Ignorance
We may know when we have akusala cittas rooted in lobha (attachment) or akusala cittas rooted in dosa (aversion), but do we know when we have akusala cittas rooted in moha (ignorance)? What is the characteristic of moha? We may think someone ignorant who does not have much education, who does not speak foreign languages, who does not know anything about history or politics. We call someone ignorant who does not know what is happening in the world. Is that the kind of ignorance which should be eradicated? If that were true it would mean that there is more wholesomeness in one’s life if one speaks foreign languages or if one knows about history and politics. We can find out that this is not true.
In order to understand the characteristic of moha we should know what we are ignorant of when there is moha. There is the world of concepts which in our daily, ordinary language are denoted by conventional terms and there is the world of paramattha dhammas or ultimate realities. When we think of the concept which in conventional language is denoted by “world”, we may think of people, animals and things and we call them by their appropriate names. But do we know the phenomena in ourselves and around ourselves as they really are: only nāma and rūpa which do not last?
The world of paramattha dhammas is real. Nāma and rūpa are paramattha dhammas. The nāmas and rūpas which appear in our daily life can be directly experienced through the five sense-doors and the mind-door, no matter how we name them. This is the world which is real. When we see, there is the world of visible object. When we hear, there is the world of sound. When we experience an object through touch there is the world of tangible object. Visible object and seeing are real. Their characteristics cannot be altered and they can be directly experienced; it does not matter whether we call them “visible object” and “seeing”, or whether we give them another name. But when we cling to concepts which are denoted by conventional terms such as “tree” or “chair”, we do not experience any characteristic of reality. What is real when we look at a tree? What can be directly experienced? Visible object is a paramattha dhamma, a reality; it is a kind of rūpa which can be directly experienced through the eyes. Through touch hardness can be experienced; this is a kind of rūpa which can be directly experienced through the bodysense, it is real. “Tree” is a concept or idea of which we can think, but it is not a paramattha dhamma, not a reality which has its own unchangeable characteristic. Visible object and hardness are paramattha dhammas, they have their own characteristics which can be directly experienced, no matter how one names them.
The world experienced through the six doors is real, but it does not last; it is impermanent. When we see, there is the world of the visible, but it falls away immediately. When we hear, there is the world of sound, but it does not last either. It is the same with the world of smell, the world of flavour, the world of tangible object and the world of objects experienced through the mind-door. However, we usually know only the world of concepts, because ignorance and wrong view have been accumulated for so long. Ignorance of paramattha dhammas is the kind of ignorance which should be eradicated; it brings sorrow. Ignorance conditions the wrong view of self and all other defilements. So long as there is ignorance we are deluding ourselves, we do not know what our life really is: conditioned phenomena which arise and fall away.
The world in the sense of paramattha dhammas is in the teachings called “the world in the ariyan sense”. The ariyan has developed the wisdom which sees things as they are; he truly knows “the world”. We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Second Fifty, chapter IV, paragraph 84, Transitory) that Ānanda said to the Buddha:
“ ‘The world! The world!’ is the saying lord. Pray, how far, lord, does this saying go?”
“What is transitory by nature, Ānanda, is called ‘the world’ in the ariyan sense. And what, Ānanda, is transitory by nature? The eye, Ānanda, is transitory by nature ...objects ...tongue ...mind (22) is transitory by nature, mind-states, mind-consciousness, mind-contact, whatsoever pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling or indifferent feeling which arises owing to mind-contact, that also is transitory by nature. What is thus transitory, Ānanda, is called ‘the world’ in the ariyan sense.”
Someone may think that he can truly know himself without knowing the world as it appears through the six doors. He may think that he knows his anger and attachment, but, in fact, he has not experienced them as they are: only different types of nāma and not self. So long as he has wrong view of realities he does not really know himself and he cannot eradicate defilements. He clings to an idea, to the concept of self; he has not directly experienced any characteristic of reality. It is difficult to know when there are lobha, dosa and moha, and it is difficult to be aware also of the more subtle degrees of akusala. When we start to develop “insight”, right understanding of realities, we realize how little we know ourselves.
When there is moha we live in darkness. It was the Buddha’s great compassion which moved him to teach people Dhamma. Dhamma is the light which can dispel darkness. If we do not know Dhamma we are ignorant of the world, of ourselves; we are ignorant of good and ill deeds and their results; we are ignorant of the way to eradicate defilements.
