Sloth (thina ), Torpor (middha) and Doubt (vicikiccha)
Thina and middha are
two akusala cetasikas which always arise together, they form a pair. Thina
can be translated as sloth or stolidity and middha as torpor or languor.
When there are sloth and torpor one has no energy for kusala. In order
to have more understanding of sloth and torpor we should study their characteristics,
functions, manifestations and their proximate cause, and we should know
which types of citta they car accompany.
The Atthasalini (II, Book I, Part lx, Chapter II, 2) states about
sloth and torpor: "Absence of striving, difficulty through inability, is
the meaning." We then read the following definitions of sloth and torpor:
"sloth-torpor" is Sloth plus torpor; of which slot has absence of or apposition
to striving as characteristic, destruction of energy as function, sinking
of associated states as manifestation; torpor has unwieldiness as characteristic.
closing the doors of consciousness as function, shrinking in taking the
object. or drowsiness as manifestation: and both have unsystematic thought,
in not arousing oneself from discontent and laziness (or indulgence), as
(XIV, 1671 gives a similar definition. The Dhammasangani calls sloth (thina)
indisposition and unwieldiness of mind (1156) and torpor (middha) indisposition
and unwieldiness of cetasikas (1157) (1 See Vibhanga 547 and Atthasalini
it, Book it, Part II, Chapter II, 377.). when there are sloth and torpor
there is no wieldiness of mind which is necessary for the performing of
kusala. Instead there are mental stiffness and rigidity, mental sickness
As we have seen, the Atthasalini states that the characteristic
of sloth is opposition to "striving", to energy. Also akusala citta is
accompanied by energy (viriya), but this is wrong effort; it is different
from right effort which accompanies kusala citta. When there are sloth
and torpor there is no energy, no vigour to perform dana, to observe sila,
to listen to Dhamma, to study the Dhamma r to develop calm, no energy to
be mindful of the reality which appears now. This does not mean that whenever
there is lack of mindfulness sloth and torpor arise. As we will see, they
do not arise with all types of akusala citta.
As regards torpor, its characteristic is unwieldiness and its function
is closing the doors of consciousness. It obstructs the performing of kusala,
it "oppresses..., it injures by means of unwieldiness", the Atthasalini
(378) explains. The manifestation of sloth is "sinking of associated states",
it causes the citta and cetasikas it accompanies to decline. The manifestation
of torpor is "shrinking in taking the object" or drowsiness. The Dhammasangani
(1157) calls torpor (middha) "drowsiness, sleep, slumbering, somnolence".
The Atthasalini (378) adds to drowsiness: "Drowsiness makes blinking of
the eyelashes, etc." The arahat has eradicated sloth and torpor. He can
still have bodily tiredness and he may sleep, but he has no sloth and torpor
(1 Atthasalini II, Book II, Pall II, Chapter II, 378.) .
We may be inclined to think that sloth and torpor arise only when there
is sleepiness, but when we study the types of citta which can be accompanied
by sloth and torpor we will see that there can be many moments of them,
also when we do not feel sleepy.
As we have seen, the proximate cause of sloth and torpor is "unsystematic
thought, in not arousing oneself from discontent and laziness". When there
are sloth and torpor there is "unsystematic thought", that is, unwise attention
(ayoniso manasikara) to the object which is experienced. At such moments
we do not realize that life is short and that it is urgent to develop all
kinds of kusala and in particular fight understanding of realities. We
all have moments that there h no energy to read the scriptures or to consider
the Dhamma. We may be overcome by boredom, we are not interested to study
and to consider the Dhamma, or we make ourselves believe that we are too
busy. Sometimes, however, we may realize that even the reading of a few
lines of the scriptures can be most beneficial, that it can remind us to
be aware of realities which appear. We should remember that when there
are sloth and torpor we are not merely standing still as to the development
of kusala, but we are "sinking", we are going "downhill", since there is
opportunity for the accumulation of more akusala. If we realize that the
opportunity to develop right understanding of the present moment is only
at the, present moment, not at some moment in the future, there can be
conditions for mindfulness and then there is 'wire attention" instead of"
Sloth and torpor can arise only with akusala cittas which are "prompted",
sasankharika. Some types of cittas are "unprompted" or not induced (asankharika)
and some types are "prompted", instigated or induced. The inducement can
be done by someone else or by oneself. The cittas which are prompted are,
according to the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 91j "sluggish and urged on".
