Moha, ignorance, is
one of the four akusala cetasikas which are always present when there is
akusala citta. We read in the Dhammasangani (A Buddhist Manual of Psychological
Ethics, 390) about moha, here translated as dullness:
What on that
occasion is dullness?
Ignorance is firmly fixed,
it always lies latent and it is hard to eradicate.
The lack of knowledge, of vision, which is there on that occasion; the
lack of coordination, of judgement, of enlightenment (1 The Atthasalini
(II. 254), in its explanation of the passage of the Dhammasangani, states
about lack of enlightenment that it is: 'not connecting them (things) with
impermanence, dukkha and anatta", and "perceiving in an unreal, distorted
way.''), of penetration (2 No penetration of the four noble Truths.); the
inability to comprehend, to grasp thoroughly; the inability to compare,
to consider, to demonstrate; the folly, the childishness, the lack of intelligence:
the dullness that is vagueness, obfuscation, ignorance, the Flood (ogha)
of ignorance, the Bond (yogo) of ignorance, the bias (3 ignorance is a
bias, it continually lies latent in the sense of being firmly fixed.) of
ignorance, the obsession of ignorance, the barrier of ignorance: the dullness
that is the root of badness- this is the dullness that there then is.
(II, Part IX, Chapter I, 249) give the following definition of moha:
has the characteristic of blindness or opposition to knowledge; the essence
of non-penetration, or the function of covering the intrinsic nature of
the object: the manifestation of being opposed to right practice (4
In Pali: patipatti. The English text translates here as: right conduct.)
or causing blindness; the proximate cause of unwise attention: and should
be regarded as the root of all immoralities.
XIV, 163) gives a similar definition.
Moha is not the same as lack of worldly knowledge such as science or history,
but it is ignorance of ultimate realities. There are many degrees of moha.
Moha does not know the true nature of the object which is experienced and
therefore its essence is, as stated by the Atthasalini non-penetration
and its function "covering up" the intrinsic nature of the object. Moha
does not know nama and rupa as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, anatta.
Moha is the root of all that is unwholesome. Every akusala citta is rooted
in moha; not only the two types of moha-mula-citta, but also the types
of lobha-mula-citta and dosa-mula-citta have moha as root.
Moha is a "folly", it is "blindness", because whenever there is moha, there
is unwise attention" to the object which it experienced. For example, when
we eat delicious food, attachment is bound to arise and then there is also
moha. We are at that moment enslaved to the object which is experienced
and we do not know that there is unwise attention. Moha does not know akusala
as akusala and kusala as kusala and it does not know the conditions for
their arising. If one has not studied the Dhamma one does not know that
whether akusala citta arises or not depends on the manner of attention
to the object and not on the pleasant or unpleasant objects themselves.
Thus, the citta is the source of kusala or akusala, not the objects which
are experienced, not the outward circumstances. We desire pleasant objects
and when the object is unpleasant we are disappointed and sad. If one has
not studied the Dhamma there is ignorance of kamma and vipaka. When one
suffers pain one does not realize that the unpleasant experience through
the bodysense is vipaka, that it is the result of a bad deed which has
If we study the Buddha's teachings we become less ignorant of realities,
we begin to have more understanding of kamma and vipaka, of kusala and
akusala, of ultimate realities. However, moha cannot be eradicated merely
by thinking about realities. It can eventually be eradicated by the wisdom
which knows the true nature of realities. Although we have learnt what
is kusala and what is akusala, there are more often akusala cittas than
' kusala cittas. When we eat delicious food, how often is there wise attention
to the object? We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes,
Chapter XIlI, 121) that the Buddha spoke about two kinds of monks who receive
almsfood. We read about a certain monk who has eaten the almsfood:
Now it occurs
to him: A good thing in sooth for me to be thus served by a housefather
or a housefather's son! Then he thinks: I should indeed be glad to have
this housefather or housefather' son serve me in like manner in the future.
Thus he enjoys that almsgiving and is attracted by it, infatuated with
it, attached to it. He sees not danger therein. He is blind to the escape
therefrom. The result is that his train of thought is sensual. malevolent
and harmful to others. Now, monks, I declare that what is given to such
a monk has no great Fruit. Why so? Because the monk lives amiss.
We then read about a certain
monk who is not attached to his almsfood. What is given to him is of great
fruit because he is: vigilant. If there is mindfulness of the reality which
appears, also while eating, right understanding can be developed.
