Notes on yoniso manasi kāra

I’m drifting in here a bit late… :turtle: :hole:

And I’d like to add the perspective of a gardener with a love of mathematics. Presenting this clearly and concisely is a bit of a struggle, so I beg patience in reading.

The present focus on “rationality” as a translation does not sit well with me. Rationality is simply a lever, and like any lever can be used skillfully or not. A lever can lift a load to benefit. It can also be a truncheon to oppress others into submission. Rationality is just a lever.

Rationality is also incomplete. The rigorous decomposition of arguments into axioms and logical derivations is incomplete. It also does not match the common experience of struggling with a vexing problem only to wake up in the clarity of morning to a solution derived through no rational experience.

And where does gardening fit in here? Well, as a rational person, I determinedly set about gardening with a rational mindset. And after years of effort I found the rational approach limited and incomplete, even to the point of actually being harmful. So I abandoned my electronics. I abandoned my software programs. I abandoned my fancy hydroponic chemicals. And I tried something different.

What I tried was gardening with an open heart.

And the garden breathed a sigh of relief. Insects returned. Birds showed up. The power failed and the plants laughed with joy. It has been quite remarkable. When I opened my heart to the garden, the earth responded in kind. When I fed the earth, it opened its arms and fed me in return.

So for me, the “yoniso manasi kaara” is just “well grounded with an open heart”. That’s a lot of words and I am not a wordsmith, but simply waving hands in a different direction.



“Rational” doesn’t mean “reductively analytical”, it means “with reason and understanding”.

To treat the natural world as a bunch of independent, definable and manipulable elements to be acted upon is irrational because that’s not how nature works. It is rational to respond to nature with empathy and intuition, because it is a system of interdependent networks of which we are a part.


Unfortunately this is how it is often understood.


It is possible to use the same verb in its sanskrit form though - so Pāli manasākāsi would be something like Sanskrit manasakārṣīt .

Now we can begin to see how the Buddhists took yoniso from the meaning “womb” and arrived at the meaning “correct” or “right”.

manasi: locative of manas “mind”, literally “in the mind”, “in relation to the mind”, or “mental”.

kāra or karoti: “doing”, “work”, “action”.

I would use the term “correctly” for yoniso. The term manasikāra basically means the act of doing something in the mind, i.e. thinking. However, the English word “pondering” would suit better here. Hence, yoniso manasikāra means correctly pondering.

Sure, we often find this, just not in this instance. Not sure why the change of verb, or which came first.

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That’s pretty much how I understand it too. I translate it as “wise cognition”.


Yoniśaḥ (if it were found in sanskrit - I havent come across it yet in non-buddhist literature but it is theoretically a valid construction) would not mean simply “rational” - it would also have nothing to do with the female reproductive system or the womb (which is also called Yoni).

The word yoni has many meanings, and most of them have a similar sense - “place of origin”. So yoniso would mean – thinking of something from the origin onwards - in a cause to effect manner. I dont think wisdom or (all kinds of) rationality are being referred to here.

So if someone says if you eat poison you will die - a person with yoniśo manaskāra would not take it as a dogmatic truth or without conceptual understanding of its cause-effect relationship, but would mentally probe into the root of the matter to see what is in poison that leads to death and why its consumption can be fatal. A rational person would perhaps trust expert advice on faith but that ipso facto doesnt mean she had yoniśo manaskāra.


[quote=“sujato, post:23, topic:29296”]
“Rational” doesn’t mean “reductively analytical”
It is indeed rational to live well-grounded with an open heart. Unfortunately, that is not obvious.

I agree. The word “rationalize” comes to mind much more than the subtler and broader meaning of “rational”

I like “wise cognition” better than “rational application” because “wise” gives depth and breadth and “cognition” includes the broader interpretation of “recognition and insight”–insight is cognized but not “rationally applied”.


It’s a mouthful, but I would offer the phrase “introspective phenomenological inquiry” as a viable translation. Each word of that english phrase directly captures a sense of each word within the Pāli composite—in the same sequence, no less—and the phrase has a very specific, evocative and practical meaning, albeit an admitedly technical one.

