The Shorter Sutta on the Foundations of Mindfulness

MN 10: Satipatthānasutta. Translated by Christopher Ash

Summary of the direct way

Thus have I heard: One time the Fortunate One was living in Kuru country, at the Kuru town of Kammasadhamma. There he spoke to the practitioners:

“Practitioners!”

“Venerable Sir,” they replied.

“Practitioners, this is the direct way for the purification of beings, for going beyond grief and lamentation, for setting aside discontent and dissatisfaction, for the attainment of the right knowledge for experiencing nirvana – namely, the way of the four foundations of mindfulness.

“What are the four? Here, a practitioner – ardent, mindful, and with full comprehension, having put away longing and distress regarding the world – dwells intimate with: the body in the body, the feeling-tones in the feeling-tones, the heart-mind (citta) in the heart-mind; and the mental-objects in the mental-objects.”

Contemplating the body in terms of mindfulness of breathing

“And how, Practitioners, does a person dwell intimate with the body in the body? Having gone to a forest, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, she sits down, and folds her legs crosswise. She sits with her body upright; and, putting mindfulness to the fore, she breathes in mindfully, and breathe out mindfully.

“When breathing a long in- or out-breath, or a short in- or out-breath, she knows: ‘I breathe in long,’ ‘I breathe out long.’ ‘I breathe in short,’ ‘I breathe out short.’ And she trains herself: ‘I shall breathe in, experiencing the whole body.’ ‘I shall breathe out, experiencing the whole body.’ And, she trains: ‘I breathe in, calming bodily dispositions,’ ‘I breathe out, calming bodily dispositions.’

“Just as a skilled wood turner or their apprentice, when making a long turn, knows (clearly): ‘I’m making a long turn’; or, when making a short turn: ‘I’m making a short turn,’ so too, when breathing in or out, long or short, a practitioner knows: ‘I breathe in long’, ‘I breathe out long,’ and so forth. And, likewise, she trains calming bodily dispositions: ‘I breathe in, calming the body,’ and ‘I breathe out, calming the body.’”

[Insight]

“In this way a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. She dwells either intimate with the body’s experiences as they arise, or the body’s experiences as they vanish; or, she dwells intimate with both the arising and vanishing of bodily experiences. Or, the mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the body in terms of bodily activity

“Again, Practitioners, when walking, a practitioner knows: ‘I am walking.’ When standing, she knows: ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, she knows: ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, she knows: ‘I am lying down.’ Or, whatever one’s bodily disposition, she knows it as it is.”

[Insight]

“In this way she dwells intimate with the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, she dwells either intimate with the body’s experiences as they arise, or the body’s experiences as they vanish; or she dwells intimate with both the arising and vanishing of bodily experiences. Or, the mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the body in terms of clear awareness

“And moreover, a practitioner is one who acts with clear awareness when going backward and forward. She acts with clear awareness when looking ahead or about her, when bending and stretching her limbs, when dressing and when carrying things. She acts with clear awareness when eating and drinking, chewing and tasting; and when defecating and urinating. When walking, standing, sitting; falling asleep or waking up; when talking and keeping silent – she acts with clear awareness.”

[Insight]…

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the body in terms of bodily impurities

“And further, a practitioner contemplates this same body, bounded by the skin, up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the head, as full of many kinds of unpleasant things, saying: ‘In this body there are: head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, small intestines, bowels, the stomach and its contents, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, oils, saliva, mucus of the nose, lubricants of the joints, and urine.’

“Just as if there were a bag with an opening at both ends, full of many sorts of grain, such as hill rice, red rice, beans, peas, millet, and white rice – and a person with sound eyes were to open it and contemplate it thus: ‘This is hill rice, this is red rice, these are beans, these are peas, this is millet, this is white rice.’ So too, a practitioner contemplates this same body, bounded by the skin, up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the head, as full of many kinds of unpleasant things: ‘In this body there are: head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, and so on.’”

[Insight]…

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the body in terms of primary elements

“And further, a practitioner views this same body, however it is disposed, whatever its activity, with respect to the [four great] elements, saying: ‘In this body there are: the earth element, water element, fire element, and air element.’”

“Just as though a skilled butcher or his apprentice had killed a cow and was seated at the crossroads with it cut into pieces; so too, a practitioner considers this same body as consisting of elements: ‘In this body there are: the earth element, water element, fire element, and air element.’ However the body is disposed, whatever one’s activity, one contemplates it this way.”

[Insight]…

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, too, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the body in terms of the nine charnel grounds contemplations

“And further, Practitioners, if a practitioner were to see a skeleton in a charnel ground – a corpse one, two, or three days dead, bloated, discoloured, and oozing matter – she would compare their own body with that body, saying: ‘This body, too, is of such a nature. It will be like that. It is not exempt from that.’

“And further, if a practitioner were to see a skeleton in a charnel ground, being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, and all kinds of worms, she compares her own body with that body, saying: ‘This body, too, is of that nature. It will be like that. It is not exempt from that.’

