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cetanā {pi}

Pāḷi; √ cetanā
alt. sp.: IPA: t͡ʃeːt̪ən̪ɑː, Velthuis: cetanaa, readable: chetanaa, simple: cetana
translation ~:
khmer: ចេតនា
thai: เจตนา
sinhal.: චේතනා
burm.: စေတနာ


[dic] cetanā (cetana)

cetanā: Description welcome. Info can be removed after imput.

ATI Glossary

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Buddhist Dictionary

by late Ven. Nyanalokita Thera:

cetanā: 'volition', will, is one of the seven mental factors (see cetasika) inseparably bound up with all consciousness, namely sensorial or mental impression (phassa), feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), volition (cetanā), concentration (samādhi), vitality (jīvita), advertence (manasikāra). Cf. Table II, Table III.

With regard to kammical volition (i.e. wholesome or unwholesome kamma) it is said in AN 6.13: “Volition is action (kamma), thus I say, o monks; for as soon as volition arises, one does the action, be it by body, speech or mind.” For details, see paṭiccasamuppāda (10), kamma.


PTS Dictionary

by the Pali Text Society:


Glossary Thanissaro

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Illustrated Glossary of Pāli Terms

by Ven. Varado Maha Thera:


Intention and intentional effort

Cetanā can mean either intention or intentional effort.

  • Intention means not ‘action’ but ‘delayed action.’ ‘Intending to act’ means acting later, if at all.
  • Intentional effort concerns the application of intention.

The difference between intention and intentional effort is crucial in relation to kamma, where it is said:

• Intentional effort is karmically consequential conduct, I declare.

Cetanāhaṁ bhikkhave kammaṁ vadāmi. (AN iii 415)

Having the intention to make merit or demerit is action by way of the mind only, whereas intentional effort concerns all three modes: body, speech, and mind.

Ceteti: to act intentionally

This quote illustrates ceteti’s meaning ‘to act intentionally.’

• When pacing back and forth one brings about the death of many small beings. What karmic consequence does the Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta describe for this?

so abhikkamanto paṭikkamanto bahū khuddake pāṇe saṅghātaṁ āpādeti. Imassa pana gahapati nigaṇṭho nātaputto kaṁ vipākaṁ paññāpetī ti.

• The Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta does not declare what is unintentional as greatly blameworthy.

Asañcetanikaṁ bhante nigaṇṭho nātaputto no mahāsāvajjaṁ paññāpetī ti.

• But what if one does it intentionally?

Sace pana gahapati cetetī ti.

• Then it is greatly blameworthy.

Mahāsāvajjaṁ bhante hotī ti.

• But under which [of the three categories] does the Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta place intentional effort?

Cetanaṁ pana gahapati nigaṇṭho nātaputto kismiṁ paññāpetī ti.

• Under the mental category, bhante.

Manodaṇḍasmiṁ bhante ti. (MN i 377)

On absolutives

Cetayitvā is an absolutive, the most common connective in Pāli, being almost equivalent to the word ‘and,’ says Duroiselle. It usually denotes one action completed before another, and so may be translated by the word ‘having’ followed by a past participle, for example gantvā, ‘having gone’ (PGPL, para 618, i).

But the absolutive can sometimes be treated as a present participle. For example: idha āgantvā ahaṁ coraṁ passiṁ whilst coming here I saw a thief (PGPL, para 618, vi). The present participle may generally be translated by ‘while, whilst,’ thereby expressing contemporaneity of action (PGPL, para 619, i). For example, consider this quote:

• The Buddha does not sit while grasping his chin with his hand

na ca pāṇinā hanukaṁ upādiyitvā nisīdati. (MN ii 138)

Upādiyitvā must be treated as a present participle, otherwise the sentence reads ‘He sits down having not grasped his chin with his hand.’


The word cetayitvā occurs just once in the scriptures: cetayitvā kammaṁ karoti kāyena vācāya manasā (AN iii 415). Taken as a present participle, it reads:

• In applying intentional effort, one undertakes karmically consequential conduct by way of body, speech, or mind.

But if taken as a classical ‘having’ absolutive, the sentence says:

• Having intended, one undertakes conduct by way of body, speech, or mind.

This would suggest that deeds follow a preceding intention, which is not necessarily so. Having intended, one may not act accordingly. ‘I intended to make merit’ does not mean I actually did so. Therefore cetayitvā means ‘in applying intentional effort,’ as we have said.


Illustration: cetanā, intentional effort

What, Puṇṇa, is conduct that is neither-dark-nor-bright with neither-dark-nor-bright karmic consequences that leads to the destruction of karmically consequential conduct?

kammaṁ akaṇhaṁ asukkaṁ akaṇhāsukkavipākaṁ kammakkhayāya saṁvattati

Where, Puṇṇa, there is the intentional effort to abandon karmically consequential conduct that is dark with dark karmic consequences, or bright with bright karmic consequences, or dark-and-bright with dark-and-bright karmic consequences

yamidaṁ kammaṁ kaṇhaṁ kaṇhavipākaṁ tassa pahānāya yā cetanā… sukkaṁ sukkavipākaṁ tassa pahānāya yā cetanā… kaṇhasukkaṁ kaṇhasukkavipākaṁ tassa pahānāya yā cetanā

… is called conduct that is neither-dark-nor-bright with neither-dark-nor-bright karmic consequences that leads to the destruction of karmically consequential conduct.

idaṁ vuccati puṇṇa kammaṁ akaṇhaṁ asukkaṁ akaṇhāsukkavipākaṁ kammakkhayāya saṁvattati. (MN i 391)


  • Horner: ‘Where, Puṇṇa, there is the will to get rid of that deed that is dark… bright… dark-and-bright… .’ Horner’s rendering of tatra is crucial.
  • Bodhi: ‘Therein, the volition to abandon the kind of action that is dark… bright… dark-and-bright… .’

