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The Sobhana Cittas in our Life

There are many different types of citta which arise in our life and they can be classified in different ways. When they are classified by way of four “jātis” (jāti means “birth” or “nature”), they are:
  1. 1.
    Kusala cittas (wholesome cittas)
  2. 2.
    Akusala cittas (unwholesome cittas)
  3. 3.
    Vipākacittas (cittas which are result)
  4. 4.
    Kiriyacittas (cittas which are “inoperative”, neither cause nor
Another way of classifying cittas is as follows:
  1. 1.
    Sobhana cittas, cittas accompanied by sobhana (beautiful ) cetasikas
  2. 2.
    Asobhana cittas, cittas unaccompanied by sobhana cetasikas.
Akusala cittas and ahetuka cittas are asobhana cittas, they are not accompanied by sobhana cetasikas. As we have seen, there are twelve types of akusala cittas. They are:
  • 8 types of lobha-mūla-citta (cittas rooted in attachment)
  • 2 types of dosa-mūla-citta (cittas rooted in aversion)
  • 2 types of moha-mūla-citta (cittas rooted in ignorance)
Ahetuka cittas are cittas without roots and unaccompanied by sobhana cetasikas, and thus they are asobhana. As we have seen, there are eighteen types of ahetuka cittas. Summarising them, they are:
  • 10 dvi-pañca-viññāṇas, which are ahetuka vipākacittas (the five
    pairs of seeing, hearing, etc.)
  • 2 sampaṭicchana-cittas, receiving-consciousness, which are ahetuka
    vipāka cittas (one akusala vipāka and one kusala vipāka)
  • 3 santīraṇa-cittas, investigating-consciousness, which are ahetuka
    vipāka cittas (one akusala vipāka, one kusala vipāka, accompanied by
    upekkhā, and one kusala vipāka, accompanied by somanassa)
  • 1 pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta, five-door-adverting-consciousness, which
    is ahetuka kiriyacitta
  • 1 mano-dvārāvajjana-citta, mind-door-adverting-consciousness, which
    is ahetuka kiriyacitta
  • 1 hasituppāda-citta, an ahetuka kiriyacitta which can produce the
    smile of an arahat
Thus, there are thirty asobhana cittas: twelve akusala cittas and eighteen ahetuka cittas.
There are also sobhana cittas arising in our life, cittas which are accompanied by sobhana cetasikas. Three among the sobhana cetasikas are hetu, root. They are: alobha (non-attachment), adosa (non-aversion) and amoha or paññā, wisdom. Sobhana cittas are always accompanied by the two sobhana hetus of alobha and adosa and they may or may not be accompanied by paññā. Thus, sobhana cittas are sahetuka, accompanied by hetus. When we perform dāna (generosity), observe sīla (morality) or apply ourselves to bhāvanā (which comprises samatha, vipassanā and the study or teaching of Dhamma), there are kusala cittas, accompanied by sobhana cetasikas. Thus, kusala cittas are among the sobhana cittas.
The kusala cittas which perform dāna, observe sīla or apply themselves to bhāvanā are cittas belonging to the lowest plane of consciousness, the “sense sphere”; they are kāmāvacara cittas. Kāmāvacara cittas are the cittas we have in daily life, when, for example, we are seeing, thinking or wishing for something. Sometimes kāmāvacara cittas arise with sobhana hetus (beautiful roots), sometimes with akusala hetus, and sometimes without any hetus. Dāna, sīla and bhāvanā is performed by kāmāvacara kusala cittas; these kinds of kusala kamma can be performed in daily life, where there are sense-impressions. Kāmāvacara kusala cittas are called mahā-kusala cittas (“mahā” means “many” or “great”).
For those who attain jhāna (absorption, developed in samatha, tranquil meditation) there is at that moment no seeing, hearing or any other sense-impression; then the citta is not kāmāvacara citta, but it is of a higher plane of consciousness. The jhānacittas can be rūpāvacara cittas (rūpa-jhānacittas) or arūpāvacara cittas (arūpa jhānacittas). However, while one is developing samatha the cittas are mahā-kusala cittas before one attains jhāna.
