4th Satipatthana in Practice

The fourth section of the Satipatthana Sutta, the discourse on establishing awareness, has often been taught as a series of lists. These are traditionally thought of as lists of what to eliminate (the 5 hindrances), what to cultivate (the 7 factors of enlightenment), what to see as not self (the 5 aggregates), and what to contemplate and realize (the 4 noble truths). Vipassana meditators exposed to this part of the sutta are often instructed to break down their experience into these categories.

That approach is like taking a shopping list into a supermarket, where you look for what is on the list and ignore everything else. It is also like taking a list of what chemicals or additives to avoid, and reading all the labels carefully to make sure they are absent. The lists help us remember what we are looking for, what we already have, and what we need to avoid, so we don’t get distracted by our cravings for objects that capture our attention.

But lists are not tools for insight. At best, they can be frameworks for looking at our experience, helping us to sort the content of our mind into categories. Real insight is found in the investigation of mental processes and the fundamental truths about thirst, how we fuel it, and the path that leads to its cessation.