The study of the Abhidhamma will help us to have more understanding of the characteristic of moha. The Atthasālinī (Book II, Part IX, chapter I, 249) states about moha:
“Delusion” (moha) has the characteristic of blindness or opposition to knowledge; the essence of non-penetration, or the function of covering the intrinsic nature of the object; the manifestation of being opposed to right conduct or causing blindness; the proximate cause of unwise attention; and it should be regarded as the root of all akusala...
There are many degrees of moha. When we study Dhamma we become less ignorant of realities; we will have more understanding of paramattha dhammas, of kamma and vipāka. However, this does not mean that we can already eradicate moha. Moha cannot be eradicated merely by thinking of the truth; it can only be eradicated by developing the wisdom which knows “the world in the ariyan sense”: eyesense, visible object, seeing-consciousness, earsense, sound, hearing-consciousness, and all realities appearing through the six doors.
When we study the Abhidhamma we learn that moha arises with all akusala cittas. Lobha-mūla-cittas have moha and lobha as roots; dosa-mūla-cittas have moha and dosa as roots. There are two types of akusala citta which have moha as their only root, these are moha-mūla-cittas. One type of moha-mūla-citta is moha-mūla-citta accompanied by doubt (in Pāli: vicikicchā), and one type is moha-mūla-citta accompanied by restlessness (in Pāli: uddhacca). The feeling which accompanies moha-mūla-cittas is always indifferent feeling (upekkhā). When the citta is moha-mūla-citta there is no like or dislike; one does not have pleasant or unpleasant feeling. Both types of moha-mūla-citta are unprompted (asaṅkhārika).
The characteristic of moha should not be confused with the characteristic of diṭṭhi (wrong view), which only arises with lobha-mūla-cittas. When diṭṭhi arises one takes, for example, what is impermanent for permanent, or one believes that there is a self. Moha is not wrong view, it is ignorance of realities. Moha conditions diṭṭhi, but the characteristic of moha is different from the characteristic of diṭṭhi.
The two types of moha-mūla-citta are:
  1. 1.
    Arising with indifferent feeling, accompanied by doubt
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, vicikicchā-sampayuttaṃ).
  2. 2.
    Arising with indifferent feeling, accompanied by restlessness
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, uddhacca-sampayuttaṃ).
When we have the type of moha-mūla-citta which is accompanied by doubt, we doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha (23). We may doubt whether the Buddha really discovered the truth, whether he taught the Path leading to the end of defilements, whether there are other people who can become enlightened as well. We may doubt about past and future lives, about kamma and vipāka. There are many degrees of doubt. When we start to develop insight we may have doubt about the reality of the present moment; we may doubt whether it is nāma or rūpa. For example, when there is hearing, there is sound as well, but there can be awareness of only one reality at a time, since only one object at a time can be experienced by citta. We may doubt whether the reality which appears at the present moment is the nāma which hears or the rūpa which is sound. Nāma and rūpa arise and fall away so rapidly and when a precise understanding of their different characteristics has not been developed one does not know which reality appears at the present moment. There will be doubt about the world of paramattha dhammas until paññā (wisdom) clearly knows the characteristics of nāma and rūpa as they appear through the six doors.
The Atthasālinī (Book II, Part IX, chapter III, 259) states about doubt:
Here doubt means exclusion from the cure (of knowledge). Or, one investigating the intrinsic nature by means of it suffers pain and fatigue (kicchati)-thus it is doubt. It has shifting about as characteristic, mental wavering as function, indecision or uncertainty in grasp as manifestation, unsystematic thought (unwise attention) as proximate cause, and it should be regarded as a danger to attainment.
Doubt is different from wrong view (diṭṭhi). When there is diṭṭhi one clings, for example, to the view that phenomena are permanent or that they are self. When vicikicchā, doubt, arises, one wonders whether the mind is different from the body or not, whether phenomena are permanent or impermanent. There is no other way to eradicate doubt but the development of paññā which sees realities as they are. People who have doubts about the Buddha and his teachings may think that doubt can be cured by studying historical facts. They want to find out more details about the time the Buddha lived and about the places where he moved about; they want to know the exact time the texts were written down. They cannot be cured of their doubt by studying historical events; this does not lead to the goal of the Buddha’s teachings which is the eradication of defilements.
