Yoniso Manasikāra and Paṭicca Samuppāda

Yōniso manasikāra is to understand Paṭicca Samuppāda and thereby have a mindset that this world has the three characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anatta.

November 9, 2021; revised December 14, 2022

To get to the Sotāpanna stage, one must understand the mechanism by which future suffering arises, i.e., Paṭicca Samuppāda. One first gets on the Noble Path by understanding the rudimentary aspects of Paṭicca Samuppāda as a Sotāpanna Anugāmi. When that understanding takes a firm hold in mind, one gets to the Sotāpanna stage. That is not stated directly in a single sutta, but we will discuss a few suttas to clarify it.

Four Conditions Required to Attain the Sotāpanna Stage

1. There are four conditions NECESSARY to get to the Sotāpanna stage.

In many suttā, including Sotā­patti­phala Sutta (SN 55.55) and Dutiya Sariputta Sutta (SN 55.5), the four requirements for someone to attain the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna are stated: “Cattārome, bhikkhave, dhammā bhāvitā bahulīkatā sotā­patti­phala­sacchi­kiriyāya saṃvattanti. Katame cattāro? Sap­purisa­saṃ­sevo, saddham­mas­savanaṃ, yoniso­ma­nasikāro, dhammā­nu­dhammap­paṭi­patti“.

  1. Association with “sappurisa (sath + purisa or “Noble friend,” i.e., an Ariya),” sometimes called a “kalyāna mittā” (“kalyāna mitrā” in Sanskrit.)
  2. Listening to Dhamma discourses (while reading is enough to get to the Sotāpanna Anugāmi stage, listening is necessary to attain the Sotāpanna stage).
  3. Understand yōniso manasikāra (how different existences arise and that all existences end with suffering, i.e., Paṭicca Samuppāda).
  4. Start following Dhammanudhamma paṭipadā (after seeing how future suffering can be eliminated; see, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.
A Noble Friend Needed to Fulfill First Two Requirements

2. To get to a destination, we need to get directions from someone who KNOWS how to get to that destination. These days, many people give directions to Nibbāna (i.e., facts about the Noble Path.) You cannot get to the correct destination if you follow someone who does not know the “path to Nibbāna.” If someone has attained at least the Sotāpanna stage, they would know.

  • We discussed that in detail in the post “The Sotāpanna Stage.”
  • The other two requirements can be fulfilled ONLY through such a Noble friend, i.e., learn Paṭicca Samuppāda (Dhamma/Buddha Dhamma) and associated “anudhamma” (Tilakkhana, samyojana, etc.) See #13 of “Four Conditions for Attaining Sotāpanna Magga/Phala.”
  • Now, you may ask: “Why do I need someone to tell me the correct path? Isn’t it described in the Tipiṭaka?” The problem is that the translations of Tipiṭaka are incorrect in most cases.
Degradation of Buddha Dhamma and the Revival of that “Distorted Version”

3. We are fortunate to have the original Pāli Tipiṭaka, as recited in the first four Buddhist Councils by Arahants. Those Arahants at the Fourth Council wrote down that Pāli Tipiṭaka. That was 2000 years ago. See “Preservation of the Buddha Dhamma.”

  • However, the distortion of key concepts started soon after the Fourth Buddhist Council. The main reason for that was the mundane interpretations Mahāyāna Buddhism introduced in India about 2000 years ago.
  • Even though Buddhism in India faded away and disappeared at least 500 years ago, those Mahāyāna concepts took root in many other Buddhist countries, including Sri Lanka. Therefore, even though the Pāli Tipiṭaka remained intact, its translations became incorrect. For example, the Sinhala translation of the Tipiṭaka (Buddha Jayanti edition) has anicca and anatta translated incorrectly as impermanence and “no-self.”
  • When Europeans discovered Buddhism in Asian countries, those two (and more) misinterpretations were deeply rooted in all those countries.  I have given a brief account in the post “Misinterpretation of Anicca and Anatta by Early European Scholars.”
  • By the time Europeans arrived, Buddhism had declined in those countries. Most Buddhist places of worship were in poor condition. Those European scholars and the British government helped restore many of those places. More importantly, they collected and preserved the original Pāli documents; they are still in the British museum today. That is how the Pāli Tipiṭaka survived.
  • European scholars readily accepted the incorrect interpretations that had taken root in most countries, including Sri Lanka. Even though they were “academic scholars,” they were even less familiar with the deep concepts in Buddha Dhamma. So, those “mundane interpretations” made perfect sense to them. They widely disseminated those incorrect interpretations using the printing press invented around that time. See “Preservation of the Buddha Dhamma.”
“Mundane Interpretations” Are Easy to Grasp

4. There is a reason for the degradation of Buddha Dhamma. Let us consider two examples of anicca as impermanence and Ānāpānasati as breath meditation.

