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Mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika; Pali: cetasika; Tibetan Wylie: sems byung), in Buddhism, are identified within the teachings of the Abhidharma (Buddhist psychology). They are defined as aspects of the mind that apprehend the quality of an object, and that have the ability to color the mind. Within the Abhidharma, the mental factors are categorized as formations (Sanskrit: saṅkhāra) concurrent with mind (Sanskrit: citta).[1][2][3] Alternate translations for mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika) include "mental states", "mental events", and "concomitants of consciousness".


Mental factors are aspects of the mind that apprehend the quality of an object and have the ability to color the mind. Geshe Tashi Tsering explains:

The Tibetan for mental factors, semlay jungwa chö (Skt. chaitasika dharma), means phenomena arising from the mind, suggesting that the mental factors are not primary to the mind but arise within a larger framework. A mental factor, again, is defined as the aspect of the mind that apprehends a particular quality of an object. Because it is characterized by the qualities of activity and non-neutrality, it has the ability to color the mind in dependence on the way it manifests. Hence, a feeling of desire from seeing what is conceived as a beautiful object affects the other mental factors that are present at that time, and this colors the whole mind.[4]

The relationship between the main mind (Sanskrit: citta) and the mental factors can be described by the following metaphors:

  • The main mind is like screen in a cinema, and the mental factors are like the images projected on the screen. In this analogy, we typically do not notice the screen because we are so caught up on the images.
  • The main mind is like a king who sits passively on a throne, and the mental factors are like the king's busy ministers.[3]

Traleg Rinpoche states that the main distinction between the mind and mental factors is that the mind apprehends an object as a whole, whereas mental factors apprehend an object in its particulars.[5]Template:Refn

Lists of mental factors[]

Within Buddhism, there are many different systems of abhidharma (commonly referred to as Buddhist psychology), and each system contains its own list of the most significant mental factors.Template:RefnTemplate:Refn These lists vary from system to system both in the number of mental factors listed, and in the definitions that are given for each mental factor. These lists are not considered to be exhaustive; rather they present significant categories and mental factors that are useful to study in order to understand how the mind functions.Template:Refn

Some of the main commentaries on the Abhidharma systems that are studied today include:[6]

  • Abhidhammattha-sangaha by Acariya Anuruddha - a Theravada commentary that lists fifty-two mental factors.
  • Atthasālinī by Buddhaghosa - a Theravada commentary that provides explanations for fifty-two mental factors
  • Abhidharma-kosha by Vasubandhu - a Sarvastivada commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists forty-six mental factors.
  • Abhidharma-samuccaya by Asanga - a Yogachara commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists fifty-one mental factors.
  • Innermost Core of Topics of Knowledge (mDzod-phug) by Shenrab Miwo - a Tibetan Bon commentary that lists fifty-one factors.

Theravāda Abhidharma tradition[]

Within the Theravāda tradition, the Abhidhammattha-sangaha enumerates the fifty-two mental factors listed below:Template:Refn

Note that this list is not exhaustive; there are other mental factors mentioned in the Theravada teachings. This list is identifies fifty-two important factors that help to understand how the mind functions.

Seven universal mental factors[]

The seven universal mental factors (sabbacittasādhāraṇa cetasikas) are common (sādhāraṇa) to all consciousness (sabbacitta). Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "These factors perform the most rudimentary and essential cognitive functions, without which consciousness of an object would be utterly impossible."[7]

These seven factors are:

  • Phassa - contact
  • Vedanā - feeling
  • Saññā - perception
  • Cetanā - volition
  • Ekaggata - one-pointedness
  • Jīvitindriya - life faculty
  • Manasikāra - attention

Six occasional mental factors[]

The six occasional or particular mental factors (pakiṇṇaka cetasikas) are ethically variable mental factors found only in certain consciousnesses.[8] They are:

  • Vitakka - Application of thought
  • Vicāra - Examining
  • Adhimokkha - Decision
  • Viriya - Energy
  • Pīti - Rapture
  • Chanda - Desire (to act)

Fourteen unwholesome mental factors[]

The unwholesome mental factors (akusala cetasikas) accompany the unwholesome consciousnesses (akusala citta).

