Kāma Guna, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccandha

November 9, 2017; revised September 3, 2019; October 5, 2019


1. It is essential to understand the meaning of each term. The “defilement level” increases in the given order from kāma to kāmaccandha.

2. In kāma lōka, we experience five types of physical sense inputs: pictures (rūpa rūpa), sounds, smells, tastes, and body touches. There are inherent “qualities” for each of these called “kāma guna.” Those are common to all of us in kāma lōka. They also depend on “bhava” and thus differ from humans to each type of animal; see below.

  • For example, all of us experience the sourness of lemon or sweetness of sugar (there may be defects in some people due to kamma vipāka).
  • We all experience the unpleasantness of thunder or the pleasantness of music.
  • While there could be minor differences, all humans experience the same basic “qualities” or “kāma guna” through the five physical senses. Even when one becomes an Arahant, that will not change.
Realms in Kāma Lōka and Two Brahma Lōkā

3. The 31 realms naturally exist to provide different levels of kamma vipāka according to the (abhi)saṅkhāra done in previous lives (mainly in the human realm.)

  • The lowest four realms in kāma lōka (apāyā) have conditions that induce excessive suffering. Higher two realms in kāma lōka have rūpa rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, and pottabba that provide increasingly higher levels of “pleasures.”
  • The rūpavācara Brahma realms have rūpavācara jhānic pleasures; those Brahmā had given up kāma rāga and had cultivated rūpavācara jhānā in previous human lives.
  • Those in arūpavācara Brahma realms had given up both kāma rāga and rūpa rāga and had cultivated arūpavācara jhāna in previous human lives.
  • That is why kāma guna is absent in both rūpavācara and arūpavācara Brahma realms. Those who are born in those realms had given up sense pleasures for jhānic pleasures.
What Are Kāma Guṇa?

4. Therefore, there are pleasing things in our kāma lōka (human realm) that naturally arise to provide sense pleasures. That is because “human bhava” is a “good bhava.” Even more sensory pleasures are naturally available in deva realms.

  • Thus, as humans, we are naturally exposed to those “kāma guna.” We are naturally “exposed to” sense objects that are “pleasing” to the five physical senses. Of course, devā are exposed to even stronger kāma guna.
  • Thus, if one has not comprehended the Tilakkhana, then it is natural to attach to such “pleasurable things.” One perceives that things in this world — especially those things with kāma guna — can provide long-term happiness. But in reality, such cravings lead to suffering because those “pleasures” are not sustainableFurthermore, those things with kāma guna motivate people to immoral deeds to get access to them.
Kāma Rāga – Attachment to Kāma Guṇa via Saṅkappa Rāga

5. Now, if a person gets attached to those sensory inputs with kāma guna and starts generating sensual thoughts (i.e., vaci saṅkhāra), that leads to “kāma”  or kāma rāga. Generating sensual thoughts is also called saṅkappa rāga (creating Saṅkappa that leads to samsāric journey). A sutta reference is in #15 below.

  • Engaging in saṅkappa rāga (i.e., thinking greedy thoughts about such sense pleasures) means generating vaci saṅkhāra. That is then likely to lead to kāya saṅkhāra, too (start engaging in related physical activities.)
  • That can happen to any average human. It can happen to a lesser extent to a Sōtapanna. That next step of intentionally generating sensual thoughts happens with kāma rāga. That tendency will again reduce at the Sakadāgāmi stage and go away only at the Anāgāmi stage.
  • The removal of kāma rāga cannot be forced. Kāma rāga will naturally reduce when cultivating Anāpāna and Satipathāna.

6. An Anāgami has removed kāma rāga but still has kāma, i.e., likes them somewhat.

  • However, kāma of an Anāgāmi is not strong enough to lead to rebirth in the kāma lōka. In other words, an Anāgāmi will not generate abhisaṅkhāra (strong saṅkhāra) for things with kāma guna (for example would have no desire to engage in sex).
  • In the Abhidhammic language, an Anāgāmi has removed four greed-based cittā associated with wrong views. There are still “four greed-based cittā dissociated with wrong views” left. But they have lost much of the potency to move from the kāma to kāma rāga level; see #3 of, “Akusala Citta and Akusala Vipāka Citta.”
  • It is only at the Arahant stage that kāma is absent completely.
Kāmaccandha – Being Blinded by Kāma Rāga

7. If not willfully controlled, kāma rāga can intensify to a point where one is capable of committing immoral deeds (hurting others or oneself.) One starts losing control when kāma rāga elevates to the kāmaccandha level, the highest.

