Comment on page

The Characteristic of Dosa

When we are angry with other people we harm ourselves by our anger. The Buddha pointed out the adverse effects of anger (dosa). We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Sevens, chapter VI, paragraph 10, Anger) about the ills a rival wishes his rival to have and which are actually the ills coming upon an angry woman or man. The sutta states:
...Monks, there is the case of a rival, who wishes thus of a rival: “Would that he were ugly!” And why? A rival, monks, does not like a handsome rival. Monks, this sort of person, being angry, is overwhelmed by anger; he is subverted by anger: and however well he be bathed, anointed, trimmed as to the hair and beard, clad in spotless linen; yet for all that he is ugly, being overwhelmed by anger. Monks, this is the first condition, fostered by rivals, causing rivals, which comes upon an angry woman or man.
Again, there is the case of a rival, who wishes thus of a rival: “Would that he might sleep badly!” And why? A rival, monks, does not like a rival to sleep well. Monks, this sort of person, being angry, is overwhelmed by anger; he is subverted by anger: and in spite of his lying on a couch, spread with a fleecy cover, spread with a white blanket, spread with a woollen coverlet, flower embroidered, covered with rugs of antelope skins, with awnings above; or on a sofa, with crimson cushions at either end; yet for all that he lies in discomfort, being overwhelmed by anger. Monks, this is the second condition...
We then read about other misfortunes a rival wishes for his rival, which come upon an angry woman or man. We read that a rival wishes his rival to be without prosperity, wealth and fame. Further we read that a rival wishes a rival to be without friends and this happens to someone who is an angry person. The text states:
Monks, this sort of person, being angry ...whatever friends, intimates, relations and kinsmen he may have, they will avoid him and keep far away from him, because he is overwhelmed by anger...
A rival wishes his rival to have an unhappy rebirth and this can happen to an angry person. We read:
...Monks, this sort of person, being angry ...he misconducts himself in deed, in word and thought; so living, so speaking and so thinking, on breaking up of the body after death he is reborn in the untoward way, the ill way, the abyss, hell...
We would like to live in a world of harmony and unity among nations and we are disturbed when people commit acts of violence. We should consider what the real cause is of war and discord between people: it is the defilements which people have accumulated. When we have aversion we think that other people or unpleasant situations are the cause of our aversion. However, our accumulation of dosa is the real cause for aversion to arise time and again. If we want to have less dosa we should know the characteristic of dosa and we should be aware of it when it arises.
Dosa has many degrees; it can be a slight aversion or it can be more coarse, such as anger. We can recognize dosa when it is coarse, but do we realize that we have dosa when it is more subtle? Through the study of the Abhidhamma we learn more about the characteristic of dosa. Dosa is an akusala cetasika (mental factor) arising with akusala citta; it is a cetasika that is an unwholesome root, akusala hetu. A citta rooted in dosa is called in Pāli: dosa-mūla-citta. The characteristic of dosa is different from the characteristic of lobha. When there is lobha, the citta likes the object which it experiences at that moment, whereas when there is dosa, the citta has aversion towards the object it experiences. We can recognize dosa when we are angry with someone and when we speak disagreeable words to him. But when we are afraid of something there is dosa as well, because one has aversion towards the object one is afraid of. There are so many things in life we are afraid of; we are afraid of the future, of diseases, of accidents, of death. We look for many means in order to be cured of anguish, but the only way is the development of the wisdom which eradicates the latent tendency of dosa.
Dosa is conditioned by lobha: we do not want to lose what is dear to us and when this actually happens we are sad. Sadness is dosa, it is akusala. If we do not know things as they are, we believe that people and things last. However, people and things are only phenomena which arise and then fall away immediately. The next moment they have changed already. If we can see things as they are we will be less overwhelmed by sadness. It makes no sense to be sad about what has happened already.
In the Psalms of the Sisters (Therīgāthā, 33) we read that the King’s wife Ubbirī mourned the loss of her daughter Jīvā. Every day she went to the cemetery. She met the Buddha who told her that in that cemetery about eighty-four thousand of her daughters (in past lives) had been burnt. The Buddha said to her:
O, Ubbirī, who wails in the wood
Crying, "O Jīvā! O my daughter dear!"
Come to yourself! See, in this burying-ground
Are burnt full many a thousand daughters dear,
And all of them were named like her.
Now which of all those Jīvās do you mourn?
After Ubbirī pondered over the Dhamma thus taught by the Buddha she developed insight and saw things as they really are; she even attained arahatship.
There are other akusala cetasikas which can arise with cittas rooted in dosa. Regret or worry, in Pāli: kukkucca, is an akusala cetasika which arises with dosa-mūla-citta at the moment we regret something bad we did or something good we omitted to do. When there is regret we are thinking of the past instead of knowing the present moment. When we have done something wrong it is of no use to have aversion.
Envy (issā) is another cetasika which can arise with dosa-mūla-citta. There is envy when we do not like someone else to enjoy pleasant things. At that moment the citta does not like the object it experiences. We should find out how often envy arises, even when it is more subtle. This is a way to know whether we really care for someone else or whether we only think of ourselves when we associate with others.