When enlightenment is attained and the citta experiences nibbāna, the citta is of the lokuttara bhūmi, the “supramundane” plane of consciousness (bhūmi is plane). However, lokuttara kusala cittas, magga-cittas, are preceded by mahā-kusala cittas in the process of cittas during which enlightenment is attained.
We would like to have kusala cittas more often. We may think that the circumstances of our life or other people hinder the arising of kusala citta, but this is not so. The real cause that kusala cittas seldom arise is our lack of development of what is wholesome. If we know the conditions for the development of kusala, there will be more kusala cittas in our life. Through the study of the Dhamma we will learn how to develop kusala. If we have not studied Dhamma we may think that we are performing kusala while we have, on the contrary, akusala cittas. For example, we may think that when we give something away, there are only kusala cittas. However, lobha-mūla-cittas may also arise. We may give something to friends and expect them to be kind to us in return. This is not kusala but lobha, attachment. When we study Dhamma we learn that the pure way of giving is giving without expecting anything in return. When we perform wholesome deeds our aim should be to have less selfishness, and this is beneficial both for ourselves and for others.
People have different accumulations and these are conditions for the arising of kusala cittas and akusala cittas. For example, when people visit a temple and see others presenting gifts to the monks, they may, because of their accumulations, react in different ways. Some people may appreciate someone else’s good deeds; others may not be interested at all. If one would know the value of kusala and realize that appreciating the good deeds of others is a way of dāna, one would use more opportunities to develop kusala.
If the Buddha had not attained enlightenment and taught Dhamma we would not have any means of knowing ourselves thoroughly; we would not have a precise knowledge of our kusala cittas and akusala cittas and of the conditions for their arising. The Buddha taught people how to develop wholesomeness and eradicate defilements, and therefore, living according to the precepts and performing other kinds of wholesomeness is the way to pay respect to him. We read in the Mahā-Parinibbāna-sutta (Dialogues of the Buddha II, no. 16, chapter V, 137,138) that before the Buddha passed away, the twin Sāla trees, which were full of flowers although it was not the season, dropped their flowers all over his body, that heavenly Mandārava-flowers and sandalwood-powder descended on his body, and that heavenly music sounded, out of reverence for him. The Buddha said to Ānanda:
Now it is not thus, Ānanda, that the Tathāgata is rightly honoured, reverenced, venerated, held sacred or revered. But the monk or the nun, the devout man or the devout woman, who continually fulfils all the greater and lesser duties, who is correct in life, walking according to the precepts -it is he who rightly honours, reverences, venerates, holds sacred, and reveres the Tathāgata with the worthiest homage. Therefore, O Ānanda, be constant in the fulfilment of the greater and of the lesser duties, and be correct in life, walking according to the precepts; and thus, Ānanda, should it be taught.
We all have in our daily life opportunities for dāna and sīla. As regards bhāvanā, this comprises samatha and vipassanā, and the studying of Dhamma or explaining it to others. Not only the monks but also laypeople can study and teach Dhamma. We read in the Mahā-Parinibbāna-sutta (chapter III, 112, 113) that the Buddha told Ānanda that Māra, the Evil One, had said to the Buddha after his enlightenment that it was now the time for him to pass away. The Buddha said:
And when he had thus spoken, Ānanda, I addressed Māra, the Evil One, and said:- “I shall not pass away, O Evil One! Until not only the monks and nuns of the Order, but also the laydisciples of either sex shall have become true hearers, wise and well trained, ready and learned, carrying the teachings in their memory, masters of the lesser corollaries that follow from the larger doctrine, correct in life, walking according to the precepts-until they, having thus themselves learned the doctrine, shall be able to tell others of it, preach it, make it known, establish it, open it, minutely explain it and make it clear-until they, when others start vain doctrine easy to be refuted by the truth, shall be able in refuting it to spread the wonder-working truth abroad! I shall not die until this pure religion of mine shall have become successful, prosperous, widespread, and popular in all its full extent-until, in a word, it shall have been well proclaimed among men!”