  • That can happen to anyone below the Sōtapanna stage, i.e., one can be “blinded” by kāma, resulting in kāmaccandha (“kāma” + “icca” + “andha,” where icca is liking, and andha is blind, and thus “blinded by the craving for kāma“).
  • Whether an average human will generate kāma, kāma rāga, or kāmaccandha depends on the strength of the sensory input and also on prevalent conditions. For example, if one’s mindset becomes degraded due to alcohol consumption, and one sees an attractive woman in an isolated setting,  things could get out-of-control with kāmaccandha.
Kāmaccandha Leads to Rebirth in the Apāyas

8. Immoral actions done with kāmaccandha could lead to rebirth in the apāyā.

  • Only kāma rāga –not kāmaccandha — can arise in a Sōtapanna. Thus he/she is released from the apāyā, but not from kāma lōka.  A Sōtapanna is incapable of committing an “apāyagāmi deed” to satisfy any sensory pleasure.
  • I hope you get the basic idea. The above reasoning applies to any of the five physical sense inputs.
Some Examples for Clarification

9. We can clarify with some examples. Sugar has a “kāma guna” of sweetness for humans; that holds for everyone from an average person to an Arahant.

  • A beautiful woman will be seen as such by anyone from an average person to an Arahant.
  • An average person may generate kāma to kāmaccandha for that woman. A man who rapes a woman has kāmaccandha.
  • A Sōtapanna may generate kāma to kāma rāga. But kāmaccandha would not arise in a Sōtapanna.
  • An Anāgāmi may generate just kāma (low-level sensual thoughts.) But there is no “kāma rāga anusaya” left. He/she would not have any desire for sex.
  • But an Arahant will not generate kāma either.

10. The sight of such a woman is a kamma vipāka. For anyone (from an average person to an Arahant), still living in the human realm will see that she is beautiful.

  • If one gets “interested” one generates kāma Saṅkappa or vaci saṅkhāra; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.” Then it could lead to kāya saṅkhāra, i.e., turn one’s head to looks at her again with kāma rāga or kāmaccandha, that is a new kamma.
  • A Sōtapanna still has “kāma rāga anusaya,” and that is why he/she will return to the kāma lōka. He/she can be born as a human or dēva in the future.
  • A Sakadāgāmi is in between the Sōtapanna and Anāgāmi stages. He/she will be reborn only in the dēva realms.
  • Of course, an Anāgāmi will not be reborn anywhere in the kāma lōka since there is no kāma rāga left.
Different Types of Kāma Guṇa for Different Existences

11. Anyone born in the human realm will have similar “kāma guna” because they had cultivated corresponding “human saṅkhāra.” We all like the same things, and any variations we do have are due to the differences in those main saṅkhāra types.

  • However, kāma guna” of animals can be much more different compared to humans. There are also many variations among animals.
  • Pigs eat very unpleasing things, including feces. Tigers or lions like to eat raw meat. Cows don’t like meat but like grass. The variations are quite apparent. Again those correspond to saṅkhāra that they had cultivated as humans. Furthermore, each bhava (and jāti) corresponds to such saṅkhāra via Paṭicca samuppāda. Some of you may be able to see that, but we will discuss this later.
  • In Brahma realms, things with kāma guna are absent. They were born in those realms because they had preferred and cultivated jhānic pleasures, instead of craving for sensual pleasures.

12. In that regard, we keep in mind for now that (abhi)saṅkhāra generated by humans have high javana power, and thus lead to various “bhava” and jāti. Animals cannot generate such citta with high javana power because of their unfortunate birth. That is an important point. Animals pay for such past kamma until that kammic power is exhausted; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”

  • Even most dēvas enjoy their kāma and “go with the flow” and enjoy them (while they can.) Brahmā too enjoy jhānic pleasures that come with their birth.
  • It is only those dēvas/Brahmā that had become at least Sōtapanna that would be motivated to strive for magga phala.
Only abhisaṅkhāra Lead to Future Rebirths

13. Therefore, it is mostly humans who can cultivate abhisaṅkhāra (of both types) and thus make conditions for future “good births or bad births.” That is a critical point in the Agganna Sutta.

