White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

The Satipatthana Sutta

Translated by Anzan Hoshin roshi and Tory Cox

Veiny leaf

EVAM ME SUTAM. Thus have I heard.

Once the Generous One1 was dwelling amidst the Kurus at Kammasadamma, a market town. There the Generous One addressed the monks, "Monks." The monks responded, "Yes, sir." The Generous One said this:

There is a straight path2, monks, for the purity of beings, for stepping past sorrow and crying, the setting of suffering and distress, for finding the right way, for the direct seeing3 of nibbana4, and that is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

What are these Four? Right here, monks, one lives completely viewing the body as body, intent, fully understanding and mindful, having released grasping and resentment for the world. One abides, completely viewing the basic reactivity as reactivity, intent, fully understanding and mindful, having released grasping and resentment for the world. One dwells, completely viewing the mind as mind, intent, fully understanding and mindful, having released grasping and resentment for the world. One lives, completely viewing mental states as states, intent, fully understanding and mindful, having released grasping and resentment for the world.

 

Body (Kaya)

And how, monks, does someone here view the body as body? Here, monks, one goes into the forest, to the roots of a tree, or to an empty room, sits down cross‑legged and holds the body upright, keeping mindfulness present.

Breathing in, one is mindful; breathing out, one is mindful. Breathing out a long breath, one understands, "I breathe out a long breath." Breathing in a long breath, one understands, "I breathe in a long breath." Breathing out a short breath, one understands, "I breathe out a short breath." Breathing in a short breath, one understands, "I breathe in a short breath."

One practises, "I will breathe out with full experience of the whole body." One practises, "I will breathe in with full experience of the whole body." One practises, "I will breathe out, calming the tendencies of the body." One practises, "I will breathe in, calming the tendencies of the body."

Just as a skillful turner5, or a turner's apprentice, making a long turn knows, "I am making a long turn," or making a short turn knows, "I am making a short turn," just so monks, the monk practises breathing out a long breath knowing, "I breathe out a long breath..."

And moreover, monks, in walking one knows "I am walking;" in standing one knows "I am standing;" in sitting one knows "I am sitting;" when lying down one knows "I am lying down." In whatever way the body is held, thus the body is understood.

And further, monks, in going forwards and in going back, complete knowing is realized. In looking ahead and looking behind, complete knowing is realized. Bending and stretching, complete knowing is realized. Carrying the robes and bowl, complete knowing is realized. In eating and drinking, chewing and tasting, complete knowing is realized. Excreting and urinating, complete knowing is realized. In motion and in stillness, in sitting, in sleeping and waking, in speech and silence, complete knowing is realized.

Thus one lives, completely viewing the body as body internally; one lives, completely viewing the body as body externally. Thus one lives, completely viewing the body as body both internally and externally6.

One dwells observing the body as phenomena which arise; one dwells observing the body as phenomena which decay. Thus one dwells, observing the body as phenomena which both arise and decay.

When the mindfulness "this is body" is established, there is just knowing7 and just mindfulness8.

 

Images of the Body

And moreover monks, upwards from the soles of the feet and downwards from the hair on the crown of the head, one observes the body: covered with skin and filled with impurities.

Within this body there are hairs on the head, hair on the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, muscle, bone, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, bowels, intestines, stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, mucous, synovic fluid and urine. If a double‑mouthed sack filled with various grains like paddy, hill‑rice, kidney beans, masa beans, sesame and husked rice were to be opened by someone, with his eyes he would discern, "This is paddy, this is hill‑rice, these are kidney beans, these are masa beans, this is sesame and these are grains of husked rice."

So monks, if one were to examine this body upwards from the soles and downwards from the hair on the crown, one would discern that in this body are hairs on the head, hair on the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, muscle, bone, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, bowels, intestines, stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, mucous, synovic fluid, and urine.

And moreover monks, one can examine the body wherever it abides, however it is held, in terms of the elements and discern that there is in the body the earth element, the water element, fire element and the air element9. Just as a skilled butcher or a butcher's apprentice, after having killed a cow and cutting piece after piece of it would lay it out near the crossroads10, so monks, one would examine the body in terms of the elements wherever it abides, however it is held, in terms of the elements and discern that there is in the body the earth element, the water element, fire element and the air element.

