Cetana, volition, is another cetasika among the 'universals',the seven
cetasikas which accompany every citta. Cetana is often translated as 'volition',
but we should not be misled by the conventional term which designates the
reality of cetana. Cetana accompanies, together with phassa (contact),
vedana (feeling), sanna (remembrance) and the other 'universals', all cittas
of the four jatis. Thus, cetana accompanies kusala citta, akusala citta,
vipakacita and kiriyacitta. When we intend to steal or when we make the
resolution not to kill, it is evident that there is cetana. However, also
when we are seeing or hearing, and even when we are asleep, there is cetana
since it accompanies every citta. There is no citta without cetana. .
The Atthasalini (I, Part , Chapter I, 111) states about cetana that its
characteristic is coordinating the associated dhammas (citta and the other
cetasikas) on the object and that its function is willing. We read:
is no such thing as volition in the four planes of existence without the
characteristic of coordinating: all volition has it. But the function of
'willing' is only in moral (kusala) and immoral (akusala) states... It
has directing as manifestation. It arises directing associated states,
like the chief disciple, the chief carpenter. etc. who fulfil their own
and others' duties.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 135) gives a similar definition(1 see also the
Dhammasangani 5) The characteristic of cetana is coordinating. It coordinates
the citta and the other cetasikas it accompanies on the object. Citta cognizes
the object, it is the leader in knowing the object. The cetasikas which
accompany citta share the same object, but they each have to fulfil their
own task. For example, phassa contacts the object vedana feels, experiences
the "taste" of the object, and sanna "marks" and remembers the object.
Cetana sees to it that other dhammas it arises together with fulfiI
their tasks with regard to the object they all share. Every cetana which
arises, no matter whether it accompanies kusala citta, akusasa citta, vipakacitta
or kiriyacitta, has to coordinate the tasks of the other dhammas it accompanies.
The cetana which accompanies kusala citta and akusala citta has, in addition
to coordinating, another task to perform: 'willing' or 'activity of kamma'
(1 Ayuhana which meana 'striving' or pursuing, is translated in the English
text of the Atthasalini as conation, and in the english text of the Visuddhimagga
as accumulation.). According to the Atthasalini, as to activity in moral
and immoral acts, cetana is exceedingly energetic whereas the accompanying
cetasikas play only a restricted part. Cetana which accompanies kusala
citta and akusala citta coordinates the work of the other cetasikas it
arises together with and it 'wills' kusala or akusala, thus, it makes a
"double effort". The Atthasalini compares the double task of cetana to
the task of a landowner who directs the work of his labourers, looks after
them and also takes himself an equal share of the work. He doubles his
strength and doubles his effort. Even so volition doubles its strength
and its effort in moral and immoral acts.
As regards the manifestation of cetana which is directing, the Atthasalini
compares cetana with the chief disciple who recites his own lessons and
makes the other pupils recite their lessons as well, with the chief carpenter
who does his own work and makes the other carpenters do their work, or
with the general who fights himself and makes the other soldiers take part
in the battle, "...for when he begins, the others follow his example. Even
so, when volition starts work on its object, it sets associated states
to do each its own."
The cetana which accompanies vipakacitta and kiriyacitta merely coordinates
the tasks of the other dhammas it accompanies, it does not 'will' kusala
or akusala and it does not motivate wholesome or unwholesome deeds. For
example, seeing-consciousness, which is vipakacitta, the result of kamma,
is accompanied by cetana and this cetana is also vipaka. The cetana which
accompanies seeing-consciousness directs the tasks which the accompanying
dhammas have to fulfil with regard to visible object. It directs, for example,
phassa which contacts visible object, vedana which feels and sanna which
marks and remembers visible object.
Cetana which accompanies kusala citta or akusala citta has a double task,
it is 'exceedingly energetic'. Apart from coordinating the other dhammas,
it 'wills' kusala or akusala and when it has the intensity to motivate
a deed through body, speech or mind, it is capable of producing the
result of that deed later on. When we speak about kusala kamma or akusala
kamma we usually think of course of action (kamma pathas) which can be
performed through body, speech or mind. However, we should remember that
when we perform wholesome or unwholesome deeds it is actually the wholesome
or unwholesome volition or intention which motivates the deed and this
is the activity of kamma which is accumulated and can produce its appropriate
result later on. Thus, akusala kamma and kusala kamma are actually akusala
cetana and kusala cetana.
