Translation Notes

Sati: ‘attentiveness’


Sati is popularly called mindfulness. But ‘mindful’ means ‘bearing in mind’, which is not the meaning of sati. I have called it ‘attentiveness’. Various quotes in the Ānāpānasati Sutta show this.


The Satipaṭṭhānā Sutta (M10) indicates that sati has six qualities.

  1. it has four fields of activity: (1) body, (2) sensation, (3) mind and (4) the Buddha’s teaching models. Various aspects of the four fields are listed in the Satipaṭṭhānā Sutta.
  2. sati involves observing these aspects (anupassī viharati).
  3. one should observe enthusiastically (ātāpī)
  4. one should observe fully conscious (sampajāno)
  5. one should observe attentively (satimā)
  6. one should observe having removed covetousness and distress for the world (vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ) (S.5.141).

Five of these six qualities– i.e. all except ātāpī – are further explained in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (M118).


  • When a monk is practising attentiveness with breathing (ānāpānasati), the Buddha called it kāye kāyānupassī because “Whenever, Ananda, a monk knows: ‘I breathe in/out long/short’; or trains himself ‘Experiencing/tranquillising the whole body, I will breathe in/out’; on that occasion the monk dwells observing kāye kāya. For what reason? (taṃ kissa hetu). I call this a certain aspect of body (kāyaññatara), Ananda, that is, breathing in and breathing out" (yadidaṃ assāsapassāsaṃ). This shows that kāye kāyānupassī means observing certain aspects of the body. It does not mean “seeing the body in the body”. This ‘seeing various aspects within the four fields’ is the first quality of sati listed above.
  • The Ānāpānasati Sutta says that sati’s second field of activity is called vedanāsu vedanānupassī because “I call this a certain aspect of sensation (vedanaññatarāhaṃ) Ananda, that is, close attention (sādhukaṃ manasikāraṃ) to breathing in and breathing out”. Sādhukaṃ manasikāraṃ, close attention, corresponds to anupassī viharati ‘abide observing’–the second quality of sati listed above.
  • The Ānāpānasati Sutta says that sati’s third field of activity is called citte cittānupassī because “there is no development of samādhi with ānāpānasati if one’s attentiveness is muddled (muṭṭhassatissa), if one is not fully conscious” (asampajānassa). Absence of these unskilful qualities corresponds to the fourth and fifth qualities of sati listed above (sampajāno; satimā).
  • The Ānāpānasati Sutta says that sati’s fourth field of activity is called dhammesu dhammānupassī because “having, with wisdom, seen the abandoning of covetousness and distress, a monk is one who looks on closely with equanimity” (so yaṃ taṃ hoti abhijjhādomanassānaṃ pahānaṃ taṃ paññāya disvā disvā sādhukaṃ ajjhupekkhitā hoti). This corresponds to the sixth quality of sati listed above (vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ).


In conclusion, sati means the enthusiastic observation of various aspects of the body, sensation, the mind, or of various Dhammas, and involves close attention, a mind that is unmuddled, fully conscious, equanimous, and free of covetousness and distress. I call this state ‘attentiveness’.

Diṭṭhi: ‘fixed view’

Diṭṭhi usually implies attachment, and therefore I have often called it ‘fixed view’ not simply ‘view’. A fixed view is synonymous with a conclusion (v.781); it is regarded as 'The Highest' by the person grasping it (vv.796, 833). It is a source of confrontation (v.833) or offensive behaviour (v.847). It is regarded as belonging to oneself (v.846) and may lead grading others as equal, inferior or superior (v.799) and or think oneself to be perfected (v.889).

It is not always necessary to call diṭṭhi ‘fixed view’. For instance in verse 796, where it is already clear that attachment is involved: “If a person maintains that of views (‘fixed views’), his is 'The Highest/ Holding it as supreme in the world/ And says that all other views (‘fixed views’) are inferior/ Then he has not gone beyond disputes”.

Pajahati: ‘detach from’

One of the most interesting words of the Octads is pajahati (as well as three similar verbs: jahati, nissajjati, and paṭinissajjati). The PED calls them: give up, renounce, forsake, abandon, eliminate, let go, get rid of. In most verses, any of these would seem satisfactory. However, verse 900 would be problematic because it would imply that an arahant is “one who has given up precepts” (sīlabbataṃ vāpi pahāya). This seems unlikely.

What the Octads emphasises is good behaviour, as well as detachment. Venerable Sona said the moral behaviour of an arahant is a natural expression of an enlightened mind. When he was accused of practising harmlessness due to blind attachment to rituals and asceticism (silabbataparāmāsaṃ), he said no, the arahant is intent on non-harming because of the destruction of greed, hatred and delusion (khayā rāgassa vītarāgattā... dosassa vītadosattā ... mohassa vītamohattā abyāpajjādhimutto hoti) (Vin.1.183-5).

