Eighteen dhatus

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Eighteen dhatus (Skt. aṣṭadaśa dhātu; Pali. aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo; Tib. ཁམས་བཅོ་བརྒྱད་, khams bco brgyad) — a classification of all knowable things into eighteen 'elements'. According to Abhidharma, the eighteen dhatus are taught to counteract the error with respect to a false self.[1]

The eighteen dhatus are:

  • the six perceptual object dhatus (Skt. viṣayadhātu; Wyl. dmigs yul gyi khams):
    • visible forms (Skt. rūpa-dhātu)
    • sounds (Skt. śabda-dhātu)
    • smells (Skt. gandha-dhātu)
    • tastes (Skt. rasa-dhātu)
    • textures (Skt. spraṣṭavya-dhātu)
    • mental objects (Skt. dharma dhātu)
  • six faculty dhatus (Skt. indriyadhdhātu; Wyl. dbang po'i khams):
    • eye faculty (Skt. cakṣur-dhātu)
    • ear faculty (Skt. śrotra-dhātu)
    • nose faculty (Skt. ghrāṇa-dhātu)
    • tongue faculty (Skt. jihva-dhātu)
    • body faculty (Skt. kāya-dhātu)
    • mental faculty (Skt. mano-dhātu)
  • the six consciousness dhatus (Skt. vijñanadhātu; Wyl. rnam shes kyi khams)
    • eye-consciousness (Skt. cakṣur-vijñanadhātu)
    • ear-consciousness (Skt. śrotra-vijñanadhātu)
    • nose-consciousness (Skt. ghrāṇa-vijñanadhātu)
    • tongue-consciousness (Skt. jihva-vijñanadhātu)
    • body-consciousness (Skt. kāya-vijñanadhātu)
    • mind-consciousness (Skt. mano-vijñanadhātu)

Six channels

The eighteen dhātus can be understood as acting along six channels, where each channel is composed of a sense object, a sense faculty (or sense organ), and sense consciousness.

Note that the elements listed in the first two columns in the table below correspond to the twelve ayatanas, but in this model, the elements are presented in a different context; hence, in this context, they are refered to as dhatus ("elements") rather than ayatanas ("sense bases").

Ch. Object dhatus (viṣaya-dhatu) Faculty dhatus (indriya-dhatu) Consciousness dhatus (vijñāna-dhatu)
1. Visual objects (rūpa-dhatu) Eye faculty (cakṣur-dhatu) Visual consciousness (cakṣur-vijñāna-dhatu)
2. Auditory objects (śabda-dhatu) Ear faculty (śrota-dhatu) Aural consciousness (śrota-vijñāna-dhatu)
3. Olfactory objects (gandha-dhatu) Nose faculty (ghrāṇa-dhatu) Olfactory consciousness (ghrāṇa-dhatu-dhatu)
4. Gustatory objects (rasa-dhatu) Tongue faculty (jihvā-dhatu) Gustatory consciousness (jihvā-vijñāna-dhatu)
5. Tactile objects (spraṣṭavya-dhatu) Body faculty (kaya-dhatu) Touch consciousness (kaya-vijñāna-dhatu)
6. Mental objects (dharma-dhatu) Mental faculty (mano-dhatu) Mental consciousness (mano-vijñāna-dhatu)

Steven Goodman states:

The only reason we are doing this analysis is the question of how we can concretely experience the difference between a moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching on the one hand and anything else. So what is said is, “For one moment of a full experience called “a moment of seeing,” there have to be three intact factors that are synchronised and working together.”[2]

Alternative Translations

  • eighteen components of perception (Richard Barron)
  • eighteen elements
  • eighteen psychophysical bases (Dorje & Kapstein)
  • eighteen sensory spectra (Dorje & Coleman)
  • eighteen cognitive sources (Berzin)


The Pāli word dhātu is used in multiple contexts in the Pāli canon: For instance, Bodhi (2000b), pp. 527-8, identifies four different ways that dhātu is used including in terms of the "eighteen elements" and in terms of "the four primary elements" (catudhātu).

Relation to other modes of analysis

Template:See The abhidharma tradition presents multiple modes with which to analyze the components of an individual and their relationship to the world. The three most common methods of investigation are:

  • five skandhas (aggregates, heaps, etc.)
  • twelve ayatanas
  • eighteen dhatus (sources, etc)

Comparison with the twelve ayatanas

Template:See Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

The elements are called dhātu because they bear (dhārenti) their own intrinsic natures. The eighteen elements are obtained from the twelve bases by dividing the mind base into the seven elements of consciousness (see III, §21). In all other respects the bases and the elements are identical.[3]

Comparision with the five skandhas

In regards to the aggregates:[4]

  • The first five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) are derivates of form.
    • The sixth sense organ (mind) is part of consciousness.
  • The first five sense objects (visible forms, sound, smell, taste, touch) are also derivatives of form.
    • The sixth sense object (mental object) includes form, feeling, perception and mental formations.
  • The six sense consciousness are the basis for consciousness.

In the Pali language

The dhatus are expressed in the Pali langauge as follows:

Aṭṭhārasa dhātuyo: cakkhudhātu, sotadhātu, ghānadhātu, jivhādhātu, kāyadhātu, rūpadhātu, saddadhātu, gandhadhātu, rasadhātu, phoṭṭhabbadhātu, cakkhuviññāṇadhātu, sotaviññāṇadhātu, ghānaviññāṇadhātu, jivhāviññāṇadhātu, kāyaviññāṇadhātu, manodhātu, dhammadhātu, manoviññāṇadhātu.[3]

Bhikkhu Bodhi translates these elements as follows:

The eighteen elements are: (1) the eye element, (2) the ear element, (3) the nose element, (4) the tongue element, (5) the body element, (6) the visible form element, (7) the sound element, (8) the smell element, (9) the taste element, (10) the tangible element, (11) the eye-consciousness element, (12) the ear-consciousness element, (13) the nose-consciousness element, (14) the tongue-consciousness element, (15) the body-consciousness element, (16) the mind element, (17) the mental-object element, (18) the mind-consciousness element.[3]


  1. Steven Goodman, Frogs in the Custard (out of print)
  2. Steven Goodman, Frogs in the Custard (out of print)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000a). A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangaha. Pariyatti Publishing. Kindle Edition. Section "The Eighteen Elements".
  4. Bodhi (2000a), pp. 287-8.


  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.) (2000a). A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangaha of Ācariya Anuruddha. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-02-9.

External links

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Page is sourced from

www.encyclopediaofbuddhism.org Eighteen dhatus