And moreover monks, seeing a corpse left in a charnel ground for one or two or three days, bloated, blue and rotting, recollect that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body abandoned in a burning‑ground being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, and full of small breathing things, and remember that, "This body is also of that nature, it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body, abandoned in the charnel ground, a skeleton with blood and meat tied together with tendon and sinews, and remember that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body, abandoned in the burning ground, a skeleton bloody and fleshless, tied together with tendon and sinews, and remember that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body abandoned in the charnel ground, its bones not bound together but scattered in all directions, here the bones of the hand, there the bones of the foot, here the shin bone, the thigh bone, the hip bone, the spine and the skull, and recollect that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body, abandoned in the burning ground, the bones whitened to the colour of shells, and remember that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body, abandoned in the charnel ground, the bones in a heap, having weathered a year, and recollect that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

And monks, see the body, abandoned in the burning ground, the bones having decayed and crumbled into dust, and remember that, "This body is also of that nature; it will come to this, it cannot avoid this."

Thus one lives, completely viewing the body as body internally; one lives, completely viewing the body as body externally. Thus one lives, completely viewing the body as body both internally and externally.

One dwells observing the body as phenomena which arise; one dwells observing the body as phenomena which decay. Thus one dwells, observing the body as phenomena which both arise and decay.

When the mindfulness "this is body" is established, there is just knowing and just mindfulness.

 

Basic Reactivity (Vedana)

And how, monks, does one live completely viewing basic reactivity as reactivity? Here, monks, experiencing a good reaction one knows "I am experiencing a good reaction." Experiencing a bad reaction one knows "I am experiencing a bad reaction." Experiencing a reaction which is neither good nor bad one knows "I am experiencing a neutral reaction." Experiencing a bodily11 reaction which is good, bad or neither, one knows "I experience a pleasant bodily reaction" or "I experience an unpleasant bodily reaction" or "I experience a bodily reaction which is neither." And so when experiencing mental12 reactions which are good, bad or neither, one knows "I experience a good mental reaction," or "I experience a bad mental reaction," or "I experience a neutral mental reaction."

Thus one lives, completely viewing reactions as basic reactivity internally; one lives, completely viewing reactions as reactions externally. Thus one lives, completely viewing reactions as reactions both internally and externally.

One dwells observing reactions as phenomena which arise; one dwells observing reactions as phenomena which decay. Thus one dwells, observing reactions as phenomena which both arise and decay. When the mindfulness "This is basic reactivity" is established, there is just knowing and just mindfulness.

 

Mind (Citta)

And how monks, does one live, completely viewing mind as mind? Here monks, one knows the greedy mind as greedy and one knows a mind without greed as without greed. One knows a hating mind as hateful and a mind without hate as without hate. One knows a confused mind as confused and an unconfused mind as without confusion. One knows sinking mind as sinking and a scattered mind as scattered. One knows a mind that is open13 as open, one knows a mind that is contracted as contracted. One knows a mind that is limited14 as limited and an unlimited15 mind as unlimited. One knows a whole mind16 as whole and a divided mind as divided. One knows a free17 mind as free and an unfree mind as without freedom.

Thus one lives, completely viewing the mind as mind internally; one lives, completely viewing mind as mind externally. Thus one lives, completely viewing the mind as mind both internally and externally.

One dwells observing the mind as phenomena which arise; one dwells observing the mind as phenomena which decay. Thus one dwells, observing the mind as phenomena which both arise and decay. When the mindfulness "This is mind" is established, there is just knowing and just mindfulness.

 

Mental States (Dhamma)

And how, monks, does one live completely viewing mental states as states?

 

The Five Coverings (Panca‑Nivarana)

Here monks, one lives completely viewing the five coverings as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the five coverings as mental states?

Here monks, when there is sensual desire present in oneself, one knows "Here is desire." When sense‑desire is absent, one knows "There is no desire here." One knows the arising of the absent desire‑impulse, one knows the releasing of the arisen desire‑impulse, one knows the future non‑arising of abandoned desire.

