Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm

Mindfulness (Sati): A Clear Awareness Of Consciousness
(Tian Tan Buddha 天壇大佛 is a large bronze statue of the Buddha, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong.)


According to the Pali-Vietnamese Dictionary, Sati or Mindfulness is Sammasati (p)—Samyaksmrti (skt). In fact, Right remembrance (Sati), the seventh of the eightfold noble path, means remembering correctly and thinking correctly. The looking or contemplating on the body and the spirit in such a way as to remain ardent, self-possessed and mindful. Right remembrance means looking on the body and spirit in such a way as to remain ardent, self-possessed and mindful, having overcome both hankering and dejection. With the eightfold noble path, right mindfulness means the one-pointedness of the mind.     

Samyag-smrti (skt), Samma-sati (p) or Right mindfulness means to give heed to good deed for our own benefit and that of other. *Right mindfulness also means remembrance including old mistakes to repent of and deep gratitude towards parents, country, humankind, and Buddhist Triple Gems. *Right mindfulness also means the reflection on the present and future events or situations. We must meditate upon human sufferings that are caused by ignorance and decide to work for alleviating them, irrespective of possible difficulties and boredom. *Correct (Right or Perfect)  Remembrance or Mindfulness—Correct Memory which retains the true  and excludes the false—Dwell in contemplation of  corporeality. Be mindful and putting  away worldly greed and grief.  Correct mindfulness also means ongoing mindfulness of body, feelings, thinking, and objects of thought

Venerable Henepola Gunaratana perceived that Sati is an activity. What exactly is that? Well, this is one of those questions without a precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness (Sati) is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to logic. Nevertheless, Mindfulness can be experienced - rather easily - and it can be described, as long as you keep in mind that the words are only fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the thing itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words and above the symbols. Mindfulness could be described in completely different terms than will be used here and each description could still be correct.

To Pho Nguyet, Sati or right Mindfulness is the pure consciousness or true perception because we knew, about psychological view, the structure of sensations and perception as follows:

Sensations and Perceptions.

The characteristics of sensation are common to all. First, the individual sensory organs are stimulated by a specific and different form of external or internal energy: vision  (eyes + material shapes = visual consciousness) is stimulated by electromagnetic energy (or light); hearing (ear + sounds = auditory consciousness), by sound waves; smell (nose + smells = olfactory consciousness) by new stimuli olfactory system; taste (tongue + tastes = gustatory consciousness by papillae; touch (body + tangibles = tactile consciousness) by a stimulus of the skin or body; and feeling (mind mental + objects = mental consciousness) whereby the brain interprets the sensations it receives, giving them order and meaning. All perceptions are conscious ones and people are aware of things they are perceived and how they interpret them. Perceptions are limited from senses. "Sensation is essentially the process whereby stimulation of receptor cells in various parts of the body (the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and surface of skin) sends nerve impulses to the brain, where these impulses register as a touch, a sound, a taste, a plash of color, and so forth. Perception, in contrast, is the process whereby the brain interprets the sensations it receives, giving them order and meaning" (Psychology, Wortman and Loftus, 1981). All perceptions are conscious ones and people are aware of things they are perceived and how they interpret them. Perceptions are limited from senses. So, the right Mindfulness is the real consciousness or pure perception. It is the clearance of consciousness.

Sati is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment with perfect sense.  When we first become conscious of something there is a fleeting instant of pure perception just before we conceptualize it, or before identify it. That is a stage of Mindfulness (Sati). Ordinarily, this stage is very short. It is that flashing split in present-ksana just before we focus our eyes on the thing, just before we focus our mind on the thing, just before we objectify it as clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence as Venerable Henepola perceived. It takes place just before you start thinking about it - before that little 'yak, yak' machine inside your skull says, "Oh, it's a dog." That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness (Sati). In that brief flashing mind- moment you experience a thing as a un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the Mindfulness (Sati) step is so fleeting as to be unobservable. We have developed the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining steps, focusing on the perception, cognizing the perception, labeling it, and most of all, getting involved in a long string of symbolic thought about it. That original moment of Mindfulness just gets lost in the shuffle. It is the purpose of the above mentioned Vipassana (or insight) meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness. When this Mindfulness (Sati) is prolonged by using proper techniques, you find that this experience is profound and it changes your whole view of the universe. This state of perception has to be learned, however, and it takes regular practice. Once you learn the technique, you will find that Mindfulness has a number of interesting characteristics.

