Mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika; Pali: cetasika; Tibetan Wylie: sems byung), are defined within the Abhidharma texts as aspects of the mind that apprehend the quality of an object, and that have the ability to color the mind. Within the Abhidharma, the mental factors are categorized as formations (Sanskrit: saṅkhāra) concurrent with mind (Sanskrit: citta). Alternate translations for mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika) include "mental states", "mental events", and "concomitants of consciousness".
|Sanskrit||caitasika, caitika, caitta|
|Chinese||心所 (T) / 心所 (S)
心所法 (T) / 心所法 (S)
(RR: simso, simsobeob,
(Wylie: sems byung;
Mental factors are aspects of the mind that apprehend the quality of an object and have the ability to color the mind. Geshe Tashi Tsering explains:
- The Tibetan for mental factors, semlay jungwa chö (Skt. chaitasika dharma), means phenomena arising from the mind, suggesting that the mental factors are not primary to the mind but arise within a larger framework. A mental factor, again, is defined as the aspect of the mind that apprehends a particular quality of an object. Because it is characterized by the qualities of activity and non-neutrality, it has the ability to color the mind in dependence on the way it manifests. Hence, a feeling of desire from seeing what is conceived as a beautiful object affects the other mental factors that are present at that time, and this colors the whole mind.
The relationship between the main mind (Sanskrit: citta) and the mental factors can be described by the following metaphors:
- The main mind is like the screen in a cinema, and the mental factors are like the images projected on the screen. In this analogy, we typically do not notice the screen because we are so caught up on the images.
- The main mind is like a king who sits passively on a throne, and the mental factors are like the king's busy ministers.
Traleg Rinpoche states that the main distinction between the mind and mental factors is that the mind apprehends an object as a whole, whereas mental factors apprehend an object in its particulars.[lower-alpha 1]
Lists of mental factors
Within Buddhism, there are many different systems of abhidharma (commonly referred to as Buddhist psychology), and each system contains its own list of the most significant mental factors.[lower-alpha 2][lower-alpha 3] These lists vary from system to system both in the number of mental factors listed, and in the definitions that are given for each mental factor. These lists are not considered to be exhaustive; rather they present significant categories and mental factors that are useful to study in order to understand how the mind functions.[lower-alpha 4]
Some of the main commentaries on the Abhidharma systems that are studied today include:
- Abhidhammattha-sangaha by Acariya Anuruddha - a Theravada commentary that lists fifty-two mental factors.
- Atthasālinī by Buddhaghosa - a Theravada commentary that provides explanations for fifty-two mental factors
- Abhidharma-kosha by Vasubandhu - a Sarvastivada commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists forty-six mental factors.
- Abhidharma-samuccaya by Asanga - a Yogachara commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists fifty-one mental factors.
- Innermost Core of Topics of Knowledge (mDzod-phug) by Shenrab Miwo - a Tibetan Bon commentary that lists fifty-one factors.
Theravada Abhidharma tradition
|Editor's note: This topic is the subject of an in-depth discussion between scholar Rupert Gethin and the 14th Dalai Lama and others. See #Videos.|
Note that this list is not exhaustive; there are other mental factors mentioned in the Theravada teachings. This list identifies fifty-two important factors that help to understand how the mind functions.
Seven universal mental factors
The seven universal mental factors (sabbacittasādhāraṇa cetasikas) are common (sādhāraṇa) to all consciousness (sabbacitta). Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "These factors perform the most rudimentary and essential cognitive functions, without which consciousness of an object would be utterly impossible."
These seven factors are:
- Phassa - contact
- Vedanā - feeling
- Saññā - perception
- Cetanā - volition
- Ekaggata - one-pointedness
- Jīvitindriya - life faculty
- Manasikāra - attention
Six occasional mental factors
The six occasional or particular mental factors (pakiṇṇaka cetasikas) are ethically variable mental factors found only in certain consciousnesses. They are:
- Vitakka - Application of thought
- Vicāra - Examining
- Adhimokkha - Decision
- Viriya - Energy
- Pīti - Rapture
- Chanda - Desire (to act)
Fourteen unwholesome mental factors
The unwholesome mental factors (akusala cetasikas) accompany the unwholesome consciousnesses (akusala citta).
Bhikkhu Bodhi states:
- Unwholesome consciousness (akusalacitta) is consciousness accompanied by one or another of the three unwholesome roots—greed, hatred, and delusion. Such consciousness is called unwholesome because it is mentally unhealthy, morally blameworthy, and productive of painful results.
The fourteen unwholesome mental factors are:
- Four universal unwholesome mental factors (akusalasādhāraṇa):
- Three mental factors of the greed-group (lobha):
- Four mental factors of the hatred-group (dosa)
- Other unwholesome mental factors
Twenty-five beautiful mental factors
The beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) accompany the wholesome consciousnesses (kusala citta).