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:[9]

Unwholesome consciousness (akusalacitta) is consciousness accompanied by one or another of the three unwholesome roots—greed, hatred, and delusion. Such consciousness is called unwholesome because it is mentally unhealthy, morally blameworthy, and productive of painful results.

The fourteen unwholesome mental factors are:

  • Four universal unwholesome mental factors (akusalasādhāraṇa):
    • Moha - delusion
    • Ahirika - lack of shame
    • Anottappa - disregard for consequence
    • Uddhacca - restlessness
  • Three mental factors of the greed-group (lobha):
    • Lobha - greed
    • Diṭṭhi - wrong view
    • Māna - conceit
  • Four mental factors of the hatred-group (dosa)
    • Dosa - hatred
    • Issā - envy
    • Macchariya - miserliness
    • Kukkucca - regret
  • Other unwholesome mental factors
    • Thīna - sloth
    • Middha - torpor
    • Vicikicchā - doubt

Twenty-five beautiful mental factors[]

The beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) accompany the wholesome consciousnesses (kusala citta).

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:[9]

Wholesome consciousness (kusalacitta) is consciousness accompanied by the wholesome roots—non-greed or generosity, non-hatred or loving-kindness, and non-delusion or wisdom. Such consciousness is mentally healthy, morally blameless, and productive of pleasant results.

The twenty-five beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) are:

  • Nineteen universal beautiful mental factors (sobhanasādhāraṇa):
    • Saddhā - faith
    • Sati - mindfulness
    • Hiri - shame at doing evil
    • Ottappa - regard for consequence
    • Alobha - lack of greed
    • Adosa - lack of hatred
    • Tatramajjhattatā - balance, neutrality of mind
    • Kāyapassaddhi - tranquility of mental body
    • Cittapassaddhi - tranquility of consciousness
    • Kāyalahutā - lightness of mental body
    • Cittalahutā - lightness of consciousness
    • Kāyamudutā - malleability/softness of mental body
    • Cittamudutā - malleability/softness of consciousness
    • Kāyakammaññatā - wieldiness of mental body
    • Cittakammaññatā - wieldiness of consciousness
    • Kāyapāguññatā - proficiency of mental body
    • Cittapāguññatā - proficiency of consciousness
    • Kāyujukatā - straightness/rectitude of mental body
    • Cittujukatā - straightness/rectitude of consciousness
  • Three Abstinences (virati):
    • Sammāvācā - right speech
    • Sammākammanta - right action
    • Sammā-ājīva - right livelihood
  • Two Immeasurables (appamañña):
  • One Faculty of wisdom (paññindriya):
    • Paññā - wisdom

Mahayana Abhidharma tradition[]

Abhidharma studies in the Mahayana tradition are based on the Sanskrit Sarvāstivāda abhidharma system. Within this system, the Abhidharma-samuccaya identifies fifty-one mental factors:

Five universal mental factors[]

The five universal mental factors (sarvatraga) are:

  1. Sparśa - contact, contacting awareness, sense impression, touch
  2. Vedanā - feeling, sensation
  3. Saṃjñā - perception
  4. Cetanā - volition
  5. Manasikara - attention

These five mental factors are referred to as universal or omnipresent because they operate in the wake of every mind situation. If any one of these factors is missing, then the experience of the object is incomplete. For example:

  • If there is no sparśa (contact), then there would be no basis for perception.
  • If there is no vedana (sensation), there is no relishing of the object.
  • If there is no saṃjñā (perception), then the specific characteristic of the object is not perceived.
  • If there is no cetanā (volition), then there is no movement towards and settling on the object.
  • If there is no manasikara (attention), then there is not holding onto the object.[10]

Five object-determining mental factors[]

The five object-determining mental factors (viṣayaniyata) are:

  1. Chanda - desire (to act), intention, interest
  2. Adhimoksha - decision, interest, firm conviction
  3. Smṛti - mindfulness
  4. Prajñā - wisdom
  5. Samādhi - concentration

The five factors are referred to as object-determining is because these factors each grasp the specification of the object. When they are steady, there is certainty concerning each object.[11]

Eleven virtuous mental factors[]

