2. Sati (Mindfulness)
Recollection, remembering or heedfulness, are definitive terms for mindfulness which is known as sati in Pali. There are various forms of sati. For example, one recalls the meritorious deeds performed in the past; one listens attentively so that one can remember the Dhamma discourses. While meditating, one concentrates deeply not to lose the object of meditation. Such is the nature of sati. Sometimes you look forward to meritorious deeds to be done tomorrow or in the future. You take care to observe morality (Sila) and do not breach any precepts. You are mindful to restrain the arising or greed, pride and ignorance. You recall the counsels of your teachers. Only such forms of mindfulness concerning wholesome matters are collectively called sati (mindfulness). Such true mindfulness is also called appamada – without remissness, watchfulness, vigilance. Therefore when a bhikkhu administers Síla precepts to lay devotees, he always reminds thus at the end of giving precepts, “Appamadena sampadetha – be ye without remissness in doing meritorious deeds.” The Tathagata taught thus, “Sati khvaham bhikkhave sabbatthikam vadami – O Bhikkhus, mindfulness is essential in every act.” Though there may be instances of being over faithful, there can never be over-mindfulness. When the Buddha was about to enter PariNibbána, his last words summed up the very essence of his teachings (Dhamma), that is, “Appamadena sampadetha – be always vigilant and watchful in every act.”
Mere Remembrance is Not Sati!
When a person remembers his relatives, when lovers yearns for one another, when friends remember to keep appointments, when one recalls some precious moments, etc. all such remembrances have the nature of attachment (tanha). When one remembers to take revenge for injuries done to one, when one keeps in mind atrocious plans; when one pays heed to possible dangers that may befall en route to a destination; such cases reveal hatred (dosa) as the base. Any form of the aforesaid mental factors being accompanied by attachment or hatred, cannot be classified as true mindfulness (sati). The above are the examples of sanna (memorizing, minding) or vitakka (purposeful thinking); they are not to be mistaken for sati. The natures of sanna and vitakka will be explained in the chapters to come.