On the meaning of yoniso

Yes, I think one would have to. Grounded seems to work better in this regard:

yoniso ca manasikāro ca, yonisomanasikaro ti.
It is with grounds and it is attention, therefore it is grounded attention.

ayoniso ca manasikāro ca, ayonisomanasikaro ti.
It is without grounds and it is attention, therefore it is groundless attention.

yoniso ca manasikaroti ca, yonisomanasikarotī ti.
It is with grounds and he attends, therefore he attends groundedly.

ayoniso ca manasikaroti ca, ayonisomanasikarotī ti.
It is without grounds and he attends, therefore he attends groundlessly.


To me this has echoes of bare awareness, choiceless awareness etc. and doesn’t reflect the intellectual function, whereas the negative (groundless) works better in this regard.

with metta


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It does, although that sense becomes more prominent later on. In the EBTs it more commonly has a general sense of “commitment, attachment”. There’s a number of terms that come close to the sense of “wish, aspiration”: ākaṅkhati is commonly used in this sense, saṇkhāra occasionally.


This hadn’t actually occurred to me, though that may be because I’ve been away from England for thirty-two years and am perhaps a bit out of touch with contemporary colloquial idiom. The modern demotic sense of grounded as I understand it would be something like ‘well-balanced’, which would indeed fail to reflect the intellectual function. Interestingly the Oxford Dictionary’s earliest attestation of this meaning is a 1976 quotation from Allen Ginsberg about Chögyam Trungpa:

Trungpa’s position is that ‘psychedelics’ are too trippy, whereas people need to be grounded; everything is uncertain enough as it is.

However, the sense that I have in mind is:

Deeply or strongly founded; firmly fixed or established; resting upon a good basis.

1548 Gest Pr. Masse in H. G. Dugdale Life (1840) App. i. 98 It is a grounded proufe of falshode.
1553 Brende Q. Curtius A iij, A stable and grounded wysedome.
1605 Lond. Prodigal v. i, To shake my grounded resolution.
1612 Bacon Ess., Empire (Arb.) 298 Solide and grounded courses to keep them [dangers] aloofe.
1653 R. Sanders Physiogn. b iij, So have I fortified this building with grounded pillars.
1783 Burke Affairs India Wks. 1842 II. 9 A grounded apprehension of the ill effect … of all strong marks of influence and favour.
1817 Coleridge Biog. Lit. I. x. 203 A grounded knowledge of the German language and literature.
1871 Morley Voltaire (1886) 5 The temperament which mistakes … violent phrase for grounded conviction.

I suppose that for clarity’s sake one might substitute well-grounded and ill-grounded.


Interesting. All this sounds complicated!

With metta

Thanks Bhante.

I’m feeling rather muddle headed right now…and so 'am hesitant to say this…but feel if I don’t, that I’ll forget to and somehow it feels important to say…

So…I’ve always loved the phrase that Ajahn Brahm uses, “the work of the mind that goes back to the source”. Somehow it links in with that other lovely phrase: “inviting one to come and see” (is that indeed what opanayiko means?)

Using the word “source” has been like a signpost pointing inwards, pointing home, to Truth.

So, I just wanted to share that really.

With much metta and respect for what you’re doing Bhante :pray:


I was doing nights as a junior doctor and I was asked to assess this woman in Accident and Emergency. She was having emerging symptoms of mental ill health (beginning to hear voices and have delusional thoughts). She had been meditating and it had made it worse (she had insight into it). I suggested she do something more physical. She said, ‘yes, something more grounding’, as in more stabilising. It’s interesting how meanings of words change with time - anicca.


Since the Comy treats yoniso as an instrumental of manner, plus the fact that the major expositions analysing DO work backwards from suffering back to birth, and then back to existence etc, I would like to render yoniso as -

in a forensic manner

All hail, CSI !


Is it possible to translate it in a more idiomatic way, like “in a way that makes sense”?

“A fool is known by three things. What three? They ask a question in a way that doesn’t make sense. They answer a question in a way that doesn’t make sense. And when someone else answers a question in a way that does make sense—with well-rounded, coherent, and relevant words and phrases—they disagree with it. These are the three things by which a fool is known.

Or maybe even something like “according to reason”.

I think it would be okay to use a phrase in order to capture a juicy meaning like the “causes are in line with the effects” :tropical_drink:


Ven. Analayo has done a thorough overview of yoniso manasikara in his book, From Grasping to Emptiness, which I highly recommend. At least the second half is free on his university website. His overview might help us understand things better. Here’s the first paragraph:

Yoniso manasikara indicates a form of “attention” that is
"thorough" and “penetrative”, and therefore “wise”. To explore
the connotations of yoniso manasikara, I will begin by examining
the terms yoniso and manasikara individually, followed by
surveying passages that are of relevance to the implications of
the expression yoniso manasikara, and to its importance in the
thought-world of the Pali discourses.


