Mental factors

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Mental factors (Skt: caitasika or caitta; P. cetasika; T. sems byung སེམས་བྱུང་; C. xinsuo; J. shinjo; K. simso 心所), are defined within the Abhidharma 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).[1][2][3] Alternate translations for mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika) include "mental states", "mental events", and "concomitants of consciousness".

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics states:

Why do Buddhist texts present taxonomies of the mental factors as well as detailed analyses of individual mental factors in terms of their definitions, their functions, and their internal causal relationships? In general our external behavior of body and speech flows primarily from the motivating forces operating within our minds; and our minds, in their turn, follow principally from the activity of their concomitant mental factors. It therefore becomes extremely important for those of us who wish to transform our minds to have some understanding, even in terms of a rough outline, of the definitions of the most significant mental factors and their functions. It is with this recognition that extensive explanations of the mental factors are presented in the Buddhist texts.[4]


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 sates:

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.[3]

Regarding the relationship between the mind and the mental factors, Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

The mind in Buddhism is often divided into two categories. The first is basic consciousness, or awareness, which just means our baseline capacity for subjective experience. This basic awareness is sometimes referred to as “mind.” The mind, however, undergoes constantly shifting mindstates, and these mental events are further divided into main “minds” and their associated “mental factors.”[5]

The relationship between the main minds (Sanskrit: pradhānacitta) and the mental factors is 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.[3]

Lists of mental factors

Within Buddhism, there are many different systems of abhidharma, and each system contains its own list of the most significant mental factors.[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] 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 3]

Each of the following commentaries includes a unique list of the most significant mental factors:[6]

Fifty-two mental factors of the Abhidhammattha-sangaha


Within the Pali tradition, the Abhidhammattha-sangaha lists the fifty-two mental factors, which are classified into four broad categories:[9][10][11]

  1. seven universals;
  2. six occasionals;
  3. fourteen unwholesome factors; and
  4. twenty-five beautiful factors.

The first two groups above, the seven universals and the six occasionals, are defined as "ethically variable" factors that can be present in wholesome or unwholesome states of mind.[9]

Ethically variable factors

The ethically variable factors (aññāsamānacetasika) can be present along with other unwholesome or unwholesome ("beautiful") factors. They assume the ethical quality imparted to the mind by the other mental factors.[9]

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

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.[9]

Seven universal mental factors

The seven universal mental factors (sabbacittasādhāraṇa cetasikas) are common (sādhāraṇa) to all consciousness (sabbacitta). "These factors perform the most rudimentary and essential cognitive functions, without which consciousness of an object would be utterly impossible."[9]

These seven factors are:

Six occasional mental factors

The six occasional or particular mental factors (pakiṇṇaka cetasikas) are ethically variable mental factors found only in certain consciousnesses.[9] They are:

Fourteen unwholesome mental factors

The unwholesome mental factors (akusala cetasikas) accompany the unwholesome consciousnesses (akusala citta).

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma 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.[9]

The fourteen unwholesome mental factors are:

Twenty-five beautiful mental factors

The beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) accompany the wholesome consciousnesses (kusala citta).

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma 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.[9]

The twenty-five beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) are listed below.

Nineteen universal beautiful mental factors

There are nineteen universal beautiful mental factors (sobhanasādhāraṇa):

The following factors are grouped into six pairs:[lower-alpha 4]

Three Abstinences

Three Abstinences (virati):

Two Immeasurables

Two Immeasurables (appamañña):

One Faculty of wisdom

One Faculty of wisdom (paññindriya):

Fifty-one mental factors of the Abhidharma-samuccaya

The Abhidharma-samuccaya identifies fifty-one mental factors (described below). These same fifty-one factors are enumerated in the Yogacarabhumi-sastra and the Pañcaskandhaprakaraṇa.[12]

Five universal mental factors

The five universal mental factors (sarvatraga) are:

