by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 22 - Different Groups Of Defilements Part II

The akusala cetasikas which are attachment, wrong view and ignorance are classified in different groups: as four cankers, four floods and four yokes. Each of these groups consists of the same defilements, but different aspects are shown by these classifications. The cankers flow or "exude", or they are like intoxicants. The floods are dangerous, they can drown us, they sweep us away into the ocean of rebirths. The yokes tie us to the cycle of birth and death.

There are still other groups of defilements and by their classifications again different aspects are shown. One of these groups is the ties or knots, ganthas. Instead of gantha the term kayagantha, bodily tie, is used as well. Kaya which means body refers to the physical body as well as to the "mental body” (Vis. XXII, 54). The ganthas tie us to the round of rebirths. We read in the Atthasalini (I, Part I, Chapter 11, 49) :

In the knot-group, states which knot or tie in repeated rounds of birth by way of birth and decease the person in whom they exist are termed "knots”.

There are four kayaganthas, “bodily ties" (Dhammasangani, 1135-1140) :

  1. the bodily tie of covetousness (abhijjha kayagantha)
  2. the bodily tie of ill-will (vyapada kayagantha)
  3. the bodily tie of clinging to rules and rituals or wrong practice (silabbata paramasa kayagantha)
  4. the bodily tie of dogmatism (idam-saccabhinivesa kayagantha)

The first tie comprises all kinds of covetousness, all degrees of lobha, be they gross or subtle. We should know that there can also be lobha in the form of hopes and expectations : we hope for good health, we hope that other people will like us, we hope for honour and praise, for success in our undertakings. All degrees and shades of lobha are a tie which binds us to the cycle of birth and death.

The tie of ill-will is dosa. All degrees of dosa such as irritation, ill-temper, ill-will or hostility are a tie which binds us to the round of rebirths.

The tie of clinging to rules and rituals is wrong practice and this is a form of wrong view. People are entangled by this tie when they erroneously believe that, in order to develop the way leading to enlightenment, they have to follow certain rules such as abstaining from particular kinds of food or refraining from reading or talking. So long as wrong view has not been eradicated one may have many moments of wrong practice, and one may mistake the wrong practice for the right practice. People may cling to particular places or situations as being favourable for the development of satipatthana. They believe that mindfulness can only arise in such places or situations. Then there is bound to be wrong practice. If we know when there is wrong practice we can be cured of it.

The tie of dogmatism (idam-saccabhinivesa, the belief: this alone is truth) comprises all forms of wrong view, except wrong practice which is the third tie, as we have seen. People are entangled by the fourth tie when they have a wrong interpretation of reality and when they believe that only their interpretation is the truth. When someone, for example, believes that there is no kamma and no result of kamma, he is entangled by the fourth tie. The view that there is no kamma and no result of kamma is very dangerous, it can condition unwholesome deeds. One may believe that, after death, one will be annihilated, that there is no rebirth. Then one is entangled by the fourth tie.

As we have seen, wrong view, ditthi, has been classified as canker, as flood, as yoke and as (bodily) tie. Under the aspect of tie ditthi has been classified as twofold: as wrong practice and as false view.

The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates the third and the fourth ties. The sotapanna knows the right Path and he cannot deviate from it anymore, he has no conditions for wrong practice. He has no wrong view of realities. He still has the first tie, covetousness, and the second tie, ill-will, but they are not of the degree that they lead to an unhappy rebirth.

The magga-citta of the anagami eradicates the second tie, ill-will. As regards the first tie, the anagami does not cling to sensuous objects, but he has not eradicated the more subtle forms of clinging, which is clinging to rebirth in rupa-brahma planes and arupa-brahma planes. Thus, he still clings to rebirth. He has not eradicated the first tie.

The magga-citta of the arahat eradicates the first tie. He has no more clinging, no clinging to rebirth; he is no longer entangled by any of the four ties.

Another group of defilements is the ways of clinging or upadana.

