Ayoniso manasikāra, as such, means “not directing the attention to the roots of things” or “directing
the attention away from the roots of things,” that is, not observing phenomena as they truly are, not noticing
that they are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. As a result, wrong view arises, and when this
become a habit, wrong view is reinforced so that it remains as a latent tendency (anusaya). Let us examine
a little more as to how this happens.
“Unwise attention,” according to the Vibhaṅga, is the regarding of what is impermanent as being
permanent, what is painful as being pleasurable, what is not self as self, what is foul as beautiful. 6 The
Majjhima Commentary says these are the four “perversions” (vipallāsa). It explains unwise attention
(ayoniso manasikāra) as attention that is unskillful in means (anupāya,manasikāra), attention shown the
wrong way (uppatha,manasikāra), that is, by way of the four perversions, namely:
what is impermanent is taken to be permanent (anicce niccan ti);
what is painful is taken to be pleasurable (dukkhe sukhan ti);
what is not self is taken to be self (anattāni attan ti); and
what is impure is taken to be pure (asubhe subhan ti).
The (Akusala,mūla) Añña,titthiya Sutta (A 3.68) says that the three unwholesome roots (akusala
mūla) of lust, hate and delusion arise through unwise attention. Lust arises and grows through unwisely
attending to a “beautiful sign,” that is, being captivated by what we perceive as attractive in a thing. Hate
arises and grows through unwisely attending to a “repulsive sign,” that is, what we take to be unattractive.
And delusion arises and grows through unwise attention itself. In other words, delusion is present when
there is lust or hate. Delusion arises and grows because of the four perversions mentioned above.
On a deeper mental level, as explained in the (Āhāra) Kāya Sutta (S 46.2), unwise attention gives
rise to the five mental hindrances—sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and
doubt—which prevent us from attaining samadhi, that is, meditative mental focus, or any kind of wholesome
In short, we are hindered from our mental development.
Unwise attention, in other words, is based on ignorance, which starts off the dependent arising of
mental formations (saṅkhāra), which are karmic activities, and these lead on to a whole mass of suffering,10
and the prolonging of the samsaric cycle (vaṭṭa) (MA 1:64 f). In short, unwise attention is the root
of samsaric existence. Unwise attention is food for a lack of mindfulness and full awareness, which in
turn increase ignorance and craving.