The eleven virtuous (kuśala) mental factors are:

  1. Sraddhā - faith
  2. Hrī - self-respect, conscientiousness, sense of shame
  3. Apatrāpya - decorum, regard for consequence
  4. Alobha - non-attachment
  5. Adveṣa - non-aggression, equanimity, lack of hatred
  6. Amoha - non-bewilderment
  7. Vīrya - diligence, effort
  8. Praśrabdhi - pliancy
  9. Apramāda - conscientiousness
  10. Upekṣa - equanimity
  11. Ahiṃsā - nonharmfulness

Six root unwholesome factors[]

The six root unwholesome factors (mūlakleśa) are:

  1. Raga - attachment
  2. Pratigha - anger
  3. Avidya - ignorance
  4. Māna - pride, conceit
  5. Vicikitsa - doubt
  6. Dṛiṣṭi - wrong view

Twenty secondary unwholesome factors[]

The twenty secondary unwholesome factors (upakleśa) are:

  1. Krodha - rage, fury
  2. Upanāha - resentment
  3. Mrakśa - concealment, slyness-concealment
  4. Pradāśa - spitefulness
  5. Irshya - envy, jealousy
  6. Mātsarya - stinginess, avarice, miserliness
  7. Māyā - pretense, deceit
  8. Śāṭhya - hypocrisy, dishonesty
  9. Mada - self-infatuation, mental inflation, self-satisfaction
  10. Vihiṃsā - malice, hostility, cruelty, intention to harm
  11. Āhrīkya - lack of shame, lack of conscience, shamelessness
  12. Anapatrāpya - lack of propriety, disregard, shamelessness
  13. Styāna - lethargy, gloominess
  14. Auddhatya - excitement, ebullience
  15. Āśraddhya - lack of faith, lack of trust
  16. Kausīdya - laziness, slothfulness
  17. Pramāda - heedlessness, carelessness, unconcern
  18. Muṣitasmṛtitā - forgetfulness
  19. Asaṃprajanya - non-alertness, inattentiveness
  20. Vikṣepa - distraction, desultoriness

Four changeable mental factors[]

The four changeable mental factors (aniyata) are:

  1. Kaukṛitya - regret, worry,
  2. Middha - sleep, drowsiness
  3. Vitarka - conception, selectiveness, examination
  4. Vicāra - discernment, discursiveness, analysis

Alternate translations[]

Alternate translations for the term mental factors (Sanskrit: caitasika) include:

  • Mental factors (Geshe Tashi Tsering, Jeffrey Hopkins, Bhikkhu Bodhi, N.K.G. Mendis)
  • Mental events (Herbert Guenther)
  • Mental states (Erik Pema Kunzang, Nārada Thera)
  • Concomitants (N.K.G. Mendis)
  • Concomitants of consciousness (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
  • Subsidiary awareness (Alexander Berzin)

See also[]

  • Kleshas (Buddhism)
  • Saṅkhāra
  • Three poisons (Buddhism)



  1. Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 321.
  2. Kunsang (2004), p. 23.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Location 456.
  4. Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Locations 564-568.
  5. Traleg Rinpoche (1993). p. 59
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named berzin1
  7. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 2140-2142.
  8. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 2232-2234.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 1320-1324.
  10. Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 409-414.
  11. Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 487-488.


  • Berzin, Alexander (2006). Mind and Mental Factors: The Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness. Berzin Archives.
  • Bhikkhu Bodhi (1995-1012). A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma. Buddhist Publication Society.
  • Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006). Buddhist Psychology: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
  • Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Bantam. Kindle Edition.
  • Guenther, Herbert V. & Leslie S. Kawamura (1975), Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Necklace of Clear Understanding". Dharma Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  • Kunsang, Erik Pema (translator) (2004). Gateway to Knowledge, Vol. 1. North Atlantic Books.
  • Nārada Thera. Abhidhammattha-sangaha
  • Traleg Rinpoche (1993). The Abhidharmasamuccaya: Teachings by the Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche. The Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist Institute.[1]

External links[]

Mahayana mental factors:

Theravada mental factors:

Theravada Abhidharma:

Definitions for "caitikas" or "cetisakas"

Template:Buddhism topics

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