There are four ways of clinging (Dhammasangani, 1213-1217) :

  1. sensuous clinging (kamupadana )
  2. clinging to wrong view (ditthupadana)
  3. clinging to "rules and rituals" (silabbatupadana)
  4. clinging to personality belief (attavadupadana)

1. The first way of clinging, sensuous clinging, comprises clinging to all the objects which can be experienced through the senses (Visuddhimagga, XVII, 243). We should scrutinize ourselves whether there is clinging at this moment. We may not notice that there is clinging very often, after seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or on account of the experience of an object through the mind-door. When we sit on a soft chair there is likely to be clinging already to softness, but we do not notice it.

We look at birds, dogs and cats and we do not notice that we tend to cling already before we define what it is that is seen. At the moment of clinging we create a new condition for life to go on in the cycle of birth and death. Clinging is one of the links in the "Dependant Origination" (Paticcasamuppada), the conditional arising of phenomena in the round of rebirths. Because of craving (tanha) there is clinging or firm grasping (upadana). So long as there is any form of clinging we have to continue to be in the cycle of birth and death.

We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Kindred Sayings on Cause, Chapter 5, 52, Grasping, Upadana):

While staying at Savatthi the Exalted One said:-

In him, monks, who contemplates the enjoyment that there is in all that makes for grasping, craving grows. Grasping is conditioned by craving. Becoming is conditioned by grasping. Birth is conditioned by becoming. Decay-and-death is conditioned by birth. Grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, despair come to pass. Such is the uprising of this entire mass of ill.

The Buddha then uses a simile of a bonfire which keeps on burning so long as it is supplied with fuel. If there is no fuel the fire will become extinct. We read further on:

Even so in him who contemplates tile misery that there is in all that makes for grasping, craving ceases, and hence grasping ceases, becoming, birth, decay-and-death, and sorrow cease. Such is the ceasing of this entire mass of ill.

We want to go on living and experiencing objects through the senses, this is beyond control. However, the Buddha's words about the impermanence of all conditioned things, about decay and death, can remind us of what life really is: only fleeting phenomena.

2,3,4. The other three ways of clinging are forms of wrong view. As regards clinging to wrong view (ditthupadana), this comprises clinging to false views about kamma, and the result of kamma, and to other speculative theories. As regards clinging to wrong practice, when someone takes the wrong practice for the right practice there are no conditions for the development of right understanding of realities and thus wrong view cannot be eradicated, Wrong practice is also one of the "ties", as we have seen.

Clinging to personality belief is a form of wrong view which arises when one firmly believes that the five khandhas are "self”. We can think of concepts such as “body” or "mind" but there may not necessarily be wrong view. However, the latent tendency of wrong view has not been eradicated so long as one has not become a sotapanna, We all have accumulated personality belief and when there are conditions it can arise. Someone may cling with wrong view to the rupa-kkhandha, he may take the body for self. When one becomes older and suffers from sickness, it is obvious that the body changes, but there may still be clinging to an idea of the body which belongs to a "self”. what is taken for "my body” consists of different rupas which arise and fall away.

When we are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, it is not "my body” which can be directly experienced, there are only different elements, rupas, such as hardness, softness, heat or cold, and these can be experienced one at a time, When mindfulness arises it can be aware of one reality at a time and in this way right understanding can develop and the wrong view of self can eventually be eradicated.

Someone may take the khandha of feeling for self, but feeling changes all the time. Feeling which arises now is not the same as feeling a moment ago. The khandha of perception or remembrance (sanna) is different each moment, but one may be inclined to take it for self. When we recognize or remember something, it is not self who does so, but sanna. Sankharakkhandha, the khandha of "formations" or "activities" (all cetasikas other than feeling and sanna), changes all the time; sometimes akusala cetasikas arise, sometimes kusala cetasikas, but one may still be inclined to take cetasikas for self.

