Vipassana Hawai'i - Supporting the teachings of classical Buddhism


KILESA (Defilements)
Thanh Huynh

Kilesa (Defilements, impurities, corruptions, imperfections, poisons)


The English translations suggest that Kilesa is something undesirable that needs to be controlled. The Buddha said that the mind by nature is pure and radiant. It is however ordinarily tarnished by unwholesome visiting forces which are known as kilesas. This is the cause of suffering and the cycle of birth and death.


There are different classifications of kilesa. The most commonly mentioned is the following list of ten according to the Abhidhamma (higher teaching or Buddhist psychology):

1- greed (lobha)

2- hate (dosa)

3-delusion (moha)

4- conceit (mana)

5-wrong views (ditthi)

6-doubt (vicikiccha)

7-torpor (thina)

8-restlessness (uddhacca)

9-shamelessness (ahirika)

10-recklessness (anottappa)

In this list, 1, 2 and 3 belong to the most important group of three unwholesome roots (akusala mula) in the classification of citta (consciousness) and all other kilesas are one way or another related to these three; 6, 7 and 8 are within the five hindrances (nivaranas) to meditation practices (see ?introduction to Mindfulness Meditation?). In paticca-samupadda (dependent origination), Kilesa is classified as "Kilesa vatta' (the round of defilements), the other two being kamma-vatta (action round) and vipaka-vatta (results round). Kilesa is not only limited to the above ten: any of the 14 unwholesome mental factors (akusala cetasikas) represents manifestation of kilesa (see Cetasika table in ?Concept and Reality?).


Kilesa ranges from the gross manifestation of anger such as screaming out in rage to the subtle form of aversion such as "her dress is too colorful!". It motivates the obvious greed in diluting prescription drugs for profit to the potential attachement in "this dog is so cute".

Kilesa can manifest at one of 3 levels:

1/ anusaya-kilesa: low level, latent, like sediments waiting to be stirred up.

2/ pariyuttana-kilesa: medium level arising only in the mind due to causes and conditions.

3/ vitikkakama-kilesa: coarse level, manifesting in unwolesome speech or action, breaking precepts.


Some kilesa could be better controlled by specific practice. In general, the practice of morality/precepts (sila) aims at keeping the coarse kilesas at bay. The concentration practice (samatha bhavana) temporarily suppresses kilesas. Only insight (vipassana) practice neutralizes kilesas by simply be mindful of them. In cittanupassana (mindfulness of the mind), one learns to be mindful of subtle aspects of kilesa such as the thought 鍍his cake tastes so good! ? and to recognize it as a form of greed (see ?Do not look down on the defilements?). In this way, one sees how the mind functions, when it is free of kilesa, what causes kilesa to arise and how to keep it from arising. One also observes how different components of the five khandas (aggregates) inter-relate and can directly experiences the four Noble Truths (Ariya sacca). At the first stage of enlightenment or stream entry (sotapati), the coarse kilesas are eradicated and at full enlightenment (arrahatta) all kilesas are permanently uprooted.

May our practice lead to the eradication of kilesa.