Special Appendix: Citta, Viññāṇa, Mano

Translator: during the time that we were looking through the mock-up and making final corrections/amendments to the Buddhadhamma text in preparation for publication, Venerable Phra Payutto (Tahn Chao Khun Brahmagunbhorn) sent me an email with the following concise question: ’In the body of the [original Thai] text is there anything that you feel is inadequately clear or coherent?’ My reply was that there is only one subject that I feel is not thoroughly enough explained, especially for English readers, namely the precise definitions for the Pali words citta, viññāṇa, and mano, including the relationship between these terms, along with some associated terminology, e.g. viññāṇa-dhātu (’element of consciousness’).1 Indeed, I had already brought this matter up with the author several years ago. My fear has been that these terms may be misunderstood by students of Buddhism, and this misunderstanding consequently may lead to distortions of the teachings. As a result of my reply, the venerable author kindly and diligently put together the following material so that it could be included in this first publication of the English translation of Buddhadhamma. Normally, it would be placed as an appendix to chapter 1, but this would have meant completely re-doing the page numbers for the index – a daunting task. It seems sufficient to add it here as an appendix at the end of the book. Please note that this appendix does not exist in the Thai version.

Definition of the term Citta

The definition of citta is closely related to the definition of mano, as is evident from the following passage:

The term mano refers to citta, mano, mānasa, hadaya, paṇḍara, mana, manāyatana, manindriya, viññāṇa, viññāṇa-khandha, and manoviññāṇa-dhātu arising from sense contact. This is what is called ’mind’ (mano).

Manoti yaṃ cittaṃ mano mānasaṃ hadayaṃ paṇḍaraṃ mano manāyatanaṃ manindriyaṃ viññāṇaṃ viññāṇakhandho tajjā manoviññāṇadhātu ayaṃ vuccati mano.2

Nd1. 3.

In the commentaries, however, citta is normally defined as follows:

The term citta is defined thus: it is called ’citta’ because it reflects, meaning that it is fully aware of sense objects.

Cittanti ārammaṇaṃ cintetīti cittaṃ vijānātīti attho.

E.g.: DhsA. 63.

Note that the term ’be fully aware of’ (vijānāti) is the verb form of viññāṇa.

This commentarial definition need not be given too much importance; it is added here simply as supplementary information.

Distinction Between Citta, Viññāṇa, and Mano

As illustrated above, the meanings of these three terms are basically the same. But in their usage or application there is some variation in their scope of meaning.

The term viññāṇa is generally used in a restricted sense, referring exclusively to the factor of knowing a sense object (ārammaṇa). (It does not include the various kinds of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, etc. that arise simultaneously with such sense contact.) For this reason it is normally translated as ’consciousness’. One can say that it is a purely technical term. Viññāṇa refers to the aggregate of consciousness (viññāṇa-khandha) within the five aggregates; it does not include feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), and volitional formations (saṅkhāra), which the Abhidhamma collectively refer to as ’mental concomitants’ (cetasika).

The term citta is used frequently in the scriptures. It was a common, everyday term, and it is used both in restricted, specific connotations and in a general, comprehensive sense in which it intrinsically encompasses other factors.

The Abhidhamma uses the term citta in a restricted sense, corresponding to the term viññāṇa of the five aggregates. As mentioned above, the Abhidhamma refers to the remaining three mental aggregates (nāma-khandha), i.e. vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra – attributes of the citta arising concurrently with the citta – collectively as cetasika.

In everyday language or in colloquial speech, however, it is not necessary to make a distinction, separating this factor as the citta and that factor as a specific mental concomitant. Instead, one can speak in a collective sense by using the single word citta, which inherently encompasses the mental concomitants. For instance, one can say: ’Develop the mind (citta)’, ’establish the mind (citta) in mindfulness’, etc.

In everyday language, the term mano (or mana) can be used in a broad, wide-ranging sense, similar to the term citta. But when this term is used in a technical or restricted sense, it refers to the sense base (āyatana) or sense faculty (indriya) that cognizes a mind-object (dhammārammaṇa). In this context, the complete terms of manāyatana and manindriya are most often used. Moreover, in the Abhidhamma there is an explication stating that mano or manāyatana is equivalent to the ’constituent consciousness of becoming’ (bhavaṅga-citta).

A Citta Over and Above the Five Aggregates

As described above, citta in a strict, narrow sense refers to consciousness (viññāṇa) as part of the five aggregates. And in a general, broad sense, in the context of everyday language, citta refers to both consciousness and to its associated mental attributes, i.e. feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), and volitional formations (saṅkhāra) – the remaining mental factors of the five aggregates. To the question whether a citta exists over and above the five aggregates, one can thus respond succinctly: there exists no citta over and above the five aggregates.

The only state or reality (sabhāva) transcending the five aggregates is what in Pali is called khandha-vinimutta, i.e. Nibbāna.

