by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 23 - Different Groups Of Defilements Part III

Defilements can be classified in many different ways and each classification reminds us of the danger of akusala. There is another group of defilements which is again completely different, namely the group of the latent tendencies or anusayas.

In the Dhammasangani the latent tendencies have not been classified as a group. Only lobha as "latent bias", anusaya, has been specifically mentioned among the many aspects of lobha (1059). The Atthasalini (II, Part II, Chapter II, 366) comments: "As latent bias greed lies chronically in us as a strong (tendency) ". There is not only the latent tendency of lobha, there are seven. akusala dhammas which can be classified as latent tendencies and these lie dormant in us as strong leanings.

We read in the Book of Analysis (Vibhanga, Chapter 17, 949) that there are seven anusayas:[1]

  1. the latent tendency of lust for sense pleasure (kamaraganusaya)
  2. the latent tendency of aversion (patighanusaya)
  3. the latent tendency of conceit (mananusaya)
  4. the latent tendency of wrong view (ditthanusaya)
  5. the latent tendency of doubt (vicikicchanusaya)
  6. the latent tendency of lust for becoming (bhava-raganusaya)
  7. the latent tendency of ignorance (avijjanusaya)

The classification of akusala dhammas by way of latent tendencies reminds us of their stubbornness, their pertinaciousness. The latent tendencies are like microbes investing the body. They are latent but they may become active at any moment, when conditions are favourable.[2] Latent tendencies are hard to get rid of.

We read in the Visuddhimagga (XXII, 60) about the stubbornness of the latent tendencies:

... For it is owing to their inveteracy that they are called inherent tendencies (anusaya) since they inhere (anusenti) as cause for the arising of greed for sense desires, etc., again and again.

The latent tendencies are "inveterate", that is, they are firmly established, for a long time, obstinate, hard to eradicate.

One may wonder why not all akusala dhammas have been classified as latent tendencies. Have we not accumulated all akusala dhammas from life to life? We should note that the seven akusala dhammas which have been classified as latent tendencies are particularly obstinate and condition the arising of the other defilements.

So long as latent tendencies have not been eradicated, defilements arise again and again. For example, when someone is reborn in one of the brahma-planes, there are no conditions for aversion in that plane. However, so long as the latent tendency of aversion has not been eradicated, aversion is bound to arise again when that person is reborn in one of the sensuous planes, after his lifespan in the brahma-plane has been terminated.

Latent tendencies are eradicated at different stages of Enlightenment.[3] The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates the latent tendency of wrong view and of doubt and thus these akusala dhammas can never arise again. The magga-citta of the sakadagami does not completely eradicate any of the other latent tendencies, but, it "severs the gross latent bias of sense-desires and the gross latent bias of aversion", as the Atthasalini[4] states.

As we have seen, there are many degrees of defilements, they can be gross or more subtle. The sakadagami still has the latent tendencies of sensuous desire and aversion, but they have become attenuated. Therefore, in comparison with the sotapanna these latent tendencies are less gross, they are more subtle. The group of latent tendencies as a whole can be called subtle defilements. They are subtle in so far as they are latent; they are subtle in comparison with akusala citta rooted in lobha, dosa or moha, which appears, and which can be called "medium defilement' and with akusala citta which has the intensity to motivate evil deeds through body, speech or mind, which can be called "gross defilement". However, the term subtle should not mislead us. The latent tendencies are dangerous, pertinacious, they are hard to eradicate. They condition the arising of akusala dhammas again and again.

The magga-citta of the anagami eradicates completely the latent tendencies of sense-desire and aversion, these can never arise again. However, he has not eradicated all forms of clinging, he still has the latent tendency of lust for becoming, rebirth which is the result of jhana. The magga-citta of the arahat eradicates the latent tendencies of lust for becoming, of conceit and of ignorance. When there is no more "soil" for defilements to grow in, the round of becoming comes to an end.

