Mano, dhamma, manoviññāṇa

This morning I was asked by Ayya Kāruṇikā about the relation between mano, dhamma, and manoviññāṇa, and I felt I didn’t give a very satisfactory answer. So thinking about it a bit more, here’s what I came up with.

The six senses are each analyzed in a threefold way, for example, eye, sights, and eye consciousness. For the physical senses this is fairly straightforward, but for mind consciousness it’s not entirely clear. The mind is, after all, quite different from the other senses, even though we treat it according to the same template.

So far as I know, the suttas don’t really explain this point in detail.

Let’s start with what is clear. For each of the senses, the second factor is that which the sense is aware of. The eye is aware of sights, the ear of sounds, and so on. So here, dhamma must refer to the things the mind is aware of. Let’s call these “thoughts”, while bearing in mind that it is broader than just verbal thinking.

The corresponding consciousness (MN 28: tajja viññāṇabhāga) is the awareness of the thing known. Eye consciousness is aware of sights, ear consciousness is aware of sounds, and so on. So “mind consciousness” must be the awareness of thoughts.

So far so good.

Mano is the tricky one. Normally, mano means “mind”, and it may be a synonym for citta or viññāṇa. But as I have discussed previously, it tends to be used of the more active dimension of the mind, where it comes close in meaning to “intention”. It’s not immediately obvious that either of these senses can apply here. If mano is merely a synonym for citta or viññāṇa, how come we also have manoviññāṇa? And if it means “intention”, it rather narrows the context down, because we are not always making intentional choices.

Because of this, some have proposed that the mano or manodhātu here is more directly parallel to the other senses, and refers to the physical organ of consciousness: the brain. This seems off, but at least it makes sense.

However, I’d like to propose another interpretation. Mano is the functional aspects of the mind that make consciousness possible, but which one is not directly aware of. For example, to make sense of any sense impression in the mind we need perception (saññā). Yet we are usually not aware of perception in operation. We are aware of the thought, not of the perception.

Of course, we may become aware of the perception, in which case it would be reckoned as the dhamma at that time. Can the inner sense organ and outer sense stimulus can be the same thing? Why not? Consider the body: it is both feeler and felt.

Thus mano would be similar in sense to the classical understanding of nāma (“name”) as including feeling, perception, intention, attention, and contact, all of which are functional properties of the mind. In later Abhidhamma, they are called cetasikā (“mental concommitants”). Given that mano in this case is not defined precisely, I’d be cautious about saying that all these things are identical, but I do think they are closely similar.

A technical definition of these three would then be something like:

  • mano: the complex or organ of mental functions that make consciousness work
  • dhamma: mental phenomena that are experienced by mental consciousness
  • manoviññāṇa: mental consciousness that is aware of the mental phenomena

Thank you, Bhante.

Your proposal regarding mano accords with current neurological research that indicates a lot of pre-conscious processing prior to the arising of mental phenomena that can be known to consciousness in the wakened and dream states. In this sense, conscious thoughts/experiences are epiphenomena of previous processes – all conditional, of course.

For one example : Visual Masking: Studying Perception, Attention, and Consciousness - ScienceDirect

I believe this may also accord with the teachings about how “karmic imprints” and sub-conscious cetanā, so to speak, influence how non-arahants view and react to conscious phenomena of the senses.

Of course, this is not to reduce, or to try to “prove,” the Dhamma via science. It’s just that your analysis has support from contemporary empirical investigations.



I remember reading about the various words for mind in the suttas. From what I remember, the various words like citta, mano and vinnana are kind of fuzzy and are used in often synonymous ways throughout the suttas. But some passages do also indicate that they could be seen in slightly different ways (as you’ve explained Bhante).

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this is one different idea on Citta Mano and Vinnana.
Citta is emotional mind.
Mano is thinking or rational mind.
Vinnana is knowing.


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There’s definitely something to this idea, so long as we remember that these are not completely separate, but rather different aspects of the same process.


Hi. I personally have never noticed the above. The only similarity I have noticed is SN 12.61 says mano, citta & vinnana are equally clung to and equally impermanent.

But when it comes to that which is called ‘mind’ or ‘sentience’ or ‘consciousness’, an uneducated ordinary person is unable to become disillusioned, dispassionate, or freed. Why is that? Because for a long time they’ve been attached to it, thought of it as their own, and mistaken it: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’

But that which is called ‘mind’ or ‘sentience’ or ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another all day and all night. It’s like a monkey moving through the forest. It grabs hold of one branch, lets it go, and grabs another; then it lets that go and grabs yet another. In the same way, that which is called ‘mind’ or ‘sentience’ or ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another all day and all night.

