Dosa, aversion, is another akusala cetasika. When the citta dislikes the object it experiences there is dosa, aversion. When there is dosa, the feeling which accompanies the citta is always unpleasant feeling. We do not like to feel unhappy and we want to suppress our unpleasant feeling. However, dosa-mūla-citta arises when there are conditions for its arising. We may try to suppress unpleasant feeling because we cling to pleasant feeling; we are ignorant of the real cause of unpleasant feeling and of the disadvantages of akusala.
We should study the factors which condition dosa-mūla-citta. The scriptures and the commentaries show us many aspects of dosa and if we study these aspects we will have more understanding of the disadvantages and the danger of dosa. Right understanding sees the danger of akusala and conditions kusala. It is more beneficial to have right understanding of dosa than just trying to suppress it without any understanding of it.
There always seem to be numerous causes for dosa and they invariably seem to be outside ourselves: other people's actions or unhappy events which occur. However, the real cause is within ourselves. Dosa has been accumulated and it can always find an object. We are attached to pleasant objects and when we do not experience pleasant objects there is bound to be dosa. When dosa arises it shows that the attachment which conditions it must be very strong.
The Atthasālinī (II, Book I, Part IX, Chapter III, 257) defines dosa as follows: ...It has flying into anger or churlishness as characteristic, like a smitten snake; spreading of itself or writhing as when poison takes effect, as function; or, burning that on which it depends1 as function, like jungle-fire; offending or injuring as manifestation, like a foe who has got his chance; having the grounds of vexation as proximate cause, like urine mixed with poison.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 171) gives a similar definition of dosa2.
We read that the characteristic of dosa is flying into anger like a smitten snake. When a snake has been hit he is likely to become fierce and attack. Dosa is aggressive, just like a snake which has been hit. The function of dosa is spreading of itself or writhing as when poison takes effect. When poison has been taken it affects the whole body and it causes suffering. Dosa has likewise an ill effect, it is harmful. The function of dosa is also compared to a jungle-fire which burns that on which it depends. Dosa is destructive like a jungle-fire which consumes the forest. The proximate cause of dosa are “grounds for annoyance, like urine mixed with poison”. Urine mixed with poison is not liked by anybody, although urine was taken as a medicine in India. It is useful to study the proximate cause of dosa, the “grounds for annoyance”. Dosa often arises on account of what others are doing or saying to us or to someone else. Even a good deed done to someone else can be a reason for annoyance if we dislike that person. We read in the Book of Analysis (Chapter 17, par960) about nine reasons for dosa:
Therein what are “nine bases of vexation”? “He has done me harm”, thus vexation arises; “He is doing me harm”, thus vexation arises; “He will do me harm”, thus vexation arises; “He has done harm, ...he is doing harm, ...he will do harm to one dear and pleasant to me”, thus vexation arises; “He has done good, ...he is doing good, ...he will do good to one not dear and not pleasant to me”, thus vexation arises. These are nine bases of vexation.
Dosa arises with two types of citta, of which one is “unprompted” (asaṅkhārika) and one “prompted” (sasaṅkhārika)3. There are many degrees of dosa. It may be a slight aversion or it may be stronger, appearing as moodiness, bad temper, anger or hate. When dosa is strong one may speak harsh words or throw things about the house. One may feel desperate and commit suicide, one may hit others and even commit murder. When we hear about crimes other people have committed with dosa, we wonder how it could happen. When strong dosa arises it can lead to the committing of akusala kamma which we may not have thought ourselves capable of. Strong dosa can even motivate “heinous crimes” (anantarika kamma) which produce an unhappy rebirth immediately after the life during which one committed the crime has ended. We read about five heinous crimes in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Fives, Chapter 13, par9, Festering):
Monks, five are lost in hell who lie festering, incurable. What five?
(By him) has his mother been deprived of life; his father; an arahat; (by him), with evil thought, has the Tathāgata's blood been drawn; (by him) has the Order been embroiled.
Verily, monks, these are the five lost in hell who lie festering, incurable.
We should remember that all degrees of dosa are dangerous, even the lesser degrees. If we do not develop right understanding we accumulate more and more dosa without realizing it. Therefore, it is helpful to study the different aspects of dosa.