The Fetters or Samyojanas are another group of akusala dhammas. The samyojanas "fetter" khandhas (in this life) to khandhas (of the next), or kamma to its fruit[5], or beings to suffering... (Visuddhimagga XXII, 48). Through the fetters we are tied to the cycle of birth and death.[6]

In the Dhammasangani (1113) we find the following classification of ten fetters:[7]

  1. sensuous desire (kama-raga)
  2. ill-will (vyapada)
  3. conceit (mana)
  4. wrong view (ditthi)
  5. doubt (vicikiccha)
  6. clinging to rules and rituals (silabbata-baramasa)
  7. clinging to rebirth (bhava-raga)
  8. envy (issa)
  9. stinginess (macchariya)
  10. ignorance (avijja)

In the classifications of the fetters as given above, ditthi has been classified under two aspects: wrong view and wrong practice (clinging to rules and rituals). When there is no right practice, the wrong view of self and other defilements cannot be eradicated and thus we are fettered to the cycle of birth and death. When there is no mindfulness of one reality at a time, the nama or rupa appearing now, there is no right practice, one does not develop the eightfold Path. So long as one has not become a sotapanna there may be wrong practice.

Envy and stinginess are akusala dhammas which have only been classified by way of fetters but not in the other groups of defilements. we should find out whether there is envy when someone else receives a token of honour we did not receive. Attachment to self conditions coarse akusala such as jealousy. The sotapanna who has eradicated the wrong view of self has also eradicated jealousy as well as stinginess. If we develop understanding of nama and rupa in daily life, we may begin to see that life is actually one moment of experiencing an object. Sometimes the object is pleasant, sometimes it is unpleasant, this depends entirely on conditions. The experience of pleasant objects and unpleasant objects is conditioned by kamma, by deeds which have been done. If we see life as different phenomena which each arise because of their own conditions, there will be less opportunity for jealousy. When we see how we at times can be overpowered by jealousy and other akusala dhammas we can be reminded to develop right understanding of nama and rupa in order to eradicate akusala.

There is another way of classifying fetters and this shows us again that classifications are not rigid. We find for example in the Book of Analysis (Chapter 17, 940)[8] the following classification of the fetters which makes a distinction between "lower fetters" and "higher fetters". There are five lower fetters (orambhagiya-samyojana) which tie beings to the sensuous planes and five higher fetters (uddhambhagiya-samyojana) which tie beings to the higher planes, the rupa-brahma planes and the arupa-brahma planes.

The lower fetters are:

  1. personality belief (sakkaya-ditthi)
  2. doubt (vicikiccha)
  3. clinging to rules and rituals (silabbata-paramasa)
  4. sensuous desire (kama-raga)
  5. ill-will (vyapada)
  6. The higher fetters are:
  7. lust for rebirth in rupa-brahma planes (rupa-raga)
  8. lust for rebirth in arupa-brahma planes (arupa-raga)
  9. conceit (mana)
  10. restlessness (uddhacca)
  11. ignorance (avijja)

In this classification wrong view has been classified as twofold: under the aspect of personality belief and wrong practice. Clinging has been classified as threefold: as sensuous desire, as clinging to rebirth which is the result of rupa-jhana and as clinging to rebirth which is the result of arupa-jhana. Envy and stinginess do not occur in this classification.

The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates the three lower fetters of personality belief, clinging to rules and rituals (wrong practice) and doubt. He has not eradicated sensuous desire and ill-will, but for him these are not as gross as in the case of the non-ariyan; they cannot lead to an unhappy rebirth.

The magga-citta of the sakadagami does not eradicate the fetters of sensuous desire and ill-will, but they have become attenuated. Panna has to be developed to a high degree in order that desire and ill-will can be eradicated. The anagami eradicates both these fetters. He is no longer tied by the lower fetters, but he is still tied by the higher fetters. This shows how hard it is to eradicate these fetters. Only the magga-citta of the arahat can eradicate them. The arahat does not cling at all, he does not cling to the result of jhana, he does not cling to rebirth in any plane of existence. He has no more conceit, restlessness and ignorance, he has eradicated all akusala dhammas. He has no akusala citta nor kusala citta, instead he has kiriyacitta which does not produce any result. The arahat is truly a perfected one, his task has been fulfilled. He is no longer fettered to the cycle of birth and death.