These four Pali words therefore seem in fact to mean the opposite of grasping. ‘Let go’ would have been the easy choice, but it has a range of dubious meanings, including that of not keeping to a moral standard. So I translate the four words as: ‘detach’. The arahant has therefore ‘detached’ from precepts, rather than ‘let go’ of them. This translation harmonises with verse 798 which says a monk should ‘not be tethered’ (na nissayeyya) to precepts. It also harmonises with verse 791 which describes a monkey releasing one branch in order to seize another (purimaṃ pahāya aparaṃ sitāse). A slight exception occurs with the word vippajahe at v.926, which I call “he should abandon” (laziness, deception, merriment etc), rather than “he should detach” from these things.

Papañcasaṅkhā: mental obsession

The Octads twice mention papañcasaṅkhā:

  • "The notion ‘I am’ is indeed the source of mental obsession" (v.874). With the ending of this notion, the Buddha said the material elements are annihilated. This is arahantship.
  • "A sage should put a complete end to the root of mental obsession: the notion ‘I am’." (v.916). This was the way the Buddha began answering the question: "Seeing in what way is a monk freed from passion, clinging to nothing in the world?"

Norman calls the term ‘diversification’. PED calls it ‘sign or characteristic of obsession’. At MN.1.109 it is said to afflict man (samudācaranti). Therefore I call it ‘mental obsession’.

Sañña: ‘the notion “I am”’

One of the key themes of the Octads is sañña – popularly called ‘perception’, though the PED says it can mean ‘conception, idea, notion’. The word occurs in seven verses. It has two varieties: good types and bad types. The single good-type occurrence is found in verse 841, where Magandiya was expected to have the simplest notion (aṇumpi saññaṃ) of what the Buddha was talking about.

The other occurrences are all bad types. The meaning of the bad type of sañña can be judged from Verse 874 which says that it is the source of mental affliction (saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā). This could be translated as ‘perception’ is the source of mental affliction. But this would contradict M.1.112 which says the source of mental affliction is “yaṃ papañceti” – which, whatever it means, does not mean ‘perception’(1). Verse 916 offers another solution. It says the root of mental affliction (mūlaṃ papañcasaṅkhāya) is the notion ‘I am’ (asmīti). So the sañña of verse 874 is equivalent to the ‘notion ”I am”’ of verse 916. So, where appropriate, I have called sañña exactly that: ‘the notion “I am”’. This gives the following result:

  • v.779) Having understood the notion ‘I am’ (saññaṃ pariññā) ... The sage crosses the flood of sorrow.
  • v.792) A person bound to the notion ‘I am’ (saññasatto) ... goes high and low.
  • v.802) Whoever does not concoct the slightest notion ‘I am’ (aṇūpi saññā)... how could anyone have any doubts about him?
  • v.841) Asking questions that are based on a fixed view, you cannot apprehend the simplest notion (nāddakkhi aṇumpi saññaṃ).
  • v.847) For one unattached to the notion ‘I am’, there are no bonds (saññāvirattassa na santi ganthā) . . . Those attached to the notion “I am” and to views/ Roam the world offending people.
  • v.874) The notion ‘I am’ is indeed the source of mental affliction (saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā).
  • v.886) Apart from the mere notion of it (aññatra saññāya), there are not many and various eternal Truths in the world.

Instrumental and ablative cases as ‘intrinsic’

One of the challenges of the Octads is not just in discriminating grammatical case endings, but in discriminating sense vs. nonsense for any particular case. For example, if someone claims that purity is on account of one’s views, does it mean that

  • purity is spoken of on account of one’s views?
  • Or, purity is achieved on account of one’s views?.

The Buddha’s conversation with Magandiya at verses 835-841 revolves around this dilemma. Magandiya asks the Buddha:
This inner peace, whatever it is,
How is it explained by the wise?

The Buddha replies:
They do not say that purity is on account of one’s views
Learning, knowledge, or precepts and practices;
Nor on account of one’s lack of views,
Learning, knowledge, precepts and practices.
But by detaching from these,
Not grasping them,
At peace, untethered,
One no longer hungers for existence.
839. Na diṭṭhiyā na sutiyā na ñāṇena sīlabbatenāpi na suddhimāha
Adiṭṭhiyā assutiyā añāṇā asīlatā abbatā nopi tena
Ete ca nissajja anuggahāya santo anissāya bhavaṃ na jape

The first phrase of the Buddha’s reply to Magandiya at verse 839 is in the instrumental case, the second, the ablative case. But the translation of both may well be identical – as Norman translates it i.e. “not by view ... not by absence of view”. Duroiselle confirms this. He says:

  1. the ablative case can be translated as “on account of” or “by reason of”. Thus he says sīlato naṃ pasaṃsanti means “they praise him for [i.e. on account of] his virtue” (Practical Grammar of the Pali Language: paragraph 600, xi).
  2. the instrumental case “shows cause or reason” and can “therefore be translated by such expressions as: “by means of; on account of; through; by reason of; owing to”. Duroiselle gives the example: kammuna vasalo hoti, he is pariah by reason of [i.e. on account of] his work (paragraph 599, ii).
  3. The instrumental and ablative cases are interchangeable. Duroiselle says that for an ablative meaning, the instrumental case “may be used as well” (599, xi); and that “the ablative is very frequently used instead of the instrumental” (599, xv).