Thus, sloth and torpor which are lazy and sluggish with regard to the performing
of kusala arise only with the akusala cittas which are prompted (1 In A
Manual of Abhidhamma, in a footnote to akusala Cetasikas, Ven. Narada
explains the since sloth and torpor lack urge they cannot arise with cittas
which are unprompted, cittas which are "keen and active".) They can arise
with the four types of lobha-mula-citta which are sasankharika and with
one type of dosa-mula-citta, the type which is sasankharika (2 there are
eight type of lobha-mula-citta, of which four are unprompted and four prompted;
there are two types of dosa-mula-citta of which one is prompted and one
unprompted. see Abhidhamma in Daily Life Chapter 4 and 6.). This
does not mean that they arise every time the akusala citta is "prompted";
they may or may not arise with these five types of akusala citta. The two
types of moha-mula-citta are not "prompted", they cannot be accompanied
by sloth and torpor.
Sloth and torpor can arise together with wrong view ditthi, and in this
case they accompany lobha-mula-citta which is associated with wrong view
and prompted. Sloth and torpor can arise together with conceit, mana, and
in this case they accompany lobha-mula- citta which is without wrong view
and prompted (3 Four of the eight types of lobha-mula-citta are associated
with wrong view, ditthi, and four are without wrong view. conceit can accompany
lobha-mula-citta without wrong view, but think is not always so.). Sloth
and torpor which arise with lobha-mula-citta may be accompanied by pleasant
feeling or by indifferent feeling.
Sloth and torpor can arise together with envy ( issa), stinginess (macchariya)
or regret (kukkucca) which, one at a time, can accompany dosa-mula-citta,
and in that case the dosa-mula-citta is prompted. The accompanying feeling
is unpleasant feeling. Sloth and torpor are hard to eradicate. Even the
sotapanna, the sakadagami and the anagami still have sloth and torpor.
Only the arahat has eradicated them completely. We are likely to have many
moments of sloth and torpor, but it is not easy to know when they occur.
We should remember that, when there are defilement such as wrong view,
conceit, envy, stinginess or regret, sloth and torpor can arise as well
if the citta they accompany is prompted. Sloth and torpor cause mental
unwieldiness and mental indisposition or sickness, so that there is no
vigour, no energy for kusala. Sloth and torpor are harmful, they are among
the "hindrances" which prevent us from performing dana, observing sila
or applying ourselves to mental development. The Buddha told the monks
to be moderate in eating and warned them not to be attached to the "ease
of bed", because such attachments give rise to sloth and torpor Which are
mental sickness and which destroy energy for kusala. We read in the Middle
Length Saying (I, no. 16, Discourse on Mental Barrenness) that the
Buddha, when he was staying near Savatthi, in the Jeta Grove, spoke about
ways of mental barrenness and mental bondages. one of the mental bondages
is attachment to food and sleep. We read that the Buddha said:
monks, a monk having eaten as much as his belly will hold, lives intent
on the ease or bed, on the ease of lying down, on the ease of slumber.
Whatever monk having eaten as much as his belly will hold, lives intent
on the ease or bed, on the ease of lying down, on the ease of slumber,
his mind does not incline to ardour, to continual application, to perseverance,
It is helpful, not only
for monks, but also for laymen, to be reminded of conditions for laziness
as to kusala.
We read in the Gradual Saying (Book of the Fives, Chapter VI, 6, The preceptor)
about a monk who complained to his preceptor concerning his lack of energy
Now a certain
monk approached his preceptor and said: "My body, sir, is as it were drugged;
the quarters am not seen by me; things (1 Dhammas. the commentary, the
"Manorathapurani", explains: samatha and Vipassana do not appear to that
monk.) are not clear to me; sloth and torpor compass my heart about and
stay; joyless, I live the holy life; and doubt about things are ever with
Such complaints may sound
familiar to us, we may feel at times as though "drugged". Doubts about
realities cannot be solved unless right understanding is being developed.
There are nama and rupa all the time, there is seeing, visible object,
hearing, sound, anger or attachment; the objects of which right understanding
is to be developed are right at hand but often there is no awareness of
them. We read that the preceptor went with this monk to the Buddha who
exhorted him thus:
is ever thus! When one dwells with doors of the senses unguarded, with
no moderation in eating, not bent on vigilance, not looking for righteous
things, nor day in day out practise the practice of making become things
that are wings to enlightenment; then is the body as though drugged, the
quarters are not seen, things are not clear, sloth and torpor compass the
heart and stay; joyless, one lives the godly life; and doubts about things
are ever with one".
We then read that the
Buddha told that monk to guard the doors of the senses, to be moderate
in eating, to be vigilant and to cultivate the factors leading to enlightenment.
