A back-road tour of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta


The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10) describes a practice of contemplating Dhamma in terms of direct experience through a long series of exercises, which are grouped under the four categories of body, feelings, mind and dhammas. This practice is properly a development of right view, whereby individual Dhammic teachings are verified and internalized, such that Dhamma becomes ultimately a matter of direct perception, and we attain knowledge and vision of things as they are, effectively seeing through the eyes of the Buddha. This practice is properly undertaken on the basis of the previous establishment of the virtue factors of the path (resolve, speech, action and livelihood), and integrates an optimal functioning of all of the developmental (bhāvana) factors of effort, proficiency (sati) and, notably, samādhi, for that final push toward liberation.

The structure of the text

Opening. The text of the sutta begins:

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country where there was a town of the Kurus named Kammāsadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus, “Bhikkhus.”

“Venerable sir,” they replied.

The Blessed One said this:

Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of nibbāna, namely, the four satipaṭṭhānas.

The phrase ‘direct path’ is a translation of ekāyano maggo, literally ‘one-vehicle path,’ and sometimes translated as ‘only path.’ If it is the only bus to get us to where we want to go – to panoramic views, ultimately to nibbāna – this does not make satipaṭṭhāna a stand-alone practice by any means, as it is often regarded by vipassanā yogis, because we must first travel on many buses before our transfer onto that final bus. The whole noble eightfold path must be mastered to reach nibbāna. The Buddha tells us,

Then, bhikkhu, when your virtue is well purified and your view straight, based upon virtue, established upon virtue, then you should develop the four satipaṭṭhānas in a threefold way. (SN 47.3)

By analogy, pushing the garage door button might be the direct or only way to arrive at home, but is a useless exercise if we have yet to drive across two states, deal with restless children and tank up multiple times before we reach a point where the garage door will actually respond to pressure from our thumb.


This paper is part of a series on Rethinking Satipaṭṭhāna.
Please click HERE for references and for access to other papers in the series.

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3 Responses to “A back-road tour of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta”

  1. kimmosley Says:


    When I click on “more” I get a 404





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