Norman has translated verse 839 as “purity is not by view, by learning, by knowledge, or even by virtuous conduct and vows”. This leaves the dilemma unresolved; but if it is taken to mean “purity is not achieved by means of view... etc” it would contradict much of Buddhist teaching; for instance, that right view (sammādiṭṭhi) assisted by virtue/precepts (sīlānuggahitā) and wide learning (sutānuggahitā) has enlightenment as its fruit (A.3.20); that good conduct leads step by step to the summit (kusalāni sīlāni anupubbena aggāya parentīti). And there would be no point in the Buddha answering Venerable Sariputta’s question in verse 961, about what a monk’s precepts and practices should be.

What purpose is served by having the Buddha contradict himself in the Discourse with Magandiya, apart from undermining the rest of his Dhamma teachings? We must dare to admit that although final liberation means liberation even from the path, and that nonetheless the path is the means to liberation. I describe this further in essay Goal and path: what is the relationship?

One can translate the instrumental case in several ways. For example:

  • by means of
  • by reason of
  • on account of

However, none of these phrases really settles the confusion between

  • the means by which purity can be spoken of, and
  • the means by which purity can be achieved.

In this present translation, for clarity, for both the instrumental and ablative cases I use the word ‘intrinsic’. Therefore I translate the Buddha’s reply to Magandiya as follows:

They do not say that purity is intrinsic to views
Learning, knowledge, or precepts and practices;
Nor is it intrinsic to lack of views,
Learning, knowledge, precepts and practices.

Miscellaneous translations

  • añña: means ‘other, different’. It occurs in various forms, the meaning of which is usually self-explanatory. But I have called aññena (vv.789, 813, 908) and aññato (v.790) ‘by means of an auxiliary basis of attachment’.
    The key for this choice is found in v.789: aññena so sujjhati sopadhīko: “Then a person with one basis of attachment is intrinsically purified by means of another”. Norman translates this as “He who has acquisitions [which lead to rebirth] is purified by something else [than the noble path].
    As for na hi aññamokkhā (v.773), I take it to mean: there is no liberation except in relation to the bondage of desire.
  • chanda: popularly called ‘desire’. But in the Octads, as with taṇha, its basis is ignorance, so I call it ‘longing’.
  • taṇha: popularly called ‘craving’ (i.e. strong desire) or thirst. However, Buddhas get thirsty and desire water, so this translation seems dubious (“Ananda, bring me some water. I am thirsty (pipāsito'mhi) and will [want to] drink (pivissāmī'ti)” - D.2.128). Although taṇha is indeed a form of desire, its basis is ignorance. I have therefore translated the word as ‘wish’. A wish is a form of desire that is unrealistic, such as: “O, that we were not subject to birth, ageing and death” and other such unrealistic wishes.
  • dhamma/ā: I have called ‘religious teaching/s’ or the ‘Buddha’s teaching’ or ‘Truth’.
  • dhammesu niccheyya samuggahītaṃ: this phrase occurs in four places, vv.785, 801, 837, 907. It can be analysed as follows:
    • dhammesu: locative plural of dhamma, religious teachings: "in regards to religious teachings".
    • niccheyya: potential case of nicchināti: fit to be/ must be/ ought to be/ to be discriminated, considered, investigated, ascertained (Duroiselle para 466).
    • samuggahītaṃ: past participle of samuggaṇhāti: seized, grasped, embraced.

      Together, this means "in regards to religious teachings which must be ascertained [only] after having grasped them" which I have re-phrased as "in regards to dogmatic religious teachings". Norman phrases it “grasped from among doctrines, after consideration”.
      For example, Norman translates v837 like this: “Magandiya”, said the Blessed One, “nothing has been grasped by [me] from among the doctrines, after consideration, [saying], ‘I profess this’” (v.837).
      Whereas I have said “In regards to dogmatic religious teachings, of none of them have I said ‘I proclaim this’”.
  • pakappitā: I have called ‘concocted’ (v.784) (PED says: arranged, planned, attended to designed, made). Norman has ‘formed’. The word kappayanti is a synonym (vv.794; 803). At v.784 saṅkhatā is near synonym: ‘conjured up’. Norman calls it ‘constructed’.
  • purakkharoti: PED calls it ‘follow’. But here it seems to mean ‘blindly follow’. Norman calls it ‘prefer’.
  • brāhmaṇo: means Brahman i.e. arahant.
  • sacca/ saccaṃ: I follow the PED in calling sacca ‘true’ (i.e. adjective); saccaṃ ‘Truth’ (i.e. noun).

Notes for Readers:

  • Note (1) Perception (sañjānāti) occurs as a condition for papañceti: yaṃ vedeti, taṃ sañjānāti; yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi; yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti; yaṃ papañceti tato nidānaṃ purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti atītānāgatapaccuppannesu cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu ... manoviññeyyesu dhammesu (M.1.112).     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font