'āyatana' in context

Like some other terms essential for the understanding of the EBT āyatana has not received its due attention, often translated as the inaccessible ‘base’ I would like to highlight in which conceptual contexts it appears.

āyatana in Vedic/Sanskrit sources

Monier-Williams translates āyatana as a

resting-place, support, seat, place, home, house, abode, a sanctuary, a barn

Jan Gonda provides an exhaustive source collection of āyatana in Indian sources (Gonda (1975): Selected Studies, Volume II, p. 178-258). It’s a term that is used in different contexts, mostly with a concrete meaning and also in ritual practice. There are many connotations but they center around the ones that signify

home, homestead, habitat, resort, refuge, place of origin, place of destination

Hence it’s a “term used for a regular place, position, etc. occupied by a person”, be it a field, garden, barn, or home. More metaphorically it means a mental ‘home-field’. In any case it is a limited personal space, a place of specific function for specific objects (fire, cows, devas).

I think this cloud of connotations fits perfectly well also with the EBT and should be seen as the basic understanding of what āyatana means.

āyatana in EBT

Early conclusion

Maybe it’s better to present my conclusion here instead of at the end of this lengthy text collection. Personally the biggest ‘discovery’ in the research was how important ayatanas are as a central aspect of the Buddha dhamma. As I understand it now the ayatanas are the place where we ‘locate our selves’. The normal person experiences him-/herself as a sense-being. Here is where our normal sañña happens, and as a consequence a large part of our thoughts and feelings. With an appropriate conceptual understanding and some meditation practice we are able to see ourselves differently, maybe less constricted, more spacious, or fundamentally as consciousness. This would correlate with a different ‘home-field’ of experience, a different ayatana. Leaving all such identity-focal-centers (i.e. ayatanas) behind would mean an alternative realization of anatta and arahantship.

The pre-Buddhist usage establishes what I think is a neglected aspect in translating EBT, namely the ‘personalized’ aspect of ayatanas, that they constitute ‘home-bases’ for experiencing, and not just the highly abstract ‘base’ that we got used to in our Buddhist-English…

The relevance of āyatana in the Buddha Dhamma

I will reference āyatanas in specific contexts and meanings below, but apart from that the EBT themselves give them an exceptional position next to few other meta-concepts like dhātus, khandhas, paṭiccasamuppāda, and four noble truths. Keep in mind that in the following examples B.Bodhi often translates ‘sense bases’ which is a sensible interpretation but not literal since the texts mention only ‘āyatana’, and not _saḷ_āyatana…

He then taught me the Dhamma: Aggregates (khandhā), sense bases (āyatanā), and elements (dhātu). Having heard the Dhamma from him, I went forth into homelessness.
So me dhammamadesesi, khandhāyatanadhātuyo Tassāhaṃ dhammaṃ sutvāna, pabbajiṃ anagāriyaṃ. (SN 8.12)

Whatever, bhikkhus, is the extent of the aggregates, the elements, and the sense bases (āyatana), he does not conceive that, does not conceive in that, does not conceive from that, does not conceive, ‘That is mine.’
Yāvatā, bhikkhave, khandhadhātuāyatanaṃ tampi na maññati, tasmimpi na maññati, tatopi na maññati, taṃ meti na maññati. (SN 35.31, 35.92)

Why are so many people here afraid when the path has been taught with many āyatanas?
Kiṃsūdha bhītā janatā anekā, Maggo canekāyatanappavutto;
_Pucchāmi taṃ gotama bhūripañña, Kismiṃ ṭhito paralokaṃ na bhāye’’t_i (SN 1.75; lit. aneka-āyatana-pavutto = various-āyatanas-explained)

