Revised March 26, 2022
Cetasika that arise in citta influence a person’s moral and immoral character (gati).
Seven Universal Cetasika
1. In the introductory posts in Abhidhamma, we saw that there are seven universal cetasika (mental factors) that arise with every citta (loosely translated as a thought, but not correct); citta is pronounced “chiththä” and cetasika pronounced “chethasikä.”
- The seven universal cetasika are essential in forming any kind of citta, whether immoral (akusala) citta, moral (kusala) citta, or a citta that does not have any kammic potential.
- Some other cetasika provide “character” to cittā. Whether a given citta is good or bad depends on whether a “good” or “bad” set of cetasika arise with it; see, “Citta and Cetasika – How Viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises.” They are listed in “Cetasika (Mental Factors),” and you may want to print it out for reference when reading this post. There is no need to memorize them. With time, one may even know them by heart.
- Out of the 54 types of cittā in the kāma loka, there are 12 akusala citta and 8 kusala citta. Other 34 are vipāka citta and kriya citta that do not generate kammic power.
Six Cetasika That May Appear in Kusala or Akusala Citta
2. Then there are six cetasika called particulars (also called occasional) or pakinnaka that MAY appear in any citta. Therefore they do not determine the PURPOSE of the citta, but they HELP with any type of purpose that was intended.
- For example, viriya cetasika could be in a kusala citta and it can also be in an akusala citta. In either case, the viriya cetasika will HELP intensify the effort with that citta.
Cetasika That Appear Only in Kusala or Akusala Citta
3. Out of a total of 52 cetasika, the other 39 (= 52-7-6) cetasika determine whether a given citta will be an akusala citta or a kusala citta.
- 14 cetasika (called asobhana or immoral or bad cetasika) could be present in an akusala citta. Out of those, 4 ALWAYS are present in any akusala citta; those 4 are asobhana universals.
- The other 25 cetasika (called sobhana or moral or good cetasika) can be present only in kusala citta, and 19 of those are ALWAYS in any given kusala citta; those 19 are sobhana universals.
- Therefore, 11 cetasika (7 universal plus four universal immoral) arise with every akusala citta. There may be other immoral and particular cetasika as well.
- There are 26 cetasika (7 universal plus 19 universal morals) that arise with every kusala citta. Thus there are only six more moral cetasika that do not occur with each and every kusala citta.
Saṁsāric Habits (“Gati“) and Cetasika
4. Therefore, sobhana and asobhana cetasika determine the kammic nature of a citta. If we want to get rid of all akusala citta, we need to remove the 14 asobhana cetasika from our minds (they come up automatically with our gati and āsavā).
- In other words, our Saṁsāric habits (“gati“) and cravings (“āsavā“) are embedded in the 14 asobhana (and 25 sobhana) cetasika, such as lobha and dosa. For example, one may have dominant “lobha gati” (excess greed) or “dosa gati” (strong hate). But typically, we have a mixture of many different inter-mixed gati.
- In the same way, cultivating good “gati” and “cravings” (basically for moral deeds) leads to “good cetasika.”
Saṁsāric Habits (“Gati“) and Asobhana Cetasika in Akusala Citta
5. As we follow the Noble Eightfold Path, the 14 asobhana cetasika are reduced in strength and eventually removed. When reaching the Sotāpaññā stage, the two asobhana cetasika of diṭṭhi and vicikicca are REMOVED, and all others reduced to some extent. In particular, lobha is reduced to rāga level, and dosa is reduced to paṭigha. That is why a Sotāpaññā will never be born in the apāyā.
- Raga has 3 components: kāma rāga, rupa rāga, and arupa rāga, corresponding to attachment to the kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka respectively. At the Sakadāgāmi stage, kāma rāga and paṭigha are REDUCED to the level that one will never be born at or below the human realm.
- At the Anāgāmi stage, both kāma rāga and paṭigha are REMOVED. Thus all bonds to kāma loka are broken, and one will never be born again in kāma loka.
- All asobhana cetasika are removed at the Arahant stage.
6. We can easily see why four immoral universal cetasika arise with every akusala citta. These four are moha (delusion or moral blindness), ahirika (shamelessness of wrong), anottappa (fearlessness of immoral), and uddacca (restlessness).
- We do not realize, but when we get greedy or hateful enough, we can become morally blind. One loses any sense of decency just for a short time, but that is enough to commit an immoral act.
- Then we lose the fear of doing wrong and the shame of doing wrong because our minds are covered (it takes only a fraction of a second to generate a citta and sometimes even to act on it if the javana is strong enough). That inevitably leads to a restless mind (uddacca) too.
Saṁsāric Habits (“Gati“) and Sobhana Cetasika in Kusala Citta
7. Now, let us discuss the seven pairs in the universal moral cetasika list, starting with the pair of kāyapassaddhi (tranquility of mental body, which leads to the tranquility of the physical body itself); cittapassaddhi (tranquility of consciousness). These seven pairs are states of mind and body that correspond to some “cooling down.” When doing a kusala kamma, the body and mind relax and “cool down.” That is the first glimpse of Nibbāna as one is already in the mundane eightfold Path.
- That is why the Buddha said that the state of mind does affect the state of the body. When one starts on the lokottara eightfold Path, these cetasika all get more robust, one starts feeling the “nirāmisa sukha,” and thus one becomes motivated to follow the Path.
- But it is important to emphasize (as I have stated many times), things COULD get worse before getting better. When one deprives the mind of things that it has gotten used to, it does not like that. Until it sees the benefits of staying in the Path, it may try to pull one firmly in the “wrong direction.” One needs to be persistent, and this is where one needs to cultivate the four iddhipāda (chanda, citta, viriya, vīmaṁsā).