When there is aggression present in oneself, one knows "Here is aggression." When there is no aggression in oneself, one knows, "There is no aggression here." One knows the arising of absent aggression, one knows the releasing of aggression, one knows the future non‑arising of aggression.

When there is dullness present in oneself, one knows "Here is dullness." When there is no dullness in oneself, one knows, "There is no dullness here." One knows the arising of absent dullness, one knows the releasing of dullness, one knows the future non‑arising of dullness.

When there is excitement and remorse present in oneself, one knows "Here is excitement and remorse." When there is no excitement and remorse in oneself, one knows, "There is no excitement and remorse here." One knows the arising of absent excitement and remorse, one knows the releasing of excitement and remorse, one knows the future non‑arising of excitement and remorse.

When there is hesitation present in oneself, one knows "Here is hesitation." When there is no hesitation in oneself, one knows, "There is no hesitation here." One knows the arising of absent hesitation, one knows the releasing of hesitation, one knows the future non‑arising of hesitation.

 

The Five Binding Groups (Panca Upadanakkhandha)

Moreover, monks, one lives completely viewing the five binding groups as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the five binding groups as mental states? Here monks, this is form, this is the rising of appearance, this is the falling of form. This is reaction, this is the rising of reaction, this is the falling of reaction. This is symbolization, this is the rising of symbolization, this is the falling of symbolization. This is habitual patterning, this is the rising of habitual patterns, this is the falling of habitual patterns. This is consciousness, this is the rising of consciousness, this is the falling of consciousness.

 

The Six Internal‑External Sense‑Fields (Ayatana)

And again monks, one lives completely viewing the six internal and external sense‑fields as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the six subjective and objective sense fields as mental states?

Here monks, one knows the eye, one knows the visual objects, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both. Here monks, one knows the ear, one knows the sounds, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both. Here monks, one knows the nose, one knows the smells, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both. Here monks, one knows the tongue, one knows the tastes, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both. Here monks, one knows the body, one knows the tangibles, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both. Here monks, one knows the mind, one knows the mental objects, one knows the bond which arises dependent on both.

And further, one knows the arising of the absent bond, one knows the releasing of the arisen bond, one knows the future non‑arising of the abandoned bond.

 

The Seven Factors of Awakening (Satta Bojjhanga)

And again, monks, one lives completely viewing the seven factors of awakening as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the seven factors of awakening as mental states?

Here monks, when the factor of mindfulness is present in oneself one knows "The factor of mindfulness is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of mindfulness and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of mindfulness.

Here monks, when the factor of the investigation of reality is present in oneself one knows "The factor of the investigation of reality is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of investigation and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of investigation of reality.

Here monks, when the factor of energy is present in oneself one knows "The factor of energy is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of energy and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of energy.

Here monks, when the factor of joy is present in oneself one knows "The factor of joy is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of joy and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of joy.

Here monks, when the factor of calm is present in oneself one knows "The factor of calm is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of calm and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of calm.

Here monks, when the factor of wholeness18 is present in oneself one knows "The factor of wholeness is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of wholeness and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of wholeness.

Here monks, when the factor of equanimity is present in oneself one knows "The factor of equanimity is present." One knows the arising of the absent factor of equanimity and one knows the fulfillment of the growth of the factor of equanimity.

 

The Four Noble Truths (Catur Ariya Sacca)

And again, monks, one lives completely viewing the Four Noble Truths as mental states. And how, monks, does one live completely viewing the Four Noble Truths as mental states? Here, monks, "This is suffering," thus one knows it as it is. "This is the arising of suffering," thus one knows it as it is. "This is the ending of suffering," thus one knows it as it is. "This is the way to the ending of suffering," thus one knows it as it is.

Thus one lives, completely viewing mental states as states internally; one lives, completely viewing mental states as states externally. Thus one lives, completely viewing mental states as states both internally and externally.

One dwells observing mental states as phenomena which arise; one dwells observing mental states as phenomena which decay. Thus one dwells, observing mental states as phenomena which both arise and decay. When the mindfulness "these are mental states" is established, there is just knowing and just mindfulness.