When, Ananda, a bhikkhu is skilled in the elements, skilled in the bases, skilled in dependent origination, skilled in what is possible and what is impossible, in that way he can be called a wise man and an inquirer.
Yato kho, ānanda, bhikkhu dhātukusalo ca hoti, āyatanakusalo ca hoti, paṭiccasamuppādakusalo ca hoti, ṭhānāṭhānakusalo ca hoti – ettāvatā kho, ānanda, paṇḍito bhikkhu ‘vīmaṃsako’ti alaṃ vacanāyā. (MN 115)

And how, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu a triple investigator? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu investigates by way of the elements, by way of the sense bases, and by way of dependent origination. It is in such a way that a bhikkhu is a triple investigator.
Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu tividhūpaparikkhī hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu dhātuso upaparikkhati, āyatanaso upaparikkhati, paṭiccasamuppādaso upaparikkhati. (SN 22.57)

[There are] 1. Skill in offences and rehabilitation from them 2. Skill in entering and returning 3. ‘Skill in the elements and in paying attention to them. 3. ‘Skill in the sense-spheres and dependent origination. 4. ‘Skill in what are causes and what are not
1.Āpattikusalatā ca āpattivuṭṭhānakusalatā ca. 2.Samāpattikusalatā ca samāpattivuṭṭhānakusalatā ca. 3.Dhātukusalatā ca manasikārakusalatā ca. 4.Āyatanakusalatā ca paṭiccasamuppādakusalatā ca. 5.Ṭhānakusalatā ca aṭṭhānakusalatā ca. (DN 33)

As when a seed is sown in a field / It grows depending on a pair of factors:
It requires both the soil’s nutrients / And a steady supply of moisture:
Just so the aggregates and elements, / And these six bases of sensory contact,
Have come to be dependent on a cause; / With the cause’s breakup they will cease.
Evaṃ khandhā ca dhātuyo, cha ca āyatanā ime; Hetuṃ paṭicca sambhūtā, hetubhaṅgā nirujjhare’’ti (SN 5.9)

These are the six elements’: this, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma taught by me that is unrefuted… uncensured by wise ascetics and brahmins. ‘These are the six bases for contact’…‘These are the eighteen mental examinations’… .‘These are the four noble truths’… (AN 3.61)

Dictionary Definition

The PED has abstracted the meaning and we have for our purpose two aspects:

  1. stretch, extent, reach, compass, region; sphere, locus, place, spot; position, occasion
  2. sphere of perception or sense in general, object of thought, sense-organ & object; relation order.

āyatana as where sañña happens

The most common occurrence of āyatana in the EBT is the domain or field, more specifically the home-base, where the process of sañña is taking place. Foremost among them are saḷāyatana and the arupas.

saḷāyatana in paṭiccasamuppāda

Among the different versions of the PS the ‘six-āyatanas’ saḷāyatana has its place between nāmarūpa and phassa.

nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ; saḷāyatanapaccayā phasso
nāmarūpanirodhā saḷāyatananirodho; saḷāyatananirodhā phassanirodho (e.g. SN 12.1)

As a special application of ayatana in the context of the PS we have ‘obtaining the bases’ as an expression for birth. B. Bodhi interprets as ‘bases for contact’ but actually it’s just ‘ayatana’. Again it should be understood as ‘home-bases’…

The birth of beings in the various orders of beings, their coming to birth, precipitation, generation, manifestation of the aggregates, obtaining the bases for contact - this is called birth.
Yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho, ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, jāti. (DN 22, MN 9, MN 10, MN 141, SN 12.2)

cha phassāyatanā - six āyatanas of contact/touch

The term phassāyatana appears as part of the PS formula, and also on its own

…all these recluses and brahmins experience these feelings only by repeated contacts through the six bases of contact. With feeling as condition, there arises in them craving… (DN 1)

When, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands as they really are the origin and passing away of the six bases of contact, their satisfaction, unsatisfactoriness, and the escape from them, then he understands what transcends all these views. (DN 1, MN 102)

…when a bhikkhu practises restraint in the six bases of contact, and having understood that attachment is the root of suffering, is without attachment, liberated by the destruction of attachment, it is not possible that he would direct his body or arouse his mind towards any object of attachment. (MN 105)