Another group of akusala dhammas are the defilements, kilesas. They are dirty, unclean, impure; they defile or torment the mind. The following ten akusala dhammas have been classified as defilements ( Dhammasangani, 1229):[9]

  1. greed (lobha)
  2. hate (dose)
  3. ignorance (moha)
  4. conceit (mana)
  5. wrong view (ditthi)
  6. doubt (vicikiccha)
  7. sloth (thina)
  8. restlessness (uddhacca)
  9. shamelessness (ahirika)
  10. recklessness (anottappa)

We can use the word defilement or kilesa in a wider sense and then we mean all akusala dhammas. But when defilements are classified as a particular group only the above mentioned akusala dhammas are meant. Torpor (middha), stinginess (macchariya), regret (kukkucca) and envy (issa) have not been classified in this group. The Visuddhimagga (XXII, 49) states about defilements: "They are so called because they are themselves defiled and they defile the states associated with them."

Shamelessness and recklessness which have not been classified in one of the other groups are classified among the defilements. Shamelessness has no shame of akusala and recklessness does not fear its consequences. They arise with each akusala citta, they defile citta and the accompanying cetasikas. There are many degrees of shamelessness and recklessness. Some people are ashamed of gross defilements and they fear their consequences, but they are not ashamed of akusala citta which is not of the intensity to motivate unwholesome deeds. For example, when we are at this moment forgetful of realities such as seeing or hearing it is evident that we have no shame of neglectfulness with regard to the development of right understanding.

Defilements are eradicated at the different stages of enlightenment. The magga-citta of the sotapanna eradicates wrong view and doubt. The magga-citta of the anagami eradicates hate. The anagami does not cling to sensuous objects but he may still cling to rebirth which is the result of jhana. Since this kind of clinging is, in this group of akusala dhammas, included in the defilement of greed, lobha, he has not eradicated this defilement. The magga-citta of the arahat eradicates the defilements of greed, ignorance, conceit, sloth, restlessness, shamelessness and recklessness. The arahat is free from all defilements.

Summarizing the different groups of akusala dhammas, they are:

  1. cankers, asavas
  2. floods, oghas
  3. yokes, yoghas
  4. ties, ganthas
  5. ways of clinging, upadanas
  6. hindrances, nivaranas
  7. latent tendencies, anusayas
  8. fetters, samyojanas
  9. defilements, kilesas

Attachment, lobha, occurs in all of these groups and wrong view, ditthi, in all groups except the group of the hindrances. This reminds us of our entanglement by lobha and ditthi. Lobha and ditthi occur sometimes within one group more than once, under different aspects. We should know what the object of lobha is in each classification, because sometimes lobha stands for sensuous clinging and sometimes clinging to the result of jhana has been included as well.

Each of these groups can remind us of the dangers of akusala dhamma. For example, the classification by way of knots (ganthas) or of fetters (samyojanas) can remind us of the danger of being tied or chained to the cycle of birth and death. We are overcome by the cankers and by the floods, we are chained and fettered, but we may not realize it. The classification by ways of clinging (upadanas) shows us how we are in the grip of clinging to objects Which are experienced through the senses and of clinging to the self. We forget that attachment cannot lead to happiness, that it leads to sorrow.

In the Kindred Sayings (II, Niddana-vagga, Chapter XVII, Kindred Sayings on Gain and Favours) we read in forty three suttas that the Buddha reminded the monks of the danger of attachment to gains, favours and flattery. We read for example in the first sutta of this section ($I, Dire) that the Buddha said to the monks:

Dire, monks, are gains, favours and flattery, a bitter, harsh obstacle in the way of arriving at uttermost safety.

Wherefore, monks, thus should you train yourselves:

"When gains, favour and flattery come to us, we will put them aside, nor when they come shall they take lasting hold on our hearts."