When bhikkhus suffered nocturnal emissions they asked the Buddha whether this was also an offence, pointing out that ‘intentional effort is to be found there also’ (atthi cettha cetanā labbhā ti). The Buddha agreed but said it was not subject to the rule. (Vin.3.112)

Sense impression, perception, intentional effort, sensation, and the paying of attention, are called ‘immaterial-factors.’

vedanā saññā cetanā phasso manasikāro idaṁ vuccatāvuso nāmaṁ. (MN i 53)

Illustration: cetanā, intentional effort; cetayitvā, in applying intentional effort

Intentional effort is karmically consequential conduct, I declare. In applying intentional effort, one undertakes karmically consequential conduct by way of body, speech, or mind.

Cetanāhaṁ bhikkhave kammaṁ vadāmi cetayitvā kammaṁ karoti kāyena vācāya manasā. (AN iii 415)

Illustration: cetanā, intentional effort; sañcetanā, intentional effort

What are mental factors?

katame ca bhikkhave saṅkhārā

The aggregate of intentional effort is sixfold:

chayime bhikkhave cetanākāyā

• intentional effort in relation to visible objects

• intentional effort in relation to audible objects

• intentional effort in relation to smellable objects

• intentional effort in relation to tasteable objects

• intentional effort in relation to tangible objects

• intentional effort in relation to mentally known objects

Illustration: cetanā, intention

The man’s

  • intention (cetanā) would be to get away [from a red-hot charcoal pit],
  • his desire (patthanā) would be to get away,
  • his resolve (paṇidhi) would be to get away.

Atha kho bhikkhave tassa purisassa ārakāvassa cetanā ārakā patthanā ārakā paṇidhi. (SN ii 99-100)


ceteti: (main article see: cetanā)

Illustration: ceteti, is intent upon

When the noble disciple is intent upon going forth from the household life into the ascetic life, he is nearly in leaf, like the celestial coral tree of the Tāvatiṁsa devas.

yasmiṁ samaye ariyasāvako agārasmā anagāriyaṁ pabbajjāya ceteti paṇḍupalāso bhikkhave ariyasāvako tasmiṁ samaye hoti devānaṁva tāvatiṁsānaṁ pāricchattako koviḷāro. (AN iv 118)

Illustration: ceteti, to be intent upon

Bhante, the bhikkhu Vakkali is intent upon deliverance [from perceptually obscuring states].

vakkali bhante bhikkhu vimokkhāya cetetī ti. (SN iii 121)

And how does a spiritually outstanding person think?

Kathañca bhikkhave sappuriso sappurisacintī hoti

In this regard a spiritually outstanding person is not intent upon his own harm, the harm of others, the harm of both.

idha bhikkhave sappuriso nevattavyābādhāya ceteti na paravyābādhāya ceteti na ubhayavyābādhāya ceteti. (MN iii 21)

Those people who were of little faith [in the perfection of the Perfect One’s enlightenment], spoke thus: The ascetic Gotama is extravagant and is intent upon extravagance.

Samaṇo pana gotamo bāhuliko bāhullāya cetetī ti. (Vin.2.197)

Illustration: ceteti, to aspire

With sensation one experiences, with sensation one perceives, with sensation one aspires.

Phuṭṭho bhikkhave vedeti phuṭṭho sañjānāti phuṭṭho ceteti. (SN iv 68)


cetayamānassa: (main article see: cetanā)

Illustration: cetayamānassa, intentional effort; ceteyyaṁ, intent upon

Poṭṭhapāda, once the bhikkhu is possessed of that preliminary state of refined awareness, he proceeds from stage to stage till he reaches the highest state of refined awareness.

Yato kho poṭṭhapāda bhikkhu idha sakasaññī hoti so tato amutra tato amutra anupubbena saññaggaṁ phusati.

Then, remaining in the highest state of refined awareness it occurs to him, ‘Intentional effort is worse for me, being free of intentional effort is better.

Tassa saññagge ṭhitassa evaṁ hoti cetayamānassa me pāpiyo acetayamānassa me seyyo

If I were to be intent upon or to aim [at anything further], these states of refined awareness that I have attained would cease and less refined states of refined awareness would arise in me.

Ahañceva kho pana ceteyyaṁ abhisaṅkhareyyaṁ imā ca me saññā nirujjheyyuṁ aññā ca oḷārikā saññā uppajjeyyuṁ.

How about if I were not to be intent upon or to aim [at anything further]?’

Yannūnāhaṁ na ceva ceteyyaṁ na cābhisaṅkhareyyan ti.

So he is neither intent [upon anything], nor aims [at anything further].

So na ceva ceteti na cābhisaṅkharoti.

And then, being not intent [upon anything], nor aiming [at anything further], in him just these states of refined awareness cease, and other less refined states of refined awareness do not arise.

Tassa acetayato anabhisaṅkharoto tā ceva saññā nirujjhanti aññā ca oḷārikā saññā na uppajjanti. (DN i 183-4)


cetanāya: (main article see: cetanā)

Illustration: cetanāya, aspiration

For one who is virtuous, perfect in virtue, there is no need to harbour the aspiration: ‘May freedom from an uneasy conscience arise in me.

sīlavato bhikkhave sīlasampannassa na cetanāya karaṇīyaṁ avippaṭisāro me uppajjatū ti.

It is quite natural that this should happen.

dhammatā esā bhikkhave yaṁ sīlavato sīlasampannassa avippaṭisāro uppajjati. (AN v 3)


Glossary various Teacher

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See also

Suttas and Dhammadesanā

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en/dictionary/cetanā.txt · Last modified: 2019/09/25 05:32 by