by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 24 - Introduction

When we perform dana, observe sila, apply ourselves to the development of calm or the development of insight there is kusala citta. Kusala citta is accompanied by sobhana (beautiful) cetasikas and these assist the citta in performing its task. When there is kusala citta there is no attachment, aversion or ignorance, one is temporarily free from defilements. However, after the kusala cittas have fallen away there are bound to be akusala cittas. There are many more akusala cittas in out life than kusala cittas.

Kusala citta does not often arise since we have accumulated so many defilements. Each kusala citta is accompanied by non-attachment (alobha), but this quality seems to be against our nature, we are absorbed in and infatuated with the objects we experience through the six doors. We want pleasant objects for ourselves and it is our nature to think of ourselves in the first place. Akusala is deeply rooted and so long as latent tendencies have not been eradicated akusala citta is bound to arise time and again. Even if we try not to be stingy, jealous or- proud, these defilements still arise. There is no self who has authority over the cittas which arise, cittas are not self. When we experience a beautiful object, attachment tends to arise and when we experience an unpleasant object, aversion tends to arise.

We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Ones, Chapter II, 1-5):

Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of sensual lust, if not already arisen, or, if arisen, to cause its more-becoming and increase, as the feature of beauty (in things).

In him who pays not wise attention to the feature of beauty, sensual lust if not already arisen, arises; or, if already arisen, is liable to more becoming and increase. '

Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of malevolence, if not already arisen, or, if arisen, to cause its more-becoming and increase, as the repulsive feature (of things). In him who pays not wise attention to the repulsive feature, malevolence. If not already arisen, arises; or. If arisen, it is liable to more-becoming and increase

It may seem to us that a desirable object is the fundamental cause of attachment and an unpleasant object the fundamental cause of aversion.[1] However, the real cause of akusala is not in the object which is experienced. Whether akusala citta or kusala citta arises, depends on one's accumulations. There can be wise attention or unwise attention to the object, depending on conditions. When there is wise attention to the object we see the value of kusala and we have confidence in kusala. However, more often akusala citta arises and then there is unwise attention to the object. It is possible to change our habits and develop kusala. Gradually our accumulations can be changed through the study of the Dhamma and the development of right understanding.

Through the study of the Dhamma we may begin to realize that conditioned realities do not last, that they are impermanent. We may remember more often that it is useless to cling to our possessions since our life is short and we cannot take our possessions with us when we die. The Buddha explained that it is difficult to be reborn in the human plane where there is an opportunity to hear the Dhamma and to develop right understanding of realities. We should therefore not, like fools, waste our life with akusala.

We read in the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagatha-vagga, The Devas, Chapter IV, 6, Faith) :

... It is a fool's part heedless to waste his life:-
Such are the folk who will not understand.
He who is wise does foster earnestness
As he were watching over his chiefest wealth.
Give not yourselves to wastage in your lives.
Nor be familiar with delights of sense.
He who does strenuously meditate,
His shall it be to win the bliss supreme.

The person who with courage and perseverance develops right understanding will win "the bliss supreme", he will eventually attain arahatship. The Buddha pointed out the dangers and disadvantages of akusala, its ill effects both in this life and in the lives to come. It is right understanding which sees the disadvantage of akusala and the benefit of kusala. We can find out from our own experience that happiness connected with attachment makes us restless, since attachment can never be satisfied, and that generosity and consideration for others can condition peace of mind. We may be inclined to anger, but when we see the value of kusala we can develop loving kindness. We may be inclined to stinginess, but when we see the value of generosity there are conditions for generosity instead of stinginess.

The kusala citta which arises falls away immediately but kusala is accumulated and thus there is a condition for the arising of kusala citta again later on. Mindfulness of nama and rupa is difficult so long as sati has not been accumulated. If we see that right understanding cannot grow without mindfulness of the reality appearing at the present moment, there ate conditions for the arising of mindfulness more often. There is no other moment but the present moment in which we can develop right understanding.