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu does not understand as they really are the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape, in the case of these six bases for contact, then he has not lived the holy life…you should clearly see the eye as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ This itself is the end of suffering… (SN 35.71)

Bhikkhus, these six bases for contact—if well tamed, well guarded, well protected, well restrained—are bringers of happiness (sukkha; if unrestrained bringers of dukkha). (SN 35.94)

When, having understood as they really are the origin, the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in regard to the six bases for contact, a bhikkhu is liberated by nonclinging. (SN 35.103)

So too, a bhikkhu does not recognize either a self or anything belonging to a self in these six bases for contact. Since he does not recognize anything thus, he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated. Being unagitated, he personally attains Nibbana. (SN 35.234)

Friend, as far as the range of the six bases for contact extends, just so far extends the range of proliferation (papañca)… With the remainderless fading away and cessation of the six bases for contact there is the cessation of proliferation… (AN 4.174)

Of those who proclaim supreme nibbāna in this very life, this is the foremost, namely, emancipation through non-clinging after one has seen as they really are the origin and passing away, the gratification, danger, and escape in regard to the six bases for contact. (AN 10.29)

###Six internal and external āyatanas - cha ajjhattikabāhirā āyatanā
The internal (ajjhattika) āyatanas are: cakkhāyatanaṃ, sotāyatanaṃ, ghānāyatanaṃ, jivhāyatanaṃ, kāyāyatanaṃ, manāyatanaṃ
In my understanding I follow Olivelle who distinguishes in the Upanishads between the eye and sight.

In dealing with sight and hearing … these documents clearly distinguish the power or the act of seeing and hearing from the respective external organs, the eyes and the ears. Indeed, they consistently use different Sanskrit terms for the two - cakṣus and śrotra for sight and hearing, and akṣan and karṇia for eye and ear, respectively.

Pali also has two different terms: akkhi and cakkhu, yet they are rarely differenciated and are often taken as synonymous terms for the sense organs. In confusing them, I think, we are making the mistake of slightly shifting our understanding of the dhamma into a materialistic, ontological and slightly less cognitive direction. Hence the internal āyatanas are for me: the āyatanas of seeing, hearing… minding

The six external (bāhira) āyatanas are: form- (rūpāyatana), sound-, smell-, taste-, touch-object (phoṭṭabbāyatana), mental phenomena (dhammāyatanaṁ). (e.g. in DN 28, DN 33…)

abhibhāyatana #1

Further below there will be a second, more specific type of ‘mastered ayatana’…

And what, bhikkhus, are the six mastered bases? Here, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has seen a form with the eye, there do not arise in him evil unwholesome states, nor any memories and intentions connected with the fetters. The bhikkhu should understand this thus: ‘This base has been mastered. For this has been called a mastered base by the Blessed One.’
Katamāni ca, bhikkhave, cha abhibhāyatanāni? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā nuppajjanti pāpakā akusalā sarasaṅkappā saṃyojaniyā. Veditabbametaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā – ‘abhibhūtametaṃ āyatanaṃ’… (SN 35.96)

The formless realms

The formless realms - or short ‘arūpas’ - is the second most common context for āyatanas to appear (in many suttas, e.g. AN 8.66). The four are 1.ākāsānañcāyatana 2.viññāṇañcāyatana 3.ākiñcaññāyatana 4.nevasaññānāsaññāyatana

It’s important to point out that the mode of operation also in the arūpas is saññā - which parallels the mode in the six-āyatanas. (Even arūpa #8 has paradoxically a saññā that is only abandoned in arahantship - see MN 106, MN 121, AN 9.33, AN 10.6, AN 10.7, AN 11.7, AN 11.9, AN 11.18, AN 11.19, AN 11.21)

So although the arūpas mostly appear in the context of lofty meditation they should be understood as ‘fields of experience’ that produce their own saññā.

