The Satipatthana Sutta is one of the earliest buddhist sacred writings. The Pali fragment contains the descriptions of buddhist meditational practices, originally written on palm leaves. Sutta or Sutra, from Sanskrit, means discourse. From this it can be gathered that the writing contain a collection of discourses, specifically sacred discourses.
Etymology of the Word
The word satipatthana defines an approach to meditation aimed at establishing sati, or mindfulness. Its meaning can be - using different translations - foundation of mindfulness or presence of mindfulness. By means of sati one is to reach purification, to overcome sorrows and lamentation, to extinguish suffering and grief, to realize the concept of nibbana.
The term sati is related to the verb sarati, which means to remember or to keep in mind. It is sometimes translated as non-reactive awareness, free from agendas, simply present with whatever arises, but the formula for satipatthana doesn’t support that translation.
It is true that non-reactive awareness is actually an aspect of equanimity, a quality fostered in the course of satipatthana, however, the activity of satipatthana definitely has a motivating agenda, i.e. the desire for awakening.
This desire is not classed as a cause of suffering but as part of the path to its ending, and in order to keep the mind properly and securely grounded to the path, mindfulness plays a great role, holding on to the present moment.
An analogy, to make the concept more clear, would be that the awakening is like a mountain on the horizon, the destination to which you are heading. Mindfulness is what reminds one to keep focused on the road to the mountain, rather than paying attention to glimpses of the mountain or getting distracted by other paths one may find along the way which lead away from the road.
Different Applications of Satipaṭṭhāna
The methods described in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta may be applied in a variety of ways, which include:
- focusing on a single method, that in the western world (more specifically in the English speaking world) has come to be consistent with the concept of mindfulness of breath;
- practising the variety of methods separately and in succession;
- maintaining the mindfulness of breath as the primary goal, while using other ways to deal with non-breath stimuli;
- practising more than one method, either tandem or in a situation-guided manner.
Different Characters, Different Satipaṭṭhāna
The type of satipaṭṭhāna recommended by Papañcasudani can change according to the attitude of an individual. Two are the main distinctions:
- whether the individual tends more toward intellectual speculation or affection craving;
- whether the individual is measured or quick reacting.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Satipatthana Sutta": Satipatthana Sutta in Pali language facsimile edition, published by Pytheas Books