Yoniso manasikāra - The Many Faces Of Wise Reflection

When I first encountered Buddhism in the U.S. in the 1990s it was all about insight meditation with some voices shouting that the value of the jhanas were being mistakenly overlooked as a regular practice.

Years later I came across BPS Wheel 463 which states that the value of “wise reflection” (yoniso manasikara) was being mistakenly overlooked as a regular practice.

This weekend I decided to go back and take another look at BPS Wheel 463 with the amazing benefits provided by suttacentral.net with its multiple translations per sutta, and Thanisarro Bhikkhu’s translation on dhammatalks.org.

It was a very powerful refresher lesson

  • in the difficulties of translation
  • in the value of reading multiple translations
  • in the value of expert commentaries

The translations of yoniso manasikara ( not quite those 2 words in the Pali version ) from MN 2 - Sabbāsava Sutta were diverse!

Same for samvara translated as: defilements, taints, cankers, and effluents!

BPS Wheel 463 Translated( Venerable Walpoa Rahula ) Excerpt: Yoniso manasikāra == wise reflection

“I say that the getting rid of anxieties and troubles [1] is possible for one who knows and sees, not for one who does not know and see. What must one know and see in order to get rid of anxieties and troubles? Wise reflection and unwise reflection.

For one who reflects unwisely, there arise anxieties and troubles that have not yet arisen, and those that have already arisen increase. But for one who reflects wisely, anxieties and troubles that have not yet arisen do not arise, and those already arisen disappear.”

BPS Wheel 463 Author’s Footnote:

“I have adapted this translation of the word āsava from the one by Venerable Dr. W. Rāhula in his book What the Buddha Taught. Regarding my general agreement his translation, I add his footnote: “The term āsava in this Sutta has wider senses than its usual psychological and ethical meanings such as ’influx,’ ’outflow,’ ’defilement,’ ’impurity.’ It is here used figuratively and embraces both psychological cares and physical troubles and difficulties as can be seen in the sequel.””

I.B. Horner’s Translation - 1954: Yoniso manasikāra == wise attention

Ajahn Sujato’s Translation: Yoniso manasikāra == proper attention

Suddhasso Bhikkhu’s Translation - 2016: Yoniso manasikāra == wise attention

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Translation - 2009: Yoniso manasikāra == wise attention

Thanisarro Bhikkhu’s Translation: Yoniso manasikāra == appropriate attention

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I believe yoniso manasikara has to do with using idappaccayatā on the 3 poisons at the time of sense contact. My interpretation is mixed with bhikkhu buddhadasa’s and obo.genuad

I believe only Ariyas have yoniso manasikara so it has something to do with idappaccayatā, paticcasamupadda and the 3 poisons. The suttas say that “visible here and now” means seeing the 3 poisons as well as dependent origination. Although one can only really see dependent origination when the 5 hindrances are not present. So I take this to mean yoniso manasikara may only be truly established when one is in first jhana and they have Supermundane right view.

From obo.genuad

Studious Etiological Examination, Tracing to the Point of Origin, systematic attention

To-the-womb-mind-tracking. Studious etiological examination. It is not just finding the point of origin, but the study of the development of a thing down to it’s place of origin or conception. This term must serve to indicate tracing a thing to the initial point where it begins (so as to be able to uproot it), but also finding the place where a thing matures to the point of birth (so as to be able to foster it’s growth).

SN.I.iv:4: ‘Mayhaṃ kho bhikkhave yoniso manasikārā yoniso sammappadhānā anuttarā vimutti anuppattā anuttarā vimutti sacchikatā’

Mrs. Rhys Davids: ‘It is by systematic thought, by systematic right effort, bhikkhus, that I have won supreme emancipation, that I have realized supreme emancipation.’

Olds: “It is through mentally tracing things back to their origins, by making the effort to track paths to their sources, beggars, that I have reached incomparable freedom, seen incomparable freedom with my own eyes.”

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You might Find Bhikkhu Analayo’s encyclopaedia entry on Yoniso Manasikara interesting.


I like those translations with the word attention rather than reflection. The translation “wise reflection” seems misleading to me.

  • manasikara is a movement of attention, not the content of a thought

  • yoni is womb or place of origin, what gives birth to something

Thus it seems to me that looking back to the origin could be another legitimate translation as Bhikkhu Analayo’s encyclopaedia suggests at the beginning. It seems to describe an attention that goes back to the origin of phenomena.
Yet I have never encountered such a translation.
What do you think ?