Moha is the root of all that is unprofitable, of akusala which is coarse
and of akusala which is more subtle. When one commits akusala kamma through
body, speech or mind there is moha. There is ignorance of the danger of
akusala kamma which is capable of producing an unpleasant result, even
in the form of an unhappy rebirth. As we have seen, moha accompanies each
akusala citta. When there are akusala citta with avarice, jealousy or conceit
there is also moha. When one takes realities for self there is wrong view,
ditthi, and at that moment there is also moha. Moha conditions ditthi but
they are different realities. Moha is ignorant of the true nature of realities
and ditthi has wrong view about them.
There is much ignorance about the processes of cittas which experience
objects through the six doors. Do we realize whether there is at this moment
seeing, hearing or thinking, or does it seem that these experiences occur
all at the same time? In reality only one object can be experienced at
a time through the appropriate doorway. When there is hearing only sound
is experienced through the ears and when we think of the meaning of the
words which are spoken there is not hearing but thinking of concepts. Thinking
arises in another process of cittas, it arises in a mind-door process and
this is different from the ear-door process. Does it seem that hearing
can stay for a while? In reality this is not so, it falls away immediately.
But when right understanding has not been developed the arising and falling
away of cittas cannot be realized.
Moha is ignorant of the true nature of realities, it does not know nama
and rupa as they are. Moha is lack of knowledge about the four noble Truths
: about dukkha, the origination of dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha and the
way leading to the ceasing of dukkha (1 Dhammasangani, 1061.). So long
as ignorance has not been eradicated we have to continue to be in the cycle
of birth and death, we have to be born again and again. The Pali term avijja
is used for ignorance in connection with the "Dependent Origination ",
the conditional arising of phenomena in the cycle of birth and death. Avijja
is the first link in the chain of conditions for the continuation of this
cycle. At the attainment of arahatship ignorance is eradicated and then
there are no more conditions for rebirth.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandha-vagga, Kindred). Sayings
on Elements, III, Last Fifty, Chapter 3, 129, Satisfaction) that in the
Deerpark at Isipatana Maha-Kotthita said to Sariputta:
ignorance!' is the saying, friend Sariputta. Pray, friend, what is ignorance,
and how far is one ignorant?"
In the next sutta (130)
it is said that wisdom is knowing as it really is the satisfaction in,
the misery of and the escape from the five khandhas.
"Herein, friend, the
untaught manyfolk know not as it really is the satisfaction in, the misery
of the escape from body. So with feeling, perception, the activities...
they know not the satisfaction in, the misery of the escape from consciousness.
This, friend, is ignorance,
and thus far is one ignorant."
If there is no development of right understanding one does not see that
conditioned realities which arise and then have to fall away again are
dullness and thus there cannot be escape from dukkha.
It is hard to know the characteristic of moha. The Buddha taught us to
be mindful of the realities which appear, but we have many moments of dullness.
We should learn to see the difference between awareness and forgetfulness
of realities. When there is forgetfulness of realities the citta is akusala.
Even when there is no attachment or aversion, there can be akusala citta;
there can be the type of moha-mula-citta which is accompanied by restlessness
(uddhacca) (2 There are two types of moha-mula-citta: one is accompanied
by doubt (vicikiccha-sampayutta) and one is accompanied by restlessness
uddhacca sampayutta.). This type is bound to arise very often in between
the other types of akusala citta, but we do not realize it. Ignorance is
dangerous and extremely hard to eradicate. The sotapanna sees realities
as they are, he has no more wrong view about them, but he has not eradicated
ignorance. Ignorance is eradicated stage by stage and only the arahat has
eradicated ignorance completely.
Shamelessness and Recklessness
Ahirika, shamelessness or consciencelessness, and anottappa recklessness
or disregard of blame, are two other akusala cetasikas which arise with
each akusala citta. In the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 160) ahirika is translated
as consciencelessness and anottappa as shamelessness. They are defined
has no conscientious scruples, thus it is consciencelessness. It is unashamed,
thus it is shamelessness (anottappa). Of these, ahirika has the characteristic
of absence of disgust at bodily misconduct, etc., or it has the characteristic
of immodesty. Anottappa has the characteristic of absence of dread on their
account or it has the characteristic of absence of anxiety about them...
