Noble Eightfold Path – Role of Sobhana Cetasika

September 30, 2016; revised December 5, 2017 (#5); July 11, 2021

1. In previous posts in this section, we have discussed how niramisa sukha or “peace of mind” arises due to both removal of asobhana cetasika (non-beautiful mental factors) or kilesa AND cultivation of sobhana cetasika (beautiful mental factors).

  • In this post, I will point out that 7 of the 8 factors in the Noble Eightfold Path are in the set of sobhana cetasika.

2. The most important fact that one needs to comprehend from the posts in this series up to this point, is that our minds are heated/agitated by the presence of asobhana cetasika or kilesa or defilements.

  • On the other hand, our minds are soothed and comforted and made joyful by the presence of sobhana cetasika.
  • One may not realize this until one comprehends this fact and actually practice cultivating sobhana cetasika while suppressing/removing asobhana cetasika.

3. As explained elsewhere at the site, Abhidhamma with its methodical analysis of citta and cetasika was not finalized for a few hundred years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha at the Third Buddhist Council. This enlarged Canon completed at the Third Council was committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE (29 BCE) at the Aluvihara Monastery at the Fourth Buddhist Council. This was the last Buddhist Council attended by Arahants.

  • Soon after that, the decline of the pure Dhamma of the Buddha started its decline with the simultaneous rise of the Mahāyāna; see the section “Historical Background“.
  • When Buddhaghosa wrote the Visuddhimagga, which was presumed to be a summary of the Tipiṭaka,  even Theravadins stopped using the Tipiṭaka for convenience.
  • Therefore, no one seemed to have realized some important possible usages of cetasika: First, kilesa are the same as asobhana cetasika. Second, components of the Noble Eightfold Path are in the set of sobhana cetasika. This makes it easier to comprehend how one could systematically follow the Path, and that is the focus of this post.
  • I will discuss the details in the upcoming desanas, but here I would like to provide a summary that we can use for that discussion. Another such summary post that will be used in these desanas is a summary given in one of the previous posts: “What Are Kilesa (Mental Impurities)? – Connection to Cetasika“.

4. Let us start by continuing from the last desana, where we discussed how INITIAL thoughts in response to a sense event arises without us even being conscious about it. These initial thoughts arise AUTOMATICALLY due to the set of sobhana/asobhana cetasika or gati that we have. Any akusala thoughts arise due to our kilesa which are the same as asobhana cetasika.

  • However, because our speech and bodily actions are much slower than the rising of those initial thoughts, it is possible for us to keep vigilant and reverse any such reactive akusala thoughts that are AUTOMATICALLY generated.
  • This is the basis of both Satipaṭṭhāna and Ānāpānasati Bhavana. Please listen to that previous desana on “How Are Gati and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?”
    and fully comprehend this important concept. Here is the link to that desana in two parts ( there is a volume control on the right, but for the second desana, you may need to turn up the volume in your computer):
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  • We also discussed the evidence for such gati to be associated with any given person, and addressed the question of where they are “stored”.

5. We also saw in the above desanas that those initial thoughts that arise in response to a sense event are called mano saṅkhāra. Therefore, we do not have conscious control over mano saṅkhāra, AND they arise within a fraction of a second DUE TO our gati (set of sobhana/asobhana cetasika).

  • December 5, 2017: Such akusala mano saṅkhāra CAN then lead to the generation of vaci saṅkhāra (silent speech in our heads and speech) and kaya saṅkhāra (bodily actions). This is different from the desana, and I have discussed the reasons for this revision in “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“.
  • But, if we are mindful (sati), we can catch any such akusala mano saṅkhāra and make sure they do not lead to akusala vaci and kaya saṅkhāra.
  • In the Eightfold Path, such deliberately generated vaci saṅkhāra are called sammā saṅkappa or sammā sankappa.
  • And those sammā saṅkappa were generated because one acted with sammā sati.

6. In the above desanas, we discussed an example of a person X finding a lost ring. If X had strong greedy gati, The initial thoughts (mano saṅkhāra) could be to keep the ring for himself. However, if X knows about being mindful, X has time to evaluate the situation with vaci saṅkhāra (in his head), and to come to the conclusion that it is immoral to keep the ring for himself.

  • If he made that correct decision, even after thinking about it, he can prevent an akusala kamma of stealing. Not only that, he can do a kusala kamma by making sure to get that ring returned to the rightful owner.
  • So, now we can see the critical roles of sammā sati and sammā saṅkappa in the Eightfold Path. We have the opportunity (unlike animals) to rationally think about our initial REACTIVE decisions, and to reverse them if they are immoral.

7. If X acted with sammā sati and realized the problem with the initial reaction and made the right decision with sammā saṅkappa, then he can take the next steps to sammā vācā (moral speech) and sammā kammaṃta (moral actions) to implement that decision. He can walk over to the counter, hand over the ring, and tell the office personnel to return the ring to the owner.

  • This is just one possible example. We come across many such instances during the day. In another example, one may get annoyed by someone accidentally stepping on one’s foot in a crowded place, and start yelling at that person without thinking about the consequences. That person obviously did not intentionally do that, especially since it is likely to be a stranger.
  • Even if one started getting the words out, one could quickly stop oneself and smile at the person indicating that it is no big deal. That would make that person to be relieved because most likely he/she felt bad about it.
  • This simple act of kindness would lead to a “cooling down” on both sides. The other person will feel relief and will thank for the kindness. Furthermore, it could have escalated into a shouting match and could have led to “heated minds” on both sides.