“And further, if a practitioner were to see a skeleton in a charnel ground with flesh and blood, held together with tendons; or, a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, held together with tendons; or, a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together with tendons; or, if she were to see disconnected bones scattered in all directions – here a hand-bone, there a foot-bone, here an ankle-bone, there a shin-bone, here a thigh-bone, there a pelvis, here a back-bone, there a rib-bone, here a breast-bone, there a neck-bone, here a jaw-bone, there a tooth, and there the skull – so a practitioner compares her own body with that body, saying: ‘This body, too, is of that nature. It will be like that. It is not exempt from that.’

“And further, if a practitioner were to see, in a charnel ground, bones bleached white, the colour of shells; or, bones heaped up, more than a year old; or, bones rotted and crumbled to dust, so a Practitioner compares her own body with a corpse, saying: ‘This body, too, is of that nature. It will be like that. It is not exempt from that.’”

[Insight]

“In these ways, too, a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, she dwells either intimate with the body’s experiences as they arise, or the body’s experiences as they vanish; or one dwells intimate with both the arising and vanishing of bodily experiences. Or, the mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“(To contemplate death) this, too, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the body in the body.”

Contemplating the feeling-tones

“And, Practitioners, how does a practitioner contemplate feeling-tones in feeling-tones? Here, when feeling a pleasant experience, a practitioner knows: ‘I am feeling a pleasant feeling-tone.’ When feeling an unpleasant experience, she knows: ‘I am feeling an unpleasant feeling-tone.’ When feeling a neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant experience,’ she knows: ‘I am feeling a feeling-tone which is neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant.’

“And further, when experiencing a gross pleasant experience, she knows: ‘I am feeling a gross pleasant feeling-tone.’ When experiencing a subtle pleasant experience, she knows: ‘I am feeling a subtle pleasant feeling-tone.’

“When experiencing a gross unpleasant experience, she knows: ‘I am feeling a gross unpleasant feeling-tone.’ When experiencing a subtle unpleasant experience, she  knows: ‘I am feeling a subtle unpleasant feeling-tone.’

“When experiencing a gross experience which is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, she knows: ‘I am feeling a gross neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant feeling-tone.’ When experiencing a subtle experience which is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, she knows: ‘I am feeling a subtle neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant feeling-tone.’”

[Insight]

“In this way she dwells intimate with the feeling-tones in the feeling-tones with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, she dwells either intimate with the feeling-tones as they arise, or the feeling-tones as they vanish. Or she dwells intimate with both the arising and vanishing of the feeling-tones. Or, the mindfulness that ‘There is a feeling-tone’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established in her, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This, then, is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the feeling-tones in the feeling-tones.”

Contemplating the Heart-Mind (Citta)

“And how, Practitioners, does a practitioner dwell intimate with the heart-mind in the heart-mind? Here, she knows a heart-mind affected by longing as a heart-mind affected in that way; and heart-mind not affected by longing as a heart-mind not affected that way. She knows the heart-mind affected by ill-will as a heart-mind affected in that way, and the heart-mind not affected by ill-will as not affected that way. she knows a heart-mind affected by ignorance as a heart-mind affected in that way, and a heart-mind not affected by ignorance as a heart-mind not affected that way.

“She knows a tense heart-mind as a tense heart-mind, and a scattered heart-mind as a scattered heart-mind. She knows an expanded heart-mind as an expanded heart-mind, and a contracted heart-mind as a contracted heart-mind. She knows a heart-mind capable of being surpassed as a surpassable heart-mind, and a heart-mind not capable of being surpassed as an unsurpassable heart-mind. She knows a steady heart-mind as a steady heart-mind, and an agitated heart-mind as an agitated heart-mind. She knows a released heart-mind as a released heart-mind; and a heart-mind in bondage as a heart-mind in bondage.”

[Insight]

“In this way she dwells intimate with the heart-mind in the heart-mind with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, she dwells intimate with arising in the heart-mind, or she dwells intimate with vanishing in the heart-mind; or she dwells intimate with both arising and vanishing in the heart-mind. Or else, the mindfulness that ‘There is this quality of the heart-mind’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“This is how a practitioner dwells intimate with the heart-mind in the qualities of the heart-mind.”

Contemplating mental-objects in terms of ‘five blocked processes’

“And how, Practitioners, does a practitioner dwell intimate with mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves? Here a practitioner dwells intimate with mental-objects in terms of the ‘five blocked processes.’ And how does a practitioner dwell intimate with mental-objects in terms of the five blocked processes? Here, there being sensual desire in one, a practitioner knows: ‘There is sensual desire in me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire in her she knows: ‘There is no sensual desire in me.’ And, when sensual has not arisen, she is aware how it can arise. When sensual longing has arisen, she knows the abandoning of that sensual desire. And she knows how abandoning the sensual-desire process leads to its non-arising in the future.

“And so, likewise with: aversion; sloth & torpor; restlessness, worry and agitation; and doubt. When a blocked process is present in her, she knows it is present in her. And when it is not present in her, she knows that it’s not present. And so, when a blocked process has not yet arisen, one is aware how it can arise. When a blocked process has arisen, she knows its abandoning. “And she knows how abandoning blocked processes leads to their non-arising in the future.”