The monk followed the Buddha's advice. The Buddha's words were the right
condition for him to develop insight, even to the degree that he could
attain arahatship. Thus he was no longer subject to sloth and torpor.
Sloth and torpor destruct energy for kusala, when there is right effort
there are no sloth and torpor. However, there is no self who can put forth
energy for kusala, for the study of the Dhamma or for the development of
right understanding. We can prove this when there is listlessness and no
energy for kusala. At such a moment we cannot force ourselves to take an
interest in kusala. Right effort is only a conditioned dhamma, not self.
There can be a long period of indolence, but at times there can be conditions
for remembering words of the teachings which can encourage us to develop
right understanding. Also sad events which happen in life can serve as
a reminder of the impermanence of conditioned realities and then we may
be urged to be vigilant, to "guard the sense-doors", that is, to be mindful
of the realities appearing through the different doorways. In this life
we are in the human plane where there is opportunity for all kinds of kusala,
for the study of the Dhamma and the development of right understanding.
The goal has been reached only when all defilements have been eradicated,
when arahatship has been attained, when we realize the task which lies
ahead of us we are reminded not to waste time with akusala. When there
is a true sense of urgency to develop right understanding there will be
less opportunity for sloth and torpor. In the following sutta we are reminded
of what we fail to win when there is indolence and what can be won when
there is right energy. We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidana-vagga,
Kindred Sayings on Cause, 3, 22) that the Buddha encouraged the monks to
apply energy in order to attain the goal. He said:
lies the man of sloth, invoked in bad, wicked things. Great is the salvation
which he fails to win. But he of stirred up energy lives happily, aloof
from bad, wicked things. Great is the salvation that he makes perfect.
Vicikiccha or doubt
is another akusala cetasika and this can accompany only one type of citta,
namely the type of moha-mula-citta which is called: moha-mula-citta vicikiccha
sampayutta (rooted in ignorance, accompanied by doubt).
The reality of vicikiccha is not the same as what we mean by doubt in conventional
language. Vicikiccha is not doubt about someone's name or about the weather.
Vicikiccha is doubt about realities, about nama and rupa, about cause and
result, about the four noble Truths, about the "Dependant Origination".
The Atthasalini (lI, Pan IX, Chapter III, 259) defines vicikiccha
... It has
shifting about as characteristic, mental wavering as function. indecision
or uncertainty in grasp as manifestation, unsystematic thought (unwise
attention) as proximate cause, and it should be regarded as a danger to
(XIV, 177) gives a similar definition.
When there is doubt one "wavers", one is not sure about realities. The
(425) describes doubt in different ways and states among others that it
is "uncertainty of grasp", "stiffness of mind". The
259, 260) in its explanation of this paragraph of the Dhammasangani states:
... "Fluctuation "
is the inability to establish anything in one made, thus, "ls this state
permanent, or is it impermanent?" Because of the inability to "comprehend"
there is "uncertainty of grasp"….
As to "stiffness",
the Atthasalini remarks that "mental rigidity' is the inability
to come to a decision as to the object. We read: "stiffness is the
meaning. For perplexity having arisen makes the mind stiff...."
When there is doubt one wonders about realities: "Is it such or is it such?"
one wonders, for example, whether a reality is permanent or impermanent,
or whether the reality which appears now is nama or rupa. When there is
doubt them is mental rigidity, there is not the wieldiness of mind which
is necessary for the understanding of realities. Doubt is to be considered
as a " danger for attainment"; when there is doubt it is impossible to
apply oneself to mental development.
Doubt is different from ignorance, moha, which does not know realities.
But when there is doubt there is also moha which accompanies all akusala
dhammas. When doubt accompanies the akusala citta, there cannot be determination
(adhimokkha) which is "sure about the object", neither can there be "wish-to-do"
(chanda) which "searches for the object" and wants it (1 see
Chapter 9 and Chapter 12.). The proximate cause of doubt is "unwise
attention" to the object which is experienced at that moment. We
read in tie Gradual Sayings(Book of the Ones, Chapter II, 5) that
the Buddha said to the monks:
Monks. I know
not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising if doubt
and wavering, it not already arisen; or, if arisen, to cause its more-becoming
and increase, as unsystematic attention. In him who gives not systematic
attention arises doubt and wavering, it not already arisen; or. if arisen,
it is liable to more-becoming and increase.
When one performs dana,
observes sila, studies Dhamma or is mindful of nama and rupa, there is
no opportunity for doubt, because during such moments there is "wise attention".
