understanding of the paramattha-lakkhaṇas from moment-to-moment i.e. sampajaññam na rincati.

Paññattis are mere synthetic psychological constructs and are not the paramattha sacca realities of nama-rupa showing all the three characteristic paramattha-lakkhaṇas (anicca or dukkha or anatta). While it is true that paññatti / sammuti-sacca (concepts / apparent truth) is also anatta [sabbe dhamma anatta’ti] - meditating on the ‘asabhava’ paññattis i.e. concepts lacking the intrinsic paramattha-lakkhaṇa-sabhava (anicca, dukkha, anatta) will not develop vipassanic insight of nibbida-ñāna. Paññattis are not marked by arising and passing away (uppada-thiti-bhanga) and as such have no reference to time (kalavimutta).


AN ANALYSIS OF THE WORD ‘paṭissati’ AS IN ‘paṭissatimattāya’.


‘atthi kāyo’ ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati.
(Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, Kāyānupassanā, Ānāpānapabbaṃ)

The word ‘paṭissati’ as in ‘paṭissatimattāya’ has been translated as memory / recollection / rememberance by various scholars but, with due respect to all learned scholars, it cannot be the correct interpretation of this word from the perspective of true paññatti-free experiential vipassanā-bhāvanā.

Further, it must be noted that in the mahasatipaṭṭhāna sutta, the word ‘paṭissati’ comes AFTER “sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti” and BEFORE “anissito ca viharati”.

Therefore, ‘paṭissati’ must be a higher stage of vipassanā-ñāna AFTER ‘sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti’ and cannot be a mere synonym of ‘sati’ (awareness).

After, a thorough analysis, as described in this article, it is interpreted that:

A). " ‘atthi kāyo’ ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti" refers to the observer being established in ‘sati’ (awareness) of ‘anicca’ i.e. anicca-lakkhaṇa [anicca-ñāṇa] sans all paññattis.

“‘atthi kāyo’ ti” i.e. “This is body”, but there is no being, no person, no woman, no man, no soul, nothing pertaining to a soul, no “I,” nothing that is mine, no one, and nothing belonging to anyone.
[Atthi kāyoti vā panassāti kāyova atthi, na satto, na puggalo, na itthī, na puriso, na attā, na attaniyaṃ, nāhaṃ, na mama, na koci, na kassacīti evamassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti - Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttavaṇṇanā]

B). “Yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya” is the stage where the division & dichotomy between ‘observer’ & ‘observed’ ends and there is mere-bare ‘observation’ of ‘anicca-lakkhaṇa’. i.e. mere-bare anicca-ñāṇa.

It is a progressive journey from the ‘observer’ being established in the awareness (sati) of ‘anicca-lakkhaṇa’ [sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti] to the extent [yāvadeva] the ‘observer’ falls away and there is mere-bare knowing [ñāṇamattāya] and still further (with further deepening nibbida-ñāṇa) mere-bare awareness [paṭissatimattāya] which, with still further maturity of nibbida-ñāṇa, develops into anatta-ñāṇa [anissito ca viharati] and thence goes into cessation [na ca kiñci loke upādiyati].

C). Thus, ‘paṭissati’ in ‘paṭissatimattāya’ in the mahasatipaṭṭhāna sutta, is translated and interpreted as mere-bare concept-less, doer-less & also observer-less awareness (of the object of anicca-lakkhaṇa) which further evolves into anatta-ñāṇa i.e. dwelling in the object-less object of the emptiness of the nāma-rupa process [anissito ca viharati].

Here, ‘paṭissati’ is distinct from ‘sati’. While ‘sati’ is the ‘observer’ being aware (sati) of the object (anicca-lakkhaṇa). ‘Paṭissati’ or Paṭi + sati (counterpart-sati) is mere-bare doer-less & observer-less awareness of the object (anicca-lakkhaṇa).

COMMENT: Paṭissati’ or Paṭi + sati = counterpart-sati. Reference as in: Paṭiloma Paṭiccasamuppāda which is in reverse direction of Anuloma Paṭiccasamuppāda AND Paṭibhāga Nimitta (counterpart sign) Vs. Uggaha Nimitta.

D). The above suggested interpretation of ‘Paṭissati’ as mere-bare (doer-less & observer-less) awareness is endorsed by the following references for ‘Paṭissato’:

  • Yo ca mettaṃ bhāvayati appamāṇaṃ paṭissato tanū saṃyojanā honti passato upādhikkhayaṃ
    (Itivuttaka 3:7)

  • Na so rajjati phassesu,
    phassaṁ phussa paṭissato;
    Virattacitto vedeti,
    tañca nājjhosa tiṭṭhati.
    Yathāssa phusato phassaṁ,
    sevato cāpi vedanaṁ;
    Khīyati nopacīyati,
    evaṁ so caratī sato;
    Evaṁ apacinato dukkhaṁ,
    santike nibbāna vuccati.

  • Nābhinandāmi maraṇaṃ,
    nābhinandāmi jīvitaṃ.
    Nikkhipissaṃ imaṃ kāyaṃ,
    sampajāno paṭissato.
    (Theragāthā, Sāriputtathera 54)

= Manish Agarwala