Pali Term: Kusala

Explore the ancient language of the Tipitaka and Theravāda commentaries

Moderator: Mahavihara moderator

User avatar
Posts: 1388
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Pali Term: Kusala

Postby Dmytro » Fri Sep 10, 2010 5:25 am

Hello Pali friends,

There's an excellent article on this subject:

Good or Skilful? Kusala in Canon and Commentary

By L. S. Cousins

See also the article:

Kusala and Akusala as Criteria of Buddhist Ethics

Bhikkhu Thich Nhat-Tu ... kusala.htm

I think that 'kusala' is an ancient Indoeuropean word, which probably has following correspondences in modern languages:

iskusstvo (art), iskusnyj (skilful) - Russian;
kunst (handiness, skill) - Spanish;
kunst (art) - Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Flemish, German, Norwegian, Yiddish.

The early usage of this word is indeed connected with practical skills, however in the later texts the meaning shifts to 'wholesome', as in the, where tanha can be either kusala or akusala:

Tattha tanhaa duvidhaa kusalaapi akusalaapi.

There are two kinds of ta.nhaa: skilful [kusala] and unskilful [akusala]. Unskilful ta.nhaa leads to sa.msaara, skilful ta.nhaa is for abandoning, which leads to diminishing [of sa.msaaric activities].

Metta, Dmytro

User avatar
Posts: 1388
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Pali Term: Kusala

Postby Dmytro » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:55 am

I got so used to the translation of 'kusalā dhammā' as 'skilful qualities' that I never investigated it.

The meaning turned out to be quite different.

Here are some sutta passages, with translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

MN 60, Apannaka sutta

‘‘Tatra, gahapatayo, ye te samaṇabrāhmaṇā evaṃvādino evaṃdiṭṭhino – ‘atthi dinnaṃ…pe… ye imañca lokaṃ parañca lokaṃ sayaṃ abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedentī’ti tesametaṃ pāṭikaṅkhaṃ? Yamidaṃ kāyasucaritaṃ, vacīsucaritaṃ, manosucaritaṃ – ime tayo kusale dhamme abhinivajjetvā yamidaṃ kāyaduccaritaṃ, vacīduccaritaṃ, manoduccaritaṃ – ime tayo akusale dhamme samādāya vattissanti.

"Now, householders, of those recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: 'There is nothing given ... no good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realised by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world,' it is to be expected that they will avoid these three wholesome states, namely, good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, and good mental conduct, and that they will undertake and practise these three unwholesome states, namely, bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, and mental misconduct."

DN 25, Udumbarika sutta

Santi ca kho, nigrodha, akusalā dhammā appahīnā saṃkilesikā ponobbhavikā sadarā dukkhavipākā āyatiṃ jātijarāmaraṇiyā, yesāhaṃ pahānāya dhammaṃ desemi.

There are, Nigrodha, unwholesome things that have not been abandoned, tainted, conducive to rebirth, fearful, productive of painful results in the future, associated with birth, decay and death. It is for abandonment of these things that I teach Dhamma.

DN 26, Cakkavatti-sihanada sutta

‘‘Atha kho tesaṃ, bhikkhave, sattānaṃ evaṃ bhavissati – ‘mayaṃ kho akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samādānahetu evarūpaṃ āyataṃ ñātikkhayaṃ pattā. Yaṃnūna mayaṃ kusalaṃ kareyyāma. Kiṃ kusalaṃ kareyyāma? Yaṃnūna mayaṃ pāṇātipātā virameyyāma, idaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ samādāya vatteyyāmā’ti.

And then the thought will occur to these beings: "It is only because we became addicted to evil ways that we suffered this loss of our kindred, so let us now do good! What good things can we do? Let us abstain from the taking of life - that will be a good practice."

DN 28, Sampasadaniya sutta

‘‘Aparaṃ pana, bhante, etadānuttariyaṃ, yathā bhagavā dhammaṃ deseti kusalesu dhammesu. Tatrime kusalā dhammā seyyathidaṃ, cattāro satipaṭṭhānā, cattāro sammappadhānā, cattāro iddhipādā, pañcindriyāni, pañca balāni, satta bojjhaṅgā, ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo.