Various doctrinally relevant āyatanas


The kasinas (which gain prominence in the Visuddhimagga) are mentioned only a few time in the EBT. Often the list of ten kasinas are called kasiṇāyatanāni. The literal meaning is mostly obscure, the dictionary gives ‘whole, all, entire’. The Sanskrit parallel kṛtsna appears often in the older Satapatha Brahmana as ‘whole,’ ‘complete’, ‘pure’. The kasiṇāyatanā should thus be understood as ‘dwellings of wholeness’

Ten kasiṇāyatanāni: He perceives the Earth-Kasina, the Water-Kasina, the Fire-Kasina, the Wind-Kasina, the Blue Kasina, the Yellow Kasina, the Red Kasina, the White Kasina, the Space-Kasina, the Consciousness Kasina, above, below, on all sides, undivided, unbounded.
Dasa kasiṇāyatanāni. Pathavīkasiṇameko sañjānāti, uddhaṃ adho tiriyaṃ advayaṃ appamāṇaṃ… (DN 33, similarly DN 34, AN 10.25, AN 10.29)

Again, Udāyin, I have proclaimed to my disciples the way to develop the ten kasina bases. One contemplates the earthkasina above, below, and across, undivided and immeasurable (as in DN 33)… And thereby many disciples of mine abide having reached the perfection and consummation of direct knowledge.
Puna caparaṃ, udāyi, akkhātā mayā sāvakānaṃ paṭipadā, yathāpaṭipannā me sāvakā dasa kasiṇāyatanāni bhāventi. (MN 77)

Some fancy ayatanas

Ānanda, there are seven stations of consciousness [viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo = same/different in body & same/different in saññā] and two ayatanas… [The two ayatanas are:] The ayatana of beings-without-sañña and, secondly, the ayatana of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception.
Satta kho, ānanda, viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo, dve āyatanāni… Asaññasattāyatanaṃ nevasaññānāsaññāyatanameva dutiyaṃ. (DN 15)

But these two bases—the base of neither-perception-nornon-perception and the cessation of perception and feeling—I say are to be described by meditative bhikkhus skilled in attainments and skilled in emerging from attainments after they have attained them and emerged from them.
Yāni ca kho imāni, bhikkhave, nissāya dve āyatanāni – nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpatti ca saññāvedayitanirodho ca, jhāyīhete, bhikkhave, samāpattikusalehi samāpattivuṭṭhānakusalehi samāpajjitvā vuṭṭhahitvā sammā akkhātabbānīti vadāmī’’ti. (AN 9.36 )

A bhikkhu - not attending to the perception of the base of nothingness, not attending to the perception of the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception - attends to the singleness dependent on the signless concentration of mind (animitta cetosamādhi). His mind enters into that signless concentration of mind and acquires confidence, steadiness, and resolution. He understand thus: … There is present only this amount of disturbance, namely, that connected with the six bases (saḷāyatanika) that are dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’

abhibhāyatana #2

The following term shows certain similarities with kasinas, e.g. in having the same colors in the same order. The commentaries make the same connection as B. Bodhi’s notes below show…

I have proclaimed to my disciples the way to develop the eight bases for transcendence. Perceiving form internally, one sees forms externally, limited, fair and ugly; by transcending them, one perceives thus: ‘I know, I see.’ This is the first base for transcendence. [second is the same with forms ‘externally, immeasurable, fair and ugly’. Third & fourth are with ‘not perceiving forms internally’. #5 no forms internally but externally blue, #6 yellow, #7 red, #8 white].
Puna caparaṃ, udāyi, akkhātā mayā sāvakānaṃ paṭipadā, yathāpaṭipannā me sāvakā aṭṭha abhibhāyatanāni bhāventi. Ajjhattaṃ rūpasaññī eko bahiddhā rūpāni passati parittāni suvaṇṇadubbaṇṇāni. (MN 77, similarly DN 16 , DN 33, DN 34, AN 8.65)

Notes B. Bodhi:

Note to MN 77: MA explains that these are called bases of transcendence (abhibhāyatana) because they transcend (abhibhavati, overcome) the opposing states and the objects, the former through the application of the appropriate antidote, the latter through the arising of knowledge.