Vinnanakkhandha, consciousness, changes all the time; there are seeing, hearing and thinking of concepts at different moments, but there can be a deep-rooted belief of "I see", "I hear”, "I think". In reality the seeing sees, the hearing hears, and another citta again thinks of concepts, they are all different cittas which are not self. There are different cittas which arise and fall away, one at a time, and each of them experiences just one object. There may be theoretical understanding of the truth, but wrong view is deeply rooted; it cannot be eradicated by thinking. Wrong view can be eradicated only by developing right understanding of the reality which appears at the present moment.

Among the ways of clinging, clinging to wrong view has been classified as threefold: as clinging to wrong view (speculative theories), as clinging to wrong practice and as clinging to personality belief. Each of these three classifications shows a different aspect of wrong view.

The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates the three ways of clinging which are clinging to wrong view. He still has the first way of clinging, sensuous clinging. Even the sakadagami and the anagami have the first way of clinging. The anagami has no more clinging to sensuous objects, but he still has clinging to rebirth which is the result of jhana, and this form of clinging is in this classification included in the first way of clinging. The magga-citta of the arahat eradicates the first way of clinging (Visuddhimagga, XVIl, 245).

The Hindrances or Nivaranas are another group of defilements.

In the Dhammasangani (1152-1163) the hindrances are classified as sixfold:

  1. sensuous desire (kamacchanda)
  2. ill-will (vyapada)
  3. sloth and torpor (thina-middha)
  4. restlessness and regret (uddhacca-kukkucca)
  5. doubt (vicikiccha)
  6. ignorance (avijja)[1]

In the suttas and in the Visuddhimagga (IV, 104, 105) the hindrances are classified as fivefold; ignorance is not among them. However, this should not be seen as a discrepancy. Classifications are not rigid, their aim is to remind us of reality.

The hindrances are obstructions, overwhelming the mind, weakening insight.{GL_NOTE::} The hindrances obstruct the development of what is wholesome. When we are attached to pleasant sights and sounds, to people or to particular places, there is the hindrance of sensuous desire. At the moment of attachment we do not realize that it obstructs the arising of kusala citta, but we should know that at such a moment there cannot be generosity or loving kindness.

Ill-will is another akusala dhamma which is one of the hindrances. The hindrance of ill-will is dosa cetasika and it comprises all shades and degrees of aversion. Even a moment of slight annoyance is a hindrance, it obstructs kusala. When there is ill-will there is no loving-kindness, no compassion, no understanding of nama and rupa. However, some moments later mindfulness can arise and be aware of any reality which appears, even of annoyance.

Sloth and torpor are two akusala cetasikas which are classified as a pair among the hindrances. When they arise there is mental indisposition and unwieldiness. They have the same proximate cause, namely, unwise attention. When there are sloth and torpor there is no energy, no vigour for kusala, and thus they obstruct kusala. When there are sloth and torpor one has no confidence in the development of right understanding.

Restlessness and regret (uddhacca-kukkucca) is another pair among the hindrances. When there is restlessness and regret the citta is not peaceful. As we have seen, restlessness accompanies each akusala citta and regret accompanies only dosa-mula-citta. The omission of kusala and the commission of akusala are the objects of regret. Restlessness and regret obstruct the performing of kusala, and at such moments there cannot be mindfulness of nama and rupa.

Doubt (vicikiccha) is another akusala dhamma which is a hindrance. Doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, doubt about realities, all these kinds of doubt are a hindrance to the development of kusala, a hindrance to the development of right understanding. We need courage to continue to develop satipatthana, so that doubt can eventually be eradicated. Doubt is a reality and thus it can be the object of sati. The citta which is accompanied by mindfulness is kusala citta, but mindfulness can have as its object any reality which appears, even akusala dhamma.

Ignorance (avijja) can, as we have seen, also be classified as a hindrance. There is ignorance with each akusala citta, ignorance is the root of all evil. Ignorance blinds us, it is a hindrance to kusala and to right understanding. We may see the danger of lobha and of dosa, but we may not see the danger of ignorance. If we see its danger we will develop right understanding so that ignorance can eventually be eradicated.

In samatha the hindrances can be temporarily subdued by the jhana-factors which accompany the jhana-cittas of the different stages of jhana, but they cannot be eradicated. They can be eradicated only by the fight understanding which is developed in vipassana.