"Also, lord, the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the wholesome factors is unsurpassed, that is to say: the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four roads to power, the five spiritual faculties, the five mental powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, the Noble Eightfold Path.

From the dictionary of Margaret Cone:

kusalā dhammā, right practices or actions; good conduct; virtues; factors conducing to well-being;
Vin I 103,13 (pamukham etam ~ānam dhammānam, tena vuccati pātimokkhan ti);
II 188,2 (hāni yeva ... Devadattassa pāṭikankhā ~esu dhammesu no vuddhi);
D III 102,12 (tatr' ime ~ā dhammā, seyyathidam cattāro satipatthānā cattāro sammappadhānā...);
M I 184,30 (ye keci ~ā dhammā sabbe te catusu ariyasaccesu sangahaṃ gacchanti);
402,17 (kāyasucaritam vacisucaritam manosucaritam ime tayo ~e dhamme abhinivajjetvā ...);
Th 83 (bhāvehi ~am dhammam);
Ja III 274,3* (icc ete ~e dhamme ṭhite passāmi attani);
Dhs 1 (katame dhammā ~ā);
Mil 13,5 (aham... ~ā dhammā akusalā dhammā avyākatā dhammā ti imesu tisu padesu pakkhipitvā sabbam tarn abhidhammapitakam vitthārena osāressāmī ti);
33,14 (sīlam ... saddhā viriyam sati samādhi ime te ~ā dhammā ti);

User avatar
Posts: 1388
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Pali Term: Kusala

Postby Dmytro » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:00 am

As described in Sevitabb-asevitabba sutta (MN 114), ill will and greed belong to the mental conduct:

‘‘Kathaṃrūpaṃ, bhante, manosamācāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti, kusalā dhammā parihāyanti? Idha, bhante, ekacco abhijjhālu hoti, yaṃ taṃ parassa paravittūpakaraṇaṃ taṃ abhijjhātā hoti – ‘aho vata yaṃ parassa taṃ mamassā’ti; byāpannacitto kho pana hoti paduṭṭhamanasaṅkappo – ‘ime sattā haññantu vā vajjhantu vā ucchijjantu vā vinassantu vā mā vā ahesu’nti – evarūpaṃ, bhante, manosamācāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti, kusalā dhammā parihāyanti.

‘‘Kathaṃrūpaṃ, bhante, manosamācāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā parihāyanti, kusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti? Idha, bhante, ekacco anabhijjhālu hoti, yaṃ taṃ parassa paravittūpakaraṇaṃ taṃ nābhijjhātā hoti – ‘aho vata yaṃ parassa taṃ mamassā’ti; abyāpannacitto kho pana hoti appaduṭṭhamanasaṅkappo – ‘ime sattā averā abyābajjhā [abyāpajjhā (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī. ka.)] anīghā sukhī attānaṃ pariharantū’ti – evarūpaṃ, bhante, manosamācāraṃ sevato akusalā dhammā parihāyanti, kusalā dhammā abhivaḍḍhanti.

"And what kind of mental conduct causes unwholesome states to increase and wholesome states to diminish in one who cultivates it? Here someone is covetous; he covets the wealth and property of others thus: 'Oh, may what belongs to another be mine!' Or he has a mind of ill will and intentions of hate thus: 'May these beings be slain and slaughtered, may they be cut off, perish, or ne annihilated!' Such mental conduct causes unwholesome states to increase and wholesome states to diminish in one who cultivates it.

"And what kind of mental conduct causes unwholesome states to diminish and wholesome states to increase in one who cultivates it? Here someone is not covetous; he does not covet the wealth and property of others thus: 'Oh, may what belongs to another be mine!' His mind is without ill will and he has intentions free of hate thus: 'May these beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety! May they live happily!' Such mental conduct causes unwholesome states to diminish and wholesome states to increase in one who cultivates it."

So 'kusalā dhammā' means 'skilful conduct' (by body, speech and mind), and various particular practices of such conduct.

