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aniyata (T. gzhan ’gyur; C. buding 不定) is translated as "undetermined," "indeterminate," etc. This term can refer to:

Indeterminate mental factors

Sanskrit tradition

In the abhidharma of the Sanskrit tradition, “indeterminate” refers to "mental factors that, depending on the intention of the agent, may be virtuous, nonvirtuous, or neutral."[1]

The number of indeterminate factors varies in the major texts of the Sanskrit tradition.[1]

With regards to the eight indeterminant factors of the Abhidharma-kosa, the Ornament of Abhidharma states:

Question: In what way are they indeterminate?
Reply: {They are indeterminate with respect to the first four divisions since, respectively,} they are not universal mental states because they don’t occur in the retinue of all minds; they are not virtuous mental states because they don’t occur in the retinue of all virtuous minds; they are not afflicted mental states because they definitely do not occur in the retinue of all afflicted minds; and they are also not nonvirtuous mental states because they do not exist in the retinue of all nonvirtuous minds. Further, they are not specific-afflicted mental states {and the reason why they are not posited as specific-afflicted mental states is} because they are not solely (a) concomitant with ignorance alone, (b) objects to be abandoned by the path of meditation alone, or (c) concomitant with the mental faculty alone.
That is because (1) investigation and (2) analysis are not those three; (3) regret is not the first; (4) sleep is not the first two {since it is abandoned by both}; (5) attachment and (6) aversion {are not certain to be} the final two; (7) pride is not the second {since it is abandoned by both}; and (8) doubt is not the second {since it is abandoned by seeing}.[2]

Pali tradition

In the abhidharma of the Pali tradition, a similar category is mental factors is referred to as ethically variable (aññāsamāna cetasika).

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

The ethically variable factors (aññāsamānacetasika): The first two categories of mental factors—the seven universals and the six occasionals—are united under the designation aññasamāna, freely rendered here as “ethically variable.” The expression literally means “common to the other.” The non-beautiful cittas are called “other” (añña) in relation to the beautiful cittas, and the beautiful cittas are called “other” in relation to the non-beautiful cittas. The thirteen cetasikas of the first two categories are common (samāna) to both beautiful and non-beautiful cittas, and assume the ethical quality imparted to the citta by the other cetasikas, particularly the associated roots (hetu). In wholesome cittas they become wholesome, in unwholesome cittas they become unwholesome, and in kammically indeterminate cittas they become kammically indeterminate. For this reason they are called “common to the other,” that is, ethically variable.[3]

Indeterminate offenses in the Vinaya

In the vinaya, “undetermined” refers to "a category of ecclesiastical offenses of “uncertain” gravity, which therefore must be evaluated by the SAṂGHA in order to make a determination."[1]

Aniyata offenses always concern the conduct of a monk toward a woman.[1] These offensives distinguish between conduct with a woman in (1) a private situation or (2) a semiprivate situation.[1] "For the monk, even to place himself in such a potentially compromising situation is an offense, since it can arouse suspicion among the laity about the monk’s intentions."[1]

Indeterminate karma

According to the Vaibhāṣika school, there are some karmic actions that may or may not lead to karmic retribution. These are indeterminate (aniyata) karmas which are contrasted with determinate (niyata) karmas, i.e. those that necessarily cause retribution (whether in this life, in the next or in some further life).

See: Vaibhāṣika#Karmic_retribution


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. aniyata.
  2. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, Aniyata.
  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, Chapter 2. Compendium of Mental Factors.


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