A back-road tour of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta

April 1, 2023


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.

How “mindfulness” got mislabeled

February 28, 2023


By 1881 the scholar T.W. Rhys Davids had found the optimal translation for the Pali word sati. Previous scholars had variously tried translating or defining it as ‘remembrance,’ ‘memory,’ ‘recollection,’ ‘thinking of or upon,’ ‘calling to mind,’‘active state of mind,’ ‘fixing the mind strongly upon any subject,’ ‘attention,’ ‘attentiveness,’ ‘thought,’ ‘reflection,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘correct meditation.’ Most of them seem to have understood that the root of the noun sati was ‘memory,’ and that the Buddha explicitly defined it that way himself, but were clearly dissatisfied given the subtle ways it interacted with other factors of Dhamma.

In his 1881 work Rhys Davids explains his choice of ‘mindfulness,’ giving a nod to ‘memory,’ but then drawing attention to the common co-occurance of sati with sampajaññā, which he translated as ‘watchfulness.’ What he seems to have intended with ‘mindfulness’ has been described as “a faculty of active memory, adept at calling to mind and keeping in mind instructions and intentions that will be useful on the path.”

That was then and this is now. Unfortunately the felicitous marriage of sati and ‘mindfulness’ did not survive the contingencies of the twentieth century. One hundred and twenty-five years later, the Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace emailed the scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, “As you well know, in the current Vipassanā tradition as it has been widely propagated in the West, sati is more or less defined as ‘bare attention,’ or the moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of whatever arises in the present moment. There is no doubt that the cul­tivation of such mindfulness is very helpful, but, strangely enough, I have found no evidence in traditional Pāli, Sanskrit, or Tibetan sources to support this definition of sati (smṛti, dranpa).” Little remained of Rhys Davids’ original intent, which had been grounded in the earliest scriptures.


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

Samādhi springs up

January 31, 2023

rethinking the satipaṭṭāna series

Samādhi or jhāna is the meditative state, an attribute of mind (samāhita citta), recommended in the early texts. It arises with the delight in engagement in a task requiring utmost skill, as the mind centers itself fully around the competence and attentiveness required for that skill, and yet slips into an almost trance-like state of stillness and composure. Just when one would expect every cognitive capacity to be fully engaged, there is in samādhi a withdrawal from thinking and deliberation, even a withdrawal from personal engagement as the performance of the task seems to continue of its own accord.

buddhaSamādhi is an anomaly for most of us in the way a human mind is supposed to work, and yet there it is. Accounting for it has caused endless confusion among modern scholars and teachers, many simply attributing mysterious or mystical powers to it, others viewing it as superfluous in Buddhist practice. Yet the weight given to this quite state in the early texts cannot be overlooked. It holds the prominent place as the ultimate factor of the noble eightfold path, it is declared to consolidate all previous factors on the path and to be indispensable in the early texts for the highest attainments: knowledge and vision, and liberation.

When right samādhi does not exist, for one failing right samādhi, the proximate cause is destroyed for knowledge and vision of things as they really are. (AN 10.3)

There is no jhāna for one with no wisdom, no wisdom for one without jhāna. But one with both jhāna and wisdom, he’s on the verge of nibbāna. (Dhp 372)

What is often overlooked is the spontaneity and pervasiveness with which samādhi arises in the early texts. Often regarded as an isolated and refined practice, we actually find that it arises of itself in practice contexts of every sort: when reciting ancient texts, when engaged in virtuous activities, when reflecting on the triple gem, and with the contemplation of the Dharma, as in satipaṭṭhāna.

In this paper we want to look at the conditions under which samādhi arises, to try to understand what is going on psychologically in samādhi, and to try to get an idea of how it is able to fulfill the almost miraculous functions attributed to it in the early texts. We also hope to account for its relationship to other aspects of Buddhist practice, in particular satipaṭṭhāna. I hope we will thereby contribute to a full understanding of this remarkable multifaceted culminating factor of the noble eightfold path.

MORE …. (pdf)

Introduction to Buddhism via Zoom

January 27, 2023


Buddhist Life/Buddhist Path

an intoduction to Buddhism
Sundays 3:00-4:30 pm CST (Chicago time)

Starts Jan. 29

front050217A 12-week course on the fundamental concepts of Buddhism based on the earliest sources. We will use Bhikkhu Cintita’s book Buddhist Life/Buddhist Path as a text, which is available as download or hard copy. Copies are also available at the Sitagu Buddhist Vihara in Austin and the Sitagu Dhamma Vihara in Minnesota. Please join us. You’ll learn a lot about early Buddhism. Join us, you’ll learn a lot about Buddhism.