Why did the Buddha stress so repeatedly the danger of attachment to gains, favours and flattery? Because our happiness seems to depend entirely on the getting of the pleasant " worldly conditions". Don't they play an all-important role in our life? We want to be treated well by others, we consider ourselves very important and we forget that gain, loss, honour and dishonour are dependant on conditions, that they are beyond control. We cannot exert control over what will happen new: gain or loss, honour or dishonour. The Buddha explained that desire is the root of sorrow, but we may not fully understand this truth. Only right understanding which has been developed can see the truth of the Buddha's words.

Precise understanding of all the different phenomena of our life has to be developed. We usually pay attention only to pleasant or unpleasant sense objects, and we tend to overlook realities such as seeing or hearing. We should remember that when we experience praise or blame there are many different types of cittas. The cittas which see or hear pleasant or unpleasant objects are Vipakacittas, conditioned by kamma which was committed already, and we cannot prevent them from arising. The moment of vipakacitta such as hearing which merely experiences sound is different from akusala citta which may arise shortly afterwards and which experiences sound in an unwholesome way, for example with attachment or aversion. Then there are other processes of atlas, cittas which may think in an unwholesome way about concepts. We may, for example, think for a long time about the wrongs other people committed towards us.

If one is ignorant of vipaka one will be inclined to continually blame others for unpleasant objects which are received through the senses. We should know vipakacittas such as seeing and hearing as well as the other types of cittas. When we realize how ignorant we still are we will be reminded to go on developing right understanding. Through right understanding we will gradually learn to attach less importance to "self", and as a consequence we will be inclined to think more of other people's happiness instead of our own happiness.

In the Kindred Sayings (V, Maha-vagga, Kindred Sayings on the Way, Book I, Chapter VIII) we read about groups of akusala dhammas and their eradication. We read, for example, about the floods:

Monks, there are four floods. What four? The flood of sensual desire. the flood of becoming, the flood of dew, the flood of nescience. These are the four. It is fir the full comprehension, realization, wearing down and abandoning of these four floods that the ariyan eightfold way must be cultivated.

We read the same about other groups of defilements, such as the yokes, knots, latent tendencies, hindrances, the lower fetters and the higher fetters. We read at the end of this section, after the summing up of the higher fetters:

…it is for the full comprehension, the realization, wearing down and abandoning of these five fetters of the higher sort that the ariyan eightfold way must be cultivated....

... And how does o monk cultivate the ariyan eightfold way? Herein o monk cultivates right dew, right thinking. right speech. right action, right livelihood, right effort. right mindfulness, right concentration, that ends in the restraint of lust, of hatred, of illusion; that plunges into the deathless, that has the deathless for its goal, that ends in the deathless: that flows to nibbana, that slides to nibbana. that tends to nibbana.

It is for the full comprehension, for the realization, for the wearing out and abandoning of these five fetters of the higher sort, monks, that this ariyan eightfold way must be cultivated.

Before there can be abandoning of akusala dhammas, there must be right understanding of all namas and rupas of our daily life.


  1. We have accumulated all kinds of akusala, from life to life. Why then are there only seven akusala dhammas which are classified as latent tendencies? ,
  2. Who has eradicated the five lower fetters?
  3. Who has eradicated the five higher fetters?
June 27, 2001

Footnotes and references:


See also Visuddhimagga XXII, 60, and Yamaka, the sixth Book of the Abhidhamma, Part VII (translation: Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Ven. Nyanatiloka, BPS. Kandy 1971).


Ven. Nyanaponika, Abhidhamma Studies V, The Problem of Time, 3, the Concept of the Present in the Abhidhamma. BPS. Kandy, 1976.


Atthasalini II, Book I, Part VIII, Chapter 1, 235-236




So long as there is the performing of kamma there will be vipaka and thus life goes on.


Atthasalini (I, Book 1, Part 1, Chapter II, 48)


The Book of Analysis, Vibhanga, Chapter 17, 969, has the same classification.


See also Visuddhimagga XXII, 48. the same way of classification also occurs in the suttas, for example in the Dialogues of the Buddha III, no. 33, 234.


See also the Book of Analysis, Vibhanga, Chapter 17, 966.

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