Bhikkhu Bodhi states:
- Wholesome consciousness (kusalacitta) is consciousness accompanied by the wholesome roots—non-greed or generosity, non-hatred or loving-kindness, and non-delusion or wisdom. Such consciousness is mentally healthy, morally blameless, and productive of pleasant results.
The twenty-five beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) are listed below.
Nineteen universal beautiful mental factors
There are nineteen universal beautiful mental factors (sobhanasādhāraṇa):
- Saddhā - faith
- Sati - mindfulness
- Hiri - shame at doing evil
- Ottappa - regard for consequence
- Alobha - lack of greed
- Adosa - lack of hatred
- Tatramajjhattatā - balance, neutrality of mind
The following factors are grouped into six pairs:[lower-alpha 6]
Three Abstinences (virati):
Two Immeasurables (appamañña):
One Faculty of wisdom
One Faculty of wisdom (paññindriya):
- Paññā - wisdom
Mahayana Abhidharma tradition
Within the Mahayana tradition, Abhidharma-samuccaya is considered one of the key texts on the Abhidharma. This text is very influentional within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The Abhidharma-samuccaya identifies fifty-one mental factors (described below).
Five universal mental factors
The five universal mental factors (sarvatraga) are:
- Sparśa - contact, contacting awareness, sense impression, touch
- Vedanā - feeling, sensation
- Saṃjñā - perception
- Cetanā - volition, intention
- Manasikara - attention
These five mental factors are referred to as universal or omnipresent because they operate in the wake of every mind situation. If any one of these factors is missing, then the experience of the object is incomplete. For example:
- If there is no sparśa (contact), then there would be no basis for perception.
- If there is no vedana (feeling, sensation), there is no relishing of the object.
- If there is no saṃjñā (perception), then the specific characteristic of the object is not perceived.
- If there is no cetanā (volition), then there is no movement towards and settling on the object.
- If there is no manasikara (attention), then there is not holding onto the object.
Five object-determining mental factors
The five object-determining mental factors (viṣayaniyata) are:
- Chanda - desire (to act), intention, interest
- Adhimoksha - decision, interest, firm conviction
- Smṛti - mindfulness
- Prajñā - wisdom
- Samādhi - concentration
These five factors are referred to as object-determining is because these factors each grasp the specification of the object. When they are steady, there is certainty concerning each object.
Eleven virtuous mental factors
The eleven virtuous (kuśala) mental factors are:
- Sraddhā - faith
- Hrī - self-respect, conscientiousness, sense of shame
- Apatrāpya - decorum, regard for consequence
- Alobha - non-attachment
- Adveṣa - non-aggression, equanimity, lack of hatred
- Amoha - non-bewilderment
- Vīrya - diligence, effort
- Praśrabdhi - pliancy
- Apramāda - conscientiousness
- Upekṣa - equanimity
- Ahiṃsā - nonharmfulness
Six root unwholesome factors
The six root unwholesome factors (mūlakleśa) are:
- Raga - attachment
- Pratigha - anger
- Avidya - ignorance
- Māna - pride, conceit
- Vicikitsa - doubt
- Dristi - wrong view
Twenty secondary unwholesome factors
The twenty secondary unwholesome factors (upakleśa) are:
- Krodha - rage, fury
- Upanāha - resentment
- Mrakśa - concealment, slyness-concealment
- Pradāśa - spitefulness
- Irshya - envy, jealousy
- Mātsarya - stinginess, avarice, miserliness
- Māyā - pretense, deceit
- Śāṭhya - hypocrisy, dishonesty
- Mada - self-infatuation, mental inflation, self-satisfaction
- Vihiṃsā - malice, hostility, cruelty, intention to harm
- Āhrīkya - lack of shame, lack of conscience, shamelessness
- Anapatrāpya - lack of propriety, disregard, shamelessness
- Styāna - lethargy, gloominess
- Auddhatya - excitement, ebullience
- Āśraddhya - lack of faith, lack of trust
- Kausīdya - laziness, slothfulness
- Pramāda - heedlessness, carelessness, unconcern
- Muṣitasmṛtitā - forgetfulness
- Asaṃprajanya - non-alertness, inattentiveness
- Vikṣepa - distraction, desultoriness
Four changeable mental factors
The four changeable mental factors (aniyata) are:
Alternate translations for the term mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika) include:
- Mental factors (Geshe Tashi Tsering, Jeffrey Hopkins, Bhikkhu Bodhi, N.K.G. Mendis)
- Mental functions (Thubten Gyatso)
- Mental events (Herbert Guenther)
- Mental states (Erik Pema Kunzang, Nārada Thera)
- Concomitants (N.K.G. Mendis)
- Concomitants of consciousness (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
- Subsidiary awareness (Alexander Berzin)
- Traleg Rinpoche states: "The fundamental distinction made in Yogacara philosophy between the mind and mental events is that the mind apprehends an object as a whole, whereas mental events apprehend an object in its particulars. If we perceive a table, then the perception of the table itself would be related to the mind, whereas the particular characteristics of that table would be the object of perception for the mental events. First, we have an immediate perception of the table. After that, we have certain feeling-tones, certain judgments, involved with that particular perception. Those things are related to the mental events. The immediate perception is the only thing related to the mind. That seems to be the major distinction between the mind and the mental events."