We read in the Middle Length Sayings(I, no. 2, All the cankers)
that the Buddha, when he was near Savatthi, it the Jeta Grove, spoke to
the monks on the means of controlling all the cankers. He spoke about unwise
attention and about various kinds of doubt, pertaining to the past, the
future or the present, which may arise when there is no wise attention.
We read about doubt:
In these ways
he is not wisely attending: if he thinks, "Now, was I in a past period?
Now, was I not in a past period? Now, what was I in a past period? Now,
how was I in a past period? Now, hating been what, what did I became in
a past period?....
We read the same about
doubt pertaining to the future and doubt pertaining to the present.
When doubt is accumulated there can be doubt about many different subjects.
We read in the Dhammasangani (1004) that there can be doubt about
the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, the Discipline, the past or the
future or both, the "Dependant Origination" (1 Book of Analysis,
chapter 17, 915.). The Atthasalini (II, Book II, Part II, Chapter1, 354,
355) explains as to doubts about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha,
that one may doubt about the qualities of the Buddha or about the characteristic
marks of his body (2 A Buddha has 32 bodily mark. See Dialogues of the
Buddha III, no. 30.), that one may doubt whether there is attainment
of enlightenment, whether there is nibbana, or whether there are people
who can attain enlightenment. As to doubt about the past and the future,
this doubt can concern the "khandhas", the "dhatu" (elements) and "ayatanas"
(twelve bases in the past and in the future.
Do we have doubt about rebirth? One may not be sure whether it is true
that the last citta in this life will be succeeded by the first citta of
the next life. One may have theoretical understanding of the fact that
each citta which falls away is succeeded by a next one, but there may still
be moments of doubt. We may at times also doubt whether it is possible
to develop right understanding and whether this is the way leading to enlightenment.
Doubt can never be eradicated by thinking. When we begin to develop understanding
of nama and rupa there may be doubt whether the reality appearing at the
present moment is nama or rupa. Their characteristics are quite different
but we are confused about them. There can only be less doubt if we continue
to be mindful of them when they appear one at a time. Only in this way
can we learn that, for example, hardness is different from the experience
of hardness and that visible object is different from the experience of
visible object. It is useful to know that doubt is akusala, that it is
a hindrance to the performing of dana, the observance of sila and to mental
development. However, doubt can be object of mindfulness; when there is
mindfulness of its characteristic right understanding can know it as it.
Those who are not ariyans have not realized the four noble Truths and they
may still have doubt about realities. The sotapanna sees realities as they
are, he has eradicated doubt completely. We read in the suttas that the
sotapanna has "crossed over doubt". We read, for example, in the Middle
Length Sayings (lI, no. 91, Brahmayusutta) about Brahmayu:
seen dhamma, attained dhamma, known dhamma, plunged into dhamma, having
crossed over doubt, put away uncertainty and attained without another ‘s
help to full confidence in the Teacher's instruction...
The sotapanna still has
to continue to develop satipatthana, but he is sure to be eventually liberated
from the cycle of birth and death, He is full of confidence in the Buddha,
the Dhamma and the Sangha. His confidence is unshakeable and thus he has
no more doubts about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Those who have
not attained enlightenment need to listen often to the Dhamma and to be
reminded to be aware of realities in order to eradicate doubt.
It is useful to study the different types of akusala citta and their accompanying
cetasikas (1 For a summary of them see Appendix 7.) The study will help
us to see that akusala dhammas arise because of their appropriate conditions,
that citta and cetasikas which arise together condition one another. We
are reminded by the study of realities that akusala dhamma is not a person,
that it does not belong to a self. However, we should not be contented
with merely theoretical knowledge of the truth. We should continue to develop
right understanding of realities which appear through the six doors. Akusala
dhammas cannot be eradicated immediately, We should first learn to see
them as they are: as conditioned namas, not self. Through right understanding
of realities doubt, wrong view and ail the other akusala dhammas can be
I Why are sloth and torpor
II Why is it said
that sloth is opposition to energy?
III Can there be sloth
and torpor when there is conceit?
IV Can they arise
when there is wrong view?
V What h the meaning
of "prompted", sasankharika?
VI Why did the Buddha
warn the monks not to be attached to the ease of bed or to food?
VII The anagami is
not attached to the ease of bed or to food. Can he still have sloth and
VIII What is the best
cure for sloth and torpor?
IX Which kinds of
feeling can accompany sloth and torpor?
X Vicikiccha is doubt
about realities. Which are the realities one may have doubts about?
XI Who has eradicated