The Buddha used the simile of the well-trained horse, the "thorough-bred", in order to point out that right understanding should be developed. A horse does not become well-trained in one day, he has to practise certain things over and over again. In the same way we should not expect to attain enlightenment without developing right understanding.

We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Sixes, Chapter I, 5, The thorough-bred) :

Monks, a rajah's goodly thorough-bred endowed with six points is fit for a rajah, is a rajah's asset, is reckoned a rajah's portion. What six? Herein, monks, the goodly thorough-bred endures forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and has beauty... Even so, monks, a monk with six qualities is worthy of offerings... the world's peerless field for merit .What six?

Herein, monks, a monk endures forms, sounds, smells, tastes. touches and things of the mind.

Verily, monks, a monk with these six qualities is worthy of offerings...

One will learn to "endure " the objects which present themselves through the six doors by the development of right understanding of realities. At the moment of mindfulness of the reality which appears panna can investigate it so that it will be seen as it is : only a nama or a rupa, not self. Eventually one will no longer be absorbed in and infatuated with the objects which ate experience.

In order to be able to apply oneself to the development of kusala and in particular to the development of right understanding, there have to be the right conditions for it. The Atthasalini (Part II, chapter 1, 751 mentions these right conditions : residence in a suitable place, dependence on good associates, hearing the "good Dhamma", merit performed in former existences. It is helpful to live in a country or place where one can hear the Dhamma and learn to develop the Path which leads to the eradication of defilements. In order to learn how to be mindful of nama and rupa one should associate with the good friend in Dhamma (kalyana-mitta) who can explain the Dhamma in the right way.

What ate the qualities the good friend in Dhamma should have? We read in the Middle Length Sayings (III, no. 110, Lesser Discourse at the time of a Full Moon) that the Buddha, while he was staying near Savatthi, in the palace of Migara's mother, in the Eastern Monastery, spoke to the monks about the bad man (asappurisa) and the good man (sappurisa). we read about the good friends a good man consorts with:

... And how. monks, does a good man consort with good men? As to this, monks, those recluses and brahmans who have faith (saddha). shame, fear of blame. who have heard much, are of stirred up energy, whose mindfulness is aroused, who have wisdom- these are the friends and companions of that good man. It is thus. monks, that a good man consorts with good men...

The ariyan is endowed with the qualities of the good men, mentioned in the sutta. He has an unshakeable confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and in wholesomeness. How can we find out who is an ariyan? So long as we have not attained enlightenment ourselves we cannot know who is an ariyan. It depends on conditions whether someone will meet an ariyan or not. However, we can find out whether our friend in the Dhamma helps us to develop right understanding or not.

The Buddha taught that all realities are anatta, non-self, but it is extremely hard to become more detached from the self in the situations of daily life. we think of ourselves most of the time, we want to get pleasant things for ourselves. When we associate with the good friend in the Dhamma we can learn to develop right understanding and then there will eventually be less clinging to the concept of self. The person who has developed right understanding and encourages others through his example to be less selfish and more considerate for others is a true friend in the Dhamma. He does not pay mere lip-service to the Dhamma, but he practises the Dhamma in his daily life.

"Hearing the good Dhamma" is also a necessary factor for the development of kusala. We should not listen passively; when we truly listen, we consider what we hear and apply it; otherwise the listening is not fruitful.

Another factor which conditions the development of kusala is "meritorious deeds done in the past". If someone has applied himself to dana, sila and bhavana in the past he has conditions. for confidence in kusala today.

The consideration of the conditions for kusala can remind us of the fact that nothing arises without the appropriate conditions. Kusala citta does not belong to a self; there is no self who can direct the arising of kusala citta.

The Atthasalini (I, Part II, Chapter 1, 62) states about kusala:

By kusala is meant (moral) "good " in the sense of destroying or disturbing contemptible states; or in the sense of wholesomeness, faultlessness, and accomplishment by skill...

