On the meaning of yoniso

For me, since there is “source” in the game, I think there is an option to think of a “flow” of a conditioned process (of dependencies) from the “source” to the expected result.
So something “considering the natural flow of <something> correctly from the source (deeply)”. Where / might be “the getting of the milk of the cow”. Or to recognize why/from where it comes, that trees are first small and then large.

Some more creative approximations: a) “source-rooted thinking”, b) “dependency-driven thinking” …

Indeed.
One can translate yoniso in whatever way one wants but it would be nice,from my point of interest, if it were backed up by an explanation or description of some kind which can show its validity or useful applicability.

The description of how a translation actually applies can show if it is a valid translation, otherwise its just a matter of opinion and or dictionary analyses i.e I like it and I don’t like that or the dictionary said so…etc

You did however, explain why you like using that translation, but how that translation applies would add weight to it i.e if you could demonstrate the translation through the description of how one can come to the conclusion ‘with birth, ageing and death is’ that would be a useful added extra.
Not only would you put forth a translation but you would show how its application results in the desired outcome, which then would validate your translation for those who want to apply it.

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Thank you for your feedback! I’ll keep that in mind next time :innocent:

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I’ve corrected the OP: yoniso is ablative, not instrumental.

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@sujato and @Brahmali I’ve a bone to pick!

Noting the following:

I’m not sure what principles of translation people generally follow, or what priority/weight each principle is given (and I do believe there are principles for at least you guys and Bhikkhu Bodhi) but is it not best to place conveying the intended meaning above any intention of brevity or consistency (i.e. always using the same English word for whatever Pali word) or other principles of translation?

If yoniso manisikara really means “wise contemplation that investigates in terms of causality”, do we need to be so attached to a two-word English translation of a two-word pali concept when so much meaning is lost, especially when it is so significant?

I note that Linda says:

Sorry if I’ve missed other discussions of this point or any responses.

To me, it feels like a lot of translations seem to stick to their principles of translation and prioritize consistency or brevity over meaning.

This is especially important for yoniso manisikara which is so foundational. The way I’ve just now come to understand it is that really, it is the core of the path - it is how one comes to “know and see” and eventually abandon the defilements (its application leads to both preliminary Right View of the path then ultimate wisdom at the end). [see MN2]

Yes, I’ll admit that “wise contemplation that investigates in terms of causality” is a bit too clunky, but surely we can find something less wordy without reverting to the standard two-word translations that lose so much meaning.

Something like “wise investigation of causality” (or conditionality if you prefer). Does this work? Other suggestions? Other concerns that make this a bad idea?

Sorry if this was already answered, I’ll admit I did skim-read the other posts!

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Maybe, uhh, it doesn’t really sign to me. I’m definitely open to suggestions. I think technically the best translation would be “causewise attention”. But it’s a little too Hybrid English. Maybe “reasoned attention” would be better.


There are ways a translation can play with this. For example, give a more “explanatory” rendering the first time, then abbreviate down the page. So there is certainly wiggle room. I’m just not seeing a compelling option right now.

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Why not simply use radical Attention?
With Metta

Etymologically it’s great. It’s not exactly comprehensible English though.

The intended sense is “relating to a root”, which is correct. But the felt sense is “extreme, a complete overthrow of things”. Which is not what yoniso manasikāra means. Of course, in a sense, it leads to the complete overthrow of samsara. But the word itself doesn’t mean that; it means to look into the reasons for things. It ends up overloading what should be a simple word with unwanted baggage. That’s why we tend to revert to a more neutral rendering.

What do you think of “reasoned attention”?

It still doesn’t get to the meaning of looking for causality.

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I don’t like ‘reasoned’, somehow too everyday, maybe too intellectual (? not really the rigth word), not sure what it is but it definitley doesn’t sit well with me. I guess if you want just two words, wise or penetrative attention sounds best to me. Reasoned just sounds too…I dunno, like just think in a reasonable, rational way (and of course there’s all kinds of ideas about what’s reasonable or rational, and often, or even usually, has nothing to do with looking at causality–just look at US politics).

