Ten Defilements (kilesā)

 The defilements include both fetters and hindrances. In the Theravada tradition, fetters span multiple lifetimes and are difficult to remove, while hindrances are temporary.

On this page:

  1. The Defilements according to the Abhidhamma
  2. Sixteen Defilements
  3. Unwholesome Roots
  4. Wholesome Roots
  5. The Three Layers of Defilements
  6. Finally removing the Defilements
  7. Wisdom Removes Ignorance, the Base of the Defilements

The Defilements according to the Abhidhamma

The first three defilements are known as the "unwholesome roots" (akusala-mūla); and, their opposites are the three "wholesome roots" (kusala-mūla). The presence of such a wholesome or unwholesome root affects thinking and therefore speech and action, so conditioning future experience (karma).

The lists of defilements in different sources vary, both in content and in the number of items. Sometimes they are considered to be the same as the fetters.

  1. greed (lobha)
  2. hate (dosa)
  3. delusion (moha)
  4. conceit (māna)
  5. wrong views (micchādiṭṭhi)
  6. doubt (vicikicchā)
  7. torpor (thīna)
  8. restlessness (uddhacca)
  9. shamelessness (ahirika)
  10. recklessness (anottappa)

Sixteen Defilements

From: MN 7: Vatthupama Sutta: The Simile of the Cloth

  1. covetousness and unrighteous greed (abhijjha-visama-lobha)
  2. ill will (byapada)
  3. anger (kodha)
  4. hostility or malice (upanaha)
  5. denigration or detraction; contempt (makkha)
  6. domineering or presumption (palasa)
  7. envy (issa)
  8. jealousy, or avarice; selfishness (macchariya)
  9. hypocrisy or deceit (maya)
  10. fraud (satheyya)
  11. obstinacy, obduracy (thambha)
  12. presumption or rivalry; impetuosity (sarambha)
  13. conceit (mana)
  14. arrogance, haughtiness (atimana)
  15. vanity or pride (mada)
  16. negligence or heedlessness; in social behavior, this leads to lack of consideration (pamada).
"Knowing, monks, [defilement, above] to be a defilement of the mind, the monk abandons [it]." Gotama Vatthupama Sutta

The defilements are eradicated by viewing them in terms of the Four Noble Truths.

The Unwholesome Roots(akusala-mūla)

  1. greed (lobha),
  2. hate (dosa) and
  3. delusion (moha).

There opposites are the wholesome roots.

In some systems, these unwholesome roots are referred to as:

  1. Attraction
  2. Aversion, and
  3. Ignorance

That is, in different, words.

The Wholesome Roots (kusala-mūla)

  1. non-greed, or generosity (alobha),
  2. non-hate or loving-kindness (adosa), and
  3. non-delusion or wisdom (amoha).

So, for example, non-greed doesn't include a neutral meaning (neither greedy nor generous), but it has a positive meaning, generosity.

The Three Layers of Defilements

From the inner to the outer layer they are:

  1. Layer of Latent Tendency (anusaya)
  2. Layer of Manifestation (pariyutthana)
  3. Layer of Transgression (vitikkama)

Latent tendency is the bottom layer. In this layer, the defilement lies dormant, ready to appear. Because of a stimulus, from the mind or outside, this dormant defilement manifests. We may be quite happy and feeling loving-kindness when someone or something upsets us. This is possible because the latent level of the defilements, say, self-illusion and aversion, are activated.

In the second layer this latent tendency appears as unwise thoughts, emotions and volitions. We get angry and think, 'He shouldn't say that to me! He shouldn't get away with that'. We decide we have to do something. This is called Manifestation.

In Manifestation, sometimes we are aware of these mental events, often we are not. At a higher level of mindfulness, we can catch these thoughts and stop them. If we do not stop them, they lead to transgressions, in speech or action. We exhibit bodily formations, such as an angry face, deep breathing and the like. Also, biochemical changes occur in the body.

