Dear Dhamma Friends
How are you?
The following modern commentary on Vittaara Suttam on Four Groups of
Actions has been written in response to the requests made by Joyce
Short, Venerable Dhammarati, and Upasaka Howard.
This English language commentary is not to replace the standard Pali
commentary on that Suttam. In fact, it has been based on the latter
as if it were a modern English language subcommentary on it, which
again is not to replace the standard Pali subcommentary either.
I hope you also find this new commentary useful.
With kind regards,
Suan Lu Zaw
A New Commentary On Vitthāra Suttam
By Suan Lu Zaw
Our actions do not have colors in the ultimate sense. But, the Buddha
included dark actions and white actions in this Suttam as if actions
had colors. What the Buddha was doing here was using figurative
speech to offer us vivid illustration of actions we are capable of
doing and their outcomes.
In this new commentary on Vitthaara Suttam, I planned to offer the
representative interpretation in line with the Buddha's use of
selective examples in the original Suttam. In other words, my
interpretation would be a narrowly focussed one with the function of
pinpointing the most obvious phenomena. After all, the Suttanta
approach is always partial and never intended to be comprehensive.
Vitthaara Suttam contains five paragraphs.
The Paragraph One is significant because the Buddha, here, confirmed
the phenomenon of our actions having their results in the next life.
This paragraph is the answer to those sceptics who have doubts about
whether the Buddha actually taught Samsaara that is the serial
rebirths. The Buddha unmistakably declared that he had personally
realized them with extraordinary wisdom.
The Paragraph Two defined the meaning of dark action. Here, the
Buddha limited the range of the meaning of the dark action to those
actions carried out with anger. We need to remember this limitation
placed on the meaning of the adjective "dark (kanha)". In this
paragraph, the adjective "dark" covers only those actions with anger.
The next important thing to note is the strength of anger. We can
know the strength of anger if we know its results. The Buddha
described miserable hellish world as the destination to which the
actions with this anger would lead. And he also described the
resulting feeling as really miserable harh feeling (ekantadukkham).
This means that, in order to get such hellish existence and feeling,
the violent actions must have been carried out with full-strength
This type of anger that leads to dark action referred to in Paragraph
Twb is well documented in Abhidhamma Pitaka. Dhammasanganii, the
First Book of Abhidhamma, describes the arising of the unhealthy
mental event with displeasure and strong anger (akusala cittam
uppannam hoti domanassasahagatam patighasampayuttam).
The Paragraph Three defined the meaning of white action. Here, the
Buddha described the white action as those actions carried out with
dis-anger. As all healthy minds come with dis-anger according to
Abhidhamma, we can know for sure that white action refers to those
actions originated from healthy efficacious mental events
All we need to do here is to determine which healthy efficacious
consciousness the Buddha was referring to in the Paragraph Three. As
the Buddha had chosen the existence and feeling of Subhakinha Brahma
gods as the outcome of the white action carried out with dis-anger,
we know for sure that the healthy efficacious consciousness in the
Paragraph Three is the Jhaana consciousness.
Now, as the final step, we need to find out which Jhaana
consciousness is responsible for rebirth in the Subhakinha Brahma
world. In this regard, Vibhanga, the second book of Abhidhamma,
becomes handy. In Section 1026, Vibhanga, we found the following
question and answer.
"Tatiyaam jhaanaam paniitaam bhaavetvaa kattha upapajjanti?
Tatiyaam jhaanaam paniitaam bhaavetvaa subhakinhaanaam devaanaam
"Where are they reborn by having developed the superior Third Jhaana
(tatiyam jhaanam paniitam)? They are reborn in the world of
Subhakinha Brahmas by having developed the superior Third Jhaana."
Thus, we now know that the white action in the Paragraph Three refers
to the development of the Third Jhaana consciousness at the superior
Paragraph Four demands our careful reading. Particular attention
should be paid to the dark action and the white action carried out in
the conext of Paragraph Four. Is the dark action here the same as the
dark action in Paragraph Two? And, is the white action in Paragraph
Four similar to the white action in Paragraph Three?
The answers to those questions are No. How do we know that the
actions are not the same although they have the same
adjectives "dark" and "white"? We know that the actions are not the
same because their results are different.