Akusala cetana and kusala cetana can have many intensities, they can be
coarse or more subtle. When they are more subtle they do not motivate kamma
pathas, courses of action, through body, speech or mind. For example, when
we like our food there is lobha-mula-citta and it is accompanied by akusala
cetana. Although the lobha-mula-citta does not motivate an unwholesome.
course of action, it is not kusala but akusala; it is different from kusala
citta with generosity, from kusala citta which observes sila or from kusala
citta which applies itself to mental development. Whenever we do not apply
ourselves to dana, sila or bhavana, we act, speak or think with akusala
cittas. Thus, there is likely to be akusala citta very often in a day,
since the moments we apply ourselves to kusala are very rare. There is
likely to be akusala citta when we take hold of objects, eat, drink or
talk. When laugh there is lobha-mula citta. We may not realize that there
akusala citta when the degree of akusala does not have the intensity of
harming others, but in fact there are countless moments of akusala citta.
When we are lying or slandering the degree of akusala is more coarse and
at such moments akusala cetana motivates akusala kamma patha (course of
action) through speech. The akusala cetana directs the other dhammas it
accompanies so that they perform their own tasks and it 'wills' akusala.
Moreover, it is able to produce the appropriate result of the bad deed
later on, since the unwholesome volition or kamma is accumulated. Each
citta which arises falls away but it conditions the succeeding citta. Since
our life is an uninterrupted series of cittas which succeed one another,
unwholesome and wholesome volitions or kammas are accumulated from moment
to moment and can therefore produce results later on.
There are ten kinds of akusala kamma patha, courses of action, which are
performed through body, speech or mind (1 Abhidhamma in Daily Life Chapter
5). They are: killing, stealing, sexual misbehaviour, lying, slandering,
rude speech, frivolous talk, covetousness, ill-will and wrong view. The
akusaia cetana (or akusala kamma) which motivates such a deed is capable
of producing akusala vipaka in the form of rebirth in an unhappy plane
of existence or it can produce akusala vipaka which arises in the course
of one's life, vipakacittas which experience unpleasant objects through
Kamma patha can be of different degrees and thus its result is of different
degrees. Kamma patha is not always a 'completed action'. There ate certain
constituent factors which make kamrna patha a completed action and for
each of the kamma pathas these factors are different. For example, in the
case of killing there have to be: a living being, consciousness that there
is a living being, intention of killing, the effort of killing and consequent
death (Atthasalini, I, Part III, Chaptet V, 97) . When a large animal is
killed the degree of akusala kamma is higher than when a small animal is
killed. The killing of a human being is akusala kamma which is of a higher
degree than the killing of an animal.
In the case of slandering, there are four factors which make it a completed
action: other persons to be divided ; the purpose: 'they will be separated',
or the desire to endear oneself to another; the corresponding effort; the
communication (Atthasalini, same section, 100). We read:
"But when there is no rupture among others, the offence does not amount
to a complete course; it does so only when there is a rupture."
Akusala kamma patha
which is a "completed action" is capable of producing an unhappy rebirth.
Some akusala kammas which are very powerful such as killing a parent produce
an unhappy rebirth in the immediately following life. Some akusala kammas
produce results in this Iife, same in following lives. There are many intensities
of akusala kamma and they produce their results accordingly.
We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Eights, Chapter IV, 10, Very
Trifling) about different results which are produced by akusala kammas.
The 'very trifling result' which is mentioned in the sutta is the unpleasant
result which arises in the course of one's life. We read:
life, when pursued, practised,increased, brings one to hell, to an animal's
womb, to the Peta realm; what is the very trifling result of taking life
is the shortening of a man's life.
When kusala kamma patha is performed, kusala cetana "wills" kusala, and
it also coordinates the tasks of the other dhammas it accompanies, Kusala
cetana is capable of producing its appropriate result later on in the form
of rebirth in a happy plane or it can produce its result in the course
of life in the form of pleasant experiences through the senses.
Monks. stealing, when pursued..., brings one to hell...; the very trifling
result is a man's loss of wealth.
Monks, fleshly lusts when pursued..., bring one to hell...; the very trifling
result is a man's rivalry and hatred.
Monks, lying when pursued..., brings one to hell...; the very trifling
result is the slandering and false-speaking for a man.
Monks, backbiting, when pursued..., brings one to hell...; the very trifling
result is the breaking up of a man's friendships.
Monks, harsh speech, when pursued..., brings one to hell...; the very trifling
result is an unpleasant noise for a man.
Monks, frivolous talk, when pursued..., brings one to hell...; the very
trifling result is unacceptable speech for a man.
Monks, drinking strong drink when pursued, practised,increased, brings
one to hell, to an animal's womb, to the Peta realm; what is the very trifling
result of drinking strong drink is madness for a man.