The transgression may also appear in speech and action. Perhaps we tell the person to 'Get stuffed', or worse, punch him. A normal person might not even realise they have lost their temper until after all this has happened. Sometimes, perhaps often, they feel guilty and ashamed about it. But with practice, a person can stop the process at manifestation.

A person capable of concentration can catch the manifestation of angry thoughts and feelings, and dissolve them as they occur. In this way such a person can stop old habits becoming transgressions and prevent new ones by not reacting. But wisdom is required to ferret out the innermost defilements of Latent Tendency.

Finally removing the Defilements

To completely remove the defilements, you need to use all eight factors of the path. You need to use Right View and Right Intention at a higher level to reach the lowest layers of defilements. At this level, you have more than a conceptual understanding of reality. You can directly see it. You see experience as it is, as impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless. And at this higher level, you use Right Intention to finally give up even the latent defilements.

Concentration cannot do this. You need more than a calm mind to clear these deep defilements. because at the bottom of the defilements is ignorance. And ignorance requires wisdom to root it out. If the mud at the bottom of the pool isn't stirred up, the water remains clear. But the mud remains at the bottom. While it remains, the latent danger of its being stirred up is still there. To permanently remove the danger of the water becoming cloudy and obscure, the mud at the bottom must be removed, or its nature changed.

Similarly, the latent defilements in the bottom layer must be removed. They are removed by wisdom a penetrating seeing of phenomena as they really are. That is, seeing through how they appear, and seeing them in terms of the Four Noble Truths.

This process can start at anytime during our development. We do what we can and use what understanding we have, even conceptual understanding. By using the Four Noble Truths and Right View and Right Intention we can make progress on the path.

Wisdom Removes Ignorance, the Base of the Defilements

Ignorance is not-knowing, or it is wrong view knowing what isn't so. It spoils our lives by leading us to see the world in a false way. Through ignorance, we see the world as filled with permanent, satisfactory, complete wholes (selves). We do not see a never ending flow of change, like a wave in the sea. Time after time, we feel excited at the prospect of getting something, and delight in getting it. Sometimes we will do anything to get it, whatever the cost to us or others (but, we hope, mostly others). All this inspite of the many times in the past when similar events ended up in disappointment, frustration and failure. And we cling to ourselves as permanent egos, even though we know we are continually changing. These ignorant delusions colour our lives, and lead to suffering.

For instance, I get the job of a lifetime. I get excited at the prospect of the wonderful life I will live now I am a Job-Title. I now have money, power and security. I will do anything to keep this job, even if others are hurt or deceived. I feel this 'high' in spite of the many times in the past when things didn't work out. As time passes, the excitement of attainment wanes, and the job may get boring. The deception or worse that I do for the job leaves me feeling guilty and ashamed. Perhaps the thought arises that I could have done something better in life, something truly beneficial to others. Sooner or later, I realise that the 'permanent' nature of this 'wonderful job' decays, making impermanence obvious. The job is no longer exciting. The money and the power become less important to me, or disappear.

The lovely identity as a Job-Title fades quite quickly. But it is not only the job. Even I (as a body), begin to age and grow old. I am not a permanent whole, a permanent self. In any case, the-Job does not go on for ever, because we are all mortal.

Ignorance veils this true nature of things. We see the world as permanent, delightful, and ourselves as a permanent "I". Because this is a false view it ends in suffering. So to eradicate suffering, we need to clear these veils of ignorance. Wisdom clears these veils and reveals life for what it truly is. We develop wisdom by seeing the true nature of things. We do this by deeply and widely seeing things through our senses, not through our minds. We stop looking at the world through the veil of dreams and wishes, and see it through our sense organs. We do this through insight (vipassana-bhavana). We stop trying to be statues frozen in time, trying to cling to things, and instead, become surfers riding the waves of reality.

Normally we do not see experience through our senses alone. We see it through a fog of mental delusions that hides the truth. We see it through our hopes and fears, and through our memories We are so immersed in these dreams that we do not live in the real world. Instead we live in a delusory world of fabrications. A world of suffering.