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Translations of
English clear comprehension,
clear knowing,
fully alert,
full awareness,
Pali सम्पजञ्ञ (sampajañña)
Sanskrit संप्रजन्य (saṃprajanya)
Tibetan ཤེས་བཞིན་
(shé shyin; Wyl. shes bzhin)

Sampajañña (Pāli; Skt.: saṃprajanya) means "clear comprehension",[1] "clear knowing,"[2] "constant thorough understanding of impermanence",[3] "fully alert"[4] or "full awareness",[5] as well as "attention, consideration, discrimination, comprehension, circumspection", [6] or introspection.[7]

Sampajañña is a Pali term used in the suttas; the equivalent Sanskrit term samprajaña is found in Sanskrit texts employed (in translation) by a variety of meditation teachers such as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and in the Tibetan tradition.

From the Pali Canon

Clear comprehension is most famously invoked by the Buddha in tandem with mindfulness practice in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:

Herein (in this teaching) a monk lives contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;

he lives contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;
he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief;
he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief.[8]

Clear comprehension develops out of mindfulness of breathing (ānāpānasati) and is subsequently present in tandem with mindfulness for all four satipaṭṭhāna-s.[9][8]

Canonical commentary

While the nikayas do not elaborate on what the Buddha meant by sampajañña, the Pali commentaries analyze it further in terms of four contexts for one's comprehension:[10]

  • purpose (Pāli: sātthaka): refraining from activities irrelevant to the path.
  • suitability (sappāya): pursuing activities in a dignified and careful manner.
  • domain (gocara):[11] maintaining sensory restraint consistent with mindfulness.
  • non-delusion (asammoha): seeing the true nature of reality (see three characteristics).

Contemporary commentary

Critical to Right Mindfulness' purpose (Nyanaponika)

In a correspondence between Bhikkhu Bodhi and B. Alan Wallace, Bodhi described Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's views on "right mindfulness" and sampajañña as follows,

... I should add that Ven. Nyanaponika himself did not regard “bare attention” as capturing the complete significance of satipaṭṭhāna, but as representing only one phase, the initial phase, in the meditative development of right mindfulness. He held that in the proper practice of right mindfulness, sati has to be integrated with sampajañña, clear comprehension, and it is only when these two work together that right mindfulness can fulfill its intended purpose.[12]

Use day and night (Nhat Hanh)

Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, has written with regards to the aforementioned verse in the Satipatthana Sutra, on the topic of sampajañña, the following,

This exercise is the observation and awareness of the actions of the body. This is the fundamental practice of the monk. When I was first ordained as a novice forty-eight years ago, the first book my master gave me to learn by heart was a book of gathas[13] to be practised while washing your hands, brushing your teeth, washing your face, putting on your clothes, sweeping the courtyard, relieving yourself, having a bath, and so on.
... If a novice applies himself to the practice of [this] ... exercise, he will see that his everyday actions become harmonious, graceful, and measured. Mindfulness becomes visible in his actions and speech. When any action is placed in the light of mindfulness, the body and mind become relaxed, peaceful, and joyful. [This] ... exercise is one to be used day and night throughout one's entire life.[5]

See also


  1. Commentary (543 B.C.); Payutto (1972) Dictionary of Buddhism; TW Rhys Davids (1921); Bodhi (2005), p. 283; and, Soma (2003), pp. 60-100.
  2. Anālayo (2006), pp. 141 ff.
  3. VRI (1996), pp. 8-11.
  4. Thanissaro (1995).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Nhat Hanh (1990), pp. 50-51.
  6. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 690, entry "Sampajañña".
  7. [1]
  8. 8.0 8.1 Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness, translated from the Pali by Nyanasatta Thera [2]
  9. Anālayo (2006), pp. 141-2.[3]
  10. Anālayo (2006), pp. 143-5; Bodhi (2005), p. 442, n. 34; and, Nyanaponika (1996), p. 46.
  11. While the other three types of sampajañña have standard English translations, gocara has been translated in a variety of ways. Gocara (Pāli) generally means "pasture" or "grazing", based on go (cow) and cara (walking). Thus, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 254, provides a somewhat literal definition of gocara-sampanna as "pasturing in the field of good conduct". See also Anālayo (2006), p. 56, where, for instance, he notes: "A discourse in the Anguttara Nikāya compares the practice of satipatthāna to a cowherd's skill in knowing the proper pasture for his cows." In this article, the translation of gocara as "domain" is based on Bodhi (2005), p. 442, and Nyanaponika (1996), pp. 49-51. Alternatively, Soma (2003), pp. 61, 64, translates gocara as "resort," while Anālayo (2006), pp. 143, 145, uses the literal translation of "pasture".
  12. Wallace & Bodhi (2006), p. 4. According to this correspondence, Ven. Nyanaponika spend his last ten years living with and being cared for by Bodhi. Bodhi refers to Nyanaponika as "my closest kalyāṇamitta in my life as a monk."
  13. A gāthā (Pāli) is a verse of four half-lines (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 248). For Nhat Hanh, these verses generally bring ones awareness cheerfully back to the simple task at hand. Perhaps Nhat Hanh's most famous gatha is:
    Breathing in, I calm my body,
    Breathing out, I smile.
    Dwelling in the present moment,
    I know this is a wonderful moment. (Nhat Hanh, 1990, p. 46.)


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