In this website, it's stated that:

chanda: intention, desire, will. 1. As an ethically neutral psychological term, in the sense of 'intention', it is one of those general mental factors (cetasika, q.v. Tab. II) taught in the Abhidhamma, the moral quality of which is determined by the character of the volition (cetanā) associated therewith.

However, I've seen in a lot of discussions and sutta translations that the word cetana is usually translated as intention, which also happens to be the word chosen as the rendering for chanda.

At first glance, I kind of understand this situation, mainly because how intertwined and related these two phenomena (chanda and cetana) seem to be. Sadly, I'm almost a complete ignorant in regard to pali issues (and dhamma matters in general, by the way), and so, I cannot comprehend the nuances that may differenciate these two processes.

What is the difference between chanda and cetana?

How do these two relate to each other?

If they are related, which one comes first, and which after?

Is one a condition for the other?

Thanks a lot, in advance, for your time and patience.

Kind regards!


3 Answers 3


OP: What is the difference between chanda and cetana?

Chanda is the desire to act. E.g. if you stand from a seat you have to have the "intention" to do it, but can choose not to if you want

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A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma

Cetana is volition. This is what makes you commit a certain course of action to realise a goal or a wish. E.g. I a feeling hungry hence I will to get up and go to the fridge to get some food.

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A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma

OP: How do these two relate to each other?

Cetana is what pulls you in a certain direction in taking action. Chanda is the desire to do the act. E.g. (1) I am feeling hungry, but I am lazy to get up from bed. Here I have the intention but not the will to act. (2) I have money to buy a beggar or donate it to a beggar, but I choose to donate it. Here there is an intention to eat and donate but volition to donate.

Chanda is karmically neutral. Cetana is what decides the karma.

OP: If they are related, which one comes first, and which after?

They are present in the same mind moment if Chanda occurs. Cetana is a universal mental factor and is there in every mind moment. Chanda is an occasional factor hence there only in certain mind moments.

OP: Is one a condition for the other?

Cetana is the driving force which conditions chanda also.

  • Thanks for your answer! I have one more question, if you don't mind me asking: Would it be incorrect to say that "I" have the cetana of standing up from a seat, because my back is sore for being in the same position for a long time? In the examples you gave, I still see both terms as interchangeable. Kind regards! Sep 26, 2019 at 10:25
  • You can say this is cetana. It is easier if you have more than 1 choice of action with the intention to do both but you follow through with one, in which case it is what you have cetana is what you followed thought. Sep 26, 2019 at 10:33
  • Thanks again! So, chanda comes first, and only then can cetana arise? Kind regards! Sep 26, 2019 at 10:40
  • 2
    Chanda is the desire component. The English word desire is also used for lobs. In unwholesome courses of action, this will occur. See: The 52 Mental Factors (cetasika) Sep 26, 2019 at 11:26
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    @ChrisW Hi! I took that phrase from AN 8.83, where ot seems the word chanda is used to refer to the phenomena which is the "root of all things". Kins regards! Sep 26, 2019 at 22:16

When a puthujjana man sees a beautiful girl/lady, a passion or love brews in his heart. This motivating 'passion' or 'love' can be compared to 'chanda'.

Similarly, when the inner urge to end suffering manifests or the liberation & joy of The Path is experienced, a similar 'passion' or 'love' manifests. These are 'chanda'.

'Intention' includes making a decision to do something. 'Intention' is more within the sphere of 'thought' where as 'chanda' is more within the sphere of 'emotion'.

I imagine 'chanda' occurs before 'intention'. For example, you feel unhappy about life and something within you moves you to search for a solution. The 'emotion' or 'will to live/will to be happy' within you that moves you is 'chanda'. From this chanda you act to search for a solution. This decision to act is 'intention'.

SN 51.20 is about the Four Iddhipada. Here, 'chandha' occurs 1st and 'intention' ('citta') occurs later.