  • It is very easy for anyone to see the “impermanent nature of things.” We can easily see that anything in this world is not permanent. Especially these days, science has shown that even our Sun will be destroyed in several billion years.
  • In the same way, it is easy to accept that Ānāpānasati is breath meditation. Even though the more profound meaning is to “discard immoral” and “take in morals,” these days, it is interpreted as “breathing in and breathing out.” In addition, “watching the breath” calms the mind, so many people are impressed by that.
  • Even though this gradual degradation started with Mahāyāna, those concepts gradually got incorporated into Theravāda Buddhism. A turning point was Buddhaghosa’s writing, especially his Visuddhimagga. For details, see “Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga – A Focused Analysis.”
  • The Pāli Tipiṭaka was set aside in almost all Buddhist countries, and Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimmagga was adopted. The accepted theory was that there was no need to go through the 56 volumes of the Tipiṭaka. Buddhaghosa summarized it all in a single commentary!
Concepts in the Tipiṭaka Need to be Explained

5. Fortunately, there are three original commentaries prepared by Arahants that have survived as part of the Tipiṭaka: PatisambhidamaggaPetakopadesa, and Nettippakarana.

  • No one had bothered to read them for hundreds of years. Even if read, it is impossible to grasp those deep concepts unless explained by a Noble Person (Ariyā). Such Noble Persons are born occasionally, and they revive the correct teachings. They are “jāti Sotāpannas” who had attained the Sotapanna stage in previous lives.
  • Waharaka Thero was such a jāti Sotāpanna. In his discourses, he described how the correct meanings naturally came to him. When he grew up, he was able to go through the Tipiṭaka. With the help of those three original commentaries mentioned above, he was able to revive the correct interpretations. Of course, each person needs to verify that by comparing his interpretations (which I provide on this website) with other interpretations.
  • With that background, let us discuss the remaining two requirements for the Sotāpanna stage mentioned in #1 above. Hopefully, you can see which version is correct by comparing my analysis with other current versions.
Yoniso Manasikāra – Connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda and Tilakkhana

6.  The third condition for the Sotāpanna stage is to have “yōniso manasikāra.” Here “yōni” means “origin,” “so” means “oneself,” and “manasikāra” here means “with this in mind.”

  • The origin of future existence (bhava) and births within them (jāti) is explained in Paṭicca Samuppāda. As we have discussed, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” means to do “unwise actions due to ignorance of the Noble Truths.” That ALWAYS ends with “bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti” or the “whole mass suffering.”
  • To put it another way, one’s future births (and associated suffering or happiness) are according to one’s actions. Births in the “good realms” lead to mostly happiness and births in “bad realms” lead to suffering. However, the problem is that MOST births are in the “bad realms.” At a deeper level, the reason for that is the tendency to act with “ayoniso manasikāra,” the OPPOSITE of “yoniso manasikāra.”

7. The Vibhangapakarana (BJ edition Book 2, p. 234) explains ayōniso manasikāra as follows: “Tattha katamo ayoniso manasikāroAnicce “niccan”ti ayoniso manasikāro, dukkhe “sukhan”ti ayoniso manasikāro, anattani “attā”ti ayoniso manasikāro, asubhe “subhan”ti ayoniso manasikāro, saccavippaṭikulena vā cittassa āvaṭṭanā anāvaṭṭanā ābhogo samannāhāro manasikāro—ayaṁ vuccati “ayoniso manasikāro”.

  • At Sutta Central, you can find it toward the end of section “3. Tikaniddesa” at”Khuddakavatthuvibhaṅga.
  • In many English translations, ayōniso manasikāra is “improper attention.” See, for example, the “translation of Mahāli Sutta (AN 10.47)” at Sutta Central.
  • However, the above verse says:  “ayōniso manasikāra is to consider anicca as nicca, dukkha as sukha, and anatta as atta.”
  • To state that briefly, if one believes that things in this world can provide happiness in the long run, then one acts with ayōniso manasikāra. To act with yōniso manasikāra is to see the unfruitfulness of these struggles to attain something that is not attainable, and thus to work diligently towards at least the Sotāpanna stage because this life is so short.
  • As discussed in many posts, this world has anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature. However, an average human (who has not understood Buddha Dhamma) perceives this world as nicca, sukha, and atta nature. See “Basic Framework of Buddha Dhamma.”
  • A different but related description of ayōniso manasikāra in terms of Paṭicca Samuppāda is in “Four Conditions for Attaining Sotāpanna Magga/Phala.”
Critical Inferences

8. The discussion in #6 and #7 points to the following.

Now it is clear that the third requirement is a natural extension of the first two requirements. Without a Noble friend, it is impossible to fulfill the third requirement, i.e., to understand what is meant by yōniso manasikāra, because that requires an understanding of anicca, dukkha, and anatta (Tilakkhana.)

  • It also confirms the value of the original three commentaries discussed in #5 above. The critical verse from Vibhangapakarana in #7 clarifies yōniso manasikāra. 
  • But an understanding of that verse REQUIRES comprehension of the true meanings of anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
  • Recently, those meanings have become apparent due to our kalayāna mittā, Waharaka Thero. He provided a consistent picture based on the Tipiṭaka simply because he was born a jāti Sotāpanna.
  • The fourth requirement, dhammā­nu­dhammap­paṭi­patti, and its connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda in “Dhammā­nu­dhamma Paṭi­patti – Connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana.”

Previous posts in this subsection at “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”

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