Note to AN 8.65. Abhibhāyatanāni. From the descriptions both in the text and commentary, it seems that the “bases of overcoming” are actually approaches to the kasiṇas, described in detail in Vism. Mp: “The abhibhāyatanāni are causes of overcoming (abhibhavanakāraṇāni). What do they overcome? The adverse qualities and the objects. For they overcome the adverse qualities opposed to them (paṭipakkhabhāvena paccanīkadhamme) and, through a person’s superior knowledge, [they overcome] the objects (puggalassa ñāṇuttariyatāya ārammaṇāni).”

vimuttāyatanā - liberated ayatanas

Five bases of deliverance (vimuttāyatanāni): (a) … as [a monk] receives the teaching, he gains a grasp of both the spirit and the letter of the teaching… (b) in the course of teaching Dhamma to others © as he is chanting the Dhamma … ; or (d) … when he applies his mind (cetasā) to the Dhamma, thinks (anuvitakketi) and ponders over it (anuvicāreti) and concentrates his attention on it (manasānupekkhati); or (e) when he has properly grasped some concentration-sign (samādhi-nimittam), has well considered it, applied his mind to it (supadhāritaṁ), and has well penetrated it with wisdom (suppaṭividdhaṁ paññāya). At this (a-e), joy arises in him, and from this joy, delight; and by this delight his senses are calmed, he feels happiness as a result, and with this happiness his mind is established. (DN 33, similarly DN 34)

AN 5.26 Bhikkhus, there are these five bases of liberation by means of which, if a bhikkhu dwells heedful, ardent, and resolute, his unliberated mind is liberated, his undestroyed taints are utterly destroyed, and he reaches the as-yet-unreached unsurpassed security from bondage. (Rest as DN 33/34)

Those good recluses and brahmins who describe the self as neither percipient nor non-percipient and unimpaired after death describe such a self, neither percipient nor non-percipient and unimpaired after death, to be either material…or neither material nor immaterial. If any recluses or brahmins describe the entering upon this base to come about through a measure of formations regarding what is seen, heard, sensed, and cognized, that is declared to be a disaster for entering upon this base. For this base, it is declared, is not to be attained as an attainment with formations; this base, it is declared, is to be attained as an attainment with a residue of formations. That is conditioned and gross, but there is cessation of formations.’ Having known ‘There is this,’ seeing the escape from that, the Tathagata has gone beyond that.
Ye hi keci, bhikkhave, samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā diṭṭhasutamutaviññātabbasaṅkhāramattena etassa āyatanassa upasampadaṃ paññapenti, byasanañhetaṃ, bhikkhave, akkhāyati etassa āyatanassa upasampadāya. Na hetaṃ, bhikkhave, āyatanaṃ saṅkhārasamāpattipattabbamakkhāyati; saṅkhārāvasesasamāpattipattabbametaṃ, bhikkhave, āyatanamakkhāyati. (MN 102)

When he practises in this way [relating to sensual pleasures] and frequently abides thus, his mind acquires confidence in this base. Once there is full confidence, he either attains to the imperturbable now or else he resolves [upon it] with wisdom. On the dissolution of the body, after death, it is possible that the evolving consciousness may pass on [to rebirth] in the imperturbable.
Tassa evaṃpaṭipannassa tabbahulavihārino āyatane cittaṃ pasīdati… (MN 106)

Does any mental excitement concerning any base among these five cords of sensual pleasure ever arise in me?
atthi nu kho me imesu pañcasu kāmaguṇesu aññatarasmiṃ vā aññatarasmiṃ vā āyatane uppajjati cetaso samudācāro’ti? (MN 122)