Let us take a closer look at the results of the actions in Paragraph
Four. The white actions here lead to rebirths as human beings, as
sensuous gods and as mansion-owning halfway beings.
The Pali commentary on Vitthaara Suttam defined gods in Paragraph
Four as sensuous gods.
"Ekacce ca devaati ettha pana kaamaavacaradevaa datthabbaa.
ca vinipaatikaati ettha vemaanikapetaa datthabbaa."
"And some gods here should be noted as sensuous gods
vinipaatikaa here should be noted as mansion-owning halfway beings".
As an obvious starting example, not all human beings are up to the
practice of Jhaana, let alone attaining Jhaana consciousness. From
this observation, we can know that white actions they had performed
in their previous lives originated from healthy efficacious
consciousnesses lower than Jhaana consciousness. These lower
consciousnesses are none other than sensuous healthy efficacious
consciousnesses (kaamaavacara kusalacittaani).
The Buddha also told us that they had also carried out dark actions
alongside those sensuous white actions. As they were not reborn in
hell as those who carried out dark actions in the context of
Paragraph Two, we know for sure that the dark actions referred to in
Paragraph Four are not as severe as those in Paragraph Two.
At this point, we need to point out that dark actions referred to in
Paragraph Four may be originated from all forms of unhealthy
efficacious consciousnesses in addition to those with anger. We can
know this because the Buddha included mansion-owning halfway beings
alongside human beings and sensuous gods. Mansion-owning halfway
beings are called "vemaanikapetaa". As we have seen above, the
term "vinipaatikaa" found in the Suttam was defined
as "vemaanikapetaa" in the Pali commentary on this Suttam. Vemaanika
(vimaana + ika) means those who have mansions (vimaana). Petas are
those beings who carried out dark actions usually with greed or with
anger out of greed in their previous lives. They are sometimes called
I called petas halfway beings because they partly enjoy the good
lives and partly suffer the miserable lives, and because they could
transform into happy beings by having received sharing of merit
dedicated to them by their living human relatives.
How about human beings having greed? We could ask ourselves if we are
ever without greed. Most of the problems in our human societies are
due to inequalities in possession and sharing of resources. We can
safely say that those inequalities are the results of individual
greed and collective greed. Therefore, human beings must have carried
out dark actions with greed as well.
Actions referred to in Paragraph Five are exclusively Buddhist
actions. Only when a Buddha appears in mankind, teachings on actions
carried out specifically for depletion of actions and their results
What did the Buddha mean when he defined the un-dark and un-white
actions as activation (cetanaa) to eradicate dark and white action
having dark and white result?
The Pali commentary on Samkkhitta Suttam in Section 232, on which
Vitthaara Suttam is an elaboration, the un-dark and un-white action
refers to the four stages of the path wisdom.
"Akanham asukkanti kammakkhayakaram catumaggañaanam
"Un-dark and un-white action means the four stages of the path wisdom
that do depletion of actions."
Thus, our examination of Vitthaara Suttam regarding four groups of
actions is complete.
All we need to do now is to locate them in the Abhidhamma Pitaka. All
of them can be found in Dhammasanganii, the very first book of
The reference for the consciousness responsible for dark action in
Paragraph Two is Section 413.
The reference for the consciousness responsible for white action in
Paragraph Three is Section 163.
The references for the consciousnesses responsible for dark and white
action in Paragraph Four are Sections 365, 413, 421, 422 for dark
actions and Sections 1 or 147 for white actions. Section 365 is only
an example. So are Sections 1 or 147 only examples.
The references for the consciousnesses responsible for un-dark and un-
white action in Paragraph Five are Section 277 for the first path
wisdom (pathamo maggo), 361 for the second path wisdom (dutiyo
maggo), 362 for the third path wisdom (tatiyo maggo), and 363 for the
fourtht path wisdom (catuttho maggo).
Suan Lu Zaw
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS LIST
Vitthaara Suttam, from which the following translation was made, can
be found in Section 233, Kammavaggo, Catukkanipaata, Anguttaranikaayo
on Chatthasangayana CD-ROM version 3 produced by Vipassana Research
Institute. Those who use Roman edition should see page 230 in Volume
2 of that edition.