8. It is important to realize that the 19 universal moral cetasika can arise in ANYONE regardless of one’s religion or any other “label.” All of them will arise when doing a good deed (or speech or thought). They can occur when one is on the mundane eightfold Path (nothing to do with a religion per se); see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”
- Also, note that hiri (shame of immoral deeds) and ottappa (fear of the consequences of evil deeds) are the two that are opposed to the immoral ones of ahiri and anottappa. That means one can sort out right from wrong (moral from corrupt) in that instance.
- Then there is saddhā (faith) and sati (mindfulness), which grow even more after embarking on the Path. Here, saddhā is not the faith in Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, but the faith that such a moral act will bring about good outcomes.
- And sati is NOT Sammā Sati, but just the mindfulness of being involved in a moral act. However, once one gets on the lokottara eightfold Path, it can become Sammā Sati.
- The other two familiar ones are alobha and adosa cetasika; they are, of course, opposite to the immoral ones of lobha and dosa. Alobha is not mere absence of lobha but also embodies generosity. Adosa is not the mere absence of dosa but embodies compassion.
- Then there is tatramajjhattatā (neutrality of mind; “majjhatta” means “in the middle”). That is not upekkha, one of the Satta Bojjhaṅga; see, “37 Factors of Enlightenment“.
- Thus far, we have discussed the 19 universal moral cetasika in #7 and #8. Now let us discuss the six moral cetasika that arise only with some kusala citta.
Six Sobhana Cetasika Require Understanding of Tilakkhana
9. It is easier to list the six moral cetasika that do not necessarily arise with each kusala citta. These are the ones that NEED TO BE CULTIVATED with the comprehension of anicca, dukkha, anatta.
- They are Sammā Vācā (speech that is conducive to eliminate “san“), Sammā Kammanta (actions that are conducive to eliminate “san“) Sammā Ājiva (a lifestyle that is conducive to eliminate “san“), karunā (“Ariya” compassion), muditā (“Ariya” appreciative joy), and paññā (wisdom) which is the same as Sammā Diṭṭhi.
- Of course, those are developed to some extent when someone lives one’s life morally, but they will NEVER grow to higher stages until one understands anicca, dukkha, anatta, at least to some extent.
- That is why sammā vācā is not just “good speech” or sammā kammaṃta is not just “good deeds.” Sammā (“san” + “ma“) means “to remove “san‘,” i.e., done with an understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, “Why is Correct Interpretation of Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta so Important?“.
Amoha Is Not Paññā
10. However, amoha does not mean wisdom (paññā)! Amoha is not a cetasika but is a root cause. It is in all kusala citta in the sense that the immoral cetasika of moha is not present at that moment, i.e., the mind is not “covered.”
- Some people interpret amoha to be paññā; not so. Paññā (wisdom) or lokottara Sammā Diṭṭhi needs to be cultivated via comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta, and starts when one is on the Sotāpaññā magga; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma.”
- The more paññā one has, the more likely one would be generating amoha thoughts more frequently!
- No matter how intelligent one is, one cannot start cultivating paññā until one hears about the correct interpretations of anicca, dukkha, anatta.
Directing Pakinnaka Cetasika Toward Noble Path
11. Now, let us briefly revisit the six particulars (also called occasionals) or pakinnaka that we mentioned in #2 above. They are vitakka (focused application), vicāra (sustained application), adhimokkha (dominate), viriya (effort), piti (joy), chanda (desire).
- As we can readily see, these six can be in kusala or akusala citta and make them stronger.
- That is why it is said that “Dhammo ha ve rakkhati dhammacāriṁ” or “dhamma will guide one in the direction of dhamma that one follows” applies to both moral AND immoral paths.
- Vitakka (focused application of thoughts), when cultivated in the lokottara Path, can become sammā saṅkappa. Similarly, viriya (effort) can become sammā vāyāma.
Good and Bad Gati Associated with Sobhana and Asobhana Cetasika
12. Therefore, Abhidhamma helps us understand the connection between cetasika and gati and how “bad gati” are removed at each stage of Nibbāna (see #5 above). We can also see from the above discussion how 8 of the cetasika (related to “good gati“) turn to components of the Noble Eightfold Path when one starts on the Sotāpaññā magga. We discussed only seven above (highlighted in bold red). The eighth one is the universal cetasika, ekaggata (one-pointedness), that can become sammā samādhi.
- However, depending on one’s behavior and understanding, all these eight could be developed in the direction of the immoral (micchā eightfold Path), mundane moral (lokiya eightfold Path), or the lokottara Noble Eightfold Path; see, “Three Kinds of Diṭṭhi, Eightfold Paths, and Samadhi.”
- Looking from different perspectives, there could be many types of samādhi. For a discussion on three other types of samādhi, see, “What is Samadhi? – Three Kinds of Mindfulness“.
13. This world is very complex. And the Buddha has analyzed it in many different ways. But they are all self-consistent. If one can get some traction, there is no other pleasure better than finding out about this world, the pleasure of Dhamma.
- “Sabbaratiṁ dhammarati jināti” means “from all tastes in the world, the taste of Dhamma wins.” Here “rati” means “taste.” Thus, The “taste of Dhamma” optimizes for an Anāgāmi.
- However, at the Arahanthood, one loses all interest in worldly things, including that of Dhamma. The Buddha said, “A boat is needed only to cross a river; one should not carry it after crossing the river. Just like that, even my Dhamma needs to be used only to find the true nature of this world, and then it should be discarded too”.