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Saṃjñā (P. sañña; T. 'du shes, འདུ་ཤེས་; C. xiang; J. sō 想) is translated as "perception", "cognition", "recognition", etc. It can be defined as grasping at the distinguishing features or characteristics.[1][2]

Samjna is identified within the following contexts:

Pali tradition

In the Pali Abhidharma tradition, sañña is identified as one of the seven universal mental factors.

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

The characteristic of perception is the perceiving of the qualities of the object. Its function is to make a sign as a condition for perceiving again that "this is the same," or its function is recognizing what has been previously perceived. It becomes manifest as the interpreting of the object...by way of the features that had been apprehended. Its proximate cause is the object as it appears. Its procedure is compared to a carpenter's recognition of certain kinds of wood by the mark he has made on each.[3]

Nina van Gorkom states:

Sanna, which can be translated as perception, recognition or remembrance, is another cetasika among the seven 'universals' which accompany every citta. Sanna accompanies every citta, there is no moment without sanna. Sanna experiences the same object as the citta it accompanies but it performs its own task: it 'perceives' or 'recognizes' the object and it 'marks' it so that it can be recognized again.[4]

The Atthasālinī provides the following two definitions for saññā:

  • ...It has the characteristic of noting and the function of recognizing what has been previously noted. There is no such thing as perception in the four planes of existence without the characteristic of noting. All perceptions have the characteristic of noting. Of them, that perceiving which knows by specialized knowledge has the function of recognizing what has been noted previously. We may see this procedure when the carpenter recognizes a piece of wood which he has marked by specialized knowledge...
  • Perception has the characteristic of perceiving by an act of general inclusion, and the function of making marks as a condition for repeated perception (for recognizing or remembering), as when woodcutters 'perceive' logs and so forth. Its manifestation is the action of interpreting by means of the sign as apprehended, as in the case of blind persons who 'see' an elephant. Or, it has briefness as manifestation, like lightning, owing to its inability to penetrate the object. Its proximate cause is whatever object has appeared, like the perception which arises in young deer mistaking scarecrows for men.[4]

In the Pali Canon in general, sañña is frequently defined as:

"It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white."[5]

Sanskrit tradition

The Ornament of Abhidharma states:

Discernment (saṃjñā) consists of apprehending (udgrahaṇa) marks (nimitta), and it accurately distinguishes specific entities such as blue.[6]

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is the absolutely specific characteristic of conceptualization (saṃjñā)? It is to know by association. It is to see, hear, specify, and to know by way of taking up the defining characteristics and distinguishing them.[2]

The Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa states:

What is conceptualization? It is taking hold of the defining characteristics of an object.[2]

The Khenjuk states:

Perception consists of the grasping of distinguishing features.
In terms of support, they can be divided into six types: perceptions resulting from contact, the meeting of the eye and so forth, up until the mind.[1]


By support

If classified by support (or basis), there are six types of perception. These are the perceptions that arise based on:[1][2][6]

  1. contact of the eye faculty, visible form and eye consciousness
  2. contact of the ear faculty, sound and ear consciousness
  3. contact of the nose faculty, smell and nose consciousness
  4. contact of the taste faculty, taste and taste consciousness
  5. contact of the body faculty, tangible objects and body consciousness
  6. contact of the mind faculty, mental object and mind consciousness

By essential nature

If classified by essential nature, there are two types of perception:[1][2][6]

  • "perceiving distinguishing features in regard to sense objects, such as perceiving an appearance as being blue, yellow and so forth"[1]
  • "perceiving distinguishing features in regard to names, such as perceiving man, woman and so forth as being such"[1]

By focal point

If classified by focal point, there are six types of perception:[1][2][6]

  1. perception with characteristics
  2. perception without characteristics
  3. lesser perceptions
  4. vast perceptions
  5. immeasurable perceptions - of infinite space or consciousness
  6. perception of nothing whatsoever


Saṃjñā (Pali: sanna) is identified as one of the five skandhas.

StudyBuddhism describes samjna-skandha as follows:

The network of all instances of the [mental factor of samjna] that could be part of any moment of experience on someone's mental continuum. Some translators render the term as "aggregate of recognition."[7]

Alternate translations

Alternate translations for the term sañña are:

  • Conceptualization (Herbert Guenther)
  • (conceptual) identification (Buswell)
  • Discernment (Ian James Coghlan)
  • Discrimination (Buswell)
  • Distinguishing (Alexander Berzin)
  • Perception (Erik Kunsang, Nina van Gorkom, Buswell)
  • Recognition (Geoffrey Shatz)
  • Apperception (Susan Hamilton, Luis O. Gómez, David Seyfort Ruegg)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Perception.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Conceptualization.
  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Perception (saññā).
  4. 4.0 4.1 van Gorkom 1999, Cetasikas, Cetasikas: Sanna
  5. Thanissaro (2001).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Chim Jampaiyang 2019, s.v. Discernment (saṃjñā).
  7. StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png StudyBuddhism, samjna-skandha


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