I am trying to find a term or expression that would consistent throughout the different contexts in which the word manasikāra appears.
It is often translated as “attention”, “advertence”, “consideration”, “reflection”.
Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines:
As a psychological term, attention belongs to the
formation-group (sankhāra-kkhandha; s. Tab. II) and is one of the 7
mental factors (cetasika) that are inseparably associated with all states
of consciousness (s. cetanā). In M. 9, it is given as one of the factors
representative of mind (nāma) It is the mind’s first ‘confrontation with an object’ and ‘binds the associated mental factors to the object.’ It is, therefore, the prominent factor in two specific classes of consciousness: i.e. ‘advertence (āvajjana, q.v.) at the five sense-doors’ (Tab. I, 70) and at the mind-door (Tab. I, 71).
In a more general sense, the term appears frequently in
the Suttas as yoniso-manasikāra, ‘wise (or reasoned, methodical)
attention’ or ‘wise reflection’.
The Pali word literally means “making in the mind.” Attention is the
mental factor responsible for the mind’s advertence to the object, by
virtue of which the object is made present to consciousness. Its
characteristic is the conducting (sāraṇa) of the associated mental
states towards the object. Its function is to yoke the associated states
to the object. It is manifested as confrontation with an object, and
its proximate cause is the object. Attention is like the rudder of a
ship, which directs it to its destination, or like a charioteer who
sends the well-trained horses (i.e. the associated states) towards their
destination (the object).
Manasikāra (Pāli), derived from manasi (locative of mana thus, loosely,
“in mind” or “in thought”) and karoti (“to make” or “to bring into”) and
has been translated as “attention” or “pondering” or “fixed thought”.
But it seems that none of those terms translates satisfactorily the term in some contexts. For example (AN 3.68):
tassa mettaṃ cetovimuttiṃ yoniso manasi karoto
For the one wisely manasikara-ing liberation of the mind through metta
It seems that “to apply the mind” (manasi karoti) and “application of the mind” (manasikara) would be quite consistent with the above definitions and could fit in all the contexts where the expression appears of which I am aware.
Bhante, isn’t there a danger though that “focus” could be misunderstood as “concentration” or some concept with an idea of narrowness? It seems that some of the following definitions would match the meaning of manasikara, but the idea of “concentration” comes up quite often as well.
b. Close or narrow attention; concentration
4. a point upon which attention, activity, etc, is directed or concentrated
the concentration of attention or energy on something
syn: attention, concern, priority, concentration
3. To direct toward a particular point or purpose
9. (often foll by: on) to fix attention (on); concentrate
8. to concentrate
direct one’s attention on something
syn: concentrate, centre, spotlight, zero in on (informal), meet, join, direct, aim, pinpoint, converge, rivet, bring to bear, zoom in, address, apply, bend, buckle down, concentrate, dedicate, devote, direct, give, turn.
i’ve been translating it as “mind attentively”, or “mind making” sometimes, i like capturing the literalness in the translation, so experienced readers know what pali term i’m referring to. then they can figure out the precise shade of meaning themselves in context, instead of being force fed something very specific and not knowing what the pali was. my translation goals are different than most people though.
How would you translate a phrase like “Manasikārasamudayā dhammānaṃ samudayo; manasikāranirodhā dhammānaṃ atthaṅgamo”ti.”? (SN 47.42)
Bhikkhu Bodhis translates it as “With the origination of attention there is the origination of phenomena. With the cessation of attention there is the passing away of phenomena.”
The context of SN 47.42 is the origination and the passing away of the four establishments of mindfulness, the sentence above concerns the fourth satipatthana.
The fourth satipatthana (dhammas), the way I see it, is about the cause-and-effect mechanisms of the mind. Specifically those cause-and-effect mechanisms that when understood lead to liberation.
Why should the cessation of manasikāra lead to the passing away of dhammas? Does it mean just that without attention you can’t figure out how stuff works?
Or maybe that when all application and work of the mind is gone, cause-and-effect mechanisms are gone to, e.g. the cessation state after the 8th jhana. So that when all activity is gone, the principles that activity must obey are also gone.
The fact that manasikāra is associated with the fourth satipatthana in this way, makes me think that it must refer to some fundamental/“deep” aspect of the mind.
I agree for the most part, but I would say broad instead of deep. Manas as mind is usually mental experience as distinct from the experience of the lower 5 senses; kāra I think is related to kamma/karma(n) meaning action/work/doing. So something like ‘action of the mind’ or ‘mind work’, pretty broadly applicable.
Yoniso manasikāra, however, might be deep. Yoni is the womb/birthplace; usually this is translated as wise attention (maybe ‘wise action of the mind’ or ‘wise mind work’). Maybe there’s a bit of that womb/origin/root metaphor in the word though, and that is related to the deep work of wisdom. I’m not real clear on the meaning yet, but it seems to be something like paying attention to and working at a deep level of mind.
So in this context the problem is that the current scope of the fourth satipatthana is way too broad. In fact it must have originally been just the five hindrances and the seven awakening factors. Then manasikāra works fine. If you focus on the wrong things, it gives rise to the hindrances, if you focus on the right things, it gives rise to the awakening factors. Treating dhammas here as “all phenomena”, or even “mental objects” and so on, as is usually done, is incorrect and results in an incoherent text.