VITTHAARA SUTTAM ON FOUR GROUPS OF KAMMA
Translated By Suan Lu Zaw
Monks, four actions have been declared by me by having personally
realized them with extraordinary wisdom. What are the four? Monks,
there is dark action having dark result. Monks, there is white action
having white result. Monks, there is dark and white action having
dark and white result. Minks, there is un-dark and un-white action
having un-dark and un-white result, which takes place for depletion
Monks, what is dark action having dark result? Here, monks, some
carry out physical action with anger, verbal action with anger, and
mental action with anger. Having carried out physical action with
anger, having carried out verbal action with anger, and having
carried out mental action with anger, he is reborn in the harsh
world. Being reborn in the harsh world, harsh contacts touch him.
Being touched by harsh contacts, he experiences the really miserable
harsh feelings like those beings in hell do. Monks, this is called
dark action having dark result.
Monks, what is white action having white result? Here, monks, some
carry out physical action with dis-anger, verbal action with dis-
anger, and mental action with dis-anger. Having carried out physical
action with dis-anger, having carried out verbal action with dis-
anger, and having carried out mental action with dis-anger, he is
reborn in the gentle world. Being reborn in the gentle world, gentle
contacts touch him. Being touched by gentle contacts, he experiences
the really pleasant gentle feelings like Subhakinha Brahma gods do.
Monks, this is called white action having white result.
Monks, what is dark and white action having dark and white result?
Here, monks, some carry out physical action with anger as well as
with dis-anger, verbal action with anger as well as with dis-anger,
and mental action with anger as well as with dis-anger. Having
carried out physical action with anger as well as with dis-anger,
having carried out verbal action with anger as well as with dis-
anger, and having carried out mental action with anger as well as
with dis-anger, he is reborn in the harsh and gentle world. Being
reborn in the harsh and gentle world, harsh as well as gentle
contacts touch him. Being touched by harsh as well as gentle
contacts, he experiences the mixed feelings of pleasure and misery
like human beings, some sensuous gods and some mansion-owning halfway
beings do. Monks, this is called dark and white action having dark
and white result.
Monks, what is un-dark and un-white action having un-dark and un-
white result, which takes place for depletion of actions? Here,
monks, such activation as to eradicate dark action having dark
result, such activation as to eradicate white action having white
result, and such activation as to eradicate dark and white action
having dark and white result, this activation is called un-dark and
un-white action having un-dark and un-white result, which takes place
for depletion of actions. Monks, these four actions have been
declared by me by having personally realized them with extraordinary
NOTES ON KEY TERMS
The phrase "with anger" is a translation of the Pali
compound "sabyaapajjam" which was defined as "sadosam" in the Pali
commentary. Sadosam = sa + dosam.
Doso is defined as anger in Pali Text Society's Pali English
Dictionary, see page 332.
The phrase "with dis-anger" is a translation of the Pali
word "abyaapajjam". The opposite of the Pali term "doso" is "adoso".
Dis-anger is the literal translation of "adoso". Abyaapajjo is
described as a synonym of adoso in Section 33, Dhammasanganii. Hence,
I translated abyaapajjam as with dis-anger in order to contrast it
with anger in Paragraph Two of the Vitthaara Suttam.
In Section 397, Siilakkhandha Pali, Diighanikaayo, we find "bhikkhu
averam abyaapajjam mettacittam bhaaveti. Without enmity, and with dis-
anger, the monk develops the loving mind".
Thus, dis-anger is a technical term to convey love or loving kindness
as one of its meanings. It does not refer to the mere absence of
anger as when our minds are with greed.
Un-dark is a translation of the word "akanha, not dark". Here, un-
darkness does not refer to other colors such as whiteness. It means
counteracting the very color of darkness. Un-dark means anti-dark.
Thus, un-dark action would counteract the dark actions and their dark
Un-white is a translation of the word "asukka, not white". Here, too,
un-whiteness does not refer to darkness or other colors. It means
counteracting the very color of whiteness. Un-white means anti-white.
Thus, un-white action would counteract the white actions and their
To read the original Suttam in Pali, please follow the following link.
And, please also visit the following link to download and install the
Pali font on your computer so that the Pali letters appear on your
Suan Lu Zaw