by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 17 - Conceit


Conceit, mana, is another akusala cetasika. There is conceit or pride when we consider ourselves important. Because of conceit we may compare ourselves with others. There can be conceit when we think ourselves better, equal or less than someone else. We may believe that there can be conceit only when we think ourselves better than someone else, but this is not so. There can be a kind of upholding of ourselves, of making ourselves important, while we compare ourselves with someone else, no matter in what way, and that is conceit.

We read in the Dhammasangani (1116) :

What is the Fetter of conceit?

Conceit at the thought "I am the better man" conceit at the thought "I am as good (as they)"; conceit at the thought "I am lowly"- all such sort of conceit, overweening conceitedness, loftiness, haughtiness, flaunting a flag, assumption, desire of the heart for self-advertisement- this is called conceit.

The three ways of comparing oneself with other may occur in someone who is actually superior, in someone who is actually equal and in someone who is actually inferior. Under this aspect there are nine kinds of conceit.[1]

There is no need for comparing, no matter whether we are in fact superior, equal or inferior. We accumulate more akusala whenever we make ourselves important in comparing ourselves with others, no matter under what aspect.

Even when we do not compare ourselves with someone else we may find ourselves important and then there is conceit. Conceit always goes together with attachment, with clinging. It can arise with the four types of lobha-mula-citta which are not accompanied
by wrong view. Conceit and wrong view are different realities which do not arise at the same time. When one takes a reality for permanent or for self there is wrong view and there cannot be at the same time conceit, which is pride or self-assertion. This does not mean that there is conceit every time lobha-mula-citta without wrong view arises. Lobha-mula-citta without wrong view may sometimes be accompanied by conceit, sometimes not.

The Atthasalini (II, Part IX, Chapter III, 256) gives the following definition of conceit:

... Herein conceit is fancying (deeming, vain imagining). It has haughtiness as characteristic, self-praise as function, desire to (advertise self like) a banner as manifestation, greed dissociated from opinionativeness as proximate cause, and should be regarded as (a form of) lunacy.

Attachment is the proximate cause of conceit, but it is attachment which is dissociated from wrong view (ditthigata-vippayutta). As we have seen, conceit does not arise together with wrong view; it arises with lobha-mula-citta which is dissociated from wrong view.

The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 168) gives a similar definition, but it mentions as manifestation of conceit "vaingloriousness" and it does not mention the desire to advertise oneself like a banner.[2]

In the definition of the Atthasalini conceit as desire for self-advertisement is compared to the desire for a banner. A banner is hoisted into the air so that everyone can see it. We tend to find ourselves important, to uphold ourselves,

Conceit is like a lunacy or madness. Although there is no need for self-advertisement or for comparing ourselves with others we still do so, because conceit has been accumulated. The study of akusala dhammas is most helpful. If we do not know what conceit is and in which cases it can arise, we will accumulate more and more conceit without realizing it.

So long as conceit has not been eradicated there are many opportunities for its arising, It arises more often than we would think. The Book of Analysis (Vibhanga, Chapter 17, 832) gives a very revealing list of the objects on account of which pride and conceit can arise:[3]

Pride of birth;
pride of clan;
pride of health;
pride of youth;
pride of life;
pride of gain;
pride of being honoured;
pride of being respected;
pride of prominence;
pride of having adherents;
pride of wealth;
pride of appearance;
pride of erudition;
pride of intelligence;
pride of being a knowledgeable authority;
pride of being (a regular) alms collector;
pride of being not despised;
pride of posture (bearing);
pride of accomplishment;
pride of popularity;
pride of being moral;
pride of jhana;
pride of dexterity;
pride of being tall;
pride of (bodily) proportion;
pride of form;
pride of (bodily) perfection...

All these objects can be a source of intoxication and conceit and we should consider them in daily life, that is why they are enumerated. Conceit can arise on account of each of the objects which are experienced through the senses. When we experience a pleasant object through one of the senses we may have conceit because of that; we may think ourselves superior in comparison with someone else who did not receive such a pleasant object. At that moment we forget that the experience of pleasant objects through the senses is only vipaka, conditioned by kamma.

Thus, there is no reason to be proud of a pleasant experience. But ignorance covers up the truth, it conditions the arising of all sorts of akusala dhammas. Conceit can arise not only on account of the objects experienced through the senses, but also on account of the senses themselves. When we see someone who is blind there may be pride on account of our eyesense.

One may be proud because of one's birth, because of the family into which one is born. Or conceit may arise on account of the race one belongs to, on account of one's nationality or the colour of one's skin. Some people may find the colour of their skin better that the colour of someone else's skin. That is conceit. Conceit may also arise because of beauty, possessions, rank or work. Or because of one's skills, knowledge, education or wisdom.

There may be the wish to "advertise" oneself because of these things. We like to be honoured and praised and the worst thing which can happen to us is to be forgotten, to be overlooked. We think of ourselves as "somebody" and we do not want to be treated as "nobody". Our actions, speech and thoughts are often motivated by an idea of competition; we may not want other people to be better than we are, even with regard to kusala and right understanding.

