by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 13 - Introduction

Akusala citta and akusala cetasika are akusala dhammas, dhammas which are unskilful, unprofitable, unclean, impure. Do we realize when there is akusala citta? Whenever the citta is not intent on wholesomeness, we act, speak or think with akusala citta. We may not have unkind thoughts or thoughts of coarse desire, but the cittas which think can still be akusala cittas; they are akusala cittas whenever we do not think wholesome thoughts.

We think time and again of people, of things which have happened or will happen, and we should find out for ourselves when thinking kusala and when akusala. When we are "daydreaming", do we think wholesome thoughts? If that is not so, then the cittas are akusala cittas.

By akusala one harms oneself, other people or both oneself and other people. We may find it difficult to see that even when we do not harm or hurt others, the citta can still be akusala. For example, when we like nature, there is a degree of attachment and attachment is not kusala, it is different from unselfishness. We may see the danger of akusala which is coarse, but it is difficult to see the danger of akusala which is more subtle. However through the study of the Dhamma we can acquire more understanding of akusala dhammas and then we may begin to see the danger of all degrees of akusala.

When the citta is kusala, there is confidence in wholesomeness. Kusala citta is pure and it is capable of producing a pleasant result. Whereas akusala citta is impure and it leads to sorrow. At the moment of akusala citta there is no confidence in wholesomeness, one does not see that akusala citta is impure and harmful. For example, when we see a pleasant sight, akusala cittas with attachment tend to arise. At such a moment there is "unwise attention" to the object which is experienced; we are enslaved to that object and do not see the danger of akusala. Thus we go on accumulating more and more akusala.

If one has not listened to the Dhamma, one does not know exactly what is kusala and what is akusala and thus there are many conditions for unwise attention to the objects which are experienced through the five sense-doors and through the mind door. Foolish friends are also a condition for akusala cittas. The person who is inclined to akusala will associate with friends who have similar inclinations. Thus he accumulates more and more vices and then it is very difficult to turn to kusala and develop virtues.

Akusala citta is bound to arise more often than kusala citta because there have been countless akusala cittas in the past and thus the conditions for akusala have been accumulated. lf there is no development of right understanding akusala cannot be eradicated and we will continue to accumulate more akusala.

The Buddha reminded people of the ill effects of akusala. Akusala kamma is capable of producing an unpleasant result in the form of rebirth or in the form of unpleasant experiences through the senses in the course of our life. Through the doing of evil deeds one acquires a bad name and one loses one's friends. Moreover, the person who commits evil is not calm when he faces death. We read in the Gradual Sayings(Book of the Fours, the Fourth Fifty, chapter xix, 4, Fearless) that the brahmin Janussoni said to the Buddha that he believed that everyone was afraid of death.

The Buddha thereupon spoke to Janussoni about four kinds of people who are afraid of death and four who are not. We read that the Buddha said:

... In this case, brahmin, a certain one is not freed from passions, not freed from lusts, not freed from desire, affection, from thirst and fever, not freed from craving.

Then a grievous sickness afflicts such an one. Thus afflicted by grievous sickness it occurs to him: Alas? The passions that l love will leave me, or I shall leave the passions that l love.

Thereupon he grieves and wails, laments and beats the breast and falls into utter bewilderment. This one, brahmin, being subject to death, is afraid, he falls a-trembling at the thought of death.

Again, brahmin, here a certain one who as regards body is not freed from lusts... is not freed from craving.

Then a grievous sickness afflicts him. Thus afflicted it occurs to him: Alas! The body that l love will leave me, or l shall leave the body that l love.

Thereupon he grieves... and falls into utter bewilderment.This one, brahmin, being subject to death ,is afraid, he falls a-trembling at the thought of death...

The same is said about the person who has omitted good deeds and committed evil, and about the person who is full of doubts as to "true Dhamma". The opposite is true of the people who do not have these vices. When a grievous sickness afflicts them they are not afraid of death.

We make ourselves unhappy through unwholesome deeds, speech and thoughts, and then we have no peace of mind. Akusala is a mental disease and this is more grave than bodily disease.

Right understanding of the danger and ill effects of akusala can condition kusala citta. But shortly after the kusala cittas have fallen away, akusala cittas tend to arise again and at such moments we have no confidence in wholesomeness. We may, for example speak harsh words to someone else and when the moments of anger have fallen away, we cannot understand that we behaved in such a bad way. We may wonder how we can be such different person at different moments.

In reality there is no self who is at one moment kusala and at another moment akusala. There are different types of citta which arise because of their own conditions. Sometimes kusala citta arises but more often akusala citta arises. There is no seIf who can prevent the arising of akusala citta.