The Satipaṭṭhāna Method

November 19, 2022

rethinking the satipatthana series

[revised 1/30/2023] Suppose you want to do something really well, maybe wash the dishes, ride a bicycle, write a report, identify the birds feeding in your back yard, play a tune. What mental resources do you require? First, you need to bring the relevant knowledge and skills to bear; they are always there, even for the simplest task. Second, you need to be very attentive to the circumstances in which you are performing the task. Third, since you want to do the task really well, you need to muster attention and concern to bear on the task. Fourth, you need to let go of all distractions to your attention and concern.


What I have described is what I call the ‘satipaṭṭhāna method.’ It is a method that when developed and cultivated turns into the skill of doing things skillfully. Learning this skill is critical to Buddhist practice. The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta goes beyond the method: it outlines a fourfold practice task, along with this four-factored method which is applied in the performance of that task:

Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, and recollective, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending, and recollective, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind in mind, ardent, clearly comprehending, and recollective, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, and recollective, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.
(MN 10 i56)

. . .  MORE: SatipatthanaMethod

Rethinking the Satipaṭṭhāna

March 18, 2022


A podcast series on
the Establishment of Mindfulness
Bhukkhu Cintita
starts Friday, March 18

Find it HERE

Talks on Samādhi

February 4, 2022

The following is another series of talks that has appeared in my two-year-old podcast series, found on the audio and video page and many podcast hosts.


4. Samadhi and right view (2/2). How is it possible to develop knowledge and wisdom based on right view from within samadhi? This is the art of balancing vipassana with jhana.

3. Samadhi and right view (1/2). The attainment of wisdom attributed to samādhi is generally called knowledge and vision. However, the question remains controversial how knowledge and vision are related to right view, i.e., to Dharma, for how can understanding of something cognitively complex be brought into the stillness of samadhi?

2. Pleasurable abiding in samadhi. Pleasurable abiding in the progressively unfolding factors of delight, tranquility and samaadhi is a karmic fruit that we enjoy when we are engaged in wholesome practice of all kinds. It has the important function of informing our practice of the difference between worldly and suprmundane pleasure.

 1. The context of samadhi. Far from the common characterization of samadhi (concentration) as a difficult and specialized practice of samatha, what we find in the Suttas is that samadhi arises quite spontaneously in a wide variety of practice contexts. It is a rather bread-and-butter factor in Buddhist practice.

Interview with Bhikkhu Cintita: “Sitagu Sayadaw, the coup and Burmese Buddhism”

January 27, 2022


Please click on the image to hear the interview.

Talks on the Buddhist life and the Buddhist path

January 20, 2022

Continuing to offer an overview of my weekly podcasts for the last two years, I offer the two series that supplement my book  Buddhist Life/Buddhist Path.

Buddhism began with the Buddha, a towering figure who lived some hundred generations ago, taught for forty-five years, developed a huge following of ascetics and householders, kings and paupers, and left behind a vast corpus of teachings, astonishingly profound and comprehensive, consistent, brilliantly coherent and still intelligible today. His teachings span not only the higher training of meditation, psychology and the path to awakening, but also practical advice on virtue, harmony, community and basic human values. He left behind a culture of peace and awakening and a monastic community that persist to this day. These talks on the Buddhist Life and Buddhist Path are based on the earliest stratum of scriptural sources, on early Buddhism. They supplement Book One of the text  Buddhist Life/Buddhist Path: foundations of Buddhist based on earliest sources, and it is recommended that these talks be heard in conjunction with reading the text.

There are two sets of podcasts, one called Buddhist Life and the other Buddhist Path:


Twelve talks, click on the image. These encompass instructions for leading an upright, virtuous and devoted Buddhist life, a life rooted in basic Buddhist values, which constitute the prerequisites for the Buddhist Path.

Twelve talks, click on the image. These encompass the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, that is, systematic training in virtue, wisdom and equanimity and toward awakening.

Audio: What did the Buddha think of women?

January 12, 2022

I have been quietly reposting my podcast to this site since the beginning of COVID on THIS PAGE. I thought I would start highlighting some of these posts for the sake of my blog subscribers, starting with:

What did the Buddha think of women


Buddhism is widely known throughout the world as a religion of peace and kindness. It is  less known as a religion of gender-equality. Yet that the Buddha would harbor the slightest bit of ill-will toward women, flies in the face of the complete awakening of the Buddha. These talks are based on an essay found HERE.

Part two. Last week’s talk demonstrated the exemplary support the Buddha provided to women’s practice. This week we will look at a controversial text, describing with the origin of the nun’s sangha, that at first sight seems to paint a starkly contrasting picture of the Buddha.

Part one. Buddhism is not widely known as a religion of gender-equality. But the early the discourses show repeatedly that the Buddha had the deepest kindness and respect for women, as particularly evident in his treatment of the nun’s Sangha.

more of BC’s talks