Metta, Dmytro
Last edited by Dmytro on Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Posts: 1388
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Pali Term: Kusala

Postby Dmytro » Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:05 am

Prof. Cousins emphasizes the meditational aspect:


This brings me to the very large number of passages in which kusala is linked with dhamma, either in the singular or more often in the plural. It is important to note that many of the passages here are meditational in their orientation. So in the Mahāvagga (Vin I 104) the Buddha declares that if a monk does not make known a Vinaya offence when the Pātimokkha is recited, this would be a deliberate lie and a deliberate lie is an obstacle. The text defines an obstacle (antar āyiko dhammo), first of all as an obstacle to achieving the first jhāna, then successively to the remaining jhānas up to the fourth, then various kinds of meditational experience are mentioned, ending (summarizing) with "to the achieving of skilful dhammas." Similarly, in the discussionof the fourth pārājika (at Vin ĪI 91), in the list of higher states which must not be falsely claimed by the monk these meditational attainments (jhāna, vimokkha, samādhi, etc.) are referred to as skilful dhammas.

This kind of direct linkage between higher states and skilfulness is found in a number of contexts.(35) So in the Saṃyutta-nikāya we find the ascetic who wishes to attain a skilful dhamma and realize higher states (uttari-manussa-dhamma; alam-ariya-ñāṇa-dassana). In the Lohicca-sutta we meet the idea that if someone attains a skilful dhamma, he should not tell anyone else. Or the Buddha is asked if he has achieved this skilful dhamma for a long while. Again in the A"nguttara-nikāya we learn of the six factors which make a monk fit (or unfit) to attain a skilful dhamma: he is skilful in coming, skilful in going, skilful as to means (upāyakusala), he arouses the purpose (chanda) of attaining a skilful dhamma which has not been attained, he guards skilful dhammas which have been attained and is successful in constant action. Compare too passages in which are found the expression: (he succeeds in) the method, the dhamma that is skilful (...ñāyaṃ dhammaṃ kusalaṃ).(36) Usually this makes the point that, whether householder or renunciant, he can succeed if he follows the right way i.e. the eightfold path.

Similar usages occur in the plural too.(37) So in the Majjhima-nikāya, when the Jains admit to not knowing: "the arousing of skilful dhammas", the reference must be to the apparent absence of the higher jhānas in the Jain system.(38) Or, in the A"nguttara-nikāya, when skilful dhammas explicitly refer to mental peace (cetosamatha) within and insight into dhammas from the standpoint of wisdom (adhipaññādhammavipassanā). In the Paṭisambhidā-magga we are even told that all skilful dhammas lead in the direction of the liberations (vimokkhānuloma).

There are a great many places in which skilful dhammas are referred to briefly or without much qualification, where it is not possible to be sure whether the intention is to refer specifically to meditational states. Nevertheless, this is probably the meaning which should be assumed in the majority of cases. I do not wish to argue that a broader usage which includes other desirable states is entirely excluded, only that in such cases the expression points primarily to meditational practice. This makes translation by such expressions as "good states " misleading; for such renderings point first and foremost to the ordinary ethical dimension and only secondarily to meditational experience. By contrast I believe the intention of the Pali texts in these passages is to point first to the jhānas and the states later known as the dhammas contributing to awakening (bodhi-pakkhiya). In other words the use of kusala in these contexts is concerned with the fact that these are special states which are, directly or indirectly, produced by wisdom. That is why they are called "skilful".

There are equally a great many passages where the meditational context is beyond real dispute. One example of this is the occurrence of skilful dhammas in the formula of the four right efforts and in related formulae concerned with vigour (viriya), such as descriptions of effort (vāyāma) in the eightfold path.(39) This of course is simply a specific case of the bodhi-pakkhiyas in general and indeed the seven sets are sometimes cited in relation to

But, Venerable sir, there is another incomparable quality (ānuttariya): how the Lord teaches dhamma as regards skilful dhammas. As to that, the skilful dhammas are as follows: four establishings of mindfulness, four right efforts, four bases of success, five faculties, five powers, seven factors of awakening, the noble eightfold path ... That, Venerable Sir, is an incomparable quality as regards skilful dhammas ... there is nothing further to be known by higher knowledge, such that another mendicant or brahmin, knowing by higher knowledge, would know more deeply i.e. as regards skilful dhammas.(40)