But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance… that field (khetta) does not exist, that site (vatthu) does not exist, that base (āyatana) does not exist, that foundation does not exist conditioned by which that pleasure and pain arise internally. (SN 12.25, AN 4.171)

Gone beyond the figments in respect of things past and future, having gone beyond, with knowledge of purity / completely released from all ayatanas, he would wander properly in the world.
Atītesu anāgatesu cāpi, kappātīto aticcasuddhipañño; Sabbāyatanehi vippamutto, sammā so loke paribbajeyya. (Snp 2.13)

Various other āyatanas

ariya āyatana

Although rare this expression can be found…

This reference is probably meant in an ethnic/geographic sense rather than a doctrinal one.

Rebirth in the sphere of the noble ones is rare in the world.
ariyāyatane paccājāti dullabhā lokasmiṃ (AN 6.96)

The following case obviously refers to ariya as an ethnic/geographic reference again:

Ānanda, as far as the Ariyan realm extends, as far as its trade extends, this will be the chief city, Pāṭaliputta…
Yāvatā, ānanda, ariyaṃ āyatanaṃ yāvatā vaṇippatho idaṃ agganagaraṃ bhavissati pāṭaliputtaṃ puṭabhedanaṃ (DN 16)

Here we have the only case where ariya āyatana has to be understood as a mode or dwelling of ariyas/arahants:

Here a bhikkhu considers thus: ‘When shall I enter upon and abide in that base that the noble ones now enter upon and abide in?’ In one who thus generates a longing for the supreme liberations…
kudāssu nāmāhaṃ tadāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharissāmi yadariyā etarahi āyatanaṃ upasampajja viharantī’ti? (MN 44, MN 137)

Forest dwelling - araññāyatana

In the first place, an ascetic or Brahmin who has not managed to gain this unexcelled attainment, takes his carrying-pole and plunges into the depths of the forest thinking…
…ambaṭṭha, ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā imaññeva anuttaraṃ vijjācaraṇasampadaṃ anabhisambhuṇamāno khārividhamādāya araññāyatanaṃ ajjhogāhati (DN 3)

Once there was a matted-haired fire-worshipper who dwelt in the forest in a leaf-hut.
Bhūtapubbaṃ, rājañña, aññataro aggiko jaṭilo araññāyatane paṇṇakuṭiyā sammati (DN 23)

They made leaf-huts in forest places and meditated in them…
Te araññāyatane paṇṇakuṭiyo karitvā paṇṇakuṭīsu jhāyanti…. (DN 27)

B.Bodhi in MN 12 translates simply as ‘forest’, and in MN 25 as ‘forest wild’…

I think that in light of the specific Sanskrit background we can translate a bit more precisely as ‘his forest-dwelling’, instead of an unspecified ‘forest’.

General professions

There are, venerable sir, various crafts (lit: ‘vast-crafts-ayatanas’, maybe best translated as ‘various general professions’), such as elephant-drivers, horse-drivers, chariot-fighters [the list goes on with more than 20 professions]
Yathā nu kho imāni, bhante, puthusippāyatanāni, seyyathidaṃ… (DN 2)

Minor mentions

Fools do many evils because they are drunk, while causing other people to be negligent.
Tis ayatana of demerit should be avoided, but fools are delighted, confused with mind upset.
Etaṃ apuññāyatanaṃ vivajjaye, ummādanaṃ mohanaṃ bālakantaṃ (Snp 2.14)

There are these six dangers attached to addiction to strong drink and sloth-producing drugs: present waste of money, increased quarrelling, sickness-ayatana…
Sandiṭṭhikā dhanajāni kalahappavaḍḍhanī, rogānaṃ āyatanaṃ… (DN 31)

