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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