People in the Buddha’s time too were speculating about things which do not lead to the goal of the teachings. They were wondering whether the world is finite or infinite, whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the Tathāgata (the Buddha) exists after his final passing away or not. We read in the Lesser Discourse to Māluṅkyā (Middle Length Sayings II, no. 63) that Māluṅkyāputta was displeased that the Buddha did not give explanations with regard to speculative views. He wanted to question the Buddha on these views and if the Buddha would not give him an explanation with regard to these views he wanted to leave the order. He spoke to the Buddha about this matter and the Buddha asked him whether he had ever said to Māluṅkyāputta:
“Come you, Māluṅkyāputta, fare the Brahma-faring (24) under me and I will explain to you either that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal ...or that the Tathāgata is ...is not after dying ...both is and is not after dying... neither is nor is not after dying?”
We read that Māluṅkyāputta answered: “No, revered sir.” The Buddha also asked him whether he (Māluṅkyāputta) had said that he would “fare the Brahma-faring” under the Lord if the Lord would give him an explanation with regard to these views and again Māluṅkyāputta answered: “No, revered sir.” The Buddha then compared his situation with the case of a man who is pierced by a poisoned arrow and who will not draw out the arrow until he knows whether the man who pierced him is a noble, a brahman, a merchant or a worker; until he knows the name of the man and his clan; until he knows his outward appearance; until he knows about the bow, the bowstring, the material of the shaft, the kind of arrow. However, he will pass away before he knows all this. It is the same with the person who only wants to “fare the Brahma-faring” under the Lord if explanations with regard to speculative views are given to him. We read that the Buddha said:
The living of the Brahma-faring, Māluṅkyāputta, could not be said to depend on the view that the world is eternal. Nor could the living of the Brahma-faring, Māluṅkyāputta, be said to depend on the view that the world is not eternal. Whether there is the view that the world is eternal or whether there is the view that the world is not eternal, there is birth, there is ageing, there is dying, there are grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair, the destruction of which I lay down here and now...
Wherefore, Māluṅkyāputta, understand as not explained what has not been explained by me, and understand as explained what has been explained by me. And what, Māluṅkyāputta, has not been explained by me? That the world is eternal ...that the world is not eternal has not been explained by me ...And why, Māluṅkyāputta, has this not been explained by me? It is because it is not connected with the goal, it is not fundamental to the Brahma-faring, and does not conduce to turning away from, nor to dispassion, stopping, calming, superknowledge, awakening, nor to nibbāna. Therefore it has not been explained by me, Māluṅkyāputta. And what has been explained by me, Māluṅkyāputta? “This is dukkha” has been explained by me, Māluṅkyāputta. “This is the arising of dukkha” has been explained by me. “This is the stopping of dukkha” has been explained by me. “This is the course leading to the stopping of dukkha” has been explained by me. And why, Māluṅkyāputta, has this been explained by me? It is because it is connected with the goal, it is fundamental to the Brahma-faring, and conduces to turning away from, to dispassion, stopping, calming, super-knowledge, awakening and nibbāna...
Doubt cannot be cured by speculating about matters which do not lead to the goal; it can only be cured by being aware of the nāma and rūpa which present themselves now. Even when there is doubt, this can be realized as only a type of nāma which arises because of conditions and which is not self. Thus the reality of the present moment will be known more clearly.
The second type of moha-mūla-citta is accompanied by indifferent feeling, arising with restlessness (upekkhā-sahagataṃ, uddhacca-sampayuttaṃ). Uddhacca is translated as restlessness or excitement. Uddhacca arises with all akusala cittas. When there is uddhacca there is no sati (mindfulness) with the citta. Sati arises with each wholesome citta; it is mindful, non-forgetful, of what is wholesome. There is sati not only in vipassanā, the development of right understanding of realities, but also with each kind of kusala. There is sati when one performs dāna (generosity), observes sīla (good moral conduct) or applies oneself to bhāvanā, mental development, which comprises studying or teaching the Dhamma, the development of samatha, tranquil meditation, and vipassanā. Sati in vipassanā is aware of a characteristic of nāma or rūpa.