The Atthasalini explains that the word 'kusala" can be used in the sense of healthy, not being sick in body. When the word kusala is used for mental phenomena, "it should be understood in the sense of 'health', I.e., absence of sickness, illness or disease through the 'corruptions'. Moreover, from the absence of the faultiness, hate, and torments of the 'corruptions', kusala has the sense of faultlessness."

The Atthasalini, in the same section (63), defines kusala as follows :

  • its characteristic is that it has faultless. happy results,
  • its function is the destruction of immoralities,
  • its manifestation is purity.
  • its proximate cause is wise attention

The Atthasalini gives a second method of defining kusala:

  • its characteristic is faultlessness by being opposed to fault,
  • its function is purity.
  • its manifestation is desirable results,
  • its proximate cause is wise attention.

The characteristic of kusala, according to the first definition, is that it has pleasant results, whereas, according to the second definition, pleasant results are the manifestation of kusala. Classification are not rigid and by means of different methods of classification different aspects are shown. Pleasant results can be experienced in daily life, they are a manifestation of the fact that good deeds have been performed. Whenever we see, hear, smell, taste or touch a pleasant object there is kusala vipakacitta, the result of a good deed. The moments of vipakacitta fall away immediately, they are only conditioned elements is bound to be clinging to pleasant objects and sadness when these objects are gone.

The characteristic of kusala, according to the second definition, Is faultlessness by being opposed to fault. At the moment of kusala citta there is no opportunity for akusala citta. When there is an opportunity for kusala it should not be neglected. There are opportunities for kusala right at hand, such as a kind word, a thought of appreciation of other people's good qualities, or a Moment of mindfulness of realities such as hardness, softness, sound or hearing.

We should find out whether there is at this moment, on account of what is seen, kusala citta or akusala citta. We are usually absorbed in the details of the things around us, but sometime there can be confidence in the value of awareness of the reality which appears now. Even if we are only beginners and there is not yet clear understanding of name and rupa, there can be confidence in awareness of the present reality and then there are kusala. The function of kusala, according to the first definition, is the destruction of akusala.

Akusala cannot be eradicated unless right understanding of realities has been developed, but this does not mean that dana or sila should be neglected, but this does not understanding the wrong view of self can be eliminated, but if there is no development of generosity and we keep on clinging to our possessions, how could there ever be detachment from the self? It is beneficial to develop all kinds of kusala for which we have accumulations, but when it is developed together with right understanding of realities akusala can eventually be eradicated.

Purity is the manifestation of akusala, according to the first definition, whereas in the second definition it the function of kusala. When the citta is akusala, it is impure, unclean. When we are attached to an object we experience, we are enslaved and at such a moment the citta is not pure. Whereas there is kusala citta there is no enslavement, no selfishness; the citta is pure, free from defilements. If we know the difference between akusala citta and kusala citta we can understand the purity is a quality of kusala citta.

According to both definitions, the proximate cause of kusala is wise attention. When there is akusala citta there is unwise attention to the object and when there is kusala citta there is wise attention to the object. There is wise attention, there is no infatuation with the object, there is no aversion, no ignorance. Seeing realities as they are conditions wise attention. The arahat has the highest degree of wise attention: for him defilements do not arise on account of any object he experiences, no matter it is pleasant or unpleasant.

Kusala citta does not arise alone, it is accompanied by cetasikas: by the universals (sabbacitta sadharana), the cetasikas which accompany each citta, by particulars (pakinnaka), cetasikas which accompany cittas of the four classes (jatis) of kusala, akusala, vipaka and kiriya[2], but which do not accompany each citta, and by sobhana cetasikas, beautiful cetasikas, Kusala citta cannot be accompanied by akusala cetasikas. One may wonder why the which accompany kusala citta. The reason is that sobhana cetasikas do not only accompany kusala cittas, but also cittas of the jatis which are vipaka and kiriya.[3] All the cittas which are accompanied by sobhana cetasikas are called sobhana cittas.