(II, Pan IX, Chapter 1, 248) gives a similar definition. The Visuddhimagga
and the Atthasalini do not give the function, manifestation and
proximate cause of shamelessness and recklessness. The Paramattha Manjusa
(Maha Tika), a commentary to the Visuddhimagga, deals with these
aspects (1 I have used the Thai translation, given by Ms. sujin Boriharnwanaket,
in her Abidhamma lectures at the Saket Temple in Bangkok.).
According to the Paramattha Manjusa, the function of shamelessness is doing
evil without being ashamed of it, and the function of recklessness is doing
evil without dreading it. Their manifestation is not to shrink or draw
back from evil.
The two cetasikas shamelessness and recklessness seem to be very close
in meaning, but they have different characteristics. Shamelessness does
not shrink from evil because it is not ashamed of it and does not abhor
it. The "Paramattha Majusa" compares it to a domestic pig which does not
abhor filth. Defilements are like filth, they are unclean, impure. Shamelessness
does not abhor defilements, be it attachment, aversion, ignorance, avarice,
jealousy, conceit or any other kind of unwholesomeness.
As to recklessness, it does not abhor, draw back from evil because it does
not see the danger of akusala and it does not fear its consequences such
as an unhappy rebirth. The "Paramattha Manjusa" compares recklessness to
a moth which is attracted to the fire, although this is dangerous for it.
Are we enslaved by pleasant experiences? We may even commit evil through
body, speech or mind on account of them. Then recklessness does not fear
the danger of akusala, it does not care about the consequences of akusala.
The proximate cause of shamelessness is lack of respect for oneself and
the proximate cause of recklessness is lack of respect for someone else.
In order to have more understanding of this, we should first study their
opposites: moral shame, hiri, and moral fear of blame, ottappa. shame has
a subjective origin, it is influenced by oneself; its proximate cause is
self-respect. Fear of blame has an external cause, it is influenced by
the world; its proximate cause is respect for someone else.
The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter I, 125) states that shame,
which has a subjective origin, arises from consideration of one's birth,
one's age, heroism (courage and strength) and wide experience. In the case
of shamelessness there is lack of such considerations. For example, when
we give in to anger or when we are jealous of someone else who receives
praise or other pleasant things, there is no consideration of our education
or upbringing in morality. At such moments we have no moral strength, we
behave like a weakling or a fool, in a childish way. Thus, at the moment
of akusala citta there is lack of respect for ourselves, we are forgetful
of all we have learnt from the Buddha's teachings.
As regards the origin of recklessness, anottappa, we should study first
what is said about the origin of its opposite, ottappa or fear of blame.
We refrain from evil owing to fear of blame from without, from the "world".
Thus, fear of blame has an external origin. In the case of recklessness,
anottappa, there is lack of fear of blame or punishment from the "world".
When someone, for example, steals, he may acquire a bad name, he may be
punished for this crime, but at the moment of akusala citta there is no
consideration of such factors and there is lack of respect for others.
When there are conditions for the arising of akusala citta, shamelessness
is not ashamed of akusala and recklessness does not fear its consequences.
We may think that we are ashamed of and abhor killing or stealing and that
we will never do such things. However, when the situation becomes difficult
good intentions are forgotten and then we have no shame or fear of doing
evil deeds. For example, generally we may not be, but out of consideration
for our relatives or friends we may not be ashamed of lying.
Akusala cittas arise time and again and these are always accompanied by
shamelessness and recklessness. Also when the akusala citta does not have
the intensity to motivate evil deed: for example, when we are thinking
with ignorance and forgetfulness of realities, there are shamelessness
and recklessness performing their functions. It may seem that forgetfulness
of realities is not so dangerous, since we do not harm other people by
it. However all kinds and degrees of akusala are dangerous. If right understanding
is not developed defilements cannot be eradicated and we have to be subject
to birth, old age, sickness and death, again and again. After there have
been many moments of forgetfulness, mindfulness may arise again and then
we are ashamed of our ignorance and forgetfulness of realities, and we
see its danger.
We read in As It Was Said (Itivuttaka, The Twos, Chapter II, &3 Khuddaka
This was said by the
leads the way to the attainment of unprofitable things; shamelessness and
disregard of blame follow after. But, monks. knowledge leads the way to
the attainment of profitable things shrinking and fear of blame follow
When we see that all akusala
dhammas are ugly and impure, we do not neglect mindfuIness of realities,
such as hardness, seeing or sound which appear at this moment. This is
the only way to develop the wisdom which can eradicate defilements. For
the arahat there are no conditions for akusala and thus shamelessness and
recklessness do not arise.