Bhante Sujato shared an essay about the translation:

I also like the translation ‘causewise attention’:


Isn’t it about that kind of attending to a sense object by which:

  • unarising defilements arise and arisen defilements increase (ayoniso manasikara)
  • that kind of attention they do not arise and once arisen do not increase? (yoniso manasikara)

In practice,

  • having the perception of nicca, sukha, atta, subha
  • having the perception of anicca, anatta, dukkha and asubha


  • having a distorted perception
  • seeing things as they really are?

Thanks for the link to this very long thread @Danny . I’m not the only one to enquire !!! :grinning:
I suppose the problem is that I try to find precise technical words in pali whereas they were not ? They are associated with various figurative meanings and translations contextually.
I like the idea “to pay attention to the source of things” or “from the source” but it is sometimes hard to translate properly with few words in English.
Maybe “Looking from the source” (yoniso being ablative), “from the source of things” but we are so used to look TO rather than FROM that it is hard to put into words ! :slight_smile:
More simply “Looking deeply”. “With deeper attention”…

Thanks @Green
Proper attention it is used in MN2 SuttaCentral

Yes, Bodhi has two notes that might be interesting:

Note 33: “Wise attention (yoniso manasikara) is glossed as attention that is the right means (upaya), on the right track (patha). It is explained as mental advertence, consideration, or preoccupation that accords with the truth, namely, attention to the impermanent as impermanent, etc. Unwise attention (ayoniso manasikara) is attention that is the wrong means, on the wrong track (uppatha), contrary to
the truth, namely, attention to the impermanent as permanent, the painful as pleasurable, what is not self as self, and what is foul as beautiful. Unwise attention, MA, informs us, is at the root of the round of existence, for it causes ignorance and craving to increase; wise attention is at the root of liberation from the round, since it leads to the development of the Noble Eightfold Path. MA sums up the point of this passage thus: the destruction of the taints is for one who knows how to arouse wise attention
and who sees to it that unwise attention does not arise”

Note 37: MA (commentary, Green) illustrates the growth of the taints through unwise attention as follows: When he attends to gratification in the five cords of sensual pleasure, the taint of sensual
desire arises and increases; when he attends to gratification in the exalted states (the jhanas), the taint of being arises and increases; and when he attends to any mundane things through the four “perversions” (of permanence, etc. - see n.5), the taint of ignorance arises and increases"

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A Belgium Buddhist, Guy E. Dubois, translates: 'yoniso manasikara is perfect attention.

Which, he says comes down to insight in tilakkhana + PS. The contemplation of the origin of things, what brings them to existence,

In his book what the Buddha thought, Gombrich mentioned that yoniso manasikara could mean “tracing to the source” and connect it to Dependent Arising.
He said, it is how Buddha discover the chain of Dependent Arising by tracing back the causes of Death and Old age, birth, etc


In practice the single face of wise attention:

Inappropriate attention (untaught ordinary person):

”This is why what may appear to be a simple act of attention is anything but simple, and anything but bare. It’s shaped, consciously or not, by views and the intentional actions informed by those views. If those views are ignorant, the act of attention is conditioned to be inappropriate: applied to the wrong things, in the wrong framework, and for the wrong reasons, aggravating the problem of stress and suffering rather than alleviating it.”


Appropriate attention:

”Because the role of attention on the path—as appropriate attention—is shaped by fabrications, it, too, has to be purposeful. It cannot be merely receptive all-around. It must aim at putting an end to the effluents (asava): unskillful impulses toward sensuality, becoming, and ignorance that “flow out” of the mind and keep it returning again and again to stress. For this reason the role of appropriate attention is to choose to avoid issues that will encourage the effluents and to focus on issues that will help get rid of them.”—-Thanissaro

Inappropriate attention:

”Feeding the Hindrances

"And what is the food for the arising of unarisen sensual desire, or for the growth & increase of sensual desire once it has arisen? There is the theme of beauty. To foster inappropriate attention to it: This is the food for the arising of unarisen sensual desire, or for the growth & increase of sensual desire once it has arisen.

"And what is the food for the arising of unarisen ill will, or for the growth & increase of ill will once it has arisen? There is the theme of resistance. To foster inappropriate attention to it: This is the food for the arising of unarisen ill will, or for the growth & increase of ill will once it has arisen.”—-SN 46.51

See also starving the hindrances, feeding the factors of awakening.