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kuśala (P. kusala; T. dge ba; C. shan 善) is translated as “wholesome,” “virtuous,” “salutary,” “meritorious,” "skillful," etc. This term is used to refer to actions of body, speech and mind that result in greater happiness and favorable rebirths.[1][2]

The Berzin Glossary states:

States of mind, or physical, verbal, or mental actions motivated by them, which ripen into happiness to be experienced by the person on whose mental continuum they occur.[2]

The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening states:

"Wholesomeness" is defined in the Buddhist traditions as that which truly moves us away from tendencies toward suffering. That’s the concise way it’s defined. Wholesome means truly moving along on the path to cessation of suffering. Wholesome means that which, when cultivated, moves us out of a narrow way of being and suffering and along the path toward full and complete enlightenment. That’s the sole criterion of judging, and only secondarily does it have something to do with social norms and standards.[3]

The Princeton Dictionary states:

Kuśala is the primary term used to identify salutary deeds of body, speech, and mind (often enumerated as ten) that result in favorable rebirths. A “wholesome” action generally refers to any volition (cetanā) or volitional action, along with the consciousness (vijñāna) and mental constructions (saṃskāra) associated with it, that is not motivated by the afflictions (kleśa) of greed (lobha), hatred (dveṣa; P. dosa), or delusion (moha). Such volitional actions produce fortunate results for the actor and ultimately are the cause of the favorable rebirths in the destinies (gati) of humans and divinities (deva).[1]

Peter Harvey states:

In Buddhism, ... a ‘good’ action is generally referred to as kusala (Skt kuśala): informed by wisdom and thus ‘skilful’ in producing an uplifting mental state in the doer, or ‘wholesome’ in that it involves a healthy state of mind (Cousins, 1996b; Harvey, 2000: 42–3; 2011). A ‘bad’ action is akusala: ‘unskilful/unwholesome’. Key criteria for an action being ‘unskilful’ are its being conducive to the harm of oneself, of others, or of both (M.I.415–16), and its being ‘destructive of intuitive wisdom, associated with distress, not conducive to Nirvana (M.I.115). Correspondingly, a ‘skilful’ action does not conduce to any such harm, but does conduce to the growth of wholesome states of mind (M.II.114).[4]

Buddhists typically identify:

Wholesome (kuśala) courses of action

Buddhists typically enumerate a list of ten "wholesome courses of action" (akuśalakarmapatha). These are:

Wholesome (kuśala) mental factors

Buddhists identify varying lists of wholesome mental factors. For example, a common list of three root wholesome factors is:

  1. Alobha - non-attachment
  2. Adveṣa - non-aggression, equanimity, lack of hatred
  3. Amoha - non-bewilderment


The 84000 Glossary states:

The term kuśala can function both as a qualifier or as a noun in its own right, which makes it difficult to resort to a single translation (I have resorted to “virtue” and “virtuous”). It refers to something beneficial or virtuous and is sometimes etymologized as something that keeps badness in check (kutsitaṁ śalate); when the sense of kuśala is more akin to “skillful” or even “virtuoso,” the etymology is that it is “someone who can cut the kuśa grass” (kuśān lāti), a type of grass that is very sharp and thus requires remarkable skill to cut it without being cut in turn.[2]

Bhikkhu Thich Nhat-Tu states:

