Eighteen dhatus

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Eighteen dhatus (Skt. aṣṭadaśa dhātu; Pali. aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo; Tib. ཁམས་བཅོ་བརྒྱད་, khams bco brgyad) — a classification of all knowable things into eighteen 'elements'.

Six channels

The eighteen dhātus can be understood as acting along six channels, where each channel is composed of a sense faculty, a sense object, and sense consciousness.

Column I Column II Column II
Channel. Faculty dhatus (indriya-dhatu) Object dhatus (viṣaya-dhatu) Consciousness dhatus (vijñāna-dhatu)
1. eye faculty (cakṣur-dhatu) visual forms (rūpa-dhatu) eye consciousness (cakṣur-vijñāna-dhatu)
2. ear faculty (śrota-dhatu) sounds (śabda-dhatu) ear consciousness (śrota-vijñāna-dhatu)
3. nose faculty (ghrāṇa-dhatu) smells (gandha-dhatu) nose consciousness (ghrāṇa-dhatu-dhatu)
4. tongue faculty (jihvā-dhatu) tastes (rasa-dhatu) tongue consciousness (jihvā-vijñāna-dhatu)
5. body faculty (kaya-dhatu) tangible objects (spraṣṭavya-dhatu) body consciousness (kaya-vijñāna-dhatu)
6. mental faculty (mano-dhatu) mental objects (dharma-dhatu) mind consciousness (mano-vijñāna-dhatu)

Column I: Faculty dhatus

The five sense dhatus

The faculty dhatus have the capacity to process information. These are:

  • eye dhatu: the capacity to process visual information
  • ear dhatu: the capacity to process sounds
  • nose dhatu: the capacity to process smells
  • tongue dhatu: the capacity to process tastes
  • body dhatu: the capacity to process contact with outer and inner physical subtances, textures and so on. Outwardly, this includes sensations from contact with different textures on the skin, and feeling sensations such as the heat of the sun, wind, rain, cold, etc. Inwardly this refers to sensations of hunger, thirst, etc.

The mind dhatu


Column II: Object dhatus

The object dhatus are the fields or domains of what there is to process.

The five sense object-dhatus

The object dhatus are the "fields" that are processed by the corresponding faculties:

  • visual forms: the perceptual field of the eye faculty; this field consists of shape and color
  • sounds: the perceptual field of the ear faculty
  • smells: the perceptual field of the nose faculty
  • tastes: the perceptual field of the tongue faculty
  • tangible objects: the perceptual field of the body faculty

The mind object-dhatu


Column III: Consciousness dhatus

The consciousness dhatus bring the sense objects into cognition.

The five sense object-dhatus

The object dhatus are the "fields" that are processed by the corresponding faculties:

  • eye consciousness: brings seeing into cognition
  • ear consciousness: brings hearing into cognition
  • nose consciousness: brings smelling into cognition
  • tongue consciousness: brings tasting into cognition
  • body consciousness: brings touching other types of bodily sensations into cognition

The mind consciousness-dhatu


Counteracting specific errors through dhatu analysis

The dhatus are taught to counteract a specific type of grasping to the self.

The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening states:

The error with respect to the existence of a self or a fixity that the study of the eighteen dhatus counteracts is the error of being confused about the difference (meaning not knowing precisely, at the level of experience, the difference) between moments of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, on the one hand (channels 1–5), and moments that are not seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, on the other (mental, channel 6).
This confusion is summarized as being confused about forms and mind (in Sanskrit, this refers to rupa and citta, respectively). Forms here means anything that we can contact. Forms refers to things “out there” that we can see, hear, smell, “taste, and touch (channels 1–5). And then there is the sixth channel, “mind,” better translated as “other,” meaning everything else that anyone could ever experience, including moments of inspiration and moments of despair. It is said that this mode of analysis is put forth in order to experientially have a sense of the difference between the sensory modes (channels 1–5) and the nonsensory mode (channel 6).”[1]

Relation to other modes of analysis

The abhidharma tradition presents multiple modes with which to analyze the components of an individual and their relationship to the world. The three most common methods of investigation are:

