4 Foundations of Mindfulness

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness provide the basic meditation manual, as taught by the Buddha.

Contemplation of the body (Kaya)

Contemplation of the feelings (Vedana)

Contemplation of the mind (Citta)

Contemplation of the mind objects (Dharma)

(from Digha Nikaya 22, Majjhima Nikaya 10)

The four subjects include the mindfulness and awareness of breathing, feelings, sensations, the mind, emotions, and subjects of the Dharma.

The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta and the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta are two of the most popular discourses in the Pali Canon, embraced by both Theravada and Mahayana practitioners (see, for example, Thich Nhat Hanh, 2005). (These two discourses are identical except that the latter includes extended exposition regarding mindfulness of The Four Noble Truths).

These discourses (Pāli: sutta) provide a means for practicing mindfulness in a variety of contexts and potentially continuously. It is the primary instructions given for meditation by the Buddha. Famously, the Buddha declares at the beginning of this discourse:

“This is the one and only way (or direct way) [Pāli: ekāyano … maggo], monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the extinguishing of suffering and grief, for walking on the path of truth, for the realization of nibbāna….” (Vipassana Research Institute, 1996, pp. 2, 3.)

The meditation techniques identified in this sutta can be practiced individually or in tandem.

Location of the Sutta

In the Pali Canon, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the tenth discourse in the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) and is thus often designated by “MN 10″; in the Pali Text Society (PTS) edition of the Canon, this text begins on the 55th page of the first volume of its three-volume Majjhima Nikaya (M), and is thus alternately represented as “M i 55.”

As for the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, this is the 22nd discourse in the Digha Nikaya (DN) and is thus often designated by “DN 22″; in the PTS edition of the Canon, the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta begins on the 289th page of the second volume of the PTS’ three-volume Digha Nikaya (D), and is thus alternately represented as “D ii 289.”

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, also called the Four Frames of Reference are also mentioned in the Samyutta Nikaya at SN 47.6 & SN 47.7. Since the teachings are found in the first four Nikayas and repeated in more than one place, the teachings can be considered one of the oldest and Buddhavacana. The Mahayana Chinese version of the scriptures contains a similar version of the Satipatthana Sutta, as well.

In post-canonical Pali literature, the classic commentary on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (as well as for the entire Majjhima Nikaya) is found in Buddhaghosa’s Papañcasudani (Bullitt, 2002; Soma, 2003).


In this sutta, the Buddha identifies four references for establishing mindfulness (satipatthana): body, sensations (or feelings), mind (or consciousness) and mental contents. These are then further broken down into the following sections and subsections:

1. Body (Kāyā)


Postures (Walking, Standing, Sitting, Laying Down)

Clear Comprehending

Reflections on Repulsiveness of the Body

Reflections on Material Elements

Cemetery Contemplations

2. Sensations/Feelings (Vedanā)

pleasant or unpleasant or neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant (neutral) feelings

worldly or spiritual feelings

3. Mind/Consciousness (Cittā)

lust (sarāgaṃ) or without lust (vītarāgaṃ)

hate (sadosaṃ) or without hate (vītadosaṃ)

delusion (samohaṃ) or without delusion (vītamohaṃ)

contracted (saṅkhittaṃ) or scattered (vikkhittaṃ)

lofty (mahaggataṃ) or not lofty (amahaggataṃ)[4]

surpassable (sa-uttaraṃ) or unsurpassed (anuttaraṃ)[5]

quieted (samāhitaṃ) or not quieted (asamāhitaṃ)

released (vimuttaṃ) or not released (avimuttaṃ)

4. Mental Contents (Dharma)

The 5 hindrances

The 5 aggregates of Clinging

The Sense-Bases and their Fetters

The 7 factors of enlightenment

The Four Noble Truths

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