Emerald Buddha Painting

Per­haps the great­est over­sight of peo­ple is a lack of aware­ness and appre­ci­a­tion for the qual­i­ty of sati, usu­al­ly ren­dered in Eng­lish as ‘mind­ful­ness.’ Even a cur­so­ry exam­i­na­tion of the Bud­dhist teach­ings will reveal the impor­tance of this quality.

The term sati stems from the Pali verb sarati, mean­ing ‘to remem­ber.’ This word has some fas­ci­nat­ing con­nec­tions via its Indo-Euro­pean roots to some Eng­lish words. The San­skrit ver­sion of this verb is smarati, and the Indo-Euro­pean root smṛi is the source of such words as ‘mar­tyr’ (‘to wit­ness’), ‘mourn’ (‘to care’), and most sig­nif­i­cant­ly ‘mem­o­ry’ and ‘remem­ber.’

Sati is trans­lat­ed var­i­ous­ly as ‘mind­ful­ness,’ ‘rec­ol­lec­tion,’ ‘aware­ness,’ ‘recog­ni­tion,’ ‘self-con­scious­ness,’ etc. A koan or para­dox that I have used when teach­ing is to define sati as: ‘to remem­ber the present moment.’ This at first seems like a con­tra­dic­tion, since mem­o­ry is almost always applied to a past event, but I feel it can be use­ful to wake us up to the true mean­ing of this term. Anoth­er def­i­n­i­tion or metaphor is to describe sati as a mir­ror: the abil­i­ty of the mind to clear­ly, pristine­ly, accu­rate­ly rec­og­nize itself and its contents.

Here is a quote by Bhikkhu Bod­hi on this subject:

It is inter­est­ing how a word orig­i­nal­ly mean­ing “mem­o­ry” came to mean “atten­tion to the present.” Per­haps the root idea is that to be mind­ful means “to remember”—to pay atten­tion to what is occur­ring in one’s imme­di­ate expe­ri­ence rather than to allow the mind to drift away under the domin­ion of stray thoughts and tumul­tuous emotions.’


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