The "Book of Analysis" classifies conceit in many different ways in order to show different aspects. We read, for example, about "self-disrespect conceit" (omana, 881). When someone has self-disdain or self-contempt he still upholds himself and finds himself important. Them is also "over-estimating conceit". Someone may erroneously think that he has attained jhana or realized stages of wisdom and have conceit about it.

We read in the Book of Analysis (Chapter 17, 882) about over-estimating conceit (adhimana):

Therein, what is "over-estimating conceit'?

In not having reached, there is perception of having reached;
in not having done, there is perception of having done;
in not having attained, there is perception of having attained;
in not having realized, there is perception of having realized;

that which is
being conceited,
the state of being conceited,
(flaunting) flag,
desire of consciousness for a banner.

This is called over- estimating conceit.

There are many forms of conceit, Conceit has been accumulated for so long and it is bound to arise time and again, When we are dissatisfied with the way other people treat us there are bound to be moments of aversion, but them may also be moments of conceit. We find ourselves important and then we suffer again from desire for self-advertisement; we want to be esteemed. We may be conceited about erudition, about "being a knowledgeable authority", as the "Book of Analysis" expressed it so accurately, We may want to prove our value to others in the field of knowledge about Dhamma, Then we let the banner fly again.

We tend to have prejudices about certain people, even about our relatives, we may look down on them. We should find out whether we have conceit when we are together with other people. If we understand the disadvantage of all akusala dhammas, also of conceit, there are conditions for the arising of wholesome qualities such as loving kindness or compassion.

We believe that it is mostly our anger and aversion which are unpleasant for others, but when there is conceit there is also lack of kindness and consideration for other people, When there is loving kindness there is no opportunity for conceit.

There are many moments of forgetfulness and then we do not notice when there is conceit. A moment of conceit, of upholding ourselves, can arise so easily, For example, when we hear about the salary someone else is earning, there may be a moment of
comparing, of upholding ourselves. Or, when one is driving the car and sees others waiting for the bus, there may be a notion of "I have a car, I am lucky", a short moment of comparing, instead of cultivating loving kindness and compassion.

We find such thoughts ugly and we do not like to admit that we have them, but they arise because there are conditions for their arising; conceit is a conditioned dhamma (sankhara dhamma). We should be sincere and investigate the realities which arise, including akusala dhammas. This is the only way to see that they ate non-self.

When one is young, one may compare oneself with someone who is old. When we see someone who is sick or who is about to die, we may be glad that we are healthy and alive and there may be conceit about our health. We are subject to old age, sickness
and death at this very moment. There is no need for comparing. Instead of conceit there could be right understanding of the impermanence of all conditioned realities.

Conceit is like a "lunacy'', we are foolish when we have conceit. Conceit is akusala dhamma, it is impure. When there is conceit there is also ignorance which does not know the true nature of realities. There is shamelessness, ahirika, which is not ashamed of akusala, there is recklessness, anottappa, which does not see the danger of akusala, and there is restlessness, uddhacca, -which is confused and prevents the citta from being stable in kusala.

Conceit is eradicated only when arahatship has been attained. The sotapanna (who has attained the first stage of enlightenment), the sakadagami (who has attained the second stage of enlightenment) and the anagami (who has attained the third stage of enlightenment) still have conceit. Even those who have eradicated the wrong view of self and who have realized that what is called a "person" are only namas and rupas which arise and fall away, may still cling to nama and rupa with conceit. Conceit has been accumulated for so long.

One may think "one's own" namas and rupas better, equal or less than someone else's, even though one has realized that there is no self.

All those who are not arahats, even the ariyans who have not attained arahatship, have to develop satipatthana until all akusala dhammas have been eradicated. This reminds us to be aware of what appears now, even if it is conceit. The akusala dhammas which arise can remind us of the need to continue to be mindful even though we do not see much progress. We should be grateful to the Buddha who taught us all dhammas.

If he had not taught about conceit we would not have known that there are many opportunities for its arising. It is beneficial to come to realize one's akusala dhammas.


  1. Conceit arises with lobha-mula-citta without wrong view. Is there conceit every time such a type of lobha-mula-citta arises?
  2. Why is there conceit when one thinks oneself inferior to someone else?
  3. The sotapanna has eradicated the wrong view of self. Why can he still have conceit?
June 26, 2001

Footnotes and references:


Book of Analysis 962 and Atthasalini II, Book II, Part Il. Summary, Chapter II, 372.


Compare also Dhammasangani 1116, and the explanation of it in the Atthasalini, Book II, Summary, Chapter II, 372.


Pride is the translation of "mada", which literally means intoxication. In 843, 844, the same list of objects is mentioned as being objects for pride (mada) and conceit. In 845 pride is defined in the same way as conceit.

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