Stinginess (macchariya) is another akusala cetasika which may arise with dosa-mūla-citta. When we are stingy there is dosa as well. At that moment we do not like someone else to share in our good fortune.
Dosa always arises with an unpleasant feeling (domanassa vedanā). Most people do not like to have dosa because they do not like to have an unpleasant feeling. As we develop more understanding of realities we want to eradicate dosa not so much because we dislike unpleasant feeling, but rather because we realize the adverse effects of akusala.
Dosa can arise on account of the objects experienced through the five sense-doors and the mind-door. It can arise when we see ugly sights, hear harsh sounds, smell unpleasant odours, taste unappetizing food, experience unpleasant tangible objects through the bodysense and think of disagreeable things. Whenever there is a feeling of uneasiness, no matter how slight, it is evident that there is dosa. Dosa may often arise when there is the experience of unpleasant objects through the senses, for example, when the temperature is too hot or too cold. Whenever there is a slightly unpleasant bodily sensation dosa may arise, be it only of a lesser degree.
Dosa arises when there are conditions for it. It arises so long as there is still attachment to the objects which can be experienced through the five senses. Everybody would like to experience only pleasant things and when one does not have them any more, dosa may arise.
Another condition for dosa is ignorance of the Dhamma. If we are ignorant of kamma and vipāka, cause and result, dosa may arise very easily on account of an unpleasant experience through one of the senses and thus dosa is accumulated time and again. An unpleasant experience through one of the senses is akusala vipāka caused by an unwholesome deed we performed. When, for example, someone speaks unpleasant words to us, we may be angry with that person. Those who have studied the Dhamma know that hearing an unpleasant sound is akusala vipāka which is not caused by someone else but by an unwholesome deed performed by oneself. A moment of vipāka falls away immediately, it does not stay. Are we not inclined to keep on thinking about an unpleasant experience? If there is more awareness of the present moment one will be less inclined to think with aversion about one’s akusala vipāka.
When we study the Abhidhamma we learn that there are two types of dosa-mūla-citta: one of these is unprompted (asaṅkhārika) and one is prompted (sasaṅkhārika). Dosa is prompted (sasaṅkhārika) when, for example, one becomes angry after having been reminded of the disagreeable actions of someone else. Dosa-mūla-cittas are always accompanied by domanassa (unpleasant feeling). There are two types of dosa-mūla-citta which are the following:
  1. 1.
    Accompanied by unpleasant feeling, arising with anger, unprompted
    (Domanassa-sahagataṃ, paṭigha-sampayuttaṃ (19),
    asaṅkhārikam ekaṃ).
  2. 2.
    Accompanied by unpleasant feeling, arising with anger, prompted
    (Domanassa-sahagataṃ, paṭigha-sampayuttaṃ, sasaṅkhārikam ekaṃ).
As we have seen, there are many degrees of dosa; it may be coarse or more subtle. When dosa is coarse, it causes akusala kamma-patha (unwholesome deeds) through body, speech or mind. Two kinds of akusala kamma-patha through the body can be performed with dosa-mūla-citta: killing and stealing. If we want less violence in the world we should try not to kill. When we kill we accumulate a great deal of dosa. The monk’s life should be a life of non-violence; he should not hurt any living being in the world. However, not everyone is able to live like the monks. Defilements are anattā (not self); they arise because of conditions. The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is not to lay down rules which forbid people to commit ill deeds, but to help people to develop the wisdom which eradicates defilements. There are precepts for laypeople, but these are rules of training rather than commandments.
As regards stealing, this can either be performed with lobha-mūla-citta or with dosa-mūla-citta. It is done with dosa-mūla-citta when there is the intention to harm someone else. Doing damage to someone else’s possessions is included in this kamma-patha.
Four kinds of akusala kamma-patha through speech can be performed with dosa-mūla-citta: lying, slandering, rude speech and frivolous talk. Lying, slandering and frivolous talk can either be performed with lobha-mūla-citta or with dosa-mūla-citta. Slandering, for example, is performed with dosa-mūla-citta when there is the intention to cause damage to someone else, such as doing harm to his good name and causing him to be looked down upon by others. Most people think that the use of weapons is to be avoided, but they forget that the tongue can be a weapon as well, a weapon which can badly wound. Evil speech does a great deal of harm in the world; it causes discord between people. When we speak evil we harm ourselves, because at such moments akusala kamma is accumulated and it is capable of producing akusala vipāka.
We read in the Sutta Nipāta (Chapter III, the Great Chapter, 10, Kokāliya, “Khuddaka Nikāya”) that while the Buddha was staying at Sāvatthī, the bhikkhu Kokāliya visited him. Kokāliya spoke evil of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, saying that they had evil desires. Three times the Buddha told him not to speak in that way. After Kokāliya had departed boils developed all over his body which became bigger and bigger and discharged pus and blood. He died and was reborn in the Paduma hell. Later on the Buddha told the monks about Kokāliya’s evil speech and his rebirth in hell. We read (vs. 657, 658) that the Buddha said:
“Surely in the mouth of a man, when born, an axe is born, with which the fool cuts himself, saying a badly-spoken (utterance).
