Abhidhamma Series, no 23. Latent Tendencies.
- Dear friends,
Defilements, akusala cetasikas, are of different levels, they may be
subtle or more coarse.
Defilements that are transgressions (v�tikkama kilesa), are coarse
defilements of the degree of unwholesome courses of action through
body or speech.
Defilements one is possessed by and that arise with akusala citta
(pariyu.t.thaana kilesa) are medium defilements that disturb the citta.
Latent tendencies (anusaya kilesa) are subtle defilements that lie
dormant in the citta and do not arise but condition the arising of
The latent tendencies are enumerated in the Tipi.taka and the
Commentaries, where it is stated that the Buddha, the Fully
Enlightened One, understood these by his perfect knowledge of beings�
biases and underlying tendencies (aasayaanusaya ~naa.na).
Since each citta that arises and falls away is immediately succeeded
by the next citta, unwholesome and wholesome behaviour and
inclinations are accumulated from moment to moment and from life to
The latent tendencies which are unwholesome inclinations that are
accumulated are the following: sense-desire (kaama-raaga), aversion
(pa.tigha), conceit (maana), wrong view (di.t.thi), doubt
(vicikicchaa), desire for becoming (continued existence, bhavaraaga),
and ignorance (avijjaa).
It is essential to have more understanding of the latent tendencies
and their power. They are called subtle defilements because they do
not arise with the akusala citta, but they are powerful. Since they
have not been eradicated they can strongly condition and influence
our behaviour. They lie dormant in the citta like microbes infesting
the body. So long as they have not been eradicated we are like sick
people, because they can condition the arising of akusala citta when
there are the appropriate conditions.They can condition the arising
of akusala citta even to the degree of transgression of siila at any
time, and thus, more defilements are accumulated again and added to
the latent tendencies. The teaching of the latent tendencies helps us
to see why the defilements in our life are so tenacious, arising
again and again, and why their arising is unforeseeable and
When we study the enumeration of the latent tendencies, we should
remember that these latent tendencies are not abstract notions. The
latent tendency of sense-desire or sensuous clinging conditions
akusala citta with attachment to any kind of pleasant object. We may
have expectations as to kind words or praise from other people. This
is selfish desire that has been deeply accumulated and is very
powerful. The latent tendency of aversion conditions akusala citta
with aversion, but we should know that this has many shades. It is
not only a matter of hate or anger, but it also arises when we are
upset or depressed because we do not receive the pleasant object we
were hoping for. The latent tendency of conceit conditions the
arising of akusala citta with clinging to the importance of self. It
can arise on account of any object experienced through the six
doorways, and it often motivates our speech and actions. All latent
tendencies condition the arising of akusala citta, but because of
accumulated ignorance we do not notice their arising, we are deluded
time and again.
The latent tendencies are subsequently eradicated by the lokuttara
magga-citta of each of the four stages of enlightenment. Wrong view
and doubt are eradicated at the first stage, the stage of the
sotaapanna. At the second stage sense-desire and aversion are not yet
eradicated but they are diminished. They are completely eradicated at
the third stage, the stage of the anaagaami. Conceit, desire for
becoming and ignorance are eradicated at the stage of the arahat.
Thus we see that the eradication of the latent tendencies takes a
long time. It can only be achieved by the development of
understanding of all dhammas appearing in daily life.
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