On the meaning of yoniso

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I said MN …


Hee hee. But your sentence was not precise enough. It could have better framed as -

But in a brief search, I did uncover the curious detail that in MN, yoniso manasikāra is only mentioned in two suttas.


Actually, I have just checked again, more carefully, and there are in fact only three suttas in MN that use yoniso manasikāra.

  1. The well known and prominent usage at MN 2, where it has its usual sense of investigating causes.
  2. A passing reference in MN 43, where it and “the voice of another” are given as the sources for right view. Here it has a more general sense of “inner reflection or investigation.”
  3. In MN 50, when Moggallana investigates inside himself and finds that Mara has taken up residence in his belly! Which, aside from being an excellent story, is also a good example of it applying to direct experience rather than inference. But of course, it still has its causal sense here: he wants to discover why his belly is so full.

Anyway, given that in AN and SN it is used quite widely, this is a notable difference. I’m not sure if it has any significance, or is a mere accident.


Here’s what I found. @sujato is correct. There are more if ‘yoniso’ alone is considered. A few more if the lone ‘manasikara’ is added.

MN 50 : Māratajjanīyasutta mahāmoggallāno paccattaṃ yoniso manasākāsi
MN2: dukkhan’ti yoniso manasi karoti
MN 43 : Mahāvedallasutta parato ca ghoso, yoniso ca manasikāro

MN 126 : Bhūmijasutta karitvā yoniso brahmacariyaṃ caranti
MN 107 : Gaṇakamoggallānasutta Paṭisaṅkhā yoniso āhāraṃ
MN 53 : Sekhasutta paṭisaṅkhā yoniso āhāraṃ
MN 39 : Mahāassapurasutta paṭisaṅkhā yoniso āhāraṃ āharissāma

MN 20 : Vitakkasaṇṭhānasutta nimittaṃ manasikaroto
MN 122 : Mahāsuññatasutta suññataṃ manasikaroto
MN 17 : Vanapatthasutta sādhukaṃ manasikarotha, bhāsissāmī
MN 18 : Madhupiṇḍikasutta sādhukaṃ manasikarotha, bhāsissāmī
MN 8 : Sallekhasutta bhikkhuno manasikaroto
MN 22 : Alagaddūpamasutta sādhukaṃ manasikarotha

with metta


My first thought was that “rational” is too ivory tower, too intellectual, too academic. I mean, we are dealing with spiritual matters, not philosophy, and we should make it clear that spirituality is not always rational in the sense of thinking oneself to wisdom. It then occurred to me that rationality is in fact one of the things that sets Buddhism apart from most religions. In other words, religion does not have to be irrational, and I would say any worthwhile spiritual practice should actually be rational. So perhaps we should reclaim this word. Translating yoniso in this way would seem to be a good way to do this.

Yoniso manasikāra is one of the root qualities required to get started on the path (AN 1.91), to make progress (AN 10.61), and to make the breakthrough to awakening (MN 43). Yoniso manasikāra is one of the most fundamental qualities in the practice of Buddhism. If we translate it as “rational,” we are saying the path is through and through rational. Not just rational, of course, but consistently rational. I think this is an important message.

I think we should also take account of what is perhaps the only definition of yoniso and ayoniso in the EBTs (from MN2):

Ayoniso, bhikkhave, manasikaroto anuppannā ceva āsavā uppajjanti, uppannā ca āsavā pavaḍḍhanti; yoniso ca kho, bhikkhave, manasikaroto anuppannā ceva āsavā na uppajjanti, uppannā ca āsavā pahīyanti.

For one who attends ayoniso, unarisen corruptions arise and arisen corruptions increase. For one who attends yoniso, unarisen corruptions do not arise and arisen corruptions are abandoned.

Here the sense is very broad and probably best captured by “wise.” Having looked at a few contexts, I have to admit my overall preference is for wise. But I do appreciate your point that “wise” is already overburdened.


Another reason why I still like “source” or even just “womb”.

Because using “womb” might mean:

…because “womb” might create a good sort of confusion in new readers!

Exactly so. Thus one “holds” (or rather allows it to exist) the present moment with patience and love; just as a loving mother would regard the child forming in her womb. One allows it to be and it develops according to natural physical phenomenon. This, I feel, is a very good analogy for how meditation can develop. Leave it alone (as an aside, Ajahn Brahm used to say the phrase “leave it alone” a lot!) and it will develop according to natural mental phenomenon/causes.

Another reason to love Ajahn Brahm’s translation is that it references womb/source, and suggests personal responsibility as well as clearly referring to and including an acknowledgement of the play of cause and effect.

Having said this, I have seen what I consider to be incorrect translations, informing people’s practice and these people being very happy with their practice; but to me, they’re seeing incorrectly, may have wrong view and so their practices are not really going in quite the right direction and will possibly miss the mark that they’re hoping to hit.

So while I appreciate a translation that informs practice, I also feel it’s urgently important to figure out what the Buddha meant and what’s in accordance with the heart of the Dhamma that the Buddha taught. From my extremely limited experience (basically I’m going on Bhante’s exploration of new translations for “hindrances”), you can’t go too far wrong if you allow yourself to be influenced by the root meanings of words.

With metta :pray:


This makes a great deal of sense. A very rational way of looking at the matter. :slight_smile:

Yes, again I can see how this would work and also why you think ‘wise’ is the your overall preference.


And I do think ‘rational’ has a similar problem.

As I understand the word, someone is seen to be ‘rational’ when they’re acting in accordance with an established/approved and commonly appreciated body of knowledge/understandings. There is a sense that one already knows something, and based on this prior knowledge one acts and thus one’s actions are seen to be rational in accordance with this prior knowledge.