When there is uddhacca, the citta cannot be wholesome; one cannot at that moment apply oneself to dāna, sīla or bhāvanā. Uddhacca distracts the citta from kusala. Uddhacca is restlessness with regard to kusala. Thus, uddhacca is different from what we in conventional language mean by restlessness.
Uddhacca arises also with the moha-mūla-citta which is accompanied by doubt, since it arises with each akusala citta. The second type of moha-mūla-citta, however, is called uddhacca-sampayutta; it is different from the first type of moha-mūla-citta which is called vicikicchā-sampayutta.
The second type of moha-mūla-citta, the moha-mūla-citta which is uddhacca-sampayutta, accompanied by restlessness, arises countless times a day, but it is difficult to know its characteristic. If one has not developed vipassanā one does not know this type of citta. When we are forgetful of realities and “day-dreaming”, there is not necessarily this type of citta. When we are “day-dreaming”there is not only the second type of moha-mūla-citta (uddhacca-sampayutta), but also lobha-mūla-cittas (cittas rooted in attachment) and dosa-mūla-cittas (cittas rooted in aversion) may arise.
Moha-mūla-citta can arise on account of what we experience through the five sense-doors and through the mind-door. When, for example, we have heard sound, moha-mūla-citta may arise. When the second type of moha-mūla-citta which is uddhacca-sampayutta arises, there is ignorance and forgetfulness with regard to the object which is experienced at that moment. We may not see the danger of this type of citta since it is accompanied by indifferent feeling and thus less obvious. However, all kinds of akusala are dangerous.
Moha is dangerous, it is the root of all akusala. When we are ignorant of realities, we accumulate a great deal of akusala. Moha conditions lobha; when we do not know realities as they are we become absorbed in the things we experience through the senses. Moha also conditions dosa; when we are ignorant of realities we have aversion towards unpleasant experiences. Moha accompanies each akusala citta and it conditions all ten kinds of akusala kamma patha (killing, stealing, lying etc.) which are accomplished through body, speech and mind (25). Only when there is mindfulness of the realities which appear through the six doors, the wisdom is developed which can eradicate moha.
The sotāpanna (the “streamwinner”, who has attained the first stage of enlightenment) has eradicated the moha-mūla-citta which is accompanied by doubt, vicikicchā; he has no more doubts about paramattha dhammas, he knows the “world in the ariyan sense”. He has no doubts about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. He has no doubts about the Path leading to the end of defilements. The sotāpanna, the sakadāgāmī (the “once-returner, who has attained the second stage of enlightenment) and the anāgāmī (the “non-returner”, who has attained the third stage of enlightenment) still have the type of moha-mūla-citta accompanied by uddhacca, restlessness. Only the arahat has eradicated all akusala.
Ignorance is not seeing the true characteristics of realities, not knowing the four noble Truths. Out of ignorance one does not see the first noble Truth, the Truth of dukkha: one does not realize the nāma and rūpa which appear as impermanent and therefore one does not see them as dukkha, unsatisfactory. One does not know the second noble Truth: the origin of dukkha which is craving. Because of clinging to nāma and rūpa there is no end to the cycle of birth and death and thus there is no end to dukkha. One does not know the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha, which is nibbāna. One does not know the noble Truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha, which is the eightfold Path. The eightfold Path is developed through vipassanā.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Saḷāyatana-vagga, Kindred Sayings about Jambukhādaka, paragraph 9) that Jambukhādaka asked Sāriputta:
“ ‘Ignorance, ignorance!’ is the saying, friend Sāriputta. Pray, what is ignorance?”
“Not understanding about dukkha, friend, not understanding about the arising of dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha, the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha - this, friend, is called ‘ignorance’.”
“But is there any way, friend, any approach to the abandoning of this ignorance?”
“There is indeed a way, friend, to such abandoning.”
“And what, friend, is that way, that approach to the abandoning of this ignorance?”
“It is this ariyan eightfold Path, friend...”
The ariyan eightfold Path leads to the eradication of moha.

Questions

  1. 1.
    What is ignorance? Why should it be eradicated?
  2. 2.
    How can it be eradicated?
  3. 3.
    When there is doubt (vicikicchā) about realities, is there moha as
    well?
  4. 4.
    On account of experiences through which doors can moha arise?
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