Kusala kamma can be classified as dana (generosity), sila (morality or
virtue) and bhavana (mental development). Dana comprises, apart from giving
gifts, many other forms of kusala. Included in dana are, for example, appreciating
the kusala cittas of others and 'sharing one's merits'. As to the sharing
of one's merits, when someone has done a wholesome deed and he gives others
the opportunity to rejoice in the kusala he has performed, it is a way
of dana; at such a moment he helps others to have kusala cittas as well.
The observance of the precepts which is sila, can also be considered as
a way of dana. We read in the Gradual Sayings, (Book of the Eights, Chapter
IV, 9, Outcomes of Merit) that going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma
and the Sangha leads to happy results and that there are further five gifts
which lead to happy results. These are the following (2 Ttanslated by Ven.
Nyanaponika, in Anguttara Nikaya, An Anthology III, Wheel publication 238-240,
BPS. Kandy, 1976.) :
a noble disciple gives up the takng of life and abstains from it. By abstaining
flom the taking of life, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings
fleedom from fear, gives to them freedom from hostility, and frleedom from
oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings fleedom from fear, hostility
and oppression, he him sefelf enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, freedom
from hostility and oppression... Further, monks, a noble disciple gives
up the taking of what is not given... . ..gives up sexual misconduct...
. ..gives up wrong speech... ...gives up intoxicating drinks and drugs
causing heedlessness, and abstains from them. By abstaining from intoxicating
drinks and drugs, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom
from fear, freedom from hostility and freedom from oppression. By giving
to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility and oppression, he
himself enjoys immeasurable freedom from fear, freedom from hostility and
freedom from oppression...
When we abstain from iII deeds we give others the opportunty to live in
safety and without fear. Sila is abstaining from ill deeds which are committed
through body or speech, but apart from abstaining from ill deeds there
are many other aspects of sila (1 the Visuddhimagga I. 17 and following,
describes many aspects of sila.) When one abstains from killing it
is kusala sila. But also when there is no opportunity for kiling
there can be kusala sila: someone can make the resolution to spare the
lives of aII livng beings, even of the smallest insects he can hardly see.
Even so, someone can make the resolution to abstain from other kinds of
akusala kamma, even when the opportunity to commit them has not arisen.
For example, when a person has found out that intoxicating drinks have
a bad effect, kusala cetana may take the resolution to refrain in the future
from intoxicating drinks. The wholesome intention at such a moment can
be a condition for abstaining later on when there is an opportunity for
drinking. However, kusala citta is not self, it arises when there are conditions
for it. A moment later akusala citta may arise and our good intentions
are forgotten. We may be annoyed that we do not live up to our good intentions,
but we should remember that kusala citta and akusala citta arise because
of their own conditions. Akusala citta arises because of conditions which
are entirely different from the conditions for the kusala citta which made
the resolution to observe sila. We all have accumulated tendendes to kusala
and to akusala and it depends on conditions whether we perform kusala kamma
or akusala kamma. When there is no development of maha-satipatthana it
is very difficult to observe the precepts.
The Visuddhimagga mentions in the section on sila (Chapter I, 53. 60) the
" guarding of the sense-doors", because this can be considered as an aspect
of sila. When there is mindfulness of, for example, visible object and
visible object is not taken for a 'thing' or a person but is known as only
a kind of rupa appearing through the eyes, the eye-door is guarded, At
that moment there is no attachment to visible object, no aversion towards
it, no ignorance about it. Later on we may become absorbed in what we see
and we may cling to it, but at the moment of mindfulness the doorway are
guarded and there is restraint of the senses. Thus, mindfulness of nama
and rupa, which is a form of bhavana (mental development), can also be
considered as sila. Kusala kamma which is bhavana comprises studying and
teaching Dhamma, samatha, tranquil meditation, and vipassana, the development
of right understanding of realities. The development of right understanding
is the highest form of kusala kamma because it leads to the eradication
of ignorance. When ignorance has been eradicated there are no more conditions
for rebirth in a next life one is freed from the cycle of birth and death.
We have accumulated different degrees of kusala kamma and akusala kamma
and they are capable of producing their appropriate results when there
is opportunity for it. We may be inclined to think that the term "accumulation"
only pertains to kamma, but not only kamma is accumulated, also tendencies
to kusala and akusala are accumulated. When one steals, akusala kamma is
accumulated which is capable of producing vipaka later on. However vipaka
is not the only effect of this unwholesome deed. AIso the tendency to stealing
is accumulated and thus there are conditions that one steals again. We
have the potential in us for all kinds of bad deeds and when there is an
opportunity akusala cetana can motivate a bad deed through body, speech
and mind. We should distinguish the condition for vipakacitta from the
condition for kusala citta or for akusala citta. Accumulated kamma Which
produces vipaka is one type of condition. The accumulated tendencies to
good and evil due to which kusala citta and akusala citta arise are another
type of condidon. Thus, there are different types of condition which play
their part in our life. Tendencies to all kinds of defilements are accumulated.