  1. Sparśa - contact, contacting awareness, sense impression, touch
  2. Vedanā - feeling, sensation
  3. Saṃjñā - perception
  4. Cetanā - volition, intention
  5. Manaskara - 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.[13]

Five object-determining mental factors

The five object-determining mental factors (viṣayaniyata) are:

  1. Chanda - desire (to act), intention, interest
  2. Adhimoksha - decision, interest, firm conviction
  3. Smṛti - mindfulness
  4. Prajñā - discernment, discriminating intellect
  5. Samādhi - concentration

These five factors are referred to as object-determining because they each grasp the specification of the object. When they are steady, there is certainty concerning each object.[14]

Eleven virtuous mental factors

The eleven virtuous (kuśala) mental factors are:

  1. Sraddhā - faith, confidence, trust
  2. Hrī - self-respect, conscientiousness, sense of shame
  3. Apatrāpya - decorum, regard for consequence
  4. Alobha - non-attachment
  5. Adveṣa - non-aggression, equanimity, lack of hatred
  6. Amoha - non-bewilderment
  7. Vīrya - diligence, effort
  8. Praśrabdhi - pliancy
  9. Apramāda - conscientiousness
  10. Upekṣā - equanimity
  11. Avihiṃsā - nonharmfulness

Six root unwholesome factors

The six root unwholesome factors (mūlakleśa) are:

  1. Raga - attachment
  2. Pratigha - anger
  3. Avidya - ignorance (or mūḍhi, stupidity; see Lusthaus)
  4. Māna - pride, conceit
  5. Vicikitsa - doubt
  6. Dristi - wrong view

Twenty secondary unwholesome factors

The twenty secondary unwholesome factors (upakleśa) are:

  1. Krodha - rage, fury
  2. Upanāha - resentment
  3. Mrakśa - concealment, slyness-concealment
  4. Pradāśa - spitefulness
  5. Irshya - envy, jealousy
  6. Mātsarya - stinginess, avarice, miserliness
  7. Māyā - pretense, deceit
  8. Śāṭhya - hypocrisy, dishonesty
  9. Mada - self-infatuation, mental inflation, self-satisfaction
  10. Vihiṃsā - malice, hostility, cruelty, intention to harm
  11. Āhrīkya - lack of shame, lack of conscience, shamelessness
  12. Anapatrāpya - lack of propriety, disregard, shamelessness
  13. Styāna - lethargy, gloominess
  14. Auddhatya - excitement, ebullience
  15. Āśraddhya - lack of faith, lack of trust
  16. Kausīdya - laziness, slothfulness
  17. Pramāda - heedlessness, carelessness, unconcern
  18. Muṣitasmṛtitā - forgetfulness
  19. Asaṃprajanya - non-alertness, inattentiveness
  20. Vikṣepa - distraction, desultoriness

Four indeterminate mental factors

The four indeterminate (aniyata) mental factors are:

  1. Kaukṛitya - regret, worry,
  2. Middha - sleep, drowsiness
  3. Vitarka - conception, selectiveness, examination
  4. Vicāra - discernment, discursiveness, analysis

These factors are also referred to as "changeable" or "variable" mental factors.[15][16]

Fourty-six factors of the Abhidharma-kosa

The Abhidharma-kosha (AK) of the Sarvastivada school identifies 46 mental factors:[lower-alpha 5]

Ten omnipresent mental factors (AK)

The ten omnipresent mental factors (mahā-bhūmika) are common to all consciousness.

  1. Vedanā - feeling
  2. Samjna - perception
  3. Cetana - volition
  4. Sparsa - contact
  5. Chanda - desire (to act)
  6. Prajñā (or Mati) - discernment, discriminating intellect[lower-alpha 6]
  7. Smṛti - mindfulness
  8. Manaskara - attention
  9. Adhimoksha - decision
  10. Samadhi - mental concentration.

Ten omnipresent wholesome factors (AK)

The ten omnipresent wholesome factors (kuśala-mahā-bhūmikā) accompany the wholesome consciousnesses (kusala citta).