This is the meaning...
Whatso be these ill-bourns
in this world and the next,
All rooted are in
ignorance, of lust compounded.
And since the wicked
man is void of shame, and has
No reverence. therefore
he works wickedness.
And through that wickedness
he to the Downfall goes.
longing, lust and ignorance
And causing knowledge
to arise in him, a monk
Should give up, leave
behind, the ill-bourns one and all..
Uddhacca, translated as restlessness, agitation, excitement or confusion,
is another akusala cetasika which arises with each akusala citta. The Atthasalini
(II, Part IX, Chapter I, 250) gives the following definition of uddhacca:
It has mental
excitement as characteristic like wind-tossed water; wavering as function,
like a flag waving in the wind: whirling as manifestation like scattered
ashes struck by a stone; unsystematic thought owing to mental excitement
as proximate cause; and it should be regarded as mental distraction over
an object of excitement.
(XIV, 165) gives a similar definition (1 See also Dhammasangani 429.).
The commentaries illustrate with similes that when there is uddhacca, there
is no steadiness, there is not the stable condition, the calm, of kusala.
When there is uddhacca there is forgetfulness of kusala, whereas when there
is mindfulness, sati, there is watchfulness, non-forgetfuIness of kusala,
be it generosity, morality, the development of calm or insight. Mindfulness
is watchful so that the opportunity for kusala is not wasted.
Uddhacca is not the same as what we mean by "restlessness" or "agitation",
used in conventional language. When we use the word restlessness we usually
think of aversion and unpleasant feeling. However, uddhacca arises with
each akusala citta, not only with citta rooted in aversion, dosa-mula-citta,
but also with citta rooted in attachment, lobha-mula-citta, and citta rooted
in ignorance, moha-mula-citta. When there is uddhacca we are forgetful
as to kusala, we are unable to apply ourselves to any kind of kusala. Even
when there is pleasant feeling, for example, when we are attached to a
quiet place, there is restlessness, uddhacca, which arises together with
lobha-mula-citta. We may think that we are calm at such a moment, but we
have actually "mental excitement".
It is difficult to know exactly when the citta is kusala and when it is
akusala. We may take for calm what is actually akusala. If someone wants
to develop samatha, the calm which is wholesome, he has to know very precisely
when the citta is kusala and when it is akusala. Thus, samatha cannot be
developed without right understanding. Understanding knows when the citta
is peaceful in the wholesome way and when the citta is clinging to quietness
and thus akusala.
As we have seen, uddhacca accompanies each akusala citta, it accompanies
lobha-mula-citta, dosa-mula-citta and moha-mula-citta. There are two types
of moha-mula-citta, one is associated with doubt and one is associated
with restlessness. The fact that one type of moha-mula-citta is called
"associated with restlessness", uddhacca-sampayutta, does not mean that
restlessness does not arise with the type of moha-mula-citta which is associated
with doubt. The second type of moha-mula-citta is called "associated with
restlessness" in order to differentiate it from the first type of moha-mula-citta
which is associated with doubt.
Restlessness arises very often, but we do not notice it. It is one of the
"five hindrances " (1 Defilements are classified into different groups
and one of these are the "hindrances, which are the following:sensuous
desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and regret, and doubt.
) and as such it is mentioned as a pair with regret (kukkucca). Restlessness
prevents the citta from applying itself to kusala, thus it is a hindrance.
We often waste opportunities for kusala. Time and again we are thinking
with akusala citta, for example, we think with worry of the tasks which
lie ahead of us. However, even while we are thinking there is an opportunity
for kusala, namely the development of right understanding. There are realities
all the time which have different characteristics, and these can be known
when there is non-forgetfulness of them. Also thinking is a reality with
its own characteristic and this can be known when it appears. When there
is mindfulness there is no restlessness.
Only the arahat has eradicated restlessness. So long as there are still
conditions for the arising of akusala citta, it has to be accompanied by
moha, ignorance, which is ignorant of realities, by ahirika, shamelessness,
which does not abhor akusala, by anottappa, recklessness, which does not
fear the consequences of akusala, and by uddhacca, restlessness, which
is restless as to kusala. No matter whether the akusala citta is coarse
or more subtle, these four akusala cetasikas have to accompany the akusala
citta and assist it in performing its function.