The problem with ‘rational’ then is that it doesn’t foster a sense of trust in being with what is not known and allowing some new, startling, previously unknown knowledge to arise. Indeed, I feel it may serve to encourage us to hold on to our superficial understandings of the Dhamma.

I fear ‘rational’ cannot be successfully claimed from the ivory tower of academic intellect. But of course, I am often proved wrong! :slight_smile:

But then, do these connotations translate into a description of Dhamma Practice? If they don’t, then perhaps ‘rational’ is an adequate word.


Hmm… An interesting conversation on one of my favourite Buddhist terms –

It seems to me that wisdom or being ‘wise’ in Buddhadhamma always has to do with understanding causes / source, and seeing according to reality.

So ‘wise’ for yoniso (in the full sense of Buddhist-wise) is perhaps still apt.

As another option for a new single word alternative, has anyone considered:
yoniso = realistic; ayoniso = unrealistic ?

Getting milk from an udder is realistic – from a horn completely unrealistic, (etc.)

Another possible phrase may be: yoniso = wise to the source; ayoniso= not wise to the source.
Or a simpler compound word: yoniso = source-wise; ayoniso = not source-wise ???

Just some musings from me, with respect :pray: :slight_smile:


yoniso manasākā is the astute/wise/careful or shrewd analysis of the present moment within the scope of Anicca, Dukkha or Anatha.


To me, Yoniso means the “pertaining to the goal” (i.e. Nibbana)
There is no one English word resembling this phrase.


3 things are noticeable in each of these similes

  1. seeks oil - presses - sand
  2. wants milk - pulls - cow’s horn
  3. wants butter - churns - water

Desired result - action taken - object used

Equally absurd is -

  • seeks to end dukka - presses- senses
  • wants to end dukkha - pulls on- senses
  • wants happiness - churns - senses


I think that Ven Dhammanando’s post here captures the best ways to translate the word. Not sure if “grounded” is the best though, how about just well founded and unfounded ?

For one with unfounded attention, unarisen corruptions arise and arisen corruptions increase. For one with well founded attention, unarisen corruptions do not arise and arisen corruptions are abandoned. MN2


There is a nice word for thinking accordingly from cause to effect in German, this is folgerichtig. Leo’s dictionary translations of this into english seem a bit artificial to me “cosequent” and the like. But english is not my native tongue, so I don’t know. In german it sounds very smooth to say: “you’re thinking much folgerichtig” (considering the right sequence of causes to some effect) and even the nagation “well, friend, this was not much folgerichtig considered, when you took the horn of the cow to get milk
Other answerers have mentioned that the term thinking rational has an overload of intellectualism, which seems no to be so with folgerichtig : I don’t feel any language/semantic problem on thinking/doing folgerichtig out of meditative attempt, out “of understanding by the physis”, out of “emotional intelligence”, out of unconscious processes, out of true compassion and so on.


I stumbled across this:

I’m not sure if I completely suscribe, but it’s a very interesting take on yoniso manasikāra.

I wonder what other more knowledgeable ones think?


I noticed that the definitions of “sound” cover many of the words suggested in this thread.


  • free from damage, injury, decay, etc
  • firm; solid; substantial; a sound basis
  • financially safe or stable; a sound investment
  • showing good judgment or reasoning, sensible; wise sound advice
  • valid, logical, or justifiable; a sound argument
  • holding approved beliefs; ethically correct; upright; honest
  • (of sleep) deep; peaceful; unbroken
  • thorough; complete a sound examination
  • British informal; excellent
  • law (of a title, etc) free from defect; legally valid
  • constituting a valid and justifiable application of correct principles; orthodox sound theology
  • logic
  • (of a deductive argument) valid
  • (of an inductive argument) according with whatever principles ensure the high probability of the truth of the conclusion, given the truth of the premises
  • another word for consistent (def. 5b)


Yes, you’re quite right. A sound argument! Let me have a look and see if this works.


While I was reading this thread (very interesting, thanks everyone!), I thought that a further complexity is being stuck with manasikāra as attention, which has been hinted already. In the average meditation/Buddhist environment, attention is used very much non-discursively, while many of the examples being used here would be well conveyed as: thinking rationally about something, having an adequate perspective, looking at (something) rationally or intelligently, etc. Renderings that use attention or attending sometimes made me confused, like those sentences didn’t mean what they were trying to mean. For example, when ayoniso manasikāra refers to autobiographical rumination, as it’s cool to call it today in mindfulness circles. Perhaps contemplating is a good compromise, and it can go with rationally, sensibly, practically, intelligently… (Although it conflicts with anupassanā.)


Manasikāra seems to be a more basic process than contemplation, though. The suttas are full of places that teach various “contemplations” and “reflections” and so on, and Pali has a rich vocabulary for such; but manasikāra is not used in such cases.

I waver between “attention” and “focus”, though these days I tend to use “attention” in most cases.

As for anupassanā, these days I use “observe” rather than “contemplate” for exactly the same reason.


To think about (with verbal thought) one must attend to a particular topic. The addition of Yoniso to manasikara suggests incorporation of wisdom. Anupassana (anussati?) doesn’t contain the same element of exploration, I feel.


Not so sure about anussati. Given the implication of memory in sati and the content of the recollections, to me it suggests reflection. My speculation is that the anussatis could have been reflections that in the process of formation of the canon got settled to specific wordings/formulas.

@sujato I understand that the general concept refers to something quite basic, after all it’s to ‘make mind’, it’s where you put your mind. My reservations are that we don’t speak of “Was I in the past…” or “This is suffering…” as attending. It’s weird. Actually I like focus. But perhaps that’s just the limits of translation vs explanation.