  • All the animals that we see were humans in the beginning. Those with “bad gati” that had been generated via “bad abhisaṅkhāra” in their deep past, were reborn as various types of animals as the Earth evolved, and conditions for animal life appeared.
  • An introduction to Agganna Sutta is at “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.
Five Kinds of Kāma Guṇa

14. Now let us briefly discuss a key sutta that is relevant. The “Nib­bedhi­ka Sutta (AN 6.63)” lists the five kāma guna:

“..Pañcime, bhikkhave, kāmaguṇā—cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā, sotaviññeyyā saddā … ghānaviññeyyā gandhā … jivhāviññeyyā rasā … kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Api ca kho, bhikkhave, nete kāmā kāmaguṇā..”

Translated: “..Bhikkhus, there are five types with characteristics of sensuality (kāma guna). Which five? Forms are cognizable via the eye—agreeable, pleasing, charming, likable, desire-inducing, enticing. Sounds are cognizable via the ear. Aromas cognizable via the nose. Flavors cognizable via the tongue. Body sensations cognizable via the body—agreeable, pleasing, charming, likable, desire-inducing, enticing. But, Bhikkhus, these are not sensuality (kāma)..”.

  • I have translated “guna” as “characteristics,” but “qualities” would work too.
Kāma Different From Kāma Guṇa

15. Then the next verse of the sutta says what kāma is: “Saṅkappa rāgō purisassa kāmō, Nete kāmā yāni citrāni lōkē..”.

Translated: “a person’s kāma is getting attached and thinking about (saṅkappa rāga) those pleasing things in this world (citrani lōkē).Those beautiful things in the world are not kāma.” Here, “citrāni lōkē” means “a world full of delightful things”.

To emphasize: There are many pleasing, delightful, enticing things in the kāma lōka. Just experiencing them is not kāma. One who has understood the real nature does not get attached to them. But those who do not yet understand the real anicca nature of things in the kāma lōka, value them highly. They crave them, and get a satisfaction (kāma assāda) by thinking about them (generating kāma Saṅkappa or vaci saṅkhāra); that is kāma.

  • It is essential to realize that conscious thinking or “talking to oneself” is vaci saṅkhāra; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.“ Thus, one who does that has saṅkappa rāga.
  • Such vaci saṅkhāra can then lead to kāya saṅkhāra, whereby one takes actions to fulfill such desires (if one has kāma rāga anusaya).
  • Some people go one step further and commit akusala kamma to fulfill such desires (then it becomes kāmaccandha).
Saṅkappa Rāga Is kāma 

16. Therefore, anyone in the kāma lōka will experience kāma guna. It is a natural outcome of being in the kāma lōka. It is the tendency to think about them on a regular basis and enjoy that with saṅkappa rāga that elevates to kāma. A higher level of kāma is kāma rāga.

  • Giving up that craving comes only with an understanding of the true nature (the anicca, dukkha, anatta nature), i.e., realize that they have adverse consequences; see, “How Perceived Pleasures (Assāda) lead to Dukkha” and “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction.”
  • Getting to the Sōtapanna stage means one has understood the dangers of kāma assāda. As long as one has cravings for them, one would still have them. However, a Sōtapanna will never do an immoral act to gain those sense pleasures.
  • For a Sōtapanna to be free from such kāma assāda, he/she needs to contemplate the dangers (ādīnava) of kāma assāda as we discussed in the above two posts. That is the “asubha bhāvanā.
What Is Asubha Bhāvanā?

17. Many people misinterpret the asubha bhāvanā as to contemplate on disgusting things like rotting dead bodies. That is entirely wrong; such meditations only lead to paṭigha or “friction of the mind.”

  • Instead, one needs to contemplate on the fact that the cause of future suffering is getting attached to those pleasing sensual things. One needs to see the unfruitful (asubha) nature of those things with kāma guna. Real asubha (detrimental) things are those eye-pleasing, ear-pleasing, …body-pleasing things in this kāma lōka. See, “How Perceived Pleasures (Assāda) lead to Dukkha.”
  • Therefore, it is not even possible to do the asubha bhāvanā correctly until one gets to the Sōtapanna stage. It is only then one begins to see the dangers in craving for sense pleasures.
  • However, it is always good to cut down on sense pleasures, even while striving for the Sōtapanna stage. It makes one’s mind calm and susceptible to grasp more profound concepts.
  • Extreme sense pleasures are a burden to the mind. It is possible to avoid those right now; see, “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life.” Doing everything in moderation naturally leads to a simpler, healthier, and peaceful life.
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