Citta, Mano, Viññana - Definitions and distinctions

  • What can be said to be - acording to EBTs - the definitions and distinctions between the terms citta, mano and viññana?

  • What are key the practical implications and doctrinal contexts of use of these terms in the EBTs?

  • How does the progressive abandoning of the 5 lower and higher fetters (saṃyojana) affect (or not) these things?


While there have been many attempts to show that these are either the same or different, in my view that is missing the point somewhat. The terms are, generally speaking, synonyms, and their usage overlaps to some degree, but they tend to be used in different contexts:

  1. Viṇṇāṇa is part of the khandhas and āyatanas, and hence pertains to the first noble truth: it is suffering.
  2. Mano is typically used in an active sense of will or volition, closely related to kamma, and hence pertains to the second noble truth, the cause of suffering.
  3. Citta is to be developed and thus pertains to the fourth noble truth.
  4. The cessation of all these is, of course, the third noble truth.

Thanks Bhante,

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s first lecture in his series on the Anguttara Nikaya, which started late last year covers the first few dozen suttas of the ones, which deal with the mind, and he has makes similar points.

See YouTube for the series and

For the first class.


Thanks Bhante for your interpretation which made me look at the three words in a completely different perspective. I would like to add the following analogy which was my understanding up to this point in time.

Vinnana, Mano and Citta are like the water in a well. The well gets its water from a fountain which is deep under ground and runs uninterruptedly. And then there is water filled in the well’s cavity which is exposed to the outside.
So in this analogy, the fountain that runs deep underground is like the Citta (Bhavanga) and water in the well’s cavity is like Mano (mind) while the water on the surface is like Vinnana.

If I may elaborate a little bit more, the water on the surface ie Vinnana gets quickly disturbed when it comes into contact with the external world ( six external sense objects). Then the disturbance reaches the mind and then Citta. This is a different interpretation altogether and it means that the three terms are interconnected and denote three stages of the same phenomena.

This is what I have read somewhere and may be with your intelligence, you can use this analogy to illustrate for us the real workings of these three terms more realistically.

With Metta


I think there is radiant (pabassara) Citta but no radiant Vinnana or Mano.

With metta


Perhaps that is why we contemplate on Citta (cittanupassana) in Satipathana

1 Like

Yes, but to contemplate (observe) citta you need to be conscious of what is arising in the mind. So there is consciousness of mental objects.

Vinnana is observed in Mindfulness of phenomena or dhammanupassana.

Citta has release of mind. I think it has perversions as well.

Mano has mind door.

I think a lot depends on the context, though.

1 Like

Could you say what you mean by observing vinnana, practically speaking?
To observe something you need to be conscious of it, this is the case both “internally” and “externally”.
Being conscious of consciousness sounds like a paradox.

You have to observe it when the stimuli switch from one sensory organ to another one.

We are aware that we are conscious, are we not?

It’s aware of it initially, internally and later externally. We can’t be aware of the minds of others except with superpowers - so this is only inferred. You can do it with practice but it has to be with a mind of hindrance free samadhi.

Switching from one sensory organ to another - isn’t that noticing a change in where attention is placed?

Yes, first notice the next placement of attention or mindfulness or consciousness. Then notice or rather focus on the gap, between the two.

Viññana is used in context of cognitif process. It is one instrument of contact (phasa). Also we can say that viññana is outer mind, because it has direct contact and understand outer object.

Mano is internal mind. It driven by cetana (volition).

Citta represents type and quality of state of mind.


This has practical application in the third foundation of mindfulness and the third tetrad.

“The Blessed One said: "Even if a monk is not skilled in the ways of the minds of others.[1] he should train himself: 'I will be skilled in reading my own mind.’


"If, on examination, a monk knows, ‘I usually remain covetous, with thoughts of ill will, overcome by sloth & drowsiness, restless, uncertain, angry, with soiled thoughts, with my body aroused, lazy, or unconcentrated,’ then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head; in the same way, the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities.”—-AN 10.51

1 Like