Clear Comprehension

Clear Comprehension

Clear comprehension (or Clear Knowing) is discussed in the Satipatthana sutta.  This is the sutta that covers the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness.  Before discussing mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and mind objects (dhammas), the sutta discusses the conditions that need to be present for effective practice.  

First, mindfulness, then concentration, then bare attention.  Bare attention is seeing dhammas clearly, seeing the objects themselves, the objects as the present themselves at the sense doors.  In some texts, this bare attention is considered an aspect of Clear Comprehension.  Discussed at length in the commentary.  Also referenced in the Activities portion of the Contemplations of the Body.

It is most helpful to have a practice that establishes these conditions on a regular basis in order to work with Clear Comprehension effectively.  Vipassana meditation practices such as mindfulness of breathing, choiceless awareness certainly qualify, but any practice that brings mindfulness and bare attention to objects will work.

For this talk we’ll focus on the off-the-cushion aspects, the guidance and support Clear Comprehension can provide in living life (in a way that provides benefit to all beings) or (consistent with one’s values).  Clear Comprehension seeks to inform and guide action (or non-action) by understanding key aspects of the proposed action.  Ultimately, this leads to the reduction or elimination of suffering.  There are 4 aspects of the Clear Comprehension.  Let’s take a look at each one.

Clear Comprehension of Purpose

This first aspect of Clear Comprehension is knowing/understanding the purpose or intention of an action.  Consider whether the purpose is worthy of action.  Certainly, actions that seek to promote progress along the Noble Eightfold Path qualify.  Actions that seek to reduce or eliminate suffering are good, too.  

When considering the purpose of an action, be sure to look at all intended outcomes.  Actions with noble intended outcomes can also have less-than-noble intended outcomes.  For example, it’s noble to take action to help those less fortunate, but not so noble to want to be seen doing so.

When practicing with Clear Comprehension of Purpose, we may find that openness resulting from a strong practice provides confidence when considering certain actions.  This can be a good indicator that an action is beneficial.  If mindfulness is established and the heart is open, choices can be quite easy.

Of course, there will many times when the path is not so clear.  Mindfulness and an open heart may not be well-established, or the situation may be sufficiently complex that it is difficult to find clarity.  These situations provide opportunities to learn, both during and after decisions are made.  Work to find what good may be accomplished, and always be on the lookout for some way a self will benefit from a particular course of action.  More about this self later.

After a difficult decision is made, learn from it afterwards by noting the mind’s tendency to return to it (residue).  If the mind keeps going back to the decision, this is a sign that there is discomfort somewhere.  Seek the source of that discomfort with mindfulness and an open heart.  Decisions that do not produce such residue are most likely beneficial to all.

Considering the purpose of preparing and giving this talk has been very instructive.  Of course, one purpose is to share the dharma as experienced.  However, reference to a self sets a purpose of doing a good job as seen by others, gaining accolades, not screwing up, etc.  

Clear Comprehension of Means

This second aspect of Clear Comprehension, Clear Comprehension of Means (or Suitability) seeks to bring focus to the worldly conditions under which the action should be taken.  Consider the time, place and other conditions under which the action will take place, and how those conditions will affect the outcome.  For example, constructive feedback is beneficial, but the person to which the feedback will be provided must be ready to receive it.  

There are times when someone at work is frustrated with how people in another department did their jobs.  There may be a need to let them vent before providing feedback on how they could have minimized the impact of the mistakes of others by taking precautions.

Communication as an action is particularly interesting.  We have many options for communicating, and each of them conveys certain unspoken messages.  In-person contact, video chat, phone calls, texts and emails all have particular characteristics that make them suitable for some communication, but not others.  Also consider the communication preferences of the person/people involved.  

Where Clear Comprehension of Purpose seeks to establish the what, Clear Comprehension of Means seeks to establish the how.

Clear Comprehension of Domain

Clear Comprehension of Domain is the realization that all actions taken are worthy of consideration.  Every action we take should be taken with mindfulness and Clear Comprehension.  In other words, all of life is practice, and practice is an integral part of life.

This is sometimes expressed as “How can I practice under these very conditions?”

Clear Comprehension of Non-delusion

With Clear Comprehension of Non-Delusion, clear comprehension extends to Anatta.  In all considerations of action, any reference to a self is noted and dismissed.  In advanced practice, references to a self may not even arise.  Nyanaponika Thera considered the Anatta Doctrine the greatest achievement in human thought.  In terms of insight into the mind and its workings, this may well be true.

Discuss my own problems with acceptance of Anatta, even at a theoretical level.  Let alone a day-to-day, keeping it in the forefront of the mind level.

I encourage you to practice with Clear Comprehension.  Start by clearing comprehending the activity of sitting.  What is your intention?  Are the correct means employed?  


  1. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, Nyanaponika Thera, chapter 2
  2. Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization, Analayo, chapter 2
  3. Mindfulness with Clear Compassion, Sayadaw U Sīlānanda

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