If, however, one includes things that have no inherent existence, one can say that those things beyond or apart from the five aggregates are the state transcending the five aggregates (khandha-vinimutta), i.e. Nibbāna, and concepts or designations (paññatti). Because designations are contrived and ultimately do not exist, they are outside of the five aggregates.3

The Buddha used the expression: ’The mind reaches the Unconditioned (visaṅkhāra)’ (visaṅkhāragataṃ cittaṃ; i.e. the mind reaches Nibbāna). Here one must be careful. People may misinterpret this passage as meaning that the mind (citta) accessing or realizing Nibbāna transcends the five aggregates. There is an explication of this passage stating that what is meant here is that the mind does not take hold of a conditioned phenomenon (saṅkhāra) as an object of attention; instead it cognizes or experiences Nibbāna. When ’reaching’ Nibbāna, the nature of the mind is transformed; although this is not ordinary attention, the mind does not transform into or become one with Nibbāna. That is all that is meant by this expression.

Viññāṇa-dhātu and Nibbāna-dhātu

[In response to the translator’s comment: ’Some people believe that arahants after death simply dissolve into viññāṇa-dhātu: into the great ocean of consciousness’]:

This belief stems from misunderstanding the Pali term dhātu (’element’, ’property’, ’natural condition’). In fact, the term dhātu does not have any mysterious meaning. Its meaning is akin to the term sabhāva, which can be translated as ’state of nature’, ’condition of nature’, ’truth of nature’. Both of these terms refer to that which exists as an aspect of nature, in line with natural laws. No one is truly able to possess, control, or govern these things. They exist neither as an autonomous being nor as a fixed self (nissatta-nijjīva).

Let us examine the eighteen kinds of elements (dhātu) mentioned by the Buddha:

There are, Ānanda, these eighteen kinds of elements:

  1. the eye element (cakkhu-dhātu),

  2. the form element (rūpa-dhātu),

  3. the eye-consciousness element (cakkhuviññāṇa-dhātu),

  4. the ear element (sota-dhātu),

  5. the sound element (sadda-dhātu),

  6. the ear-consciousness element (sotaviññāṇa-dhātu),

  7. the nose element (ghāna-dhātu),

  8. the odour element (gandha-dhātu),

  9. the nose-consciousness element (ghānaviññāṇa-dhātu),

  10. the tongue element (jivhā-dhātu),

  11. the flavour element (rasa-dhātu),

  12. the tongue-consciousness element (jivhāviññāṇa-dhātu),

  13. the body element (kāya-dhātu),

  14. the tangible element (phoṭṭhabba-dhātu),

  15. the body-consciousness element (kāyaviññāṇa-dhātu),

  16. the mind element (mano-dhātu),

  17. the mind-object element (dhamma-dhātu),

  18. the mind-consciousness element (manoviññāṇa-dhātu).

In virtue of knowing and seeing these eighteen elements, a monk can be called skilled in the elements.

Aṭṭhārasa kho imā ānanda dhātuyo cakkhudhātu rūpadhātu cakkhuviññāṇadhātu sotadhātu saddadhātu sotaviññāṇadhātu ghānadhātu gandhadhātu ghānaviññāṇa-dhātu jivhādhātu rasadhātu jivhāviññāṇadhātu kāyadhātu phoṭṭhabba-dhātu kāyaviññāṇadhātu manodhātu dhammadhātu manoviññāṇadhātu imā kho ānanda aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo yato jānāti passati ettāvatāpi kho ānanda dhātukusalo bhikkhūti alaṃ vacanāyāti.

M. III. 62.

Nibbāna, or the state of nature (sabhāva) referred to as Nibbāna, is incorporated in the factor of mind-object elements (dhamma-dhātu), the objects of attention focused on by mind-consciousness (mano-viññāṇa): things known by way of mindconsciousness. This is all that the terms viññāṇa-dhātu and nibbāna-dhātu amount to.

[In response to the translator’s comment: some people believe that nibbāna-dhātu can be used as a meditation object, as if this is some essential, transcendent element that even unawakened beings can come into contact with]:

There is nothing really to this: Nibbāna or nibbāna-dhātu, which is used as a meditation object, is not referring to genuine Nibbāna itself, but rather to a ’concept of Nibbāna’ that people have learned and understood on an intellectual level. It is possible to reflect on this concept of Nibbāna and use it as an object of meditation.

Discussion of the ’Knower’ (Phoo Roo)

[In response to the translator’s comment: ’In some traditions the Thai expression ’phoo roo’ (ผู้รู้; literally ’knower’)4 seems to refer to some kind of mystical state of consciousness or knowledge]:

For the most part, this Thai expression is used as a translation of the Pali term viññū. Again, this term does not have any special or extraordinary meaning. It was used in everyday language, referring to a wise person, a learned person, a discreet person, etc.


For Thai people these terms, especially citta (Thai: ’jit’ – จิต), are everyday, household words, and are thus less likely to cause confusion.


This passage is frequently quoted in the Abhidhamma, e.g.: Vbh. 144.


Trans.: for more on this subject see Appendix 2 of Chapter 3, on the Three Characteristics.


Trans.: pronounced ’poo roo’.