  • five skandhas (aggregates, heaps, etc.)
  • twelve ayatanas
  • eighteen dhatus (sources, etc)

Comparison with the twelve ayatanas

The eighteen dhatus are related to the twelve ayatanas as follows: in the scheme of the 18 dhatus, the "mind base" of the 12 ayatanas is divided into seven parts: the mind faculty dhatu + the dhatus of the six types of consciousness.[2]

Comparision with the five skandhas

In regards to the aggregates:[3]

  • The first five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) are derivates of form.
    • The sixth sense organ (mind) is part of consciousness.
  • The first five sense objects (visible forms, sound, smell, taste, touch) are also derivatives of form.
    • The sixth sense object (mental object) includes form, feeling, perception and mental formations.
  • The six sense consciousness are the basis for consciousness.

List of dhatus in the Sanskrit language

The eighteen dhatus are:

  • the six sense faculty dhatus (Skt. indriyadhdhātu; Wyl. dbang po'i khams):
    • eye faculty (Skt. cakṣur-dhātu)
    • ear faculty (Skt. śrotra-dhātu)
    • nose faculty (Skt. ghrāṇa-dhātu)
    • tongue faculty (Skt. jihva-dhātu)
    • body faculty (Skt. kāya-dhātu)
    • mental faculty (Skt. mano-dhātu)
  • the six sense object dhatus (Skt. viṣayadhātu; Wyl. dmigs yul gyi khams):
    • visible forms (Skt. rūpa-dhātu)
    • sounds (Skt. śabda-dhātu)
    • smells (Skt. gandha-dhātu)
    • tastes (Skt. rasa-dhātu)
    • textures (Skt. spraṣṭavya-dhātu)
    • mental objects (Skt. dharma dhātu)
  • the six consciousness dhatus (Skt. vijñanadhātu; Wyl. rnam shes kyi khams)
    • eye-consciousness (Skt. cakṣur-vijñanadhātu)
    • ear-consciousness (Skt. śrotra-vijñanadhātu)
    • nose-consciousness (Skt. ghrāṇa-vijñanadhātu)
    • tongue-consciousness (Skt. jihva-vijñanadhātu)
    • body-consciousness (Skt. kāya-vijñanadhātu)
    • mind-consciousness (Skt. mano-vijñanadhātu)

List of dhatus the in Pali language

The dhatus are expressed in the Pali langauge as follows:

Aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo: cakkhudhātu, sotadhātu, ghānadhātu, jivhādhātu, kāyadhātu, rūpadhātu, saddadhātu, gandhadhātu, rasadhātu, phoṭṭhabbadhātu, cakkhuviññāṇadhātu, sotaviññāṇadhātu, ghānaviññāṇadhātu, jivhāviññāṇadhātu, kāyaviññāṇadhātu, manodhātu, dhammadhātu, manoviññāṇadhātu.[2]

Bhikkhu Bodhi translates these elements as follows:

The eighteen elements are: (1) the eye element, (2) the ear element, (3) the nose element, (4) the tongue element, (5) the body element, (6) the visible form element, (7) the sound element, (8) the smell element, (9) the taste element, (10) the tangible element, (11) the eye-consciousness element, (12) the ear-consciousness element, (13) the nose-consciousness element, (14) the tongue-consciousness element, (15) the body-consciousness element, (16) the mind element, (17) the mental-object element, (18) the mind-consciousness element.[2]


The Pāli word dhātu is used in multiple contexts in the Pāli canon: For instance, Bodhi (2000b), pp. 527-8, identifies four different ways that dhātu is used including in terms of the "eighteen elements" and in terms of "the four primary elements" (catudhātu).

Alternative Translations

  • eighteen components of perception (Richard Barron)
  • eighteen elements
  • eighteen psychophysical bases (Dorje & Kapstein)
  • eighteen sensory spectra (Dorje & Coleman)
  • eighteen cognitive sources (Berzin)


  1. Goodman 2020, s.v. "Chapter 5: Dhatus and Channel Processing".
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. "The Eighteen Elements".
  3. Bodhi (2000a), pp. 287-8.


External links

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