Dosa can motivate akusala kamma patha (unwholesome courses of action) through body, speech and mind. The akusala kamma patha through body which is killing is motivated by dosa. As to stealing, this can be motivated by lobha or by dosa. It is motivated by dosa when one wants to harm another person. Three of the four akusala kamma pathas through speech, namely lying, slandering and idle talk, can be motivated by lobha or by dosa. They are motivated by dosa when one wants to harm someone else. The akusala kamma patha which is rude speech is motivated by dosa. The akusala kamma patha through the mind which is ill-will is motivated by dosa. This is the intention to hurt or harm someone else. Akusala kamma brings sorrow both in this life and the next. The person who has committed akusala kamma may become afraid of the result it will bring and he has no peace of mind. Dosa is harmful for mind and body. Because of dosa our appearance becomes ugly: we may become red in the face, our features become unpleasant and the corners of our mouth droop. If we remember that it is not considerate to show others an unpleasant face it can condition patience instead of dosa. There are many ill effects of dosa. It causes sleeplessness, the loss of friends, the loss of one's good name, of prosperity and wealth. And after this life has ended one may have an unhappy rebirth because of dosa.
We may not have dosa of the intensity to motivate the committing of akusala kamma patha, but even dosa which is of a lesser degree can condition unpleasant behaviour and speech. We can easily, before we realize it, utter harsh speech to someone else. When there is dosa, even if it is a slight annoyance, there is no loving kindness, no consideration for other people's feelings. When, for example, unexpected visitors arrive at a time we do not want to be disturbed, we may be annoyed. At such a moment there is mental rigidity, we are unable to adapt ourselves to a new situation with kindness and hospitality. The Book of Analysis (Chapter 17, par833) gives us a short but very effective reminder in a section in which pairs of realities are summed up (Twofold Summary): ...Absence of softness and inhospitably.
This statement is meant as a reminder to be aware of realities of daily life. How true it is that inhospitably goes together with absence of softness, with mental rigidity. However, although there may be aversion at first when we are, for example, disturbed by unexpected visitors, right understanding can change our attitude. We may see the disadvantage of being inconsiderate to others and of absence of softness, of gentleness. Then we can receive our guests with kindness and we can see for ourselves that there is no longer mental rigidity and harshness, but pliancy of mind.
Dosa can also appear as fear. When there is fear one dislikes the object which is experienced. Fear is harmful for mind and body. One may have fear of people, of situations, of sickness, old age and death. So long as dosa has not been eradicated it will always find an object.
People have different accumulations: some people may have aversion at certain occasions while others do not. Dosa does not only arise because of what other people do or don't do, it can arise on account of any object experienced through one of the six doors. One may even be cross with the rain, the sun or the wind. We read in the Atthasālinī (II, Book II, Part II, Summary, Chapter II, 367):
...“Or when vexation (springs up) groundlessly” means anger without reason; for example, someone gets angry saying “it rains too much”, “it does not rain”, “the sun shines too much”, “it does not shine”; gets angry when the wind blows, when it does not blow, gets angry at being unable to sweep away the Bodhi leaves, at being unable to put on his robe; he gets angry with the wind, in slipping he gets angry with a tree-stump...
The Buddha compares someone who gets angry very easily with an open sore. An open sore hurts at the slightest touch, it is foul and unpleasant to look at. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter III, par25, The open sore):
...of what sort, monks, is the one whose mind is like an open sore?
Herein a certain person is irritable and turbulent. When anything, no matter how trifling, is said to him, he becomes enraged, he gets angry and quarrelsome: he resents it and displays anger, hatred and sulkiness. Just as, for instance, when a festering sore, if struck by a stick or shard, discharges matter all the more, even so, monks, a certain person...displays anger, hatred and sulkiness. This one is called “He whose mind is like an open sore”...
The Buddha then spoke about the “lightning-minded”, the person who has realized the four noble Truths but who is not yet arahat, and about the “diamond-minded”, the arahat. Just as a diamond can cut everything, even a gem or a rock, even so has the arahat cut off, destroyed, the “āsavas”4.
So long as we cling to the pleasant “worldly conditions” (loka-dhammas) of gain, fame, praise and well-being, we are bound to have aversion when they change. They change all the time but we forget that they are impermanent. When we lose possessions, when we do not receive honour, when we are blamed or when we suffer pain, we have aversion and sadness. Right understanding of realities, of kamma and vipāka, can help us to be more even-minded about pleasant and unpleasant things which happen to us. When we experience unpleasant objects through the senses, it is caused by akusala kamma, by unwholesome deeds which have been committed already, and nobody can avoid akusala vipāka when it is the right time for its arising. When we understand that aversion about akusala vipāka is not helpful, there can be “wise attention” instead of “unwise attention” to the objects which are experienced. There may be intellectual understanding of realities but this understanding cannot eradicate dosa and the other defilements. Only right understanding developed in vipassanā can eradicate them.