Ha! Leave it to a man to translate a phrase that literally means “wombish attention” as “penetrative”!

A womb holds and protects what is obscure and not yet formed. I think an important aspect of yoniso manasikara is a patient nurturing openness to what is developing in experience. Some of the passages that Bhikkhu Analayo uses to illustrate the “wise” and “thorough” aspects of yoniso manasikara really profit from being seen in this way.

Gotta say, I really don’t think any one English word is going to do that well in all places that yoniso occurs - it is very rich.


This is a really nice point, thank you. I will try to nurture an openness to this perspective!


Hi Bhante. Won’t that force into attention the function of other bojjhangas?

I’m not sure what you mean.

While meditation is meant to integrate many skillful qualities and processes together, I think we need to tease apart the different awakening factors involved in the processes of meditation.

I believe yoniso manasikāra is dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga, in the sense that when we attend carefully to what we experience, we are actually going so in the reverse order of analysing Dependant Origination.

That’s the yoniso part (ie the forensics of experience). This is not to say that meditation lacks an affective/emotional structure as well. I just don’t think we can slot or fit the Right Intention aspects of meditation into the yoniso aspect.



I wanted to focus on the meaning of ‘manasikara’ (ok, lets ditch the womb- yoniso- for a second …or longer).

It’s not possible to have ‘wise attention’ to dependent origination, as it is not visible. Nor is it possible to have wise attention on the five aggregates, as a disease, as a cancer, as an arrow (SN22.122), as the five aggregates are not immediately visible and even if it was ‘disease, cancer, and arrow’ are contemplations, not objects of mindfulness (ie- objects of ‘attention’). Rendering yoniso manasikara as wise attention sounds a lot like ‘mindfulness and clear-comprehension’ (sati sampajanna). It in fact overlaps it completely, I think. Thinking/contemplating has gone out of fashion, and mindfulness is in. Thinking is bad, present moment is in, which is a very recent trend (fad?).

I’m suggesting wise/right/appropriate contemplation- a distinct act of the mind (mana -kara). It is possible to infer the truth through contemplating it- dependant origination can be contemplated as can the drawbacks (aadinava) of the aggregates. This would then open the Dhamma for a valuable tool in the path. It would also be a conceptually distinct from other dhammas.

with metta

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These are valuable points, and it is certainly true that yoniso manisikāra does not only refer to direct observation, but also includes inference. In this respect, it is similar to most other terms in the Dhamma that speak of wisdom. However, this doesn’t negate the specific nuance of the term yoniso: it is not just any old wise contemplation, but wise contemplation that investigates in terms of causality. That is to say, the specific inference is the inference regarding the cause.


Exactly, that’s how I see it as well. And I’ve been considering what I would suggest ever since I read your post yesaterday. But I have yet to come up with anything better than existing translations. I don’t care for “rational” or “reasonable” or ‘sensible’ because I think they have too many connotations in English that fall far short of what the term means. And in English they can have a very different meanings that investigating in terms of conditionality (even though if you think in terms of Dhamma, that’s the reasonable, sensible, rational way to investigate). I just don’t think this meaning would necessarily come across at all to newcomers and maybe not to many others in Dhamma circles.

I tend to agree with @Suravira. Maybe you need to go with a phrase in some places (as I think @Erik_ODonnell also said). Maybe it’s even good to spell it out (e.g. investigating in terms of cause and effect or according to conditionality), at least in some contexts. Actually a big problem I’ve seen in western Dhamma circles in the States that I’m familiar with is that what to me is the probably the most important Dhamma teaching of the Buddha–conditionality– is really not emphasized or sometimes not even taught at all. But yeah, it certainly wouldn’t work in many contexts and I can see why it would be great to find one or two clear yet flexible words that capture the meaning more precisely.

I also think Ven @Dhammanando’s suggestion of grounded is interesting and it preserves some of the nuance of thinking in terms of conditionality. But again, is someone who doesn’t understand the Dhamma context to begin with (say new to reading the suttas) going to ‘get’ what this means with any of these single words?


I feel the same way.

While reading this statement it also ocurred to me that we’re not always going to understand something straight away anyway. And perhaps that’s a good thing because we’re sort of in a state of confusion and therefore, perhaps openness; always on the look out for understanding to blossom.

Personally I still like the idea of going back to the ‘source’…returning to Truth within this body and mind…being us, as we are, being as present as possible. But it took what seems like forever to get any kind of reflective understanding of what words such as “source” and “goes back to the source” were possibly pointing to. But perhaps this was a good thing.

In the end, the reflective understanding that I started to get, became how I see meditation practice, and for me, the best translations are the ones that inform Practice and have practical use. I say this with much humility :pray: and great gratitude and respect for all translators, as I am definitely not a translator!!