But in the Buddhist sense, mindfulness—sati—is always combined with wisdom—panna. Sati-sampajanna and satipanna: they use those two words together in Thailand. They mean, “mindfulness and clear comprehension” and “mindfulness-wisdom.” So I might have an impulse to rob a bank—“I need some money so I’ll go rob the National Westminster Bank”—but the sati-panna says, “No, don’t act on that impulse!” Panna recognizes the bad result if I acted on such an impulse, and karmic result; it confers the understanding that such a thing is wrong, not right to do.

So there’s full comprehension of that impulse, knowing it as just an impulse and not-self; so that even though I might have the desire to rob a bank, I’m not going to make neurotic problems for myself out of worrying about those criminal tendencies. One recognizes that there is just an impulse in the mind that one refrains from acting upon. Then one has a standard of virtue—sila—always as a conventional foundation for living in the human form in this society, with other beings, within this material world—a standard or guideline for both action and non-action

Ven. Ajahn Sumedho is an American-born monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. He served as abbot of Amaravati Monastery in the U.K. from 1984 until his retirement in 2010.

From Cittaviveka: Teachings from the Silent Mind. Copyright © 1996 by Amaravati Publications.
Reprinted by permission of Amaravati Publications.