Clearly the Mindfulness is a shadow (image, light, sound, stimuli, etc…) that our senses are perceived fully from its form of emptiness. With the perfect sense, It is without space-time. The structure of space-time of the Mindfulness occurs in a present-ksana:

Space that contains a thing and the thing  that occupies its volume in the space are packed-tight or coinciding with themselves; they are one. When we see an object, our eyes receive light from the surrounding object and translate it into nerve impulses that travel to the brain. Light arriving at the retina must pass through various other cells before striking the rods and cones, which cover it into nervous impulses. The impulses then pass through these other cells to be coded and organized before traveling over the optic nerve to the brain. I see the the object; in the true way, I see its light or image. The image is an emptiness on the retina and the character of the mind is the emptiness; they too are the emptiness, so we can see that object. The Mindfulness is an object, therefore It is empty and spaceless.

Time. When we see the object, after a shortest period of time (ksana) that object becomes immediately ureal or It is not yet Itself; It has a ksana old (Time).

When we see a first point of an object and we perceive it, we have a pure perception because three lifetimes are not capable to be  gotten to the time being of the objcect because time always lasts in the infinite line of beginning and exinction and so on without ending. We can get the real (or first) point of the time being with a ksana [a shortest period of time] to the object.  When we perceive perfectly that object with no time thinking, we have the pure perception or pure consciousness. In sum the Mindfulness is perceived fully here and now without space-time.

The characteristics of the Mindfulness are empty without time; for anything the Mindfulness is only the clearance of Consciousness. Venerable Henepola Gunaratana also described this characteristics carefully and clearly as the following reference:

Mindfulness (Sati) is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases.

Mindfulness (Sati) is non-judgmental observation. It is that ability of the mind to observe without criticism. With this ability, one sees things without condemnation or judgment. One is surprised by nothing. One simply takes a balanced interest in things exactly as they are in their natural states. One does not decide and does not judge. One just observes.

It is psychologically impossible for us to objectively observe what is going on within us if we do not at the same time accept the occurrence of our various states of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can't examine our own depression without accepting i fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can't examine something fully if you are busy rejecting the existence of it. Whatever experience we may be having, Mindfulness just accepts it. It is simply another of life's occurrences, just another thing to be aware of. No pride, no shame, nothing personal at stake - what is there, is there.

Mindfulness (Sati) is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. Mindfulness does not get infatuated with the good stuff. It does not try to sidestep the bad stuff. There is no clinging to the pleasant, no fleeing from the unpleasant. Mindfulness sees all experiences as equal, all thoughts as equal, all feelings as equal.

Nothing is suppressed. Nothing is repressed. Mindfulness does not play favorites. Mindfulness (Sati) is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for Sati is 'bare attention.' It is not thinking. It does not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It just observes everything as if they were occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experience of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes BEFORE thought in the perceptual process.

Mindfulness (Sati) is present-time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happening right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time. If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is Mindfulness. If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering" , that is thinking. Mindfulness (Sati) is non-egoistic alertness. It takes place without reference to self. With Mindfulness one sees all phenomena without references to concepts like "me", "my" or "mine". For example, suppose there is a pain in your left leg. Ordinary consciousness would say, "I have a pain." Using Mindfulness, one would simply note the sensation as a sensation. One would not tack on that extra concept "I". Mindfulness stops one from adding anything to perception, or subtracting anything from it. One does not enhance anything. One does not emphasize anything. One just observes what is there - without distortion.

Mindfulness (Sati) is goal-less awareness. In Mindfulness, one does not strain for results. One does not try to accomplish anything. When one is mindful, one experiences reality in the present moment in whatever form it takes. There is nothing to be achieved. There is only observation.

Mindfulness (Sati) is awareness of change. It is observing the passing flow of experience. It is watching things as they are changing. It is seeing the birth, growth, and maturity of all phenomena. It is watching phenomena decay and die. Mindfulness is watching things moment by moment, continuously. It is observing all phenomena - physical, mental or emotional - whatever is presently taking place in the mind. One just sits back and watches the show.

