Kāyagatā-sati

What does it mean?
Mindfulness immersed in the body. This is a blanket term covering several meditation themes: keeping the breath in mind; being mindful of the body’s posture; being mindful of one’s activities; analyzing the body into its parts; analyzing the body into its physical properties (see dhatu); contemplating the fact that the body is inevitably subject to death and disintegration.

-from Access to Insight

Why does it matter?
Kaya=body
Sati=Mindfulness
Gata is a little less clear, so you sometimes see “Mindfulness of the Body” and the like.

By the way, Mindfulness is such a beautiful translation of the word Sati. Partly it works because we kind of know what it means without there really being an English language tradition of using that word much in other contexts. It’s almost hard to remember that a person, in this case the great late 19th/early 20th century Buddhist scholar Rhys Davids, actually had to think of using the word. What a perfect choice!

Mindfulness is nearly synonymous with Buddhist meditation, and the Satipatthana Sutta or Mahasatipatthana Suttas are the reference. But it’s worth remembering that there are dozens of suttas on mindfullness in the canon, including this one that focuses only on mindfulness of the body.

Mindfulness of the body includes mindfulness of:

  • the breath
  • the postures (walking, lying, etc.)
  • parts of the body
  • elements of the body (water, fire, etc.)

Mindfulness of the body can by itself lead to jhana and to the higher knowledges. It is sometimes taught that insight requires “moving on” to mindfulness of feelings, thoughts, and dhammas, but this isn’t true in the canon. Mindfulness of the body, or even one aspect such as mindfulness of breathing is enough to go all the way in the path.

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4 thoughts on “Kāyagatā-sati

  1. I am going to address a small group tonight that has had two deaths (a son and a partner) in the last month. Grief and emotional turmoil is ever present in these events. We will concentrate on being present for the session by the three recommendations: settle the body, settle the breathe, settle the mind. Your reminders are helpful. Thought I might start with this: all persons not present, please stand up.” (borrowed from Bernie Glassman)

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