And if, monks, one practises these Four Foundations of Mindfulness for seven years, one of two desired fruits can be expected: direct insight19 into present experiencing20, or, if there are still some traces of grasping, the condition of no‑returning. Forget the seven years, monks; if one practises these Four Foundations of Mindfulness for six years, for five or four or three or two or even for one year, one of two desired fruits can be expected: direct insight into here and now, or, if there are still some traces of grasping, the condition of no‑returning.

Forget the year, monks; if one practises these Four Foundations of Mindfulness for seven months, one of two desired fruits can be expected: direct insight into present experiencing, or, if there are still some traces of grasping, the condition of no‑returning. Forget the seven months, monks; if one practises these Four Foundations of Mindfulness for six months, for five or four or three or two or one or even half a month, one of two desired fruits can be expected: direct insight into here and now, or, if there are still some traces of grasping, the condition of no‑returning.

Forget the half a month, monks; if one practises the Four Foundations of Mindfulness for seven days, one of two desired fruits can be expected: direct insight into present experiencing, or, if there are still some traces of grasping, the condition of no‑returning.

This is why I have said that this is the straight path, monks, for the purity of beings, for stepping past sorrow and crying, the setting of suffering and distress, for finding the right way, for the direct seeing of nirvana, and that is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

Thus spoke the Generous One. Their hearts raised, the monks enjoyed this discourse of the Generous One.

  • 1. Bhagavan. The original term is "Bhagavant," one who possesses fortune or who possesses shares, a title one might give to a king or a god, perhaps hoping that he will give out some of his shares. The Buddha, the Awakened One, "possesses" the Teachings through his realization and shares these with others in order to guide their practice. Usually translated as "the Blesses One," or the "World Honoured One."
  • 2. Ekayano maggo: "one going road," a path that goes in one direction, a straightforward way.
  • 3. Saccikiriya. The Sanskrit term is "saksatkriya." "Sa" -with, "aksat" -eye, "kr" -to do, or to make. Literally "putting before the eyes."
  • 4. Sanskrit: "Nirvana." "Nirva" -blown out, to be allayed, or refreshed, or exhilarated. Delight. "Nirvana" -disappear, released, immersed, replenished.
  • 5. For example a potter or someone working a lathe.
  • 6. The commentaries assume that this means to observe "one's own" body directly and then draw conclusions from this in regards to "other" bodies. however, at the beginning of the sutta the Buddha recommends that the practitioner go off alone into the forest or to an empty room to do this practice. Obviously the body is experiencing, but the body is also being experienced. For example, a painful sensation might arise in the palm of the hand and be experienced "internally;" looking at the hand, one sees a thorn embedded in the palm and experiences the body "externally." Although the categories of "internal" and "external" appear to be common sense and are meaningful to the usual person, such divisions become more and more untenable as one attends to direct experience.
  • 7. Nanamatta: mere knowing.
  • 8. Pstissatimattaya: mere mindfulness, mindfulness only.
  • 9. These four elements are a traditional way of describing the most basic qualities of physicality. Pathavi-dhatu or earth element is the quality of solidity; apo-dhatu or water element is the quality of fluidity and of holding together (just as earth when moistened can be packed into different shapes); tejo-dhatu or fire is heat; vayo-dhatu or air is movement. The four elements are said to be qualities of anything which is physical in various mixtures of prominence. Investigation or analysis of the elements is known as "dhatu-vavatthana".
  • 10. Crossroads have traditionally been excellent places to display and sell wares to passersby.
  • 11. Bodily or sensual --samisam: lit. "with raw meat."
  • 12. Mental or non-sensual --niramisam: lit. "not with raw meat."
  • 13. Mahagattam: lit. "gone to greatness."
  • 14. Sa uttaram: lit. "beneath."
  • 15. Anuttara: lit. "none higher."
  • 16. Samadhi: mind brought to wholeness, put together; often translated as "concentration".
  • 17. Vimmutam: free
  • 18. Samadhi
  • 19. Anna (Sanskrit "a" -near, to, towards; "jna" -to mind, perceive, understand). The commentarial literature assumes this means arahantship.
  • 20. Dittha dhamma: that which is being seen.