Mindfulness is the observance of the basic nature of each passing phenomena. It is watching the thing arising and passing away. It is seeing how the thing makes us feel and how we react to it. It is observing how it affects others. In Mindfulness, one is an unbiased observer whose sole job is to keep track of the constantly passing show of the universe within. Please note that last point. In Mindfulness, one watches the universe within. The meditator who is developing Mindfulness (Sati) is not concerned with the external universe. It is there, but in meditation, one's field of study is one's own experience, one's thoughts, one's feelings, and one's perceptions. In meditation, one is one's own laboratory. The universe within has an enormous fund of information containing the reflection of the external world and much more. An examination of this material leads to total freedom.

Mindfulness (Sati) is participatory observation. The meditator is both participant and observer at one and the same time. If one watches one's emotions or physical sensations, one is feeling them at
that very same moment. Mindfulness is not an intellectual awareness. It is just awareness. The Mirror- thought metaphor breaks down here. Mindfulness is objective, but it is not cold or unfeeling. It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.

Mindfulness is an extremely difficult concept to define in words - not because it is complex, but because it is too simple and open. The same problem crops up in every area of human experience. The most basic concept is always the most difficult to pin down. Look at a dictionary and you will see a clear example. Long words generally have concise definitions, but for short basic words like "the", "is" or "but", definitions can be a page long. And in physics, the most difficult functions to describe are the most basic - those that deal with the most fundamental realities of quantum mechanics. Mindfulness is a pre- symbolic function. You can play with word symbols all day long and you will never pin it down completely. We can never fully express what it is. However, we can say what it does.
There are three fundamental activities of Mindfulness (Sati). We can use these activities as functional definitions of the term: (1) Mindfulness reminds us what we are supposed to be doing; (2) it sees things as they really are; and (3) it sees the deep nature of all phenomena. Let's examine these definitions in greater detail.

Mindfulness (Sati) reminds you what you are supposed to be doing. In meditation, you put your attention on one item. When your mind wanders from this focus, it is Mindfulness that reminds you that your mind is wandering and what you are supposed to be doing. It is Mindfulness that brings your mind back to the object of meditation. All of this occurs instantaneously and without internal dialogue. Meditation is not thinking. Repeated practice in meditation establishes this function as a mental habit which then carries over into the rest of your life. You should be paying bare attention to occurrences all the time, day in, day out, whether formally sitting in meditation or not. This is a very lofty ideal towards which those who meditate may be working for a period of years or even decades.

Our habit of getting stuck in thought is years old, and that habit will hang on in the most tenacious manner. The only way out is to be equally persistent in the cultivation of constant Mindfulness (Sati). When Mindfulness is present, you will notice when you become stuck in your thought patterns. It is that very noticing which allows you to back out of the thought process and free yourself from it. Mindfulness then returns your attention to its proper focus. If you are meditating at that moment, then your focus will be the formal object of meditation. If you are not in formal meditation, it will be just a pure application of bare attention itself, just a pure noticing of whatever comes up without getting involved - "Ah, this comes up... and now this, and now this... and now this."

Mindfulness (Sati) is at one and the same time both bare attention itself and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention if we have ceased to do so. Bare attention is noticing. It re-establishes itself simply by noticing that it has not been present. As soon as you are noticing that you have not been noticing, then by definition you are noticing and then again you are back to paying bare attention. Well, that all sounds very involved, but there is nothing complex about it. It is just the words. It is just a thing you will learn to do by feel, the way you play baseball. Mindfulness creates its own distinct feeling in consciousness. It has a flavor - a light, clear, energetic flavor.

Conscious thought is heavy by comparison, ponderous and picky. But here again, these are just words. Your own practice will show you the difference. Then you will probably come up with your own words and the words used here will become superfluous. Remember, practice is the thing.

Mindfulness (Sati) sees things as they really are. It adds nothing to perception and it subtracts nothing. It distorts nothing. It is bare attention and just looks at whatever comes up. Conscious thought loves to paste things over our experience, to load us down with concepts and ideas, to immerse us in a churning vortex of plans and worries, fears and fantasies. When mindful, you don't play that game. You just notice exactly what arises in the mind, then you notice the next thing. "Ah, this... and this... and now this." It is really very simple.

