Part I
The  Universals
12 Cetasikas

Chapter 4
Volition (cetana)

     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:

... There 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 the senses. 

     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:

Monks, taking 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.
     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.
     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.

       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.) : 

Herein, monks, 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... . up sexual misconduct... . up wrong speech... 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:
"You were 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 same before."
     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 is completed?
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?