I'm working my way through the Abhidhammic system but I find the materials available in English rather dry and difficult, even when they are supposed to be introductory (the most "narrative" I know of are the Abhidhamma Studies of Nyanaponika Thera). I guess this is due to the traditional style of learning, centered on lists, classifications and recitation, which I probably should be following instead of the modern quick-comprehension, overall-glimpse style. (It’s never late, I guess…) There is one question for which I have found no clear answer in my books of reference on the Abhidhamma, namely Buddha Abhidhamma by Mehm Tin Monand and the Abhidhammattha-sangaha edition by Bhikkhu Bodhi and Mahāthera Nārada (Pariyatti Ed., 2012).
My doubts are related to the resultant rootless consciousness (pali: vipāka-ahetuka-cittāni).First of all, let’s refresh what this types of consciousness are.
According to the Theravada scholastic tradition, there are 15 resultant rootless sense-sphere cittas (states of consciousness): resultant (vipāka) here means that they correspond to kammic fruition, and rootless (ahetu) indicates that, as they are the result of kamma and not the creation of future kamma, they are not directly connected with the roots of greed, hatred or delusion. These cittas might be either wholesome or unwholesome (i. e. the result of wholesome or unwholesome past actions) and are related either to one of physical five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing) or to the receiving and investigating activities that arise in the mind after the sensory experience. Feelings associated with the resultant rootless cittas are bodily pain or equanimity in the "unwholesome" cittas, and bodily pleasure, equanimity or joy in the "wholesome" ones. See table 1.3 in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s edition of the Abhidhammattha-sangaha for further details.
I am aware that the "law" of kamma is regarded in the Suttas and the commentaries in pretty realistic and objective terms (e.g., the death of Ven. Mahamoggallāna). An extreme example of the objective and law-like kammic fruition sometimes found in the Suttas might be the image of someone's head exploding because of not answering a question from a Tathāgata (s. MN 35.13). Nevertheless, I have often wondered about the possibility that human-realm vipāka (fruits of kamma) comprises, not only five-sense experiences, but also states of mind directly prompted by the remembrance of past action, or by imaginations and fantasies. An everyday example could be remorse, or rather a sudden outburst of remorse. Remembering something you have done or said that makes you suffer can be an active volitional activity (you can either indulge in it or let it go), and hence a cause of kamma, good or bad, but it can also be spontaneous, unexpected and unwanted.
But remorse is usually built upon a purely mental object, that is, a memory. And, as we have seen, the Abhidhamma seems to consider only the five sense cittas as vipāka, excluding the mind-door (the sixth sense-base), which is absent in the 15 resultant rootless cittas. Is vipāka, i.e., the result of kamma, in the sense-sphere only linked to eye, nose, ear, tongue and touch? Are you aware of any passage in the Abhidhammic literature (or in the Suttas, for that matter) suggesting that vipāka can be itself a private and subjective state conditioned by a mental object, such as an outburst of remorse, sudden good memories or joy, or a mental breakdown?
Any guess would be appreciated, and, if something doesn't seem clear (old hazy Abhidhamma, and I suspect I didn’t manage to make it clearer), please don't hesitate to ask.
We quoted Peter Harvey above. Here is what he has to say about remorse:
He accepts the possibility of remorse as a karmic result, but I fail to see how it could be explained in the language of the Abhidhamma.“However much Buddhism may value genuine remorse, it does not –certainly in its Theravāda form – encourage feelings of guilt; for such a heavy feeling, with its attendant anguish and self-dislike, is not seen as a good state of mind to develop, being unconducive to calm and clarity of mind. Indeed, it can be seen as an aspect of the fourth spiritual hindrance, of agitated ‘restlessness and worry’. Such a feeling might arise as part of the natural karmic result of an action, but is not to be actively indulged in (An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 28)
P.S. : I have heard that some non-Theravāda Abhidhammas include remorse as an indeterminate (aniyata) mental factor, whose karmic value depends on the motivation behind it. Again, this refers to the intentional construction (saṅkhāra), not the result (vipāka), of kamma/karma.