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Manaskāra [alt. manasikāra] (P manasikāra; T. yid la byed pa/yid byed ཡིད་ལ་བྱེད་པ་; C. zuoyi 作意), commonly translated as "attention", is a mental factor which focuses the mind on a specific object to the exclusion of other objects.[1] Manasikara is identified within the Abhidharma teachings as follows:

Mental factor definitions

Pali tradition

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

The Pali word [manasikāra] literally means “making in the mind.” Attention is the mental factor responsible for the mind’s advertence to the object, by virtue of which the object is made present to consciousness. Its characteristic is the conducting (sāraṇa) of the associated mental states towards the object. Its function is to yoke the associated states to the object. It is manifested as confrontation with an object, and its proximate cause is the object. Attention is like the rudder of a ship, which directs it to its destination, or like a charioteer who sends the well-trained horses (i.e. the associated states) towards their destination (the object). Manasikāra should be distinguished from vitakka: while the former turns its concomitants towards the object, the latter applies them onto the object. Manasikāra is an indispensable cognitive factor present in all states of consciousness; vitakka is a specialized factor which is not indispensable to cognition.[2]

The Atthasālinī (I, Part IV, Chapter 1, 133) and the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 152) define manasikāra as follows:

...It has the characteristic of driving associated states towards the object, the function of joining (yoking) associated states to the object, the manifestation of facing the object. It is included in the saṅkhārakkhandha, and should be regarded as the charioteer of associated states because it regulates the object.[3]

Sanskrit tradition

Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

The last always-present mental factor is attention, which focuses the mind on a specific object to the exclusion of other objects. Attention also helps to keep the object before the mind. Without it, the mind would be unable to remain on the object for even a second.
Attention is the factor that filters information. Considering the vast amounts of sensory information we receive every moment, imagine our experience if we could not focus on one thing and exclude others. Our minds may skip from object to object from one moment to the next, but within a given moment, the mind attends to a single object, and it is the always-present aspect that is pertinent here. Through meditation, of course, we can enhance this attention and learn to direct it voluntarily and sustain it indefinitely, and this becomes a powerful tool for liberation.[1]

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is manasikara? It is a continuity having the function of holding the mind to what has become its reference.[4]

The Necklace of Clear Understanding states:

It is a cognition that keeps the complex of mind in its specific objective reference.[4]

The difference between cetanā and manasikara is that cetanā brings the mind towards the object in a general move, while manasikara makes the mind fixate upon this particular objective reference.[4]

The Khenjuk states:

Attention describes the process of the mind fixating upon the object concerned.[5]

"Appropriate attention" (Pali tradition)

Yoniso manasikara

Yoniso manasikara is translated as "appropriate attention," "wise reflection," etc.[6]

Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes:

The Sabbasava Sutta (MN 2) states that one's release can be "fermentation-free" only if one knows and sees in terms of "appropriate attention" (yoniso manasikara). As the discourse shows, appropriate attention means asking the proper questions about phenomena, regarding them not in terms of self/other or being/non-being, but in terms of the four noble truths. In other words, instead of asking "Do I exist? Don't I exist? What am I?" one asks about an experience, "Is this stress? The origination of stress? The cessation of stress? The path leading to the cessation of stress?" Because each of these categories entails a duty, the answer to these questions determines a course of action: stress should be comprehended, its origination abandoned, its cessation realized, and the path to its cessation developed.[7]

Ayoniso manasikara

Ayoniso manasikara is translated as "inappropriate attention".[8]

Within Mahamudra

In Mahamudra, manaskāra (T. ཡིད་ལ་བྱེད་པ་ or ཡིད་བྱེད་) is considered a form of mental engagement or activity. And in the Mahamudra tradition, meditation that includes mental engagement is thought to have a dualistic or conceptual aspect; the highest form of meditation is that which is free from mental engagement.[9]

For example, an aspiration prayer by the Third Karmapa (ངེས་དོན་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོའི་སྨོན་ལམ་བཞུགས་སོ།) states:[10]

  • ཡིད་བྱེད་བྲལ་བ་འདི་ནི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེ།
  • This freedom from mental engagement [manaskāra] is Mahamudra

Alternate translations

  • attention (Buswell, Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • mental engagement (Buswell)
  • ego-centric demanding


  1. 1.0 1.1 Geshe Tashi Tsering 2006, p. 37.
  2. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Attention (manasikāra).
  3. Abhidhamma Vipassana icon.png van Gorkom, Nina (1999), Cetasikas, Zolog 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Ego-centric demanding [yid la byed pa.
  5. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Attention.
  6. Access to insight icon 50px.png Yoniso, Access to Insight
  7. Dhammatalks icon 50px.png One Tool Among Many (Thanissaro Bhikkhu), Dhammatalks.org
  8. Dhammatalks icon 50px.png Inappropriate Attention: Ayoniso manasikāra Sutta (SN 9:11), Dhammatalks.org
  9. Monlam prayer notes
  10. Mahamudra aspiration prayer


Further reading

  • Korda, Josh. Unsubscribe: Opt Out of Delusion, Tune into Truth. Wisdom: 2017 (page 32)

External links

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