Mindfulness (Sati) sees the true nature of all phenomena. Mindfulness and only Mindfulness can perceive the three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truth of existence. In Pali these three are called Annica (impermanence) , Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness ), and Anatta (selflessness - the absence of a permanent, unchanging, entity that we call soul or self). These truths, by the way, are not presented in Buddhist teaching as dogmas subject to blind faith. The Buddhists feel that these truths are universal and self-evident to anyone who cares to investigate in a proper way. Mindfulness is that method of investigation. Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) All conditioned things are inherently transitory; (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.

Mindfulness works like an electron microscope. That is, it operates on so fine a level that one can actually see directly those realities which are at best theoretical constructs to the conscious thought process. Mindfulness actually sees the impermanent character of every perception. It sees the transitory and passing nature of everything that is perceived. It also sees the inherently unsatisfactory nature of all conditioned things. It sees that there is no sense grabbing onto any of these passing shows. Peace and happiness just cannot be found that way. And finally, Mindfulness sees the inherent selflessness of all phenomena. It sees the way we have arbitrarily selected a certain bundle of perceptions, chopped them off from the rest of the surging flow of experience and then conceptualized them as separate, enduring, entities. Mindfulness actually sees these things. It does not think about them, it sees them directly. When it is fully developed, Mindfulness sees these three attributes of existence directly, instantaneously, and without the intervening medium of conscious thought. In fact, even the attributes which we just covered are inherently arbitrary. They don't really exist as separate items. They are purely the result of our struggle to take this fundamentally simple process called Mindfulness and express it in the cumbersome and inherently unsuitable thought symbols of the conscious level. Mindfulness is a PROCESS, but it does not take place in steps. It is a wholistic process that occurs as a unit: you notice your own lack of Mindfulness; and that noticing itself is a result of Mindfulness; and Mindfulness is bare attention; and bare attention is noticing things exactly as they are without distortion; and the way they are is Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta (impermananent, unsatisfactory, and self-less). It all takes place in a flash-bang. This does not mean, however, that you will instantly attain liberation (freedom from all human weaknesses) as a result of your first moment of Mindfulness. Learning to integrate this material into your conscious life is another whole process. And learning to prolong this state of Mindfulness is still another. They are joyous processes, however, and they are well worth the effort.

Mindfulness (Sati) and Insight (Vipassana) Meditation Mindfulness is the center of Vipassana meditation and the key to the whole process. It is both the goal of this meditation and the means to that end. You reach Mindfulness by being ever more mindful. One other Pali word that is translated into English as Mindfulness is Appamada, which means non- negligence or an absence of madness. One who attends constantly to what is really going on in one;s mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.

The Pali term 'Sati' also bears the connotation of remembering. It is not memory in the sense of ideas and pictures from the past, but rather clear, direct, wordless knowing of what is and what is not, of what is correct and what is incorrect, of what we are doing and how we should go about it. Mindfulness (Sati) reminds the meditator to apply his attention to the proper object at the proper time and to exert precisely the amount of energy needed to do that job. When this energy is properly applied, the meditator stays constantly in a state of calmness and alertness. As long as this condition is maintained, those mind-states called 'hindrances' or 'psychic irritants' cannot arise - there is no greed, no hatred, no lust or laziness. But we are all human and we all goof. Most of us are very human and we goof repeatedly. Despite honest effort, the meditator lets his Mindfulness slip now and then and he finds himself stuck in some nasty, but normal, human failure. It is Mindfulness that notices that change. And it is Mindfulness that reminds him to apply the energy required to pull himself out of the soup. These slips happen over and over, but their frequency decreases with practice. Once Mindfulness has pushed these mental defilements aside, more wholesome states of mind can take their place. Hatred makes way for loving kindness, lust is replaced by detachment. It is Mindfulness which notices this change, too, and which reminds the Vipassana meditator to maintain that extra little mental sharpness needed to keep these more desirable states of mind. Mindfulness makes possible the growth of wisdom and compassion.

Without Mindfulness they cannot develop to full maturity. Deeply buried in the mind, there lies a mental mechanism which accepts what the mind perceives as beautiful and pleasant experiences and rejects those experiences which are perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives rise to those states of mind which we are training ourselves to avoid - things like greed, lust, hatred, version, and jealousy. We choose to avoid these hindrances, not because they are evil in the normal sense of the word, but because they are compulsive; because they take the mind over and capture the attention completely; because they keep going round and round in tight little circles of thought; and because they seal us off from living reality.

