Sunday, May 29, 2011

What are Chetasika or Mental factors? Part 01

K.D. Buddhima Hansinie Subasinghe
Sambodhi Vihara English Dhamma School

Knowledge manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And the habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its way with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of concern for all beings.

During the exploration of the analytical doctrine of mental faculties and elements, in other words “Abhidhamma”, the psychology and philosophy of the Buddha’s teaching shows that life is a combination of mind and matter, where the mind consists of the combination of sensations, perceptions, volitional activities and consciousness whereas matter consists of a combination of four elements namely solidity, fluidity, motion and heat. Therefore, when the ultimate reality of Buddhism is considered, it can be classified into Citta (mind), Chetasika (mental factors), Rupa (matter) and Nibbana (Highest Bliss). As a result, life is a co-existence of mind and matter and death is the separation of mind and matter.

On the other hand, Citta or consciousness is described as the active element or the conscious element of the mind and it’s also explained as the “Power of grasping and object” (Cinteti ti arammanam cinteti ti Cittam, Vijanati ti Attho). Citta is a series of events in the process of “thinking” or meditation. Whereas Chetasika is bound up with Citta and represents the nature, the character or the state of Citta or consciousness and what results when Citta is affected by external stimuli.

Therefore, Chetasika is the second type of Paramatta Dhamma or Absolute reality explained in Abhidhamma and can be termed as mental factors, mental associates or mental concomitant. They combine with consciousness (Citta) to form one unit of thought; moreover, the mental factors cannot arise without Citta, nor can Citta arise completely segregated from the mental factors. Therefore, in order to illustrate the relationship between Citta and Chetasika let me compare to that between a king and his retinue.

Although one says, “The king is coming”, the king never comes alone but, he always comes accompanied by his attendants. Similarly, when Citta arises, it never arises alone but it is always accompanied by its retinue of Chetasikas. In addition, Chetasikas share four characteristics with Cittas (Sampayoga Lakkhana).

Ekuppada nirodha ca ekalambana vatthuka
Ceyoutta dvipannassa Dhamma Chetasika mata

The mental factors (Chetasika) arise together with the consciousness simultaneously (Ekuppada). When the consciousness perishes mental factors too perish at the same time (Nirodha). The object of consciousness namely visible form, sound, smell, taste, tangibility and Dhammas or mental objects will be the object of the mental factors of that consciousness (ekalambana). The same base of the consciousness named eye base, ear base, nose base, tongue base, body base and the heart base would serve as the base for all the mental factors associated with the particular consciousness (Ekavattuka).

Mental factors

There are 53 mental factors (Chetasikas). All the mental factors do not associate with all the consciousness; while only those Chetasikas that are necessary for the required function arise at a given time. The maximum number of Chetasikas that arise together in a given Citta is 36 and the minimum is 7. Therefore, the function of consciousness is simply to grasp the object known as arammana; whereas, appreciating, liking or disliking the object are the functions of the Chetasika. Some mental factors arise in both wholesome and unwholesome consciousness; despite them, there are a few Chetasikas that arise only in unwholesome consciousness while some others which are pure arise with wholesome consciousness. During the analysis of Citta and Chetasika we take each Chetasika and see in what Citta it arises known as Sampayoganaya and on the other hand we take each Citta and see in what Chetasika it arises known as Sangahanaya. Basically, when the fifty two mental factors are taken into account, we can classify them into 3 main categories which are as follows:

(1) Ethically variable factors (Annasamana) - 13
(a) The universals (Sabba Citta Sadharna) - 7
(b) The particulars or Occasional (Pakinnakas) - 6

(2) Immorals or unwholesome factors
(Akusala Chetasika) - 14

(3) Wholesome beautiful factors (Sobhana Chetasikas)

The ethically variable mental factors (Annasamana Chetasikas) are common to Cittas. Annasamana literally means common to the others. Here we can divide them into two main categories known as the seven Universals or Sabba Citta Sadharna which are common to all 89 or 121 Cittas and they are: Passo (mental contact) which illustrates that for any thought element to arise, 3 things are essential.

For example, for the seeing consciousness (Chakku vinnana) to arise, the mental contact of the eye (Chakku) and colour (object) is necessary, Vedana (feelings or sensations) experience or feel the object with which it comes in contact and if the object is favourable there is a pleasurable feeling known as somanassa vedana or if it’s unpleasant there arises domanassa vedana and if it’s neither, a neutral feelings or upekkha vedana arises. Next, Sanna (Perceptions) enables one to recognize an object and it performs two main functions of marking the object at the first glance and then to identify it later. Then Chetana or Volition coordinates the necessary mental factors to get a desired result and is very important as it causes kusala and akusala kamma to arise based upon the intention. “Chetanaham Bhikkhave Kammam Vadami, Cetaitva Kammam karoti kayena vachaya manasaya”. Thereafter, Ekaggatha (One-pointedness of the mind) helps in fixing the mind firmly to an object without allowing it to wander to other objects as usual. It helps the mind to concentrate on a particular object without allowing the mind to run anywhere else like a flame of an oil lamp in a windless place. In addition, when ekaggatha is associated with a kusal or wholesome Citta it leas to Samadhi and when developed further through meditation such as Vipassana Bhavana it leads to jhana and one pointedness of mind becomes a very important jhana anga out of the 5 jhanas which are Vithakka, Vichara, Piti, Sukha and Ekaggatha that helps us to attain the stages of Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahat. Next, Jivitendriya (controlling faculty) as its name suggests it helps in the continuation of the series of thoughts and life and consists of 2 kinds known as Nama Jivitendriya and Rupa Jivitendriya.

Finally, the last mental factor of the Universals is Manasikara (Attention) whose function is to direct the attention towards the object and it directs the mind towards the object like a rudder of a ship that directs to its destination. In addition, it helps to get a good grasp of the object.


The next set of mental factors known as the Particulars or Occasional out of the Annasamana Chetasikas; Pakinnakas in Pali are common to all types of Citta but, are not always present like the Universals. Here, Vitakka or initial application of the object has the function similar to lifting the mind and other mental factors to the object like a bee flying to a flower. The next mental factor, Vichara or Sustained application of the mind on an object maintains attention, grasp something and examines it at leisure like a bee going round a flower, Adhimiokka helps to make a firm decision on the object like a pole stuck firmly to the ground so that no wind can sway or uproot it while the decision can be right or wrong and according to the decision taken it gives vipaka which can be kusala vipaka or akusala vipaka. Viriya or mental effort’s function is to support and give energy to other mental factors to achieve a desired target. It helps us to overcome idleness or laziness when meditating and is actually a controlling factor which is termed as Samma Viriya (right Effort) in the Noble Eight Fold Path. Piti is joy orzest and is a pleasurable interest on an object.

If I elaborate more on it let me take this example where a person going on a trip in a lonely area on a very sunny day becomes very thirsty and as it’s a desert he finds no water but after putting a great effort to walk a few more miles, finally he sees a pond with clear blue water and he becomes thrilled with joy even though he hasn’t taken even a sip of water so Piti is similar to that experience.

Furthermore, it’s a Jhana factor which when fully developed suppresses the Hindrance of Ill-will or Aversion (Vyapada) and it’s also the joy one would experience when attaining stages of Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami or Arahat. Finally, the last mental factor that belongs to the category of Particulars is Chanda or the wish to do or achieve something. It could be one’s wish to realise the ultimate truth Nibbana by extinguishing lobha, dosa and moha.

To be Continued Part 02

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