We would know what that means in this context but I think many people, especailly newer Dhamma practitioners and also those not so familiar with the teachings, would just take the word in it’s most mediocre everyday sense and not inquire further. So I still like somehow/somewhere explaining the relationship to causality, as @RobynG76 has also advodcated for! That understanding, the realtionship to causality, so often gets missed. But at least with “wise” or “penetrative” someone might be compelled to ask or find out what makes attention wise or penetrative, which I don’t hink would be the case with “reasoned”. “Causewise attention” is, as you say, too Hybrid English.

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How about ‘careful attention to causes/causality/conditionality’?

In statistics, when researching for mathematical concepts to detect and to estimate “causality”, the term “causation” has been introduced (see Prof. Judea Pearl for one of the foremost researches with focus on “causality” and its statistical modeling). Perhaps something like “causational thinking” comes thus near what is meant with “yoniso manasikara”. (For the german version I’ve once proposed “folgerichtiges Denken”; now “Ursächliches” or “Ursachenbezogenes Denken” might as well be appropriate short terms… )

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I started writing this with a degree of scepticism. How clear is that yoniso refers to causality? Yes, yoni refers to womb/source, and yoniso is often used in connection with dependent origination. But is this enough evidence? Yoniso is an adverbial usage. Such usages have often evolved from the root. In other words, yoni and yoniso may well be quite different in meaning. Moreover, the connection to dependent origination is interesting, but by no means definitive. A number of different meanings would fit that context, including “wise” or “proper”, both of which are listed in PED.

But having now surveyed the usage of yoni and yoniso is the four main Nikāyas, I realise the evidence that it means “source” or “cause” is actually quite overwhelming. The metaphorical meaning of yoni as source is common and clear. The word means either “womb” or “source”. As for yoniso, it is used in a number of context, not just dependent origination, where the most obvious meaning is “source”. I am pretty convinced now that “source” or “cause” is what yoniso is getting at.

I just wanted to throw this out there, in case anyone else has had the same doubts as I. Unfortunately I don’t have solution to the translation problem. You certainly have a point, @RobynG76, yet I sympathise with Bhante @Sujato, because I know from personal experience how difficult it is to get translations right. So many different consideration need to be weighed up against each other. In my experience, having a long phrase to render a simple Pali idea is rarely a good solution.

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I do sympathize with all translators out there. The difficulty is certainly evident in the number of comments and different suggestions on this and other translations!

Is it really rarely a good solution? I can’t see this. It might not be ideal but I do still think that conveying correct meaning should prevail over other considerations.

Though I do think ‘causewise attention’ has some merit.

Given translation challenges are unlikely to be sorted to perfection, I’m certainly going to put more effort into learning pali! Hmmm. Maybe that was Bhante’s devious plan from the beginning - to encourage more pali scholarship?

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There is no such thing a “correct meaning”. There are just different degrees of approximation. Whole books can be written on some of these words, which is great, but you then need to distil the message into something useful for a translator.

Moreover, there are many ways to convey the “correct meaning”. Should you use fancy word with very precise philosophical meanings? This would certainly be helpful if your goal is to get the meaning right. The problem is that you also need to get the meaning across to an intended audience. So first of all, what is the audience? If you decide that the audience should ideally be anyone who wishes to read the suttas, including those with English as a second language, you will have to translate accordingly. No fancy words or convoluted sentences. Not just that, but you probably want the reading experience to be pleasant so as to encourage people to read more suttas. If they don’t want to read, accuracy becomes kind of (“kind of”) irrelevant. Further, I would prefer for people to feel that they are in the presence of the Buddha when they read suttas. That adds another dimension, which helps the meaning go to the heart. This means the text should be quite oral in presentation. It is actually quite hard.

Does it help to learn Pali? Sometimes it does. But with expressions such as yoniso manasikāra it is still difficult to get to the exact meaning, as you can see from this thread. Often there may not even be an exact meaning. Words and expressions are often ambiguous and multivalent. There is a reason why people just end up studying their entire lives. That reminds me. Time to stop.

I have no devious plans, but good luck with your Pali studies! :smiling_imp:

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I believe you! I’m also very very very grateful for the time you and Bhante @Sujato take to translate this stuff for us and then to also teach it while still practicing yourselves. Thank you , Thank you, Thank you!!!

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Essential attention? Non-essential… Vital?