  1. Śraddhā - faith, confidence, trust
  2. Vīrya - energy
  3. Upekṣā - equanimty
  4. Hrī - shame at doing evil
  5. Apatrāpya - decorum, regard for consequence
  6. Alobha - non-attachment
  7. Adveṣa - non-aggression
  8. Ahiṃsā - non-harming
  9. Praśrabdhi - calmness
  10. Apramāda - conscientiousness

Six omnipresent afflicted factors (AK)

These six general functions of defilement (kleśa-mahā-bhūmika):

  1. Moha - delusion
  2. Pramāda - heedlessness, carelessness, unconcern
  3. Kausīdya - laziness, slothfulness
  4. Āśraddhya - lack of faith, lack of trust
  5. Styāna - lethargy, gloominess
  6. Auddhatya - excitement, ebullience

Two major omnipresent unwholesome factors (AK)

These two general functions of evil (akusala-mahā-bhūmika):

  1. Āhrīkya - lack of shame, lack of conscience, shamelessness
  2. Anapatrāpya - lack of propriety, disregard, shamelessness

Ten minor afflicted factors of wide extent (AK)

Ten minor functions of defilement (upaklesha-bhūmika):

  1. Krodha - rage, fury
  2. Mrakśa - concealment, slyness-concealment
  3. Mātsarya - stinginess, avarice, miserliness
  4. Irshya - envy, jealousy
  5. Pradāśa - spitefulness
  6. Vihiṃsā - malice, hostility, cruelty, intention to harm
  7. Upanāha - resentment
  8. Māyā - pretense, deceit
  9. Śāṭhya - hypocrisy, dishonesty
  10. Mada - self-infatuation, mental inflation, self-satisfaction

Eight indeterminate mental factors (AK)

The indeterminate (aniyata) mental factors are:

  1. Kaukṛitya - regret, worry,
  2. Middha - sleep, drowsiness
  3. Vitarka - conception, selectiveness, examination
  4. Vicāra - discernment, discursiveness, analysis
  5. Raga - attachment
  6. Pratigha - anger
  7. Māna - pride, conceit
  8. Vicikitsa - doubt

Alternate translations of caitasika

Alternate translations for the term mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika; Pali: cetasika) 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)

See also


Search for videos:

Selected videos:

  • 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.


  1. 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."[6]
  2. 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."[7]
  3. 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.”[8]
    • 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."[6]
  4. 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)
  5. The Abhidharma-kosha is based on an earlier text, the Mahavibhasa, which is said to also identify 46 factors.
  6. The Abhidharmakośa-bhāshya states: “Prajñā, which the Karika designates under the name of mati, is discernment of the dharmas.”; see Vasubhandu (1991), p. 190


  1. Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Mental events.
  2. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Chapter 1: Aggregates, section "Formations".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Geshe Tashi Tsering 2006, s.v. Chapter 2: Main minds and mental factors.
  4. Thupten Jinpa 2020, s.v. Part 2: Mental Factors, section 14.
  5. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2006, s.v. Chapter 1: Mind in Buddhism.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors by Alexander Berzin (see section "Count of the Mental Factors")
  7. A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma
  8. Goleman 2008, Kindle Locations 3628-3631.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, Chapter 2. Compendium of Mental Factors.
  10. Nārada Thera (translator), Abhidhammattha-sangaha,
  11. Access to insight icon 50px.png N.K.G. Mendis (2006), The Abhidhamma in Practice: The Cetasikas, Access to Insight
  12. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, Part 2. Mental Factors.
  13. Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. The Five Omnipresent Mental Events.
  14. Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. The Five Object-determining Mental Events.
  15. Internet-icon.svg གཞན་འགྱུར་བཞི་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  16. Internet-icon.svg གཞན་འགྱུར་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary


External links

Sanskrit tradition:

Pali tradition - mental factors:

Pali tradition - Abhidharma:

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