Dosa can be temporarily eliminated by the development of calm. When one sees the disadvantages of clinging to sensuous objects and one has accumulations for the development of calm to the degree of jhāna, one can be temporarily remote from sense-impressions. Rūpāvacara kusala cittas (of “fine material jhāna”) can produce result in the form of rebirth in rūpa-brahma planes and arūpāvacara kusala cittas (of immaterial jhāna) can produce results in the form of rebirth in arūpa-brahma planes. Although lobha and moha can arise in these planes5, there are no conditions for dosa. However, dosa arises again when there is rebirth in one of the sensuous planes. As we have seen, clinging to sense objects conditions dosa. Only when the stage of the anāgāmī has been attained dosa has been eradicated. The anāgāmī does not cling to sense objects and thus he has no conditions for dosa.
Only if we develop right understanding of realities can dosa eventually be eradicated. Right understanding sees dosa as it really is: as saṅkhāra dhamma, conditioned dhamma, non-self. Through mindfulness of dosa its characteristic can be known. We believe that it is easy to recognize dosa, but we usually think of the concept “dosa” or “aversion”, and then its characteristic will not be known. We will still take it for “my dosa”, instead of realizing that it is only a kind of nāma which arises because of conditions.
It may happen that we have so much aversion about our aversion and about the unpleasant feeling which accompanies it, that we believe that we cannot be mindful of the reality of the present moment. In theory we know that there can be mindfulness of any reality which appears now, but what about the practice? When we see the benefit of right understanding of whatever reality appears, there are conditions for the arising of mindfulness, even when it seems that we are not “in the mood“ for it.
It seems that we do not have hatred or anger, but this does not mean that dosa has been eradicated. So long as there is still the latent tendency of dosa, it can arise any time. We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, no. 21, The Parable of the Saw) about Videhikā who was calm so long as there was no opportunity for dosa. It seemed that she had no dosa at all. She had an excellent reputation, she appeared to be gentle, meek and calm. Her servant Kāḷiī wanted to test her and she came to work later every day. Because of this Videhikā lost her temper: she hit Kāḷiī on her head with the pin used for securing the door bolt. Because of that she acquired an evil reputation. We read that the Buddha said to the monks:
Even so, monks, some monk here is very gentle, very meek, very tranquil so long as disagreeable ways of speech do not assail him. But when disagreeable ways of speech assail the monk it is then that he is to be called gentle, is to be called meek, is to be called tranquil...
The Buddha exhorted the monks to have a “mind of friendliness”, even if others spoke to them in a disagreeable way, even if low-down thieves would carve them limb by limb with a double-handled saw.
Those who have eradicated dosa, the anāgāmī and the arahat, never have anger nor the slightest displeasure, even in circumstances which are very difficult to bear, even when they have to endure sickness or pain.
We tend to have aversion when we have pain or when we are sick. When an unpleasant object impinges on the bodysense, body-consciousness accompanied by painful feeling experiences that object. Body-consciousness is vipākacitta, it is in this case the result of akusala kamma. Shortly afterwards in that process of cittas dosa-mūla-cittas are likely to arise which experience that object with aversion. It seems almost inevitable that aversion arises after the body-consciousness which experiences an unpleasant object. In order to have right understanding of the different phenomena which occur, it is necessary to develop mindfulness of nāma and rūpa. There are many different types of nāma and rūpa when we have pain and when we have aversion about pain, and they can be objects of awareness one at a time. Right understanding of nāma and rūpa will help us to bear great pains and to be patient in case of sickness. If we begin to develop right understanding of realities at this moment we accumulate conditions for its arising when we are sick or when we are about to die.
 Namely, its physical base, which is the heart-base. The rūpa which is the physical base of all cittas other than the sense-cognitions of seeing, hearing, etc., is called the heart-base. See Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter 17.
 Compare also Dhammasangaṇi par418.
 See Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Chapter 6.
 “Intoxicants”, a group of defilements.
 Except in the rūpa- brahma plane which is the asañña-satta plane, the plane of “unconscious beings”, where there is only rūpa.