We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Maha-vagga, Book II, Kindred Sayings on the Limbs of Wisdom, Chapter IV, 5) about the condition for the arising of the hindrances:

Monks. in him who practises unsystematic attention, sensual desire, if not already arisen, arises; and, if already arisen, sensual desire conduces to the more-becoming and growth thereof.

So also malevolence, sloth and torpor, excitement and flurry. Doubt and wavering, if not yet arisen, do arise: and, if arisen, conduce to the more-becoming and growth thereof.

In the following sutta we read that systematic attention (wise attention) conditions the arising of the "limbs of wisdom" which, if they have arisen, by cultivation go to fulfillment. The "limbs of wisdom", which are also called the "factors of enlightenment" (bojjhangas), are: mindfulness, investigation of Dhamma (dhamma-vicaya), energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration and equanimity.

Further on, in the same section (8), we read again about the hindrances which weaken insight and about the "limbs of wisdom" which conduce to realizing the fruits of liberation by knowledge. We read:

Now, monks, at the time when the ariyan disciple makes the Dhamma his object, gives attention to it, with all his mind considers it with ready ear listens to the Dhamma - at such a time these five hindrances do not exist in him: at such a time the seven limbs of wisdom by cultivation go to fulfilment.

This sutta reminds us of the great value of listening to the Dhamma and carefully and thoroughly considering it, in order to be able to apply it.

The hindrances are eradicated at different stages of enlightenment. The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates doubt. Since the sotapanna has no more wrong view and sees realities as they are, there cannot be any doubt about them. The magga-citta of the anagami eradicates sensuous desire, ill-will and regret. The magga.citta of the arahat eradicates sloth and torpor, restlessness and ignorance. The arahat is flee of all the hindrances. Defilements can only be eradicated stage by stage because they are so deeply rooted.

In order to eradicate defilements we should have patience to develop understanding gradually. It is essential to know the difference between the moments we are absorbed in thinking of concepts, such as people and possessions, situations or events of life, and the moments of mindfulness which is aware of only one reality at a time as it presents itself through one of the six doors. We should not try to suppress thinking, it is real; it arises because it is conditioned. Thinking can be object of mindfulness, it can be known as a type of nama, arising because of its own conditions, not self.

There is not only thinking, there are also seeing, visible object, hearing or sound, but we are mostly forgetful of these realities. We are used to paying attention only to concepts, but gradually we can learn to be mindful of realities. We cannot expect to have full understanding of realities at once. If we are intent only on what appears at the present moment we do not worry about the fact that understanding will have to be developed for a long time, even for many lives. There is no self who has understanding, it is understanding, panna cetasika, which can develop and see things as they really are. We tend to forget that panna is a conditioned nama.

We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Niddana-vagga, Chapter XXI, Kindred Sayings about Brethren, 6, 11, 12) about different monks who attained arahatship. They had to develop right understanding life after life. The Buddha repeatedly said that it was "no easy matter to attain the goal. We read for example about Kappina (11) that the Buddha said:

... That monk is highly gifted, of wondrous power. No easy matter is it to win that which he formerly had not won, even that for the sake of which clansmen rightly leave the home for the homeless, even that uttermost goal of the divine living which he has attained, wherein he abides, having come just here and now to know it thoroughly for himself and to realize it.


  1. When does the "bodily tie of dogmatism" arise?
  2. Is it a discrepancy that the hindrances are sometimes classified as fivefold, ignorance being excluded, and sometimes as sixfold?
  3. why is even a slight annoyance a hindrance to kusala?
  4. Why can wrong view about seeing, hearing or thinking only be eliminated by panna as they appear in daily life?
September 15, 2003

Footnotes and references:


For sensuous desire see Chapter, 15, for ill-will Chapter 18, for sloth and torpor Chapter 20, for restlessness Chapter 14, for regret Chapter 19, for doubt Chapter 20 and for ignorance Chapter 14.


Atthasalini, II, Book II, Part II, Chapter II, 382.

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