Sometimes the link is made directly to the first of the seven sets: the four establishings of mindfulness.(41) So for example in the Janavasabha-suttanta we are told by Brahmā Sanaṃkumāra that the four establishings of mindfulness were made known for the purpose of attaining the skilful -- here the reference must be to the remaining six sets. Some at least of the discourses, where things kusala are mentioned in a context which lead up to a culmination with the eightfold or the tenfold path, probably belong here.(42) Compare also the Kāya-gatā-sati-sutta where we are told, in relation to the person who has brought into being, made much of and immersed himself in mindfulness of the body, that whatever skilful dhammas he has are connected with the knowledges (vijjā-bhāgiya) i.e. lead to the three knowledges.(43)

When in the Mahā-hatthi-padopama-sutta Sāriputta tells (M I 184) us that all skilful dhammas are included in the four noble truths, we should again interpret skilful dhammas here as referring to meditational states. Indeed, this is made clear later in the sutta by the references to equipoise connected with the skilful. More generally, there are many passages in which skilful dhammas are spoken of in association with bhāvanā "bringing into being" or some form of the verb bhāveti.(44) In most of these what is implied is the technical sense of these words, as referring to the bringing into being of the eightfold path in particular or the dhammas which contribute to awakening in general i.e. the fourth noble truth. This is even more likely to be the case when the skilful to be brought into being is contrasted with the unskilful "to be abandoned" i.e. the corresponding function of the second noble truth.(45) No doubt closely related to this is the idea of achieving a stage of fixity in relation to skilful dhammas, an idea closely related to some interpretations of what is meant by stream-entry.(46)

There are a number of passages which refer to someone who is (not) applying insight (vipassaka) to skilful dhammas.(47) Sometimes this probably refers to a type of insight meditation.(48) However, it also merges into contexts where skilful dhammas or the skilful is simply the object of doubt or wisdom.(49)


Skilled in meditational/mystical (/ascetic?) practices (in the early Pali sources and, no doubt, in other contemporary traditions), including skilled in the kind of behaviour which supports meditation, etc. i.e. sīla, etc.

User avatar
Posts: 1388
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2009 7:24 pm
Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: Pali Term: Kusala

Postby Dmytro » Tue Apr 25, 2017 12:23 pm

Skilfulness, when cultivated, naturally develops into skills (kusalatā).

Sangiti sutta:

♦ “āpattikusalatā ca āpattivuṭṭhānakusalatā ca.

Proficiency as to offences and restoration from them.

♦ “samāpattikusalatā ca samāpattivuṭṭhānakusalatā ca.

Proficiency as to attainments and recovery from them (viz.: as to Jhāna).

♦ “dhātukusalatā ca manasikārakusalatā ca.

Proficiency in elements and in understanding them.

♦ “āyatanakusalatā ca paṭiccasamuppādakusalatā ca.

Proficiency in the (twelve) spheres of sense and in the (twelve factors of the) causal formula.

♦ “ṭhānakusalatā ca aṭṭhānakusalatā ca.

Proficiency in assigning specific causes, and in eliminating elements that are not causal [in a specific effect].

Dhamma Vagga in Anguttara Nikaya:

♦ 97. “dveme, bhikkhave, dhammā. katame dve? dhātukusalatā ca manasikārakusalatā ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, dve dhammā”ti.

97. Bhikkhus, these are two things. What are the two? They are cleverness in elements and cleverness in attending to them.

♦ 98. “dveme, bhikkhave, dhammā. katame dve? āpattikusalatā ca āpattivuṭṭhānakusalatā ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, dve dhammā”ti.

98. Bhikkhus, these are two things. What are the two? They are cleverness in ecclestial offence, and cleverness in overcoming them. ... ggo-e.html


satta samādhī — samādhikusalatā, samādhissa samāpattikusalatā, samādhissa ṭhitikusalatā, samādhissa vuṭṭhānakusalatā, samādhissa kallatākusalatā, samādhissa gocarakusalatā, samādhissa abhinīhārakusalatā.

Seven kinds of concentration: Skill in concentration, skill in attainment of concentration, skill in remaining in concentration, skill in emerging from concentration, skill in health of concentration, skill in the domain of concentration, skill in guiding concentration.

Such skills are described in the eleventh chapter of Vimuttimagga: ... /mode/2up/

Return to “Pali”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests

Google Saffron, Theravada Search Engine