When anyone exhausts wealth on anything apart from these four worthy deeds, that wealth is said to have gone to waste, to have been squandered, to have been used ‘without-ayatana’.
Yassa kassaci, gahapati, aññatra imehi catūhi pattakammehi bhogā parikkhayaṃ gacchanti, ime vuccanti, gahapati, bhogā aṭṭhānagatā apattagatā anāyatanaso paribhuttā. (AN 4.61)

…but although he has eyes he does not perceive objects or their spheres…
Tassa tadeva cakkhu hoti te rūpā, tañcāyatanaṃ nappaṭisaṃvedeti. (DN 23, AN 9.37)

There is no lauding of one’s own Dhamma and no disparaging of the Dhamma of others; there is the teaching of the Dhamma in its full range, and so many emancipators.
Acchariyaṃ, bho ānanda, abbhutaṃ, bho ānanda! Na ca nāma sadhammokkaṃsanā bhavissati, na paradhammavambhanā, āyatane ca dhammadesanā tāva bahukā ca niyyātāro paññāyissanti. (MN 76, similarly AN 3.72)

Master Gotama, is there any Ājıvaka who, on the dissolution of the body, has gone to heaven?” “When I recollect the past ninety-one aeons, Vaccha, I do not recall any Ājıvaka who, on the dissolution of the body, went to heaven, with one exception, and he held the doctrine of the moral efficacy of action, the doctrine of the moral efficacy of deeds.” “That being so, Master Gotama, that sectarian fold (titthāyatana) is empty even of one who goes to heaven.” “That being so, Vaccha, that sectarian fold is empty even of one who goes to heaven. (MN 71)

Bhikkhus, there are these three sectarian tenets (titthāyatanāni) which, when questioned, interrogated, and cross-examined by the wise, and taken to their conclusion, will eventuate in non-doing. (AN 3.61)

A large tree with a mighty trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit, firm roots, and bearing fruit, is a support for many birds. Having flown across the sky, the birds resort to this delightful base.
Manorame āyatane, sevanti naṃ vihaṅgamā… (AN 5.38)

Seeing that this dwelling in a house is a constriction, the sphere of pollution, and that going-forth is an open-air life, he went forth.
Sambādhoyaṃ gharāvāso, rajassāyatanaṃ iti; Abbhokāsova pabbajjā, iti disvāna pabbaji (Snp 3.1)

This last one seems to be more of a figure of speech, and B. Sujato kindly delivered his take on it:

…they become capable of realizing them, in each and every case [lit. maybe ‘whenever an ayatana exists’]
…tatra tatreva sakkhibhabbataṃ pāpuṇāti sati satiāyatane (MN 73, AN 3.101, AN 3.102, similarly MN 119, AN 5.23, AN 5.28, AN 5.68, AN 6.71, AN 9.35)


Brilliant. Thanks Gabriel. :slightly_smiling_face:

Was Ud 8.1 included?

Atthi, bhikkhave, tadāyatanaṃ, yattha neva pathavī, na āpo, na tejo, na vāyo, na ākāsānañ­cāyata­naṃ, na viñ­ñā­ṇañ­cāyata­naṃ, na ākiñ­cañ­ñā­yatanaṃ, na neva­saññā­nā­sañ­ñāyata­naṃ, nāyaṃ loko, na paraloko, na ubho candimasūriyā. Tatrāpāhaṃ, bhikkhave, neva āgatiṃ vadāmi, na gatiṃ, na ṭhitiṃ, na cutiṃ, na upapattiṃ; appatiṭṭhaṃ, appavattaṃ, anā­ramma­ṇa­me­vetaṃ. Esevanto dukkhassā

There is, bhikkhus, that base where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no base consisting of the infinity of space, no base consisting of the infinity of consciousness, no base consisting of nothingness, no base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; neither this world nor another world nor both; neither sun nor moon. Here, bhikkhus, I say there is no coming, no going, no staying, no deceasing, no uprising. Not fixed, not movable, it has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.