The fact that we are able to perform wholesome deeds in our lives is due to conditions, it is not due to a self. We read in the Dialogues of the Buddha (III, no. 34, Tenfold Series, chapter IV, 276) about factors which are helpful conditions for kusala:
Four ...that help much:-four “wheels” (82), to wit, the orbit of a favourable place of residence, the orbit of association with the good, perfect adjustment of oneself, the cycle of merit wrought in the past.
As regards a favourable place of residence, living in a Buddhist country can be a helpful condition for kusala cittas. Then one has the opportunity to visit temples and listen to the preaching of Dhamma. The Dhamma can change our life, it is the condition for the performing of wholesome deeds, for dāna, sīla and bhāvanā.
As regards association with the good, this means association with the right friend in Dhamma. If one, even though living in a Buddhist country, does not meet the right friend in Dhamma who can help in the search for the truth, one lacks the condition which is most helpful for the development of wisdom and the eradication of defilements.
Perfect adjustment of oneself is “adjusting oneself” with kusala, becoming established in good qualities. There are many degrees of kusala. If one develops the wisdom of the eightfold Path in being mindful of nāma and rūpa, there will be less clinging to the concept of self. If there is mindfulness of nāma and rūpa while performing wholesome deeds, one will come to realize that no self, no person performs these deeds. In that way kusala kamma will be purer and eventually defilements will be eradicated.
The accumulation of kusala in the past is the fourth factor which is helpful. The kusala kammas which were accumulated in the past are the condition for us to go to the right place and meet the right people. It is kamma which causes one to be born in a Buddhist country or to live in a Buddhist country. The kusala accumulated in the past conditions our study and practice of the Dhamma at the present time. If we consider the factors in our life which are the conditions for kusala we will understand more clearly that it is not self who performs good deeds.
In the Abhidhamma we learn that there are eight types of mahā-kusala cittas, kusala cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness. Why isn’t there only one type? The reason is that each type has its own conditions for its arising. If we know about these different types and if we can be aware of them when their characteristics present themselves, it will help us not to take them for self. Four types of mahā-kusala cittas arise with somanassa (pleasant feeling) and four types arise with upekkhā (indifferent feeling). We would like to have kusala cittas with somanassa, because we cling to somanassa. However, we cannot force somanassa to arise. Sometimes we perform dāna with somanassa, sometimes with upekkhā. It depends on conditions whether somanassa or whether upekkhā arises with the mahā-kusala citta. Four types are accompanied by wisdom; four types are not accompanied by wisdom. We may, for example, help others without paññā or with paññā. When we realize that helping is kusala, or when we are aware of the nāma or rūpa appearing at that moment, there is paññā arising with the mahā-kusala citta. Four types are asaṅkhārika (unprompted, spontaneous, not induced by someone else or by one’s own consideration) and four types are sasaṅkhārika (prompted, by someone else or by oneself). The eight types of mahā-kusala cittas are the following:
  1. 1.
    Accompanied by pleasant feeling, with wisdom, unprompted
    (Somanassa-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa sampayuttaṃ, asaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  2. 2.
    Accompanied by pleasant feeling, with wisdom, prompted
    (Somanassa-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-sampayuttaṃ, sasaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  3. 3.
    Accompanied by pleasant feeling, without wisdom, unprompted
    (Somanassa-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-vippayuttaṃ, asaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  4. 4.
    Accompanied by pleasant feeling, without wisdom, prompted
    (Somanassa-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-vippayuttaṃ, sasaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  5. 5.
    Accompanied by indifferent feeling, with wisdom, unprompted
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-sampayuttaṃ, asaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  6. 6.
    Accompanied by indifferent feeling, with wisdom, prompted
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-sampayuttaṃ, sasaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  7. 7.
    Accompanied by indifferent feeling, without wisdom, unprompted
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-vippayuttaṃ, asaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
  8. 8.