When, for example, lobha-mula-citta arises, the tendency to lobha is accumulated
and thus there are conditions for the arising again of lobha-mula-citta.
we are bound to be attached because we have accumulate such an amount of
lobha. Not only unwholesome tendencies, but also wholesome tendendes can
be accumulated. When there is a moment of right mindfulness of the reality
which appears now,it is a condition for the arising of mindfulness again,
later on. we tend to be attached rather than to be mindful, but when mindfulness
has been accumulated more it will be less difficult to be mindful. Whatever
tendency is accumulated now will bear on our life in the future (1see also
Abhidhanma Studies V, 3, by Ven. Nyanaponika, B.P.s.Kandy 1976.) In the
Jatakas (Birth Stories, Khuddaka Nikaya) we find many examples of people
who committed the same deeds again and again in successive lives. For example,
Devadatta who tried to kill the Buddha had tried to kill him before, in
many former lives when the Buddha was still a Bodhisatta. We read in the
'Dhammaddhaja Jataka' (220) that the Buddha said:
"This is not
the first time Devadatta has tried to murder me and has not even frightened
me. He did the same before."
We read in the 'Duta Jataka'
(260) about a monk who was very greedy. Also in former lives he had been
greedy. The Buddha said to him:
greedy before, monk as you are now; and in olden days for your greed you
had your head cleft with a sword."
The Buddha related a story of one of his past lives: he had such a craving
for the dainty food of a king that he took a piece of rice from the king's
dish and this nearly cost him his life. After the Buddha had told this
story he explained the four noble Truths and the greedy monk became an
anagami. (the noble person who has attained the third stage of enlightenment).
While he listened to the Buddha he must have been mindful of nama and rupa
and his pana developed to the degree that all clinging to sensuous objects
could be eradicated. In the Tila-Mutthi Jataka (252) we read about a monk
who fell easily into a rage and spoke roughly. The Buddha said:
"This is not
the first time, monks, that this man has been passionate. He was just the
He then related a story of one of his past lives. After the discourse the
Buddha explained the four noble Truths and the passionate monk became an
angami. He eradicated anger accomulated. though one has strong inclinations
to greed and anger, accumulated for many lives, the panna of the eightfold
path can eventually eradicate defilements. The greedy monk and the angry
monk in the above mentioned Jatakas could attain enlightenment because
they had also accumulated sati and panna. Listening to the Buddha was the
right condition for them to attain the stage of the anagami. If we understand
that our behaviour now is conditioned by accumulated inclinations we had
in the past we will be less inclined to take it for hay behaviour'. Each
reality which arises is condition. Generosity which arises is conditioned
by generosity in the past, it is not 'my generosity'. Anger which arises
is conditioned by anger in the past, it is not 'my anger'. There is no
self who can force citta to be kusala citta, but conditions can be cultivated
so that kusala citta can arise more often. Important conditions for the
arising of kusala citta with panna are friendship with a person who has
right understanding of the Dhamma and who can explain the Dhamma in the
right way, listening to the teachings and studying them, and above all
mindfulness of the reality which appears now. we should consider when we
want to perform kusala kamma. Is our aim kusala vipaka? Kusala kamma produces
kusala vipaka because this is the natural course of things, but if we want
to perforrn kusala kamma in order to have a pleasant result, such as a
happy rebirth, there is clinging. The aim of the Buddha's teachings is
the eradication of defilements. Wholesome deeds will be purer if we perform
them because we see the benefit of eliminating defilements. Since human
life is very short we should not lose any opportunity for dana, sila or
bhavana. If we develop the eightfold path there will eventually be purification
of all defilements.
I There is cetana also
when we are sound asleep. What is its function at such a moment?
II When we observe
sila what is the function of cetana?
III Which cetasika
is akusala kamma or kusala kamma?
IV How can a deed
performed in the past produce a result later on?
V What kind of result
can be produced by akusala kamma patha (unwholesome course of action) which
VI What are the other
forms of vipaka produced by kamma, apart from rebirth-consciousness?.
VII What is the effect
of the accumulation oftendencies to good and evil?
VIII When we laugh
is there akusala citta?
IX When we are daydreaming
can there be akusala citta?
X What are the conditions
for kusala citta to arise more often?