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May I humbly suggest that the reason some modern Buddhists have a problem with the word “rationality” is due to the influence of neo-hippy Californianism, fueled by the re-interpretation of Zen invented by DT Suzuki, and positioned as an ideological counterpart to the supposed equation of reason = Western materialism.

It’s worth noting that anti-rational spiritual movements, just like anti-rational political movements, spiral towards authoritarianism and madness. See eg. the “crazy wisdom” of the rapist pedophile Chogyam Trungpa. It’s essential to reclaim the rational.

We need to look at what rationality means to people outside this cultural sphere, and how it applies to Buddhism as taught by the Buddha and as understood by Buddhist traditions.

There’s a difference between a gloss and a translation. Once you start trying to apply this in different contexts, it will rapidly collapse into non-English.


The other issue that may arise with “rationality” is the occasional description of the Dhamma as atakkāvacaro (beyond the scope of logic/unattainable by mere reasoning).

Taking a sutta such as SN 46.51 into consideration, in order to develop yoniso manasikāra it is pertinent that the attention not remain on the one end of a given spectrum, in this case, one end being a hindrance. It is considered careless to give frequent attention to the signs of beauty, which would nourish sensuality, but to give careful attention to the signs of ugly will denourish sensuality. So, it isn’t so much that beauty is denied, but through not ignoring what is ugly, it will reduce just how far the beauty can lead to sensuality. Drawing out the factual ugliness, without denying the beauty, brings about a “stability”:

When the perception of ugliness is developed and cultivated it’s very fruitful and beneficial. It culminates in the deathless and ends with the deathless.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? When a mendicant often meditates with a mind reinforced with the perception of ugliness, their mind draws back from sexual intercourse. They shrink away, turn aside, and don’t get drawn into it. And either equanimity or revulsion become stabilized. -AN 7.49

As I mentioned in my previous post, it seems important that any rendering point to the development of attention that takes the origination/truth/source into consideration. So, considering the example above, even if something is factual beautiful it is also understood as having an ugly aspect. Ajahn Nyanamoli notes that the attention would be “concurrent”: signs of the beautiful remain, but the attention is given to the signs of ugly. This isn’t a rational act for someone who has no understanding of the Dhamma, or in the very least, no appreciation for virtuous behavior, and is simply bent in the direction of sensuality and gratification. For such a person it is - according to their chosen mode of being - rational to fulfill their desires, and only after an acceptance of the possibility that the Dhamma may offer freedom does the choice to follow precepts and develop restraint become somewhat rational. Yet, even then it is not necessarily so, which is why faith is so important. Without faith, there is less of a chance that choice to become virtuous will be seen as rational, and a person would lack the means to proceed. I think it would be very hard to avoid these connotations, along with those you’ve mentioned, when it comes to “rationality”.

The key seems to be that the whole of the experience be being taken into consideration. It is not only more accurate to do so, but such developments lead in the direction of renunciation and freedom. When that womb is recollected it becomes less likely that the wrong things take precedence. The attention can literally go to what is more truthful, more fundamental, and eventually, factually liberating.


Āyasmā Anīgha absolutely nails it in that essay, but unfortunately his work there doesn’t very much help the scholarly translator… “resolute discernment of the manner by which the fundamental/structural ontology of existence undermines any and all conceptions of personal safety, security, appropriation, passion, ownership, and entitlement” is even worse than “introspective phenomenological inquiry”…


I mean, the point he makes is valid but, as you said… :grinning:

aka, ‘attending to wisely’.

translating “yoniso”: “originary” seems accurate without being too clunky.

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Bhikkhu Anigha’s article is quite good. Oh Bhante @sujato, would you consider translating yoniso as “fundamentally” or “radically”? I have been very uncomfortable with “rationally” for a while, since we use your translations with our students every week. As others have written, “rational” can point to a logical inference from an incorrect or incomplete premise, and is not a complete way of understanding anything. I appreciate David Kalupahana’s explanation that the Buddha certainly approved of logic, but wanted it to be always aligned with what can be directly known, what can be experienced. “Yoni” could be taken as referring to a matrix. Yoniso manasikāra would be attending in a way that is aligned with the matrix of the Dhamma … or aligned with the fundamental matrix of reality.


Some of the replies to this thread missed this key point of the discussion. :rofl:
I’m eager to see more discussion.

Mindful inquiry towards the source?

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