Because of ignorance we take the satisfaction in pleasant experiences through the senses for true happiness. Do we consider the enjoyment of pleasant things the goal of our life? We tend to forget that pleasant things do not last, that our body declines and that we are susceptible to sickness and death. There is ignorance with each akusala citta. At such a moment we do not know the danger of the accumulation of akusala.

If we do not develop right understanding of realities we live with our dreams and illusions. We want happiness for ourselves and we are ignorant of what is kusala and what is akusala. Thus there is bound to be decline in good qualities. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Sixes, chapter VIII, 10, Day and Night):

... Monks, if a monk follows six things, come day come night, just a falling away in right things maybe expected, not a growth. What six?

Herein, monks, a monk desires much, is fretful, discontented with this and that requisite: robe, alms, lodging, medicaments- is without faith or virtue, is indolent, forgetful in mindfulness and lacks insight.

Monks, if a monk follows these six, come day come night, just a falling away in right things maybe expected, not a growth.
(But the opposite is true for a monk who is not like that. )

This sutta can remind both monks and laypeople that if there is no mindfulness of the reality appearing at this moment, no development of insight, there will be decline in good qualities.

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisatta, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings. (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, 101, Before)[1]

Before my enlightenment, monks, when I was yet but a Bodhisat, this occurred to me: What, I wonder, is the satisfaction in the world, what is the misery in the world, what is the escape therefrom?

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness- that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,- that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world- that is the escape therefrom...

The "escape" can be realized through the development of insight. Right understanding of realities eventually leads to freedom from all akusala, to the end of all sorrow.

The Abhidhamma teaches us in detail about all akusala dhammas. They are not Iisted just to be read and memorized, they are realities of daily life and they can be known as they are by being mindful of them. If we consider akusala dhammas when they appear and begin to be mindful of them, we will come to know also defilements which are more subtle. We will learn that behaviour and speech we thought to be agreeable and pleasant are often motivated by selfishness; this happens for example when we want to endear ourselves to others in the expectation of some gain or favour from them.

Our actions and speech are more often motivated by akusala cittas than by kusala cittas. Through the study of the Abhidhamma we learn about many types of defilements which arise time and again in our daily fife. We learn about our tendencies and inclinations to akusala which we did not know before.

Among the cetasikas which can accompany akusala cittas, there are three which are unwholesome roots, akusala hetus. These hetus are the foundation of the akusala citta. They are:

  1. attachment or greed, in Pali: lobha
  2. aversion or anger, in Pali: dosa
  3. ignorance, in Pali: moha

Besides these roots there are other akusala cetasikas which can accompany akusala citta, and each of these has its own characteristic and function.

There are twelve types of akusala cittas and they are classified according to their roots.

They are:

  • 8 types of citta rooted in attachment, lobha-mula-citta
  • 2 types of citta rooted in aversion, dosa-mula-citta
  • 2 types of citta rooted in ignorance, moha-mula-citta[2]

The cittas rooted in attachment have ignorance, moha, and attachment, lobha, as their roots;
the cittas rooted in aversion have moha and aversion, dosa, as their roots;
the cittas rooted in moha have moha as their only root.

There is ignorance with each akusala citta.

Akusala cittas are accompanied by the "universals" and by the "particulars", but not all particulars accompany every akusala citta. When the universals and the particulars accompany akusala citta they are also akusala. There are fourteen akusala cetasikas which can accompany only akusala citta, but not all akusala cetasikas accompany each akusala citta. Some akusala cetasikas accompany only certain types of akusala cittas.

There are twelve types of akusala citta, but there are many more varieties of them since they are, at one time or other, accompanied by different cetasikas Moreover, akusala cittas can have many different degrees of akusala. Akusala citta may or may not have the intensity to motivate an unwholesome deed, akusala kamma patha.

There are four types of akusala cetasikas which have to arise with every akusala citta. These cetasikas are:

  1. ignorance, moha
  2. shamelessness, ahirika
  3. recklessness, anottappa
  4. restlessness, uddhacca

One of these, ignorance, is root, the other three are not roots These four types have to assist each akusala citta in performing; its function. So long as these types have not been eradicated akusala citta will arise. Only the arahat has eradicated these four types, For him there are no more conditions for the arising of akusala.

June 21, 2001

Footnotes and references:


There are three akusala hetus and three Sobhana (beautiful) hetus which are the opposites of the akusala hetus. A root or hetu is the foundation of the akusala citta or the sobhana citta, just as the roots are the foundation of a tree.


See Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter 4, 6 and 7.

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