Noble Eightfold Path – Role of Sobhana Cetasika

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Noble Eightfold Path – Role of Sobhana Cetasika

September 30, 2016; revised December 5, 2017 (#5); July 11, 2021; August 26, 2022

1. In previous posts in this section, we have discussed how nirāmisa sukha or “peace of mind” arises due to both removal of asobhana cetasika (non-beautiful mental factors) or kilesa AND the cultivation of sobhana cetasika (beautiful mental factors).

In this post, I will point out that 7 of the 8 factors in the Noble Eightfold Path are in the set of sobhana cetasika.

2. The most important fact that one needs to comprehend from the posts in this series up to this point, is that our minds are heated/agitated by the presence of asobhana cetasika or kilesa or defilements.

On the other hand, our minds are soothed and comforted, and made joyful by the presence of sobhana cetasika.

One may not realize this until one comprehends this fact and practices cultivating sobhana cetasika while suppressing/removing asobhana cetasika.

3. As explained elsewhere at the site, Abhidhamma, with its methodical analysis of citta and cetasika, was not finalized for a few hundred years after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha at the Third Buddhist Council. This enlarged Canon completed at the Third Council was committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE (29 BCE) at the Aluvihara Monastery at the Fourth Buddhist Council. This was the last Buddhist Council attended by Arahants.

Soon after that, the decline of the pure Dhamma of the Buddha started its decline with the simultaneous rise of the Mahāyāna; see the section “Historical Background.”

When Buddhaghosa wrote the Visuddhimagga, presumed to be a summary of the Tipiṭaka, even Theravadins stopped using the Tipiṭaka for convenience.

Therefore, no one seemed to have realized some important possible usages of cetasika: First, kilesa are the same as asobhana cetasika. Second, components of the Noble Eightfold Path are in the set of sobhana cetasika. This makes it easier to comprehend how one could systematically follow the Path, which is the post’s focus.

I will discuss the details in the upcoming desanās, but here I would like to provide a summary that we can use for that discussion. Another summary post that will be used in these desanās is a summary given in one of the previous posts: “What Are Kilesa (Mental Impurities)? – Connection to Cetasika.”

4. Let us start by continuing from the last desanā, where we discussed how INITIAL thoughts in response to a sensory event arise without us even being conscious about it. These initial thoughts arise AUTOMATICALLY due to our gati or set of sobhana/asobhana cetasika. Any akusala thoughts arise due to our kilesa, which are the same as asobhana cetasika.

However, because our speech and bodily actions are much slower than the rising of those initial thoughts, we can keep vigilant and reverse any reactive akusala thoughts that are AUTOMATICALLY generated.

This is the basis of both Satipaṭṭhāna and Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā. Please listen to that previous desanā on “How Are Gati and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts? and fully comprehend this important concept. Here is the link to that desanā in two parts (there is volume control on the right, but for the second desanā, you may need to turn up the volume on your computer):


We also discussed the evidence for such gati to be associated with any given person and addressed the question of where they are “stored.”

5. We also saw in the above desanās that those initial thoughts that arise in response to a sense event are called mano saṅkhāra. Therefore, we do not have conscious control over mano saṅkhāra, AND they arise within a fraction of a second DUE TO our gati (set of sobhana/asobhana cetasika).

December 5, 2017: Such akusala mano saṅkhāra CAN then lead to the generation of vacī saṅkhāra (silent speech in our heads and speech) and kāya saṅkhāra (bodily actions). This differs from the desanā, and I have discussed the reasons for this revision in “Correct Meaning of Vacī Saṅkhāra.”

But, if we are mindful (sati), we can catch any such akusala mano saṅkhāra and make sure they do not lead to akusala vacī and kāya saṅkhāra.

In the Eightfold Path, such deliberately generated vacī saṅkhāra are called sammā saṅkappa or sammā sankalpa.

And those sammā saṅkappa were generated because one acted with sammā sati.

6. In the above desanās, we discussed an example of a person X finding a lost ring. If X had strong greedy gati, The initial thoughts (mano saṅkhāra) could be to keep the ring for himself. However, if X knows about being mindful, X has time to evaluate the situation with vacī saṅkhāra (in his head) and conclude that keeping the ring for himself is immoral.

If he made that correct decision, even after thinking about it, he could prevent an akusala kamma of stealing. Not only that, he can do a kusala kamma by ensuring that the ring is returned to the rightful owner.

So, now we can see the critical roles of sammā sati and sammā saṅkappa in the Eightfold Path. We have the opportunity (unlike animals) to rationally think about our initial REACTIVE decisions and to reverse them if they are immoral.

7. If X acted with sammā sati and realized the problem with the initial reaction and made the right decision with sammā saṅkappa, then he can take the next steps to sammā vācā (moral speech) and sammā kammanta (moral actions) to implement that decision. He can walk over to the counter, hand over the ring, and tell the office personnel to return the ring to the owner.

This is just one possible example. We come across many such instances during the day. In another example, one may get annoyed by someone accidentally stepping on one’s foot in a crowded place and start yelling at that person without thinking about the consequences. That person did not intentionally do that, especially since it was likely to be a stranger.

Even if one started getting the words out, one could quickly stop and smile at the person indicating that it is no big deal. That would make that person be relieved because, most likely, he/she felt bad about it.

This simple act of kindness would lead to a “cooling down” on both sides. The other person will feel relief and will thank for the kindness. Furthermore, it could have escalated into a shouting match and led to “heated minds” on both sides.