Linked Discourses 12.61 SuttaCentral

There are various passages which use these terms synonymously, for example, I think the very sutta you shared is using these terms synonymously

I think the main issue is that, even though one can make subtle distinctions and use these words in different technical ways, we’re also talking about various aspects of one mental process, one’s mindstream. Thus, one can sometimes use these terms synonymously when speaking generally, but also pick out different aspects when being more technical about certain things. This is supported by passages like the following:

Feeling tone (vedana), perception (sañña) and consciousness (viññana)—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. For you perceive what you feel, and you are conscious of what you perceive. That’s why these things are mixed not separate. – MN 43

Indeed, the Milinda Panha (64) says that one cannot ‘place a diversity’ between contact, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness, since “their nature is to arise together.” They are said to be like the various types of subtle flavors of a soup, it is hard to distinguish between them. The Buddha however is able to do this

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Mmm… the synonymously seems only their mutual impermanence rather than their respective function or nature.

Yes, mutually dependent it seems but not synonyms.

MN 10, AN 1.49-50, etc, mentioned citta when discussing the quality of mind, such as greedy, non-greedy, liberated, non-liberated, etc (experienced by consciousness). Therefore, it seems citta cannot be consciousness.

SN 12.2, MN 148, MN 43, SN 22.79, etc, says consciousness facilitates experiencing sense objects via sense organs. Therefore, it seems consciousness cannot be citta.

Therefore, what seems left for interpretation is “mano”. “Mano” is said to be an internal sense organ (ajjhattikāni ayatana) which the arising (uppajjati) of consciousness is dependent upon (per MN 148) plus the forerunner (pubbaṅgama) of intention (per Dhp 1). Therefore, to me, it seems the input into mano (per MN 148) may possibly determine the output from mano (per Dhp 1). :slightly_smiling_face:

Bhante. Would you align an optimally operating “mano” with the Dhamma Cakkhu? :robot:

I like your distinction between citta and mano, ie emotional v. thinking mind, or heart v. head. This view does seem supported by descriptions of the third frame (citta) in satipatthana.
So with this view, mano-vinnana would be consciousness of thoughts?

Does the body feel or tactile/bodily vinnana?

The body has many little sense organs (comparable to the eye), which react to various stimuli like cold, heat, pressure, etc. (as the eye reacts to images).

For the eye, the sense organ (eye) is in one place, the sense stimulus (image) is in another place.

For the body, sense organ and sense stimulus can be in the same place.

Consciousness then is the third party, which is aware of what is going on.

Hi @sabbamitta

I have learned that the body and the physical sense-organs and brain are rupa. Rupa does not have the ability to feel nor sense nor know. So, i tend to belief it is not the body that feels, but bodily feeling is the feeling that accompanies tactile vinnana. When awareness of the body disappears, not the body disappears, but tactile vinnana does not arise anymore. so one has no awareness of a body.

I have also learned that the input of the physical senses such as the input of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and the input of the sense organs on the body detecting heat, pressure etc, is pre-processed by the brain. Next, the brain transmits signals to the sense-organs (pasada rupa) around the hadaya vatthu. This is somewhere in the subtle or mental body around the heart. There is the real sense contact happening the Buddha meant. Next a moment of vinnana arises and we hear , see, feel etc something. So, according to this model, what gives rise to a moment of vinnana are pre-processed signals from the brain but the mind gives rise to vinnana moments and not the brain and body. The mind is the forerunner.

Please see whether following idea on Sankara is in line with this discussion.
Here I have taken three difinitions on Sankara.

  1. “Kaya Vaci and Citta sankara”. Here Citta sankara is Vedana and Sanna which will make something known. Vedana will give subective aspect of the known and Sanna will give Objective aspect of the known. This is the Vinnana or Knowing process. Vinnana is described to include six types of Vinnanas wich is the “passive knowing” process.

  2. “Katamanca bikkave sankara. Jaime bikkave CETANA KAYA. Rupa sancetana, sadda sancetana, ganda dancetana, rasa sancetana, pottabba sancetana, damma sancetana”. This could be the Mano or rational process which makes the " Known" ( by vinnana process) a “Thing”. This is “active rational” process.

  3. “Sankatan abhisankaronti Sankara”. Here I think “punnabi”, “apunnabi”, and “anenjabhi” sankara are included. I think this could be the “Citta process” where we do kamma or our immotional response. This is “active immotional” process.

What I understand is , Vinnna is a passive process of knowing. Therefore Mano vinnana is “knowing the thoughts” by Mana. It is like knowing rupa by Chakku( chakku vinnana).

However mano process has a active process to make a " thing" out of thoughts. This is known as dhamma sancetana. “Katamanca bikkave sankara. Jaime bikkave CETANA KAYA. Rupa sancetana, sadda sancetana, ganda dancetana, rasa sancetana, pottabba sancetana, damma sancetana”.

Hello. I agree with the above however I think there is more happening. For example, if there is vipassana, which is consciousness knowing arising & passing, it is the mano accumulating this wisdom of arising & passing. It is mano developing the wisdom to act to not attach to impermanent objects. If mano has not accumulated wisdom, mano will make intentions using ignorance. When mano has wrong view, suffering follows like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. :slightly_smiling_face:

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