Cetasa, Citta, Heart and Mind

Giving up desire for the world, they meditate with a heart rid of desire, cleansing the mind of desire.
So abhijjhaṁ loke pahāya vigatābhijjhena cetasā viharati, abhijjhāya cittaṁ parisodheti.

@sujato Firstly, as this is my first question and real comment, I thought I would express gratitude to you and all who are involved in this beautiful, inspiring and helpful project.
May your endeavours benefit limitless beings in limitless ways. Personally, I have gained so much from this site and it has deepened my understanding and meditation in so many ways. So, thank you so very much!
My training is in an Indian and Tibetan Mahāmudrā meditation lineage. I am on a mission to expand our community’s understanding of the EBT and their relationship to our own meditation texts, which tend to be English, translated from Tibetan, in turn translated from either Chinese or Sanskrit. A rather convoluted process. So I really find so much inspiration hearing the same teachings in the EBT and often find them much more elegant.

I am a relatively new learner when it comes to translation and my Pali understanding is still very basic. However, I’m currently engaged in a number of classes, so let’s hope that develops with time and practice.

My question is related to the quote above.
I am interested to learn why the translation of cetasa would be heart and citta be mind in the same sentence.
Is it merely a translators choice or is there something more subtle I am not understanding?

If anyone can help clarify this, it would be very helpful. Or point me in the direction of where to look if the discussion has already taken place.


Thanks for this interesting question. Certainly a tricky passage to translate, with ceto and citta
used side by side.
A great advertisement for learning Pāli!
Also, viharati is often translated as ‘dwell’ or ‘abide’, and ‘so’ as ‘he’ or ‘one’.
Here is the Ñaṇamoli/Bodhi translation:
“Abandoning covetousness for the world, he abides with a mind free from covetousness, he purifies his mind from covetousness.”

I’m speculating here, but it seems that in the suttas ‘citta’ is used in the sense of something that can be developed or purified, and ‘ceto’ more of a mind-state .


Thanks Stephen,
That sounds like there is something pointing in the right direction.
Although, it still doesn’t quite explain the different usage of heart over mind or vice versa.

Perhaps it’s more common to use ‘a state of mind’ rather than ‘a state of heart’, so how it sounds to the ear might be the main factor for choosing?

Going on the Pali dictionary, it would seem as though heart could be a translation for both.


I think ‘heart’ as a translation choice might be in line with phrases like, “I love her with all my heart”, or “he has a good heart”, i.e. one’s ‘nature’.
One might say, “she has such a good heart, she has truely purified her mind of ill will.”

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In many modern Asian languages there wasn’t any distinction between “mind” and “heart” until the West began exerting an influence. So it isn’t too strange that Pali also didn’t strongly differentiate between the two.

Since citta has a broad semantic field, it covers both the english meaning of “mind” (cognitive center) and the way the word “heart” is used to mean the emotional center of an individual (not literally the physical heart). As has been mentioned, this is not uncommon, and the same case can be seen in Chinese and Japanese for example.

Translators deal with this in different ways, some translations use a different word, like “heartmind” (I’ve seen this in translations of Chinese literature, I really like this method but some find it awkward).

Sujato opted for the another way to deal with this, he translates citta depending on the context. Sometimes the passage is referring to a more cognitive meaning (so we can go with mind in these cases), but sometimes its referring to a more emotional reading (which he then translates as heart).

The advantage of this is that it reads more naturally in english, the disadvantage is that it masks the fact that these passages are using the same term, citta.

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Thank you everyone.
This was my suspicion from the start - that Heart/Mind is not the harsh distinction that we put on it in the West.
It fits with the way Tibetans use Sem - and point to their chest.
My own teacher prefers to use Heart and I wanted to check and see if there were any technical problems with it, rather than simply go along with preference.

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