Kusala and akusala, a pair of terms coined by the Buddha, are the primary terms to evaluate human behavior and morality. Literally, kusala can be differently rendered as skilful, intelligent, expert; good, right, virtuous, meritorious, beneficial; lucky, happy, healthy and prosperous, as the context demands. Akusala can, therefore, be translated into English as the opposite qualities from kusala such as unskillful, bad and so on. Like the concept of dhamma, no single English word can convey or render exactly what kusala denotes. According to Keown, it is very common for kusala to be rendered as ‘skilful,’ but it should be recognized that this translation carries with it a specific implication for the nature of Buddhist ethics, namely that it is utilitarian. Even then, he warned us, it is a poor translation on aesthetic grounds, and we may note that utilitarian philosophers retain the traditional moral terminology of ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ right,’ and ‘wrong.’ [Keown (1992): 119]. Payutto appears to be inclined to favor the rendering of kusala as ‘skilful,’ when he, in his Good, Evil and Beyond Kamma in the Buddha’s Teachings, translated some scriptural passages from Dhammapada, Anguttaranikaaya, Itivuttaka, Udaana and Saṁyuttanikāya [Payutto (1993): 30-3] although some fourteen pages earlier, he rendered it as ‘intelligent, skilful, content, beneficial, good,’ and ‘that which removes affliction.’ [Payutto (1993): 18]. There is problem with using ‘skilful’ as a translation of kusala , that is the English word ‘skilful’ does not extend in English to both moral and technical commendation as the word kusala does in its Pali, as Keown has been rightly pointed out that: ‘Skilful’ denotes approval in the technical sense only and does not figure at all in the vocabulary of moral discourse in English. No-one word describe a simple act of generosity as a ‘skilful deed,’ and who has ever heard of a boy scout doing his ‘skilful deed for the day?’ Instead, one naturally speaks of ‘good’ or ‘virtuous’ deeds. While ‘skilful’ may be a perfectly correct translation of kusala when the term appears in a technical context (for instance, a skilful artisan), it is forced and awkward in a moral one. In English the natural way of describing the moral state of an Arahat is as ‘endowed with virtues’ ( sampannakusala ) and of the ‘highest virtue’ or of the ‘highest skill,’ on the other hand, is an attribute of a master-craftsman, not a saint [Keown (1992): 119-20]. However, it may also be misleading to translate kusala and akusala into English simply as good and evil respectively, although both can convey approbation or commendation and disapprobation or condemnation, respectively in both moral and technical sense. In some certain context, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ can be the best candidates of translations of the Pali kusala and akusala. For instance, “we use the word ‘good’ in English when we speak of ‘good deed’ or ‘good man,’ implying moral approval; and we use the same word to denote technical approval, for instance, when we speak of a ‘good dentist’ or a ‘good plumber.’ Kusala enjoys the same elasticity of meaning as the word ‘good’ in that it can denote either moral goodness or technical excellence according to the context” [Keown (1992): 119].
[...] From the Buddhist point of view, there are things of kusala nature, which may not always be considered good, while something of akusala not always be evil. Depression, melancholy, sloth and distraction, for example, although akusala , are not usually considered to be ‘evil’ as we know it in English. In the same vein, some forms of kusala , such as calmness of body and mind, may not readily come into the general understanding of the English word ‘good.’ Thus kusala and akusala and ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are not necessary the same things [see Payutto (1993): 17ff].
In the hope of avoiding confusion, both the word kusala and akusala may be rendered differently in various contexts. It should be, however, noted here that the distinction should be made between the ‘descriptive’ and the ‘moral’ meaning of both the term kusala and akusala. In the case of kusala, the former refers to conduct or mentality that is morally good or right, whereas the latter, generally, it means anything that causes happiness ( sukha ) or bliss ( nibbaana ) or conductive to final good or partake of nibbaana . In the case of akusala there can be also of ‘descriptive’ meaning and ‘moral’ meaning. In descriptive meaning, it conveys the factual judgement that something is bad, harmful and unhappy. As an ethical term, akusala sorts with a family of such terms, for instance, ‘immoral,’ morally ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘unskilful,’ ‘unhealthy,’ ‘sinful,’ and so on.[5]

Five aspects of kusala

Bhikkhu Thich Nhat-Tu states:

Buddhaghosa in his commentaries ... gave a fivefold connotation of kusala, namely,
(i) free of illness or health ( aarogya ),
(ii) unstained, clean and clear ( anavajja ),
(iii) based on wisdom or intelligence ( kosala-sambhuuta ),
(iv) freedom from bondage ( niddaratha ), and
(v) conductive happiness or well-being ( sukha-vipaaka ).
This implies that being well trained in kusala, the mind is freed from moral diseases or imperfection. It is clean and unstained by all moral corruption and having wisdom or intelligence as its base. Such qualities are totally free from distress and intrinsically conductive to welfare and happiness in this very life. Akusala characterizes whatever is negative in this regard. That is to say, it is a state or quality of mind, which is unhealthy, harmful, having ignorance as its root and resulting in suffering here and hereafter. In brief, kusala can be defined as those qualities, which lead the mind to generate and promote both in morally good quality and efficiency, leading to the attainment of nibbaana . Akusalaa, as the contrary to kusala , are those qualities or states of mind, which are against nibbanically oriented-goal and leading to regression in the samsaric cycle.[5]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. kuśala.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Internet-icon.svg དགེ་བ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  3. Goodman 2020, Chapter 12.
  4. Harvey 2013, Chapter 2.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thich Nhat-Tu.