8. When one sees the benefits of such mindful behavior, one will start doing more. One will start living a moral life. This is sammā ājiva or moral livelihood.

  • Not only that, one will make an extra effort to be mindful and catch any reactive thoughts that could lead to such akusala kamma. This is sammā vāyāma, or moral effort.
  • In a few weeks or months, this will start changing one’s ingrained gati. When one stops using those asobhana cetasikā, their power will diminish with time. At the same time, one is cultivating sobhana cetasika (i.e., sammā satisammā saṅkappa, sammā vācā, sammā kammaṃata, sammā ājiva, sammā vāyāma). Thus bad gati will diminish and good gati will grow.

9. Now, X was able to think rationally about the bad consequences of his initial decision (mano saṅkhāra) to keep the ring, because he had sammā diṭṭhi or moral vision, to some extent. Deep down he knew that such an act of stealing is immoral, and was able to fight off the tendency to keep it.

  • Sammā diṭṭhi is related to the sobhana cetasika of paññā, which is loosely translated as “wisdom”. This “wisdom” cannot be cultivated by reading books, even just by reading Dhamma. The paññā cetasika is cultivated by both learning Dhamma and by living it (i.e., by following the Eightfold Path), thereby getting rid of moha.

10. Now let us examine the connection between the other factors in the Eightfold Path (here the mundane version) and some of the sobhana cetasika.

  • First, three factors in the Eightfold Path have exactly the same names in the list of sobhana cetasikasammā vācā, sammā kammaṃata, sammā ājiva; see, “Cetasika (Mental Factors)“.

11. Sammā sankappa are the vaci saṅkhāra that we deliberately generate even if we have akusala mano saṅkhāra arising due to sense inputs. Vaci saṅkhāra are described in the suttā as vitakka (pronounced “vithakka”)and vicara (pronounced “vichaara”).  Vitakka is turning the mind towards a thought object and vicara is keeping the mind around that thought object.

  • Those who are familiar with jhānā know that vitakka and vicara are two jhāna factors in anariya jhānā. In the first anariya jhāna, one can for example turn the mind into a kasina object (vitakka) and keep it there (vicara). In Ariya jhānā, they are called savitakka and savicara because one is focused on Nibbāna.
  • So, you can see that maintaining sammā sankappa is the same as generating “moral” vitakka and vicara or kusala vaci saṅkhāra. Remember that these are generated in the head, not speaking out. They are called “sankalpana” in Sinhala.
  • Also, we note that vitakka and vicara could be used in immoral paths too. A master thief planning a robbery will focus on that task and spend many hours thinking about the plan. So, those two cetasikā fall under the category called particulars or pakinnakathey can appear in kusala or akusala thoughts as needed.

12. Now, sammā vāyāma arises from another of these particulars, or pakinnaka cetasika, the viriya cetasika.

  • When one is making an effort to live a moral life, that sammā vāyāma. If one is making an effort towards an immoral life, like that master thief, then he is making micchā vāyāma.
  • Of course the sati cetasika, which is a sobhana cetasika, is sammā sati.

13. Now we are left with sammā samādhi. This is the only factor that is not related to a cetasika directly. Most people have the idea that samādhi is jhāna or at least is attained only in formal meditation. But it is much deeper. In the next desana, I will discuss samādhi, together with the implications of what is summarized in this post.

  • We are trying to comprehend and reinforce the FOUNDATION of Buddha Dhamma: How one can remove the “thaapa” or “heat” from the mind by getting rid of asobhana cetasika (kilesa) and SIMULTANEOUSLY “cool down” the mind and bring joy to it, by cultivating sobhana cetasika.

This was discussed in the first desana in this series:

The Hidden Suffering that We All Can Understand

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  • More details were given in the following two desanas:

“Suffering in This Life – Role of Mental Impurities”

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“Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life”

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14. As discussed in the above desanas, akusala thoughts that arise with asobhana cetasika make our minds clouded and keep us in the dark. Moha is darkness; it leads to lobha and dosa. That darkness can be temporarily lifted (tadaṅga pahāna) during listening or reading Dhamma.

  • The next step is to keep that “light on” for days and weeks by being mindful and stopping akusala thoughts that lead to akusala kamma for an extended time. This is vikkhambhana pahāna, and that is what we are trying to achieve now. It is done by being mindful, i.e., with sammā sati.
  • The ultimate goal is to permanently remove those asobhana cetasika, and to make that “cooling down” permanent (ucceda pahāna), even for future lives. We will get to that in future posts. But we need to establish a good foundation and actually experience the niramisa sukha for extended time periods (vikkhambhana pahāna) first.

15. In order to get rid of darkness (moha) one has to bring light in. Light is paññā or “wisdom”, a sobhana cetasika. The Noble Eightfold Path is designed to optimize the paññā cetasika — via sammā samādhi — and to eliminate the moha cetasika.

  • Other sobhana cetasika, like karuna and mudita (or muduta) also help with this process.
  • In the end, one will be able to see how different pieces of the puzzle (including Paṭicca Samuppāda) all fit together to make an easy-to-see picture of the whole process. That will make it easier to grasp the Tilakkhana, and advance to the next stage.
  • All these can be shown to be consistent with the scheme of sila, samādhi, paññā. In the Cetana Karaneeya Sutta, the Buddha has detailed how sila (moral conduct) leads to niramisa sukha, and niramisa sukha leads to samādhi, and samādhi, in turn, leads to paññā. We will discuss all these in the upcoming desanas.

Next in the series, “Getting to Samadhi“.

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