    Accompanied by indifferent feeling, without wisdom, prompted
    (Upekkhā-sahagataṃ, ñāṇa-vippayuttaṃ, sasaṅkhārikam ekaṃ)
Mahā-kusala cittas are not the only kind of kāmāvacara sobhana cittas (beautiful cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness). Mahā-kusala cittas are cittas which are cause; they can motivate kusala kamma through body, speech or mind which is capable of producing results. There are also mahā-vipākacittas, which are results of kusala kamma performed with mahā-kusala cittas. Mahā-vipākacittas are sobhana cittas too, arising with sobhana cetasikas. There are several types of mahā-vipākacittas because the kusala kammas which produce them are of different kinds.
People’s deeds are not the same and thus the results cannot be the same. People are born with different paṭisandhi-cittas (rebirth-consciousness). Paṭisandhi-cittas are vipākacittas; they are the result of kamma. As we have seen before (in chapter 11), human beings can be born with a paṭisandhi-citta which is ahetuka kusala vipāka (and in this case they are handicapped from the first moment of life), or with a paṭisandhi-citta which is sahetuka vipāka, accompanied by sobhana hetus. In the case of human beings, and of beings born in other sensuous planes of existence, the paṭisandhi-citta which is sahetuka vipākacitta is mahā-vipākacitta, the result of kāmāvacara kusala kamma (kamma performed by mahā-kusala cittas, kusala cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness). Apart from mahā-vipākacitta there are other types of sahetuka vipākacitta which are not the result of kāmāvacara kusala kamma but of kusala kamma of higher planes of consciousness. These types will be dealt with later on.
There are eight types of mahā-vipākacittas. They can be accompanied by somanassa or by upekkhā, they can be with paññā or without paññā, they can be unprompted, asaṅkhārika, or prompted, sasaṅkhārika. They are classified in the same way as the eight types of mahā-kusala cittas mentioned above.
The bhavanga-citta (life-continuum) and the cuti-citta (dying-consciousness) are the same type of citta as the first citta in one’s life, the paṭisandhi-citta. If the paṭisandhi-citta is mahā-vipākacitta, the bhavanga-citta and the cuti-citta of that life are the same type of mahā-vipākacitta. In that case the functions of paṭisandhi, bhavanga and cuti are performed by mahā-vipākacitta.
When we see a beautiful visible object or experience pleasant objects through the other sense-doors, the citta is kusala vipākacitta, the result of kusala kamma; however, that kind of vipākacitta is ahetuka vipāka (arising without hetu), it is not mahā-vipāka. The functions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and experiencing tangible object through the bodysense, and also the functions of sampaṭicchana, receiving, and santīraṇa, investigating, cannot be performed by mahā-vipākacittas, they are performed by ahetuka vipākacittas. Tadārammaṇa-citta, a vipāka-citta which may arise after the javana-cittas and which performs the function of tadārammaṇa, registering or retention, can be ahetuka vipākacitta or mahā-vipākacitta (83).
There are still other kinds of kāmāvacara sobhana cittas: the mahā-kiriyacittas (84). The arahat has mahā-kiriyacittas instead of mahā-kusala cittas. Since he has no conditions for rebirth he does not accumulate any more kamma. He has mahā-kiriyacittas (inoperative cittas) which perform the function of javana in the sense-door process and in the mind-door process. When we experience a pleasant object lobha may arise and when we experience an unpleasant object dosa may arise. The arahat has equanimity towards pleasant objects and unpleasant objects, he has no more defilements. The arahat can have mahā-kiriyacittas which are ñāṇa-vippayutta, not accompanied by wisdom. Arahats can have mahā-kiriyacittas which are ñāṇa-vippayutta, because paññā does not necessarily accompany the mahā-kiriyacittas when they are not preaching or discussing Dhamma.
The arahat has kiriyacittas which are sobhana cittas and also kiriyacittas which are asobhana cittas. The five sense-door-adverting consciousness, pañca-dvārāvajjana-citta, the mind-door-adverting consciousness, mano-dvārāvajjana-citta, the hasituppāda-citta, smile producing consciousness of the arahat which can perform the function of javana, are asobhana kiriyacittas. These types of citta are not accompanied by sobhana cetasikas, they are ahetuka.