These four bases of power, when developed & pursued, are of great fruit & great benefit. And how are the four bases of power developed & pursued so as to be of great fruit & great benefit?

  1. There is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire (chando; zeal; enthusiasm)...

  2. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on persistence (vīriya; energy)...

  3. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on intent (citta; mind; mental development) ...

  4. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on discrimination (vīmaṃsā; inquiry; investigation)...

SN 51.20


Remember my answer about the attention/association process?

There I explained how our attention works under the hood as a cyclic association process with feedback. Remember, how the new associations either support or crowd out the current topic?

Cetana is exactly that in-the-moment "incline" in the cyclic association process, in some direction, that shifts it from one topic to another. It is the ability of the new topic to iteratively crowd out the old topic. In other words it is the relatively more attraction the new topic has over the old topic.

For example, if I open my pantry looking for plastic trash bags, and notice a bar of chocolate, then my thinking gets momentarily dominated by the memory of the sensation of chocolate dissolving in my mouth, and despite having an entirely different goal, I suddenly start getting pulled in the direction of taking a bite of the chocolate. That's Cetana. Subjectively I may think, "oh, why don't I take a little bite of that chocolate?" So in one sense you could say "I saw the chocolate and decided to have a piece". In the other sense, we can say it's the chocolate that has attracted you. It is not one or the other, these are just two different perspectives on the same thing.

This switch from trash bag to chocolate does not happen instantaneously. Instead, there's a shift from one to the other, over some short but not insignificant stretch of time. Perhaps a few seconds. You see the chocolate and feel the pull, and while your eyes are still searching for that trash bag, your hands are taking the chocolate bar and your mouth is biting it.

That shift or inclination in your attention is Cetana.

While Chanda is something entirely different. Chanda is when the child saw a puppet in the toy store, and having come home keeps asking mom to buy the puppet. And the mom says, "but what are you gonna do with it, after a day you will just throw it in the box". And the child says, "no I will do all kinds of things with it." -- "But what things?!" asks mom. -- "I don't know" - says the child, "but I want it".

This vague idea that "when I have it, it will be good" is Chanda.

So Cetana is just an ever present normal regular part of how our mind works moment by moment. Our attention always shifts, there's always an incline. While Chanda is a distinct type of ideation, it is thinking about something and endowing it with good qualities, in your imagination.

Perhaps we could translate Cetana as "impulse" and Chanda as "wishful thinking".

  • @AndreiVolkov Thanks again! I re-read the other answer you wrote a while ago, and it made even more sense now with this current question in mind. I really appreciate your help. I have one question, though: is chanda always a kind of "wishful thinking"? Because, based on the other excellent answers, it seems the Buddha used chanda to indicate a neutral (ethically/kammically speaking) kind of desire, with tanha being like a kind of kammically charged chanda. Although, I may be misunderstanding something. Sep 27, 2019 at 15:57
  • @AndreiVolkov I have another question: in the example about the chocolate bar, would it be wrong to say that there was an implicit and subconscious chanda before the arising of the intention to take the bar? Isn't every action driven by some implicit desire to take some specific course of action to achieve some specific goal? Kind regards! Sep 27, 2019 at 16:02
  • 1) when I say "wishful thinking" I do not mean it in a negative way. It's just thinking about something while in your thoughts endowing it with good, desirable qualities. It may be wishful thinking about helping humanity, or wishful thinking about getting enlightened - so in this case it is "good" wishful thinking, but it is wishful thinking nevertheless, because we're imagining something and thinking "wouldn't it be nice if I could XYZ".
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 27, 2019 at 16:15
  • 2) No, chanda by definition only refers to active manifested thinking. Implicit chanda is simply a samskara, "potential tendency".
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 27, 2019 at 16:16
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    I think they are largely independent from one another. Cetana happens for any number of reasons, e.g. out of surprise or out of habit etc. I don't see Chanda as background motive, I see it as a type of imagination.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 28, 2019 at 12:47

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