- Alexander Berzin states: "There are many different systems of abhidharma (chos-mngon-pa, topics of knowledge), each with its individual count and list of subsidiary awarenesses. Often, the definitions of the awarenesses they assert in common differ as well."
- Bikkhu Bodhi states: "A second distinguishing feature of the Abhidhamma is the dissection of the apparently continuous stream of consciousness into a succession of discrete evanescent cognitive events called cittas, each a complex unity involving consciousness itself, as the basic awareness of an object, and a constellation of mental factors (cetasika) exercising more specialized tasks in the act of cognition. Such a view of consciousness, at least in outline, can readily be derived from the Sutta Pitaka's analysis of experience into the five aggregates, among which the four mental aggregates are always inseparably conjoined, but the conception remains there merely suggestive. In the Abhidhamma Pitaka the suggestion is not simply picked up, but is expanded into an extraordinarily detailed and coherent picture of the functioning of consciousness both in its microscopic immediacy and in its extended continuity from life to life."
- The lists of mental factors are not considered to be exhaustive. For example:
- The Dalai Lama states: “Whether the system includes fifty-one mental factors or more or less, none of those sets is meant to be all-inclusive, as though nothing is left out. They are only suggestive, indicative of some things that are important.”
- Alexander Berzin states: "These lists of subsidiary awarenesses are not exhaustive. There are many more than just fifty-one. Many good qualities (yon-tan) cultivated on the Buddhist path are not listed separately – for example, generosity (sbyin-pa), ethical discipline (tshul-khrims), patience (bzod-pa), love (byams-pa), and compassion (snying-rje). According to the Gelug presentation, the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes) – mirror-like, equalizing, individualizing, accomplishing, and sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu) – are also subsidiary awarenesses. The various lists are just of certain significant categories of subsidiary awarenesses."
- These fifty-two mental states are enumerated and defined in chapter 2 of the Abhidhammattha-sangaha. See:
- Regarding the pairs, Rupert Gethin states: "It seems to be saying it feels good" to be in a wholesome state of mind (video discussion with the 14th Dalai Lama)
- Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 321.
- Kunsang (2004), p. 23.
- Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Location 456.
- Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Locations 564-568.
- Traleg Rinpoche (1993). p. 59
- Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors by Alexander Berzin (see section "Count of the Mental Factors")
- A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma
- Goleman 2008, Kindle Locations 3628-3631.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 2140-2142.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 2232-2234.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 1320-1324.
- Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 409-414.
- Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 487-488.
- Berzin, Alexander (2006). Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors. Study Buddhism.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi (1995-1012). A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma. Buddhist Publication Society.
- Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006). Buddhist Psychology: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
- Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Bantam. Kindle Edition.
- Guenther, Herbert V. & Leslie S. Kawamura (1975), Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Necklace of Clear Understanding". Dharma Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Kunsang, Erik Pema (translator) (2004). Gateway to Knowledge, Vol. 1. North Atlantic Books.
- Nārada Thera. Abhidhammattha-sangaha
- Traleg Rinpoche (1993). The Abhidharmasamuccaya: Teachings by the Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche. The Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist Institute.
Mahayana mental factors:
- Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors, StudyBuddhism
- Working with Mental Factors in Daily Life, StudyBuddhism
- Series on Mind and Mental Factors by Venerable Thubten Chodron
- Rigpa wiki entry for mental factors
- Ranjung Yeshe wiki entry for sems byung
Theravada mental factors:
- Introducing the Buddhist Abhidharma, Appendix 2 - Cetasika by U KYAW MIN
- The Abhidhamma in Practice, by N.K.G. Mendis
Search for videos:
- Search YouTube for: Mental factors Buddhism
- Abhidhamma Concept of Attention - Rupert Gethin
- Description: A comprehensive presentation of the Theravada concept of 'Mental States' and the 'Thought Process' given at the Mind and Life seminar organized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The discussion becomes interesting with the practical inquiries and contrasting views of the other Abhidharma traditions posed by His Holiness.
- Rupert Gethin - a lecture on Abhidharma
- Description: A lecture by Professor Rupert Gethin: "Mapping the Buddha's Mind – Reflections on the Abhidharma and the Classification of Mental States". This lecture was given at the Hebrew University during Gethin's visit in Israel, in May 2014, for the launch of the Hebrew edition of his book: The Foundations of Buddhism.
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