There are twenty four sobhana cittas of the sense-sphere, kama-sobhana cittas, They are:

  • 8 maha-kusala cittas[4]
  • 8 maha-vipakacittas
  • 8 maha-kiriyacittas[5]

Cittas of the sense-sphere can be sobhana cittas, cittas accompanied by sobhana cetasikas, or asobhana cittas, cittas which are not accompanied by sobhana cetasikas.

Cittas of the planes of consciousness other than the sensuous plane are always sobhana cittas.

Those who have developed calm to the stage of absorption, jhana, have jhana-cittas and these are sobhana cittas. There are rupa-jhanacittas or rupavacara cittas and arupa-jhanacittas or arupavacara cittas. Rupa-jhana can be translated as "fine-material" jhana and arupa-jhana can be translated as "immaterial" jhana. Arupa-jhana is more refined than rupa-jhana since the meditation subjects of arupa-jhana are not dependant on materiality.

The sobhana cittas which are rupavacara cittas, pertaining to five stages of rupa-jhana, are the following:

  • 5 rupavacara kusala cittas .
  • 5 rupavacara vipakacittas
  • 5 rupavacara kiriyacittas (of the arahat)

The sobhana cittas which are arupavacara cittas, pertaining to four stages of arupa jhana, are the following:

  • 4 arupavacara kusala cittas
  • 4 arupavacara vipakacittas
  • 4 arupavacara kiriyacittas

Apart from the sobhana cittas which are jhanacittas, there are sobhana cittas which are lokuttara cittas, supramundane cittas experiencing nibbana. There are eight lokuttara cittas, but when one takes into account the lokuttara cittas which are accompanied by jhana-factors of the different stages of jhana, there are forty lokuttara cittas.[6]

When cittas are counted as eighty nine (not including lokuttara cittas accompanied by jhana-factors of the different stages of jhana), there are fifty nine sobhana cittas, and when cittas are counted as hundred-and-twenty-one (including forty lokuttara cittas accompanied by jhana-factors), there are ninety-one sobhana cittas.

Sobhana cittas are accompanied by the universals, by particulars and by sobhana cetasikas. There are twenty five sobhana cetasikas in all which can accompany sobhana cittas. Not all twenty five sobhana cetasikas accompany each sobhana cittas, but at least nineteen sobhana cetasikas have to accompany each sobhana citta.

Among the twenty five sobhana cetasikas three are sobhana hetus (roots) . These are:

  1. non-attachment, alobha
  2. non-aversion, adosa
  3. wisdom, amoha or panna

Non-attachment and non-aversion have to accompany each sobhana citta, and wisdom or understanding may or may not accompany sobhana citta.

Each sobhana cetasika has its own specific characteristic, function, manifestation and proximate cause (immediate occasion). When we perform dana, observe sila, apply ourselves to the development of calm, samatha, or insight, vipassana, sobhana cetasikas assist the kusala citta in carrying out its task of wholesomeness.

The sobhana vipakacittas are also accompanied by at least nineteen sobhana cetasikas. Vipakacittas do not perform deeds, they are results. sobhana vipakacittas are results of deeds which are performed by kusala cittas accompanied by sobhana cetasikas. The rebirth-consciousness, for example, can be the result of a deed performed by kusala citta accompanied by sobhana hetus and other sobhana cetasikas. In that case it is sahetuka vipakacitta
(with hetus).

The arahat does not perform kusala kamma, he is free from the cycle of birth and death. Thus, instead of kusala cittas he has kiriyacittas which are accompanied by sobhana hetus and other sobhana cetasikas. Sobhana kiriyacittas are accompanied by at least nineteen sobhana cetasikas.


  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 28, 2001

Footnotes and references:


Atthasalini I, Part II, Chapter I, 75.


see Introduction.


There are also vipaka-cittas and kiriyacittas which are not sobhana cittas, namely ahetuka (rootless) vipakacittas and ahetuka kiriyacittas, see Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter 19.


Maha means great. Here the term is used in the case o f sobhana cittas of the sense-sphere.


The arahat has, instead of maha-kusala cittas, maha-kiriyacittas.


See Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter 22

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