Don’t mistake context for meaning. It can be used in a deep way, but that doesn’t mean the term itself is deep. In MN 35, which I just translated, when Saccaka makes contradictory statements the Buddha tells him:
manasi karitvā kho, aggivessana, byākarohi
Which in context simply means, “Think before you answer.”
Manasikāra is just a word, it’s not a philosophy.
I am sure there is. The word in this sense is only found in Buddhist texts, while in Sanskritic literature it seems to always preserve the sense of “womb, source”. In Buddhism it came to have a more general meaning, but in virtually every context in the EBTs, yoniso occurs when there is a cause/effect inquiry or relationship. Translating it is not easy, but these days I mostly use “rational focus”.
Manasikara has to be something different from these two.
Silvant sutta: ‘A virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging-aggregates as …a cancer, an arrow… alien’.
No meditation method based purely on focusing and/or mindfulness will make the meditator think an aggregate is ‘cancer’ - unless they reflected on it in that specific way. It is a verbal thought describing what he or she is observing. Now modern meditators may find thinking as part of their practice, a rather unusual thing. The Buddha said yonisomanasikara was used before each step in the Noble Eightfold Path, according to the suttas.
The Buddha did not leave verbal thoughts of topics of importance, out of the box of tools one could use to develop insight. In the Silavant sutta he states that doing so will lead to the fruit of stream entry and higher stages of attainment. Yonisomanasikara is also used for thinking about paticcasamuppada, one’s sila, and gives rise to Right view (the latter being reasoned concepts based on experience).
It makes sense that the untrained person would focus on a pleasant sensation and thinking many thoughts about it would give rise to craving and attachment (ayonisomanasikara). Mindful observance or pure focus is not what usually happens in such situations.
So manasikara means (verbal) contemplation- as it does in Sinhalese.
Yonisomanasikara means to contemplate deeper, rather than at the superficial level. Wise or deep contemplation might suit there. Ayonisomanasikara would be unwise contemplation as I see it.
‘For one who attends appropriately to good will as an awareness-release, unarisen aversion does not arise and arisen aversion is abandoned…’ AN3.68
In most places where yonisomanasikara is used, it is a contemplation (ie an internal verbal act) , except in the above paragraph of AN 3.68. However even metta meditation requires verbal thinking, and if not, the above paragraph could be referring to the task (metta cetovimutti) and pointing out the abandoning aversions need verbal thinking.
“If, while he is giving attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should examine the danger in those thoughts thus: he should examine the danger in those thoughts thus: ‘These thoughts are unwholesome, they are reprehensible, they result in suffering.’ MN20
‘Manasikaroti’ without ‘Yoniso’ (as in the above sutta) points to an act of removing defilements. Yonisomanasikara or contemplating to the origins (of phenomena) would be required for developing Right view.
Association with people of integrity is a factor for stream-entry.
Listening to the true Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry.
Appropriate attention (yonisomanasikara) is a factor for stream-entry.
Practice in accordance with the Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry.
I think these 4 practices are in order and one naturally leads to the other. Listening to the true dhamma (verbal) and thinking about it in relation to currently arisen dhammas or phenomena, will lead to sutamaya and then cintamaya panna. This is yonisomanasikara and this process leads to Right view. I think this also shows that this is a verbal and contemplative process. It is worth noting that yonisomanasikara precedes dhammanudhammapatipada (practice according to the Dhamma) and is distinct from it. This supports the idea that Yonisomanasikara precedes the Noble Eightfold Path.
Meditators have great difficulty identifying the five aggregates in Vipassana without thinking through how they might appear in meditation. They also need this prior step, to fully appreciate the implications of what they are seeing (such as Anatta) in my experience.
Look at the following two definitions. I think 1) is derived from the commentarial tradition whereas 2) is more from the suttas. ‘Attention’ could mean samatha, vipassana or even sila and is too non-specific IMO.
1．As a psychological term，attention belongs to the formation-group （saṅkhāra-kkhandha； s．Tab．II） and is one of the 7 mental factors （cetasika） that are inseparably associated with all states of consciousness （s．cetanā）．In M．9，it is given as one of the factors representative of mind （nāma） It is the mind’s first ‘confrontation with an object’ and ‘binds the associated mental factors to the object．’ It is，therefore，the prominent factor in two specific classes of consciousness：i．e．‘advertence （āvajjana，q．v．） at the five sense-doors’ （Tab．I，70） and at the mind-door （Tab．I，71）．These two states of consciousness，breaking through the subconscious life-continuum （bhavaṅga），form the first stage in the perceptual process （citta-vīthi； s．viññāṇa-kicca）．See Vis．M．XIV，152．
2．In a more general sense，the term appears frequently in the Suttas as yoniso-manasikāra，‘wise （or reasoned，methodical） attention’ or ‘wise reflection’．It is said，in M．2，to counteract the cankers （āsava，q．v．）； it is a condition for the arising of right view （s．M．43），of Stream-entry （s．Sotāpattiyaṅga），and of the factors of enlightenment （s．S．XLVI，2．49，51）．- ‘Unwise attention’ （ayoniso-manasikāra） leads to the arising of the cankers （s．M．2） and of the five hindrances （s．S．XLVI，2．51）．