These hamperings cannot arise when Mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is attention to present time reality, and therefore, directly antithetical to the dazed state of mind which characterizes the impediments. As meditators, it is only when we let our Mindfulness slip that the deep mechanisms of our minds take over - grasping, clinging and rejecting. Then resistance emerges and obscures our awareness. We do not notice that the change is taking place - we are too busy with a thought of revenge, or greed, whatever it may be. While an untrained person will continue inn this state indefinitely, a trained meditator will soon realize what is happening. It is Mindfulness that notices the change. It is Mindfulness that remembers the training received ad that focuses our attention so that the confusion fades away. And it is Mindfulness that then attempts to maintain itself indefinitely so that the resistance cannot arise again. Thus, Mindfulness is the specific antidote for hindrances. It is both the cure and the preventive measure.


From the excerpt in the four Foundations of the Mindfulness, Venerable Sayadaw U Siilaananda have studied what are the Buddha ‘s teachings  to practice. Here in the summary the Buddha taught us how to practice the four foundations of mindfulness. So what are the four? "Herein, a monk dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, overcoming or removing covetousness and grief in the world." It is a very short sentence but it has many meanings.

"Contemplating the body in the body": That means when a monk practices mindfulness of the body he is precise. He contemplates the body in the body and he does not contemplate the feeling in the body or he does not contemplate the person in the body and so on. He contemplates the body in the body. In order to have a precise object the Buddha repeated the words "body, feeling, consciousness and dhamma" in these sentences. So that means he is precise in his mindfulness of the body, feelings, consciousness and the dhammas. When he practices body contemplation he is ardent, he is clearly comprehending and he is mindful. With regard to the word "ardent" I do not know what other meaning it carries in English. This word is the translation of the word "aataapii".

Now here, most English translations missed the point. They translate it as "having overcome" or "having abandoned", or "having removed" covetousness and grief in the world. What is the practice for? What is this mindfulness practice for? It is for overcoming covetousness and grief. Covetousness means attachment and grief means ill will or anger. So, Vipassanaa or Satipa.t.thaana meditation is "for overcoming" covetousness and grief.

If a person has already overcome covetousness and grief he/she does not need to practice. For this very purpose we are practicing mindfulness, but if we have already achieved this purpose we do not need to practice mindfulness. So, here we should translate it as "overcoming (at the same time) covetousness and grief in the world," and not "having overcome." That means the yogi overcomes covetousness and grief as he practices mindfulness. I want you to be aware of this. (Here an explanation with reference to grammatical construction would be helpful; but since it would be too involved I have no choice but to ignore it.)

how to do Mindfulness Meditation, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche discussed, “Mindfulness practice is simple and completely feasible. Just by sitting and doing nothing, we are doing a tremendous amount.”

As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice the breathing. The whole feeling of the breath is very important. The breath should not be forced, obviously; you are breathing naturally. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed.

Thoughts. No matter what kind of thought comes up, you should say to yourself, “That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practicing meditation.” It gets down to how honest we are, how true we can be to ourselves, during each session.


In sum, the Mindfulness is the clearance of Consciousness that is empty and without space-time. The Buddha’s teachings and the discussion of the Venerables are demonstrated exactly. Vipassana or Mindfulness bases every step on "reality-as it is." Vipassana allows a meditator to experience moments of "no nutriment to the mind. This starts the process of "detoxifying" the mind of its impurities. The first sentence is, "This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings ... namely, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness." So, at the very beginning the Buddha said, "This is the only way". The Four Foundations of Mindfulness or the Practice of Mindfulness, is the only way for the purification of beings ... Here the Buddha said, "This is the only way".

This pure and unstained investigative awareness not only holds the fetters at bay, it lays bare their very mechanism and destroys them. Mindfulness neutralizes defilements in the mind. The result is a mind which remains unstained and invulnerable, completely unaffected by the ups and downs of life.


DPVEDP: Buddhist Dictionary Pali-Vietnamse. Thien Phuc. Retreived at Quang Duc website:

Excerpt from Mindfulness in Plain English by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana. Retreived at: Html.

how to do Mindfulness Meditation. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Retreived at the Quang Duc website.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (A Summary).Venerable Sayadaw U Siilaananda. Excerpt from the Quang Duc website.

 Pho Nguyet

© 2005 -2024  Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm | Homepage