[Insight]…

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves in terms of the five blocked processes.”

Contemplating mental-objects in terms of ‘five sentient processes’

“Further, Practitioners, a practitioner dwells intimate with mental-objects in mental-objects themselves in terms of the five sentient processes subject to clinging. And how does a practitioner dwell intimate with mental-objects in terms of the five sentient processes subject to clinging? Here she knows: ‘Such is body; such its origin, such its disappearance. Such is feeling-tone; such its origin, such its disappearance. Such is perception; such its origin, such its disappearance. Such are volitional formations; such their origin, such their disappearance. Such is consciousness; such its origin, such its disappearance.’”

[Insight]…

“In this way… not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves in terms of the five sentient processes subject to clinging.”

Contemplating the mental-objects in terms of ‘six sense-bases’

“Again, Practitioners, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects, in the mental-objects themselves, in terms of the six internal and six external sense-bases. And how does a practitioner dwell intimate with mental-objects in terms of the six internal and six external sense-bases? Here, she knows the eye, and also knows forms. And she knows any fetter that arises dependent on both the eye and form. And, she knows how such a fetter which has not yet arisen can present itself, based on the eye and form. When such a fetter has arisen, she  knows the abandoning of it. And she knows how abandoning these fetters leads to their non-arising sometime in the future.

“And so, for: the ear and sounds; the nose and smells; the tongue and tastes; the body and touch; and the self-sense (manas) and mental-objects. In each case, she knows the fetters that arise dependent on both. And, she knows how the not-arisen fetters can arise, dependent on these bases. When these fetters have arisen, she knows their abandoning. And she knows how abandoning the fetters leads to their non-arising in the future.”

[Insight]…

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves in terms of the six internal and external bases.”

Contemplating the mental-objects in terms of ‘seven factors of enlightenment’

“Again, Practitioners, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves, in terms of the seven factors of enlightenment. And how does a she dwell intimate with mental-objects in terms of the seven factors of enlightenment? Here, there being the enlightenment factor of mindfulness present in her, she knows: ‘There is the enlightenment factor of mindfulness present in me.’ Or there being no mindfulness factor in her, she knows: ‘There is no enlightenment factor of mindfulness present in me.’ And, one also knows how the not-yet-arisen mindfulness factor can arise, and how the arisen mindfulness factor comes to fulfilment through developing it.

“And so it is for the presence in one of: the inquiry factor of enlightenment, and the strength (viriya) factor, the joy factor, the calm factor, the presence factor, and the equipoise factor of enlightenment.

[Insight]

“In this way she dwells intimate with… not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, a Practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves in terms of the seven factors of enlightenment.”

Contemplating mental-objects in terms of Four Noble Truths

“Again, Practitioners, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects, in the mental-objects themselves, in terms of four noble truths. And how does a practitioner dwell intimate with mental-objects in terms of four noble truths? Here, she knows, in its actuality: ‘This is discontent.’ She knows, in its actuality: ‘This is the origin of discontent.’ She knows, in its actuality: ‘This is the cessation of discontent.’ She knows, in its actuality: ‘This is the path of the cessation of discontent.’

[Insight]

“In this way she dwells intimate with mental-objects, with reference to the internal, or with reference to the external, or with reference to both the internal and external. Or, she dwells intimate with arising in the mental-objects, or she dwells intimate with vanishing in the mental-objects; or she dwells intimate with both arising and vanishing in the mental-objects. Or else, the mindfulness that ‘There are mental-objects’ is simply established in her. To the extent that discernment and attentiveness are established, she is one who dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

“Thus, a practitioner dwells intimate with the mental-objects in the mental-objects themselves in terms of the four noble truths.”

‘This way is the direct way’

“Practitioners, if anyone were to cultivate these four foundations of mindfulness in this way for seven years, one of two outcomes could be expected for them: either highest insight here and now; or if some trace of clinging remains, the stage of once-returner.

“Let alone seven years, Practitioners. If anyone were to cultivate these four foundations of mindfulness in this way for six years – for five years, or four, or three, or two, or for one year – then one of two outcomes could be expected for them: either highest insight here and now; or if there is a trace of clinging left, the stage of once-returner.

“Let alone one year, Practitioners, if anyone were to cultivate these four foundations of mindfulness in this way for seven months – or for six months, five months, four months, three months, two months, one month, or for half a month – then one of two outcomes could be expected for them: either highest insight, here and now; or if there is a trace of clinging left, the stage of once-returner.

“Let alone half a month, Practitioners, if anyone should cultivate these four foundations of mindfulness in this way for seven days, one of two outcomes could be expected for them: either highest insight, here and now, or if there is a trace of clinging left, the stage of once-returner.

“So, it was with reference to this that I said: ‘Practitioners, this is the direct way for the purification of beings, for going beyond grief and lamentation, for setting aside a bad space and dissatisfaction, for the attainment of the right knowledge for experiencing nirvana – namely, the way of the four foundations of mindfulness.’”

That is what the Fortunate One said, and what he said gladdened and delighted those present.

Satipatthānasutta (MN10) © 2021, Christopher Ash.