Both referring to where it comes from (the source, the cause, the essence, the womb, life force) as well as to where it points (the essential stuff…e.g. the present moment, Right View, seeing the Four Noble Truths, giving up fetters, knowing Māra is inside your belly :grin: - understanding causality would be a natural result?).

I’ve read this thread with great interest, following my own “aha - of course!” moment I had around the meaning of yoniso recently. I have little or no real knowledge of Pāli, but was aware of the term yoniso manasikāra being translated as wise attention. A little while ago I heard you mention in one of your Friday evening talks that yoni means source or womb, which made so much sense and very much brought the phrase to life for me.

I realised that whenever I want to know how I really think or feel about something, my attention goes to the area of my womb. Instead of gut feeling, womb feeling rang more true somehow :grin: That’s where I can connect with intuition, authenticity, balance, truth etc. It’s where I feel grounded and have no choice but to be completely honest with myself. It’s where and how I can know whether I am on the right track, or on the path.

It’s very much experiential (and surely different for everyone) and not at all rational - more to do with how, or from where to consider, or to attend to, things properly or wisely.

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I think we need to approach the issue of finding the correct translation from the context the word is used although the words like source and womb can be taken as literal translations.
The context as I understand is the clarity which is the opposite of delusion. When attention is focused the reality with clarity is seen. It is due to not-seeing the reality with clarity that the self-view arises in respect of the five aggregates. The role of consciousness as the magician is vital in the arising of self view because when consciousness arises on account of name & form, it creates the notion of self with a sense of permanence. It then leads to grasping the five aggregates which in brief is suffering.
On the other hand, if a disciple focusses attention so as to see the reality of consciousness with clarity, the disciple realizes that consciousness is dependent on name & form. This realization enables the self-view to be abandoned because whatever is dependent cannot be permanent. If anything is not permanent it is unsatisfactory and whatever is impermanent and unsatisfactory cannot be self.
I think the terms yoniso and ayoniso act as qualifiers for the word attention manasikāra depending on how attention is applied. For example, if attention is applied so as to reveal the reality with clarity, then it is yoniso manasikāra and vice versa.
I am not sure if “reasoned” does it. I am sorry I do not have any suggestions although “penetrative” opined by Linda seems to capture what I am after.
With Metta

I’m surprised that nobody has referenced Bhikkhu Analayo’s encyclopedia entry on “yonisomanasikara”.

The final paragraph of the word “yoniso” begins with: “In sum, then, yoniso in its early canonical usage conveys a sense of doing something “thoroughly”, in an “appropriate” manner and “wisely”. These nuances cannot be neatly separated from each other and, even though at times one of these meanings may be more prominent, in other instances it would be difficult to decide on any of them. Thus the above selection of instances only intends to reflect the range of nuances conveyed by yoniso, without thereby implying that each occurrence has to necessarily correspond to only one of these three related meanings.”

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Dear Ajahn @Brahmali,

A side track…

In another thread you discussed dhammavicaya and it seems to me these two ideas are very closely related, though I’m not sure I would say synonymous.

Do you think there is a basis for interpreting dhamma vicaya as a narrow application of yoniso manisikara? I can’t think of any suttas where the two terms are discussed together.

I was thinking it was narrow in that it is directed at samadhi practice so is only concerned with what can take it deeper as opposed to some other principle of dhamma such as XXX?? But when composing this question I hit a wall, I can’t think of anything you could investigate independently of dhamma principles where seeing any kind of causality/conditionality might bring peace and therefore assist samadhi - i.e. any application of yoniso manisikara, or dhamma vicaya, would lead to greater peace and therefore increase potential for samadhi.

Then I wondered if I was making an assumption in thinking that yoniso manisikara would be applied with dhamma principles in mind? So yoniso manisikara could then be done with no prior understanding of dhamma, but when you do it with dhamma knowledge (at least having heard it) dhamma vicaya would be yoniso manisikara with dhamma.

I feel a bit lost and caught up in thoughts about thinking!

with metta and appreciation for your work!

PS: not sure if this warranted being split as a separate topic as it might just end up with one or two answers??

PPS: loving the 2021 sutta retreat :slight_smile:

Thanks @Adutiya for the link to the Analayo article, it was a good read!!

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