There are eight types of mahā-kiriyacittas in all. They are accompanied by somanassa or by upekkhā, they are accompanied by paññā or not accompanied by paññā, they are asaṅkhārika or sasaṅkhārika. They are classified in the same way as the eight types of mahā-kusala cittas.
Altogether there are fifty-four cittas which are kāma-bhūmi (85), or kāmāvacara cittas, cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness. They are:
30 asobhana cittas
24 sobhana cittas
12 akusala cittas
8 mahā-vipākacittas
18 ahetuka cittas
8 mahā-kusalacittas
8 mahā-kiriyacittas
Thus, there are thirty asobhana cittas and twenty-four kāma-sobhana cittas (sobhana cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness).
There are also sobhana cittas which are not kāma-sobhana cittas, namely:
  • the sobhana cittas which are rūpa-bhūmi (rūpāvacara cittas, for
    those who attain rūpa-jhāna)
  • the sobhana cittas which are arūpa-bhūmi (arūpāvacara cittas, for
    those who attain arūpa-jhāna)
  • the sobhana cittas which are lokuttara bhūmi, (lokuttara cittas for
    those who attain enlightenment)
Only kāmāvacara cittas can include both sobhana cittas and asobhana cittas. Cittas which are rūpa-bhūmi, arūpa-bhūmi and lokuttara bhūmi can only be sobhana cittas.
Those who do not attain jhāna or attain enlightenment cannot know the cittas of other bhūmis, but they can verify the truth of the Buddha’s teachings as regards the kāma-bhūmi, the cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness. We can find out for ourselves whether it is beneficial to perform dāna, observe sīla and apply ourselves to bhāvanā. We can find out whether the development of these ways of kusala helps us to have less akusala cittas. Sometimes it is the right moment for dāna, sometimes for sīla or for bhāvanā. Vipassanā, right understanding of realities, can be developed at any time, no matter whether we perform dāna, observe sīla, study or teach Dhamma. Right understanding can also be developed when there is no opportunity for dāna, sīla or other ways of kusala. Through mindfulness of nāma and rūpa we come to know the different types of cittas which arise, also akusala cittas and eventually there will be less attachment to the concept of self. In being mindful we can verify the truth of the Buddha’s teachings.
We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Sevens, chapter VIII, paragraph 9, The message):
Now the venerable Upāli came to the Exalted One, saluted and sat down at one side. So seated, he said: “Well were it for me, lord, if the Exalted One were to expound Dhamma briefly to me, so that, having heard it, I might abide resolute, alone, secluded, earnest and zealous.”
“The doctrines, Upāli, of which you may know: ‘These doctrines lead one not to complete weariness (of the world), nor to dispassion, nor to ending, nor to calm, nor to knowledge, nor to awakening, nor to the cool’-regard them definitely as not Dhamma, not the discipline, not the word of the Teacher. But the doctrines of which you may know: ‘These doctrines lead one to complete weariness, dispassion, ending, calm, knowledge, the awakening, the cool’-regard them unreservedly as Dhamma, the discipline, the word of the Teacher.”
The Commentary to this sutta, the “Manorathapūraṇi”, explains the word “knowledge” as the penetration of the three characteristics of conditioned realities, namely, impermanence, dukkha and anattā. The “awakening” refers to the attainment of enlightenment and the “cool” to nibbāna.


  1. 1.
    Which cittas are ahetuka (without hetu)? Are they always asobhana?
  2. 2.
    Do arahats have asobhana cittas?
  3. 3.
    Why is the jhānacitta not kāmāvacara citta?
  4. 4.
    Are mahā-kusala cittas always accompanied by somanassa (pleasant
  5. 5.
    Can vipākacitta be sobhana citta?
  6. 6.
    Can kiriyacitta be sobhana citta?
  7. 7.
    Why has the arahat mahā-kiriyacittas instead of mahā-kusala cittas?
  8. 8.
    How many types of kāmāvacara cittas are there?