8. When one sees the benefits of such mindful behavior, one will start doing more. One will start living a moral life. This is sammā ājīva or moral livelihood.

Not only that, one will make an extra effort to be mindful and catch any reactive thoughts that could lead to such akusala kamma. This is sammā vāyāma or moral effort.

In a few weeks or months, this will start changing one’s ingrained gati. When one stops using asobhana cetasika, their power will diminish with time. At the same time, one is cultivating sobhana cetasikā (i.e., sammā sati, sammā saṅkappa, sammā vācā, sammā kammanta, sammā ājīva, sammā vāyāma). Thus bad gati will diminish, and good gati will grow.

9. Now, X was able to think rationally about the bad consequences of his initial decision (mano saṅkhāra) to keep the ring because he had sammā diṭṭhi or moral vision, to some extent. Deep down, he knew that such an act of stealing was immoral and was able to fight off the tendency to keep it.

Sammā diṭṭhi is related to the sobhana cetasika of paññā, which is loosely translated as “wisdom.” This “wisdom” cannot be cultivated by reading books, even by reading Dhamma. The paññā cetasika is cultivated by learning Dhamma and living it (i.e., by following the Eightfold Path), thereby getting rid of moha.

10. Now, let us examine the connection between the other factors in the Eightfold Path (here, the mundane version) and some of the sobhana cetasika.

First, three factors in the Eightfold Path have the same names in the list of sobhana cetasika: sammā vācā, sammā kammanta, sammā ājīva; see “Cetasika (Mental Factors).”

11. Sammā saṅkappa are the vacī saṅkhāra that we deliberately generate even if we have akusala mano saṅkhāra arising due to sense inputs. Vacī saṅkhāra are described in the suttā as vitakka (pronounced “vithakka”)and vicāra (pronounced “vichaara”). Vitakka is turning the mind towards a thought object, and vicāra is keeping the mind around that thought object.

Those who are familiar with jhānā know that vitakka and vicāra are two jhāna factors in anāriya jhānā. In the first anāriya jhāna, one can, for example, turn the mind into a kasiṇa object (vitakka) and keep it there (vicāra). In Ariya jhānā, they are called savitakka and savicāra because one is focused on Nibbāna.

So, you can see that maintaining sammā saṅkappa is the same as generating “moral” vitakka and vicāra or kusala vacī saṅkhāra. Remember that these are generated in the head, not speaking out. They are called “sankalpana” in Sinhala.

Also, we note that vitakka and vicāra could be used in immoral paths. A master thief planning a robbery will focus on that task and spend many hours thinking about the plan. So, those two cetasikā fall under the category called particulars or pakiṇṇaka; they can appear in kusala or akusala thoughts as needed.

12. Now, sammā vāyāma arises from another of these particulars, or pakiṇṇaka cetasika, the viriya cetasika.

When one is making an effort to live a moral life, that sammā vāyāma. If one is making an effort towards an immoral life, like that master thief, he is making micchā vāyāma.

Of course the sati cetasika, which is a sobhana cetasika, is sammā sati.

13. Now, we are left with sammā samādhi. This is the only factor that is not related to a cetasika directly. Most people have the idea that samādhi is jhāna or at least is attained only in formal meditation. But it is much deeper. In the next desanā, I will discuss samādhi and the implications of what is summarized in this post.

We are trying to comprehend and reinforce the FOUNDATION of Buddha Dhamma: How one can remove the “thaapa” or “heat” from the mind by getting rid of asobhana cetasika (kilesa) and SIMULTANEOUSLY “cool down” the mind and bring joy to it, by cultivating sobhana cetasika.

This was discussed in the first desanā in this series:

The Hidden Suffering that We All Can Understand

More details were given in the following two desanās:

“Suffering in This Life – Role of Mental Impurities”

“Satipattana Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life”

14. As discussed in the above desanās, akusala thoughts that arise with asobhana cetasika cloud our minds and keep us in the dark. Moha is darkness; it leads to lobha and dosa. That darkness can be temporarily lifted (tadaṅga pahāna) during listening or reading Dhamma.

The next step is to keep that “light on” for days and weeks by being mindful and stopping akusala thoughts that lead to akusala kamma for an extended time. This is vikkhambhana pahāna, which is what we are trying to achieve now. It is done by being mindful, i.e., with sammā sati.

The ultimate goal is to permanently remove such asobhana cetasika and to make that “cooling down” permanent (uccheda pahāna), even for future lives. We will get to that in future posts. But we need to establish a good foundation and experience the nirāmisa sukha for extended periods (vikkhambhana pahāna) first.

15. To get rid of darkness (moha), one has to bring light in. Light is paññā or “wisdom”, a sobhana cetasika. The Noble Eightfold Path is designed to optimize the paññā cetasika — via sammā samādhi — and to eliminate the moha cetasika.

Other sobhana cetasika, like karuṇā and mudita (or mudutā) also help with this process.

Ultimately, one will see how different pieces of the puzzle (including Paṭicca Samuppāda) all fit together to make an easy-to-see picture of the whole process. That will make it easier to grasp the Tilakkhaṇa and advance to the next stage.

All of these can be shown to be consistent with the scheme of sīla, samādhi, and paññā. In the WebLink: suttacentral: Cetanā Karaṇīya Sutta (AN 11.2), the Buddha has detailed how sīla (moral conduct) leads to nirāmisa sukha, and nirāmisa sukha leads to samādhi, and samādhi, in turn, leads to paññā. We will discuss all these in the upcoming desanās.

Next in the series, “Getting to Samādhi.”