Thanks, I corrected AN 3.62 to AN 3.61.
Regarding the Udana, I am in general so unsure about the status of the KN that I usually don’t include it in my research and stick to the first four Nikayas. For probably nothing more than sentimental reasons I include the whole Snp and the Dhp though…

For whoever is interested, I published a [draft article on āyatana on academia.edu] ((PDF) Āyatana in Early Buddhism | Gabriel Ellis - Academia.edu). and google drive I still think that it’s a totally neglected and not well understood concept with practical implications and hope there will be more interest and crossover to meditation.


So basically: almost synonymous with vihāra?

1 Like

Kinda. More a (mental) home-place.

1 Like

So would you say, whereas vihāra is any place one can dwell (physically and/or in it’s psychological usage), āyatanas are more the default/habitual dwelling place.

I liked your conclusion about the transcendent transformation of āyatana being a way of describing the path. I would guess it’s relevant to other ways of describing such transformation, as being fundamentally a change in perception, or as transcendentally sublimating the pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ avakanti (5 carnal senses/powers) to the pañcaindriyāni (5 spiritual faculties/powers). Although I don’t think I’ve every seen anything that directly states the 5 ordinary faculties are to be gradually superseded by development of the 5 spiritual faculties, that just makes sense to me given the terms used.


Yes, that sums it up well. It is one thing to temporarily pay attention to my sense-activity and reap a meditation reward. To not let the senses be my prime access to experience is a whole other level of commitment to meditation, dhamma, and spiritual practice.


Would that mean that if my heart were fully open the brahmaviharas could be my āyatana?
This is an attempt to understand the concept, not a request for practice advice. :wink:


Yes, that’s my understanding from the texts. Not that it’s explicitly in there. But I quoted the texts where the jhanas are called ayatana (AN 9.43-45) and there are ‘ariyan ayatanas’ as well (MN 44, MN 137) which I interpret as ayatanas of liberated ones. In extension it makes sense that theoretically also the brahmaviharas could be seen as ayatanas as well if we take our ‘seat’ there.



What is the ‘root’ of the word ayatana?

1 Like

Don’t expect perfect scholarly agreement on this but Gonda at least agrees with others that the indo-persian root yat means ‘to arrive at (or to attain) the natural place’.


I found this at the end of the PTS dictionary entry on ayatana.

“Sk. āyatana, not found in the Vedas; but freq. in BSk. From ā + yam , cp. āyata”

I am not sure what it’s saying. Is ‘āyata’ supposed to be the root according to PTS, what are your thoughts on this?

I would go with the Indologists on this one. Plus, I quoted explicit examples both from the Vedas (i.e. the Samhitas) and the Upanisads. So I don’t know what they mean in the PTS.

[Edit: Possibly some Buddhist scholars assume a completely different word/root with the exact same spelling? Dunno, doesn’t make sense to me…]

I am not a scholar, just sharing some thoughts. PTS seems to give the following abstract meaning

outstretched, extended, long, in length

Extended could mean;

Extended in space-
Possible sense of the word ayatana as field, range, home…

Extended in a direction-
Possible sense of the word ayatana as way, means to some end or destination.

Extended in time -
Possible sense of the word ayatana as activity, process, profession

Extended in the mental sphere -

For me personaly, the primary sense of the word ayatana in SN12 and SN35 seems to be, ‘means’ or ‘agency’ by which the world is contacted and perceived.

Whatever in the world through which you perceive the world and conceive the world
Yena kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī—

is called the world in the training of the noble one.
ayaṃ vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko.

And through what in the world do you perceive the world and conceive the world?
Kena cāvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī?

Through the eye in the world you perceive the world and conceive the world.
Cakkhunā kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī.

Through the ear …
nose …
tongue …
body …

What dependant origination seems to point to is that, there is no ‘Agent’. Simply six dependantly originated ‘agencies’ performing their respective functions. Final product of which is repeated birth, old age sickness and death.