Kāyānupassanā – The Section on Habits (Sampajānapabba)

Revised February 8, 2019

This is really an extension of the section on postures (Iriyāpathapabba) discussed in the previous post (“Kāyānupassanā – Section on Postures (Iriyāpathapabba)” , going into finer postures and activities. The key point is ultimately to become “sensitized” to each and every action that we take thus leading to the formation of “good habits”, i.e., to become a ”sampajannō”.

1. One cannot start on this section until one has acquired discipline with the “bigger activities”. For example, if one is killing animals for fun, then there is no point in worrying about kicking a dog.

  • As one gets some practice with abstaining from major offenses, one will become “sensitized”, i.e., one will start seeing minor offenses that one is about to make.

2. The relevant paragraph on the Sampajānapabba in the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22) reads:

Puna ca param, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante patikkante sampajānakāri hōti, ālokité vilokité  sampajānakāri hōti, saminjité pasärite sampajānakāri hōti, sanghātipattacivaradhārane sampajānakāri hōti, asite pite khōyite sāyite sampajānakāri hōti, uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakāri hōti, gate thite nisinne sutte jägarite bhāsite tunhibhäve sampajānakāri hōti”.

Here is the mundane translation (“The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness“), which is word by word:

  • “Again, monks, a monk, while going forward or backward, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; whether he is looking straight ahead or looking sideways, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; while he is bending or stretching, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; whether wearing his robes or carrying his bowl, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; whether he is eating, drinking, chewing or savoring, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; while attending to the calls of nature, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence; whether he is walking, standing, sitting, sleeping or waking, speaking or in silence, he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence”.

3. Thus many possible “finer posture and actions” can be seen in the above direct translation, which are correct. The point is to be “morally mindful” in each and every such action, and not just to do those acts like a  robot just in a formal setting as most people do.

  • I am not sure where “impermanence” came from, apparently as the translation of the word, “sampajānakāri”. But as was explained in the post, “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Structure”, sampajānō means knowing right from wrong (“san”) via enhanced wisdom.
  • Thus sampajānakāri means doing something the right way, and sampajānakāri hōti means developing a habit to do that.

4. When one goes into finer details on “being morally mindful” of one’s actions, one is not just concerned with killing, stealing, etc. One is also concerned about general welfare, that one should act with civility and be courteous to others: one should be wearing proper clothes appropriate for the occasion, when eating one should not be making inappropriate noises, while walking in a crowded street one should be mindful of the others and not throw one’s refuse on the roadside, etc.

  • As I pointed out in the post, “Sutta – Introduction”, a sutta gives instructions in the “niddesa” or as a brief description. It needs to be EXPLAINED rather than doing a direct translation. Any sutta was originally delivered over a number of hours, and then summarized in a special way to make it brief and suitable for oral transmission.

5. A case in point is the direct translation of “..uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakārī hoti”, as “while attending to the calls of nature (going to the bathroom), he does so with constant thorough understanding of impermanence!” (from the conventional translation in #2 above).

  • What is meant there is to act with decency and not to relieve oneself in an inappropriate place. In all those cases, sampajānakārī hoti means acting with diligence and prudence.

6. There are many other aspects too. For example, if one is about to take a nap in the middle of the day, one should be asking oneself why one needs to take nap. Unless one had engaged in some strenuous activity and really needs to get some rest, it is not a good habit to take unnecessary naps. Then it could become a habit, a bad one.

  • We should also develop good habits. While walking on the street, it is good to help out those who need help, and to be courteous to others. A small thing like not spitting in a public place or just dropping trash anywhere one pleases can cause discomfort (and health problems) for others.
  • Of course with each minor act we should also make sure it does not pan out to immoral activities. A good example is drinking too much. Drinking alcohol is not an akusala kamma per se (and there is nothing wrong with taking a drink in a social setting), but there is danger in getting intoxicated.
  • An intoxicated mind can be very dangerous; one could lose any sense of decency, and may get into situations that are immoral and offensive. Both drinking and smoking can be harmful to oneself and also to others.

7. As one develops good habits and gets rid of bad ones, one becomes more and more “sensitized” and catch even minor mistakes. This is what is meant by “patisamvedi“(“pati” + “san” “vedi“), i.e., becoming aware of “getting attached to a wrong mindset”.

  • At the same time, one will start seeing a big improvement in one’s “inside fires”, but one also becomes less prone to be aggravated or offended, and one becomes more forgiving to others.
  • There are many posts at the site on habits, and how they can lead to saṃsāric habits and āsāvās; developing good habits and getting rid of bad habits is key to “cooling down” in the short term as well as in the long term.
  • Parents, teachers, and friends play key roles in a child’s life, because a child’s mind can be influenced by others in a good or bad ways, and can lead to lifelong habits. If the foundation is set right, then it will be easier for one to become a “sampajannō”, one who is capable of “keeping fires under control”.

8. This is what was meant by being a “sampajannō”, and being able to “quench fires”, i.e., “ātāpi sampajānō”, which was a key phrase in the uddesa (brief description) of the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta; see, “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Structure“.

Next, “Prerequisites for the Satipaṭṭhāna Bhavana“, ………

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