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The Four Sampajanna

- By Vipassana Research Institute

Maintaining the continuity of the thorough understanding of impermanence based on vedana (sensation)1 is called sampajanna. The Atthakathakara (the commentators) have further explained this term in various ways to clarify its meaning.

A few of these explanations follow-

Samma pakarehi aniccadini janati ti sampajannam2.

One who knows in a right way impermanence as well as suffering and egolessness has wisdom, has sampajanna.

Samantato pakarehi pakattham va savisesam janati ti sampajano.3

One who understands the totality clearly with wisdom from all angles (of whatever is manifesting) or who knows distinctly has sampajanna.

Samma samantato samanca pajananto sampajano.4

One who knows in a right way, in totality through one's own wisdom is sampajana.

These definitions convey the same sense as found in the canonical texts of anicca (impermanence), and its continuity. In the commentaries and the subcommentaries,

Sampajanna is also elaborated in a fourfold way-

1. satthaka-sampajanna (purposeful sampajanna),

2. sappaya- sampajanna (beneficial sampajanna),

3. gocara-sampajanna (domain sampajanna),

4. asammoha-sampajanna (non-delusion sampajanna).

1. Satthaka-sampajanna (purposeful sampajanna)

The Pāli term satthaka (sa + attha = with meaning) means useful or purposeful. The sense here is in distinguishing between what is useful and what is not. For a meditator who is treading on the path of Dhamma (satthaka), the most useful, purposeful thing is something that can help in the realisation of paramattha sacca (ultimate truth), the cessation of suffering. To attain it, one has to totally eradicate the sankhara, which are the source of all suffering. For this, one has to realize anicca (impermanence), the arising and passing away at the level of sensations. Thus, the usefulness and purposefulness of sampajanna lies only in leading meditators to realize impermanence, which alone is beneficial in the attainment of their life's mission, nibbana. This is the true sense of satthaka sampajanna. The continuity of practice should be maintained in all activities, such as moving forward or backward, going for begging alms, or going to visit a cetiya (shrine) etc.

2. Sappaya-sampajannam (beneficial sampajanna)

The term sappaya means beneficial. Knowing in totality for one's own benefit with wisdom is sappaya sampajannam.5 The most beneficial thing for a meditator is to move on the path which leads to the attainment of nibbana. The experience of anicca based on body sensation is the most beneficial tool, since by mere observation of its arising and passing away, with objectivity and continuity, one goes beyond the sphere of sensations to a state beyond mind and matter.

3. Gocara-sampajannam (domain sampajanna)

The literal term gocara (go + cara) means the field where the cow moves, but here the term refers to domain. Technically, when the term is used in meditation, it has two meanings- (i) while a meditator dwells internally, it means the body is the domain of his meditation; (ii) it also means the external movements of the meditator, eg., going for begging alms etc., (gocara).6

Thus the significance of gocara sampajanna lies in maintaining constant thorough understanding of impermanence, both while meditating and while performing worldly activities.7

4. Asammoha-sampajanna (non-delusion sampajanna)

The term asammoha means non-delusion or without ignorance. It refers to the non-ignorance of having thorough understanding of what is happening both inside and outside the body. The realisation of impermanence is asammoha (non-delusion). Therefore with the experience of anicca, a meditator will be able to understand through direct experience, three of the four paramattha dhamma-citta (consciousness), cetasika (psychic factors), and rupa (material qualities). All these are samkhata dhamma (conditioned). By observing these dhamma objectively as anicca, one reaches the state where there is no arising and passing away, which is the fourth paramattha dhamma-nibbana.

Although the Buddha did not mention these four sampajanna in the Canon they are found in the Atthakatha. If we analyse each of them, we find that they are not separate from one another but have the same goal, the realisation of anicca (anicca-bodha). Anicca-bodha is our real purpose (satthaka). It is beneficial (sappaya) for us and is the domain (gocara) of our meditation, leading to right understanding (asammoha), that ultimately results in the final emancipation- nibbana.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Vidita vedana uppajjanti, vidita upatthahanti, vidita abbhattham gacchanti... Samyutta Nikaya

3. 5. 401. And Abhikkante patikkante sampajanakari hoti... Digha Nikaya 2. 376

2. Dhammasangani Atthakatha 16, Kamavacarakusalapadabhajaniyam

3. Digha Nikaya Tika 2. 376

4. Samyutta Nikaya Tika 3. 5. 367

5. Sappayassa attano upakaravahassa hitassa sampajananam sappayasampajannam. Digha Nikaya Tika 1. 109

6. Abhikkamadisu bhikkhacaragocare annatthapi pavattesu avijahita kammatthanasankhate gocare sampajannam. Ibid. 2. 4. 198

7. Abhikkante patikkante sampajanakari hoti... Digha Nikaya 1. 376