He who praises him who is to be blamed, or blames him who is to be praised, accumulates evil by his mouth. Because of that evil he does not find happiness...
As regards akusala kamma-patha through the mind performed with dosa-mūla-citta, this is the intention to hurt or harm someone else.
People often speak about violence and the ways to cure it. Who of us can say that he is free from dosa and that he will never kill? We do not know how much dosa we have accumulated in the course of many lives. When the conditions are present we might commit an act of violence we did not realize we were capable of. When we understand how ugly dosa is and to what deeds it can lead we want to eradicate it.
In performing kind deeds we cannot eradicate the latent tendency of dosa, but at least at those moments we do not accumulate more dosa. The Buddha exhorted people to cultivate loving kindness (mettā). We read in the Karaniya Mettā-sutta (Sutta Nipāta, vs. 143-152) (20) that the Buddha spoke the following words.
What should be done by one skillful in good
So as to gain the State of Peace is this:
Let him be able, and upright, and straight.
Easy to speak to, gentle, and not proud,
Contented too, supported easily,
With few tasks, and living very lightly,
His faculties serene, prudent and modest,
Unswayed by the emotions of the clans;
And let him never do the slightest thing
That other wise men might hold blamable.
(And let him think)
"In safety and in bliss
May creatures all be of a blissful heart.
Whatever breathing beings there may be,
No matter whether they are frail or firm,
With none excepted, be they long or big
Or middle-sized, or be they short or small
Or thick, as well as those seen or unseen,
Or whether they are dwelling far or near,
Existing or yet seeking to exist,
May creatures all be of a blissful heart.
Let no one work another one's undoing
Or even slight him at all anywhere;
And never let them wish each other ill
Through provocation or resentful thought."
And just as might a mother with her life
Protect the son that was her only child,
So let him then for every living thing
Maintain unbounded consciousness in being,
And let him too with love for all the world
Maintain unbounded consciousness in being
Above, below, and all around in between,
Untroubled, with no enemy or foe.
And while he stands, or walks or while he sits
Or while he lies down, free from drowsiness,
Let him resolve upon mindfulness:
This is Divine Abiding here, they say.
But when he has no trafficking with views (21),
Is virtuous, and has perfected seeing,
And purges greed for sensual desires,
He surely comes no more to any womb.
The Buddha taught us not to be angry with those who are unpleasant to us. We read in the Vinaya (Mahāvagga X, 349) that the Buddha said to the monks:
They who (in thought) belabour this:
That man has me abused, has hurt, has worsted me,
has me despoiled: in these wrath is not allayed.
They who do not belabour this: That
man has me abused, has hurt, has worsted me,
has me despoiled: in them wrath is allayed.
Nay, not by wrath are wrathful moods
allayed here (and) at any time,
but by not-wrath are they allayed:
this is an (ageless) endless rule.
At times it seems impossible for us to have mettā instead of dosa. For example, when people treat us badly we may feel very unhappy and we keep on pondering over our misery. So long as dosa has not been eradicated there are still conditions for its arising. By being mindful of all realities which appear the wisdom is developed which can eventually eradicate dosa.
Dosa can only be eradicated stage by stage. The sotāpanna (the streamwinner, who has attained the first stage of enlightenment) has not yet eradicated dosa and also at the subsequent stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sakadāgāmī (once-returner), dosa is not yet eradicated completely. The anāgāmī (the non-returner, who has attained the third stage of enlightenment) has eradicated dosa completely; he has no more latent tendency of dosa.
We have not eradicated dosa, but when dosa appears, we can be mindful of its characteristic in order to know it as a type of nāma, arising because of conditions. When there is no mindfulness of dosa when it appears, dosa seems to last and we take it for self. Through mindfulness of nāmas and rūpas which present themselves one at a time, we will learn that there are different characteristics of nāma and rūpa, none of which lasts and we will also know the characteristic of dosa as only a type of nāma, not self.
When a clearer understanding of realities is developed we will be less inclined to ponder for a long time over an unpleasant experience, since it is only a type of nāma which does not last. We will attend more to the present moment instead of thinking about the past or the future. We will also be less inclined to tell other people about unpleasant things which have happened to us, since that may be a condition for both ourselves and others to accumulate more dosa. When someone is angry with us we will have more understanding of his situation; he may be tired or not feeling well. Those who treat us badly deserve compassion because they actually make themselves unhappy.
Right understanding of realities will help us most of all to have more loving kindness and compassion towards others instead of dosa.


  1. 1.
    Why is lobha a condition for dosa?
  2. 2.
    Lying, slandering and frivolous talk are akusala kamma-patha through
    speech which can be performed either with lobha-mūla-citta or with
    dosa-mūla-citta. When are they performed with dosa-mūla-citta?
  3. 3.
    Is there akusala kamma-patha through the mind performed with