What is "situational awareness"?

What specifically is “situational awareness” in verse 68 here? Is it related to sati-sampajanna?


asampajañña it seems was translated to lack of situational awareness


Suppose one cleans.

Cleaning mindfully requires proper attention (yonisomanasikāro).
Cleaning at the right time requires situational awareness (sampajañña).

Venerable Analayo explains sampajjana as “Sampajana means clearly knowing. That is to fully grasp or comprehend what is taking place” in his book “The direct path to realisation”.
With Metta


The Pali term sampajañña has traditionally been translated with rather vague terms such as “full awareness” or “clear comprehension”. However, it is very close in meaning to the modern psychological term “situational awareness”. Even though the Buddhist usage is, of course, a somewhat different context, I thought the meaning was close enough to justify using this as a rendering:


Would you mind, Bhante @sujato, elaborating in what way Situational Awareness matches your understanding of sampajañña and in what way it does not?


Having studied and worked in related fields, I find ‘situational awareness’ to be a very limited and narrowly applicable process framework. It is used in things as described in the wikipedia article, and in such things as clinical pathways in health systems. It has much criticism levelled against it in health decision making processes, as it can yield results that don’t involve values as a determinant in choice making. I have been involved in developing measurement processes for a variety of health and community systems, and this area of overlap between A.I. style decision making and more humanistic, subjective value based factors in decision making is an area of difficulty.

Relating it to the N8fP, I think it cuts out a whole raft of perceptions/cognitions that take place in conscious awareness. And given that these are the things that are hard to see/perceive in the first place, I’m afraid that it will actually push it more into a false view of objectivity (of an equation trying to describe wisdom) - where there is none.

just my 2 cents worth :slight_smile:


Ven. Analayo places clear knowledge of activities before mindfulness of breathing, and the list of qualities in the OP sutta are related to the preliminary stage before formal meditation as described in the gradual training , MN 27.

“Awareness of the four postures and clear knowledge of activities
can be characterized as simpler and more rudimentary forms of contemplation than the other body contemplations.” —"Satipatthana"

Clear knowledge of activities means knowing what you are going to do and the environment it will be done in, then going ahead and doing it without distraction.

“The commentaries make up for this
by presenting a detailed analysis of clear knowledge into four aspects (cf. Fig. 6.3 below). According to them, clear knowledge should
be directed to the purpose of an activity and also to its suitability.
Moreover one should clearly understand how to relate this activity
to one’s meditation practice (one’s “pasture”) and one should also
develop “non-delusion” by clearly understanding the true nature of
reality.106 A closer inspection of the discourses brings to light several
passages that support or further clarify this commentarial
presentation.”—‘Satipatthana’, Analayo.

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I hear you, but tell me: what exactly in what you have said would not also be applicable to “mindfulness”?


@sujato Situational Awareness is technical jargon in a small and highly specialised field - currently in use, but not widely known. One could not interchange the word ‘mindfulness’ into their texts and have it mean the same thing.

‘Awareness of the situation’ is only part of it as well - it is a decision making tool/model to describe pathways of actions in specific contexts and with regard to highly specific goals. Outside of this context it can’t work.

So I’m comming from the opposite side - that mindfulness is broader than situational awareness - that by using this term as a definition, it skews/narrows the meaning of my own understanding of

I fully acknowledge that my understanding of the words of the Buddha is at the fledgling level… though I have some grasp of the limits of sa.



Interesting discussion. I assume that sati-sampajanna includes a clear comprehension of both internal and external dimensions, and that other people are an important aspect of the external dimension?
I’m thinking here of the distinction between internal and external in the Satipatthana Sutta, where “external” appears to mean other people.

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Sorry if I wasn’t being clear: i was not trying to suggest that mindfulness and situational awareness could be swapped (either in modern or ancient context). rather, I was trying to suggest that the narrow and instrumentalist way that situational awareness is treated seems to me very much like the way mindfulness is treated in modern discourse. It’s a function of the modern treatment of psychology really, and we have to grin and bear it!


I first learned the term “situational awareness” in a military context. Lack of situational awareness is fatal. Similar issues arise in climbing. One can attain the summit and perish on the descent through lack of situational awareness. Therefore, when I read the suttas, the translation of “situational awareness” is quite compelling, a chilling warning about the ways in which mindfulness can lapse.


‘I am aware of my surroundings’
‘I am mindful of my surroundings’

I ‘situational awareness’ a method.

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Reminds me of SN 47.20, the sutta about the sword, woman, and bowl of oil. This fellow would definitely have situational awareness!

Thus have i heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sumbhas, where there was a town of the Sumbhas named Sedaka. There the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus!”

“Venerable sir!” the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Bhikkhus, suppose that on hearing, ‘The most beautiful girl of the land! The most beautiful girl of the land!’ a great crowd of people would assemble. Now that most beautiful girl of the land would dance exquisitely and sing exquisitely. On hearing, ‘The most beautiful girl of the land is dancing! The most beautiful girl of the land is singing!’ an even larger crowd of people would assemble. Then a man would come along, wishing to live, not wishing to die, wishing for happiness, averse to suffering. Someone would say to him: ‘Good man, you must carry around this bowl of oil filled to the brim between the crowd and the most beautiful girl of the land. A man with a drawn sword will be following right behind you, and wherever you spill even a little of it, right there he will fell your head.’

“What do you think, bhikkhus, would that man stop attending to that bowl of oil and out of negligence turn his attention outwards?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“I have made up this simile, bhikkhus, in order to convey a meaning. This here is the meaning: ‘The bowl of oil filled to the brim’: this is a designation for mindfulness directed to the body. Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate mindfulness directed to the body, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus, bhikkhus, should you train yourselves.”


Bhikkhu Anālayo has recently published a paper on mindfulness that relates to this thread.


Interesting point he makes. A word found in an Abhidhamma gloss for mindfulness was misread in its negative form, leading to an exposition on the nature of mindfulness that, despite being absent from the suttas, became influential in modern vipassana.


Can you elaborate? :slightly_smiling_face:

It seems from what I have read, it might be a method of meditative development. If so sampajanna might do with a ‘neologism’! It seems to be about attending with intelligent awareness; on specific functions of phenomena (arising and passing away, for example).

Situational awareness fits if we apply the term solely for the Samajanna pabba of the Satipatthana: but the term seems used elsewhere with a broader meaning. One extra additional meaning refers to its internal usage in working with the mind. Situational awareness suggest awareness of the external situation, less we make a new concept like internal ‘situations’. I’m not critical of any of the current definitions, as we just need to know what they mean, in a given context. :pray:

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Well I can, but better just read the article!

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I thought this was followed by your own research, here: