Moha, ignorance, is one of the four akusala cetasikas which are always present when there is akusala citta. We read in the Dhammasangaṇi (A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, par390) about moha, here translated as dullness:
What on that occasion is dullness?
The lack of knowledge, of vision, which is there on that occasion; the lack of coordination, of judgement, of enlightenment1, of penetration2; the inability to comprehend, to grasp thoroughly; the inability to compare, to consider, to demonstrate; the folly, the childishness, the lack of intelligence; the dullness that is vagueness, obfuscation, ignorance, the Flood (ogha) of ignorance, the Bond (yoga) of ignorance, the bias3 of ignorance, the obsession of ignorance, the barrier of ignorance; the dullness that is the root of badness—this is the dullness that there then is.
Ignorance is firmly fixed, it always lies latent and it is hard to eradicate. The Atthasālinī (II, Part IX, Chapter I, 249) gives the following definition of moha:
“Delusion” has the characteristic of blindness or opposition to knowledge; the essence of non-penetration, or the function of covering the intrinsic nature of the object; the manifestation of being opposed to right practice4 or causing blindness; the proximate cause of unwise attention; and should be regarded as the root of all immoralities.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 163) gives a similar definition.
Moha is not the same as lack of worldly knowledge such as science or history, but it is ignorance of ultimate realities. There are many degrees of moha. Moha does not know the true nature of the object which is experienced and therefore its essence is, as stated by the Atthasālinī, non-penetration and its function “covering up” the intrinsic nature of the object. Moha does not know nāma and rūpa as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, anattā. Moha is the root of all that is unwholesome. Every akusala citta is rooted in moha; not only the two types of moha-mūla-citta, but also the types of lobha-mūla-citta and dosa-mūla-citta have moha as root.
Moha is a “folly”, it is “blindness”, because whenever there is moha, there is “unwise attention” to the object which is experienced. For example, when we eat delicious food, attachment is bound to arise and then there is also moha. We are at that moment enslaved to the object which is experienced and we do not know that there is unwise attention. Moha does not know akusala as akusala and kusala as kusala and it does not know the conditions for their arising. If one has not studied the Dhamma one does not know that whether akusala citta arises or not depends on the manner of attention to the object and not on the pleasant or unpleasant objects themselves. Thus, the citta is the source of kusala or akusala, not the objects which are experienced, not the outward circumstances. We desire pleasant objects and when the object is unpleasant we are disappointed and sad. If one has not studied the Dhamma there is ignorance of kamma and vipāka. When one suffers pain one does not realize that the unpleasant experience through the bodysense is vipāka, that it is the result of a bad deed which has been committed.
If we study the Buddha's teachings we become less ignorant of realities, we begin to have more understanding of kamma and vipāka, of kusala and akusala, of ultimate realities. However, moha cannot be eradicated merely by thinking about realities. It can eventually be eradicated by the wisdom which knows the true nature of realities. Although we have learnt what is kusala and what is akusala, there are more often akusala cittas than kusala cittas. When we eat delicious food, how often is there wise attention to the object? We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XIII, par121) that the Buddha spoke about two kinds of monks who receive almsfood. We read about a certain monk who has eaten the almsfood:
Now it occurs to him: A good thing in sooth for me to be thus served by a housefather or a housefather's son! Then he thinks: I should indeed be glad to have this housefather or housefather's son serve me in like manner in the future. Thus he enjoys that almsgiving and is attracted by it, infatuated with it, attached to it. He sees not danger therein. He is blind to the escape therefrom. The result is that his train of thought is sensual, malevolent and harmful to others. Now, monks, I declare that what is given to such a monk has no great fruit. Why so? Because the monk lives amiss.
We then read about a certain monk who is not attached to his almsfood. What is given to him is of great fruit because he is vigilant. If there is mindfulness of the reality which appears, also while eating, right understanding can be developed.
Moha is the root of all that is unprofitable, of akusala which is coarse and of akusala which is more subtle. When one commits akusala kamma through body, speech or mind there is moha. There is ignorance of the danger of akusala kamma which is capable of producing an unpleasant result, even in the form of an unhappy rebirth. As we have seen, moha accompanies each akusala citta. When there are akusala cittas with avarice, jealousy or conceit, there is also moha. When one takes realities for self there is wrong view, diṭṭhi, and at that moment there is also moha. Moha conditions diṭṭhi but they are different realities. Moha is ignorant of the true nature of realities and diṭṭhi has wrong view about them.
There is much ignorance about the processes of cittas which experience objects through the six doors. Do we realize whether there is at this moment seeing, hearing or thinking, or does it seem that these experiences occur all at the same time? In reality only one object can be experienced at a time through the appropriate doorway. When there is hearing only sound is experienced through the ears and when we think of the meaning of the words which are spoken there is not hearing but thinking of concepts. Thinking arises in another process of cittas, it arises in a mind-door process and this is different from the ear-door process. Does it seem that hearing can stay for a while? In reality this is not so, it falls away immediately. But when right understanding has not been developed the arising and falling away of cittas cannot be realized.
Moha is ignorant of the true nature of realities, it does not know nāma and rūpa as they are. Moha is lack of knowledge about the four noble Truths: about dukkha, the origination of dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha and the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha5. So long as ignorance has not been eradicated we have to continue to be in the cycle of birth and death, we have to be born again and again. The Pāli term avijjā is used for ignorance in connection with the “Dependent Origination”, the conditional arising of phenomena in the cycle of birth and death. Avijjā is the first link in the chain of conditions for the continuation of this cycle. At the attainment of arahatship ignorance is eradicated and then there are no more conditions for rebirth.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandha-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Elements, III, Last Fifty, Chapter 3, par129, Satisfaction) that in the Deerpark at Isipatana Mahā-Koṭṭhita said to Sāriputta:
“'Ignorance! Ignorance!' is the saying, friend Sāriputta. Pray, friend, what is ignorance, and how far is one ignorant?”
“Herein, friend, the untaught manyfolk know not as it really is the satisfaction in, the misery of, the escape from body. So with feeling, perception, the activities...they know not the satisfaction in, the misery of, the escape from consciousness.
This, friend, is ignorance, and thus far is one ignorant.”
In the next sutta (par130) it is said that wisdom is knowing as it really is the satisfaction in, the misery of and the escape from the five khandhas.
If there is no development of right understanding one does not see that conditioned realities which arise and then have to fall away again are dukkha, and thus there cannot be escape from dukkha.
It is hard to know the characteristic of moha. The Buddha taught us to be mindful of the realities which appear, but we have many moments of dullness. We should learn to see the difference between awareness and forgetfulness of realities. When there is forgetfulness of realities the citta is akusala. Even when there is no attachment or aversion, there can be akusala citta; there can be the type of moha-mūla-citta which is accompanied by restlessness (uddhacca)6. This type is bound to arise very often in between the other types of akusala citta, but we do not realize it. Ignorance is dangerous and extremely hard to eradicate. The sotāpanna sees realities as they are, he has no more wrong view about them, but he has not eradicated ignorance. Ignorance is eradicated stage by stage and only the arahat has eradicated ignorance completely.
Ahirika, shamelessness or consciencelessness, and anottappa, recklessness or disregard of blame, are two other akusala cetasikas which arise with each akusala citta. In the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 160) ahirika is translated as consciencelessness and anottappa as shamelessness. They are defined as follows:
Herein, it has no conscientious scruples, thus it is consciencelessness. It is unashamed, thus it is shamelessness (anottappa). Of these, ahirika has the characteristic of absence of disgust at bodily misconduct, etc., or it has the characteristic of immodesty. Anottappa has the characteristic of absence of dread on their account, or it has the characteristic of absence of anxiety about them...
The Atthasālinī (II, Part IX, Chapter I, 248) gives a similar definition. The Visuddhimagga and the Atthasālinī do not give the function, manifestation and proximate cause of shamelessness and recklessness. The Paramattha Mañjūsā (Mahā-Tīka), a commentary to the Visuddhimagga, deals with these aspects7.
According to the Paramattha Mañjūsā, the function of shamelessness is doing evil without being ashamed of it, and the function of recklessness is doing evil without dreading it. Their manifestation is not to shrink or draw back from evil.
The two cetasikas shamelessness and recklessness seem to be very close in meaning, but they have different characteristics. Shamelessness does not shrink from evil because it is not ashamed of it and does not abhor it. The “Paramattha Mañjūsā” compares it to a domestic pig which does not abhor filth. Defilements are like filth, they are unclean, impure. Shamelessness does not abhor defilements, be it attachment, aversion, ignorance, avarice, jealousy, conceit or any other kind of unwholesomeness.
As to recklessness, it does not abhor, draw back from evil because it does not see the danger of akusala and it does not fear its consequences such as an unhappy rebirth. The “Paramattha Mañjūsā” compares recklessness to a moth which is attracted to the fire, although this is dangerous for it. Are we enslaved by pleasant experiences? We may even commit evil through body, speech or mind on account of them. Then recklessness does not fear the danger of akusala, it does not care about the consequences of akusala.
The proximate cause of shamelessness is lack of respect for oneself and the proximate cause of recklessness is lack of respect for someone else. In order to have more understanding of this, we should first study their opposites: moral shame, hiri, and moral fear of blame, ottappa. Shame has a subjective origin, it is influenced by oneself; its proximate cause is self-respect. Fear of blame has an external cause, it is influenced by the world; its proximate cause is respect for someone else.
The Atthasālinī (I, Part IV, Chapter I, 125) states that shame, which has a subjective origin, arises from consideration of one's birth, one's age, heroism (courage and strength) and wide experience. In the case of shamelessness there is lack of such considerations. For example, when we give in to anger or when we are jealous of someone else who receives praise or other pleasant things, there is no consideration of our education or upbringing in morality. At such moments we have no moral strength, we behave like a weakling or a fool, in a childish way. Thus, at the moment of akusala citta there is lack of respect for ourselves, we are forgetful of all we have learnt from the Buddha's teachings.
As regards the origin of recklessness, anottappa, we should study first what is said about the origin of its opposite, ottappa or fear of blame. We refrain from evil owing to fear of blame from without, from the “world”. Thus, fear of blame has an external origin. In the case of recklessness, anottappa, there is lack of fear of blame or punishment from the “world”. When someone, for example, steals, he may acquire a bad name, he may be punished for this crime, but at the moment of akusala citta there is no consideration of such factors and there is lack of respect for others.
When there are conditions for the arising of akusala citta, shamelessness is not ashamed of akusala and recklessness does not fear its consequences. We may think that we are ashamed of and abhor killing or stealing and that we will never do such things. However, when the situation becomes difficult good intentions are forgotten and then we have no shame or fear of doing evil deeds. For example, generally we may not lie, but out of consideration for our relatives or friends we may not be ashamed of lying.
Akusala cittas arise time and again and these are always accompanied by shamelessness and recklessness. Also when the akusala citta does not have the intensity to motivate evil deeds, for example, when we are thinking with ignorance and forgetfulness of realities, there are shamelessness and recklessness performing their functions. It may seem that forgetfulness of realities is not so dangerous, since we do not harm other people by it. However, all kinds and degrees of akusala are dangerous. If right understanding is not developed defilements cannot be eradicated and we have to be subject to birth, old age, sickness and death, again and again. After there have been many moments of forgetfulness, mindfulness may arise again and then we are ashamed of our ignorance and forgetfulness of realities, and we see its danger.
We read in As it was said (Itivuttaka, The Twos, Chapter II, par3, Khuddaka Nikāya):
This was said by the Exalted One...
“Monks, ignorance leads the way to the attainment of unprofitable things; shamelessness and disregard of blame follow after. But, monks, knowledge leads the way to the attainment of profitable things, shrinking and fear of blame follow after.”
This is the meaning...
What so be these ill-bourns in this world and the next, All rooted are in ignorance, of lust compounded. And since the wicked man is void of shame, and has No reverence, therefore he works wickedness, And through that wickedness he to the Downfall goes. Wherefore forsaking longing, lust and ignorance And causing knowledge to arise in him, a monk Should give up, leave behind, the ill-bourns one and all...
When we see that all akusala dhammas are ugly and impure, we do not neglect mindfulness of realities, such as hardness, seeing or sound which appear at this moment. This is the only way to develop the wisdom which can eradicate defilements. For the arahat there are no conditions for akusala and thus shamelessness and recklessness do not arise.
Uddhacca, translated as restlessness, agitation, excitement or confusion, is another akusala cetasika which arises with each akusala citta. The Atthasālinī (II, Part IX, Chapter I, 250) gives the following definition of uddhacca:
...It has mental excitement as characteristic like wind-tossed water; wavering as function, like a flag waving in the wind; whirling as manifestation like scattered ashes struck by a stone; unsystematic thought owing to mental excitement as proximate cause; and it should be regarded as mental distraction over an object of excitement.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 165) gives a similar definition8. The commentaries illustrate with similes that when there is uddhacca, there is no steadiness, there is not the stable condition, the calm, of kusala. When there is uddhacca there is forgetfulness of kusala, whereas when there is mindfulness, sati, there is watchfulness, non-forgetfulness of kusala, be it generosity, morality, the development of calm or insight. Mindfulness is watchful so that the opportunity for kusala is not wasted.
Uddhacca is not the same as what we mean by “restlessness” or “agitation”, used in conventional language. When we use the word restlessness we usually think of aversion and unpleasant feeling. However, uddhacca arises with each akusala citta, not only with citta rooted in aversion, dosa-mūla-citta, but also with citta rooted in attachment, lobha-mūla-citta, and citta rooted in ignorance, moha-mūla-citta. When there is uddhacca we are forgetful as to kusala, we are unable to apply ourselves to any kind of kusala. Even when there is pleasant feeling, for example, when we are attached to a quiet place, there is restlessness, uddhacca, which arises together with lobha-mūla-citta. We may think that we are calm at such a moment, but we have actually “mental excitement”.
It is difficult to know exactly when the citta is kusala and when it is akusala. We may take for calm what is actually akusala. If someone wants to develop samatha, the calm which is wholesome, he has to know very precisely when the citta is kusala and when it is akusala. Thus, samatha cannot be developed without right understanding. Understanding knows when the citta is peaceful in the wholesome way and when the citta is clinging to quietness and thus akusala.
As we have seen, uddhacca accompanies each akusala citta, it accompanies lobha-mūla-citta, dosa-mūla-citta and moha-mūla-citta. There are two types of moha-mūla-citta, one is associated with doubt and one is associated with restlessness. The fact that one type of moha-mūla-citta is called “associated with restlessness”, uddhacca-sampayutta, does not mean that restlessness does not arise with the type of moha-mūla-citta which is associated with doubt. The second type of moha-mūla-citta is called “associated with restlessness” in order to differentiate it from the first type of moha-mūla-citta which is associated with doubt.
Restlessness arises very often, but we do not notice it. It is one of the “five hindrances”9 and as such it is mentioned as a pair with regret (kukkucca). Restlessness prevents the citta from applying itself to kusala, thus it is a hindrance. We often waste opportunities for kusala. Time and again we are thinking with akusala citta, for example, we think with worry of the tasks which lie ahead of us. However, even while we are thinking there is an opportunity for kusala, namely the development of right understanding. There are realities all the time which have different characteristics, and these can be known when there is non-forgetfulness of them. Also thinking is a reality with its own characteristic and this can be known when it appears. When there is mindfulness there is no restlessness.
Only the arahat has eradicated restlessness. So long as there are still conditions for the arising of akusala citta, it has to be accompanied by moha, ignorance, which is ignorant of realities, by ahirika, shamelessness, which does not abhor akusala, by anottappa, recklessness, which does not fear the consequences of akusala, and by uddhacca, restlessness, which is restless as to kusala. No matter whether the akusala citta is coarse or more subtle, these four akusala cetasikas have to accompany the akusala citta and assist it in performing its function.
 The Atthasālinī (II, 254), in its explanation of this passage of the Dhammasangaṇi, states about lack of enlightenment that it is: “not connecting them (things) with impermanence, dukkha and anattā”, and “perceiving in an unreal, distorted way”.
 No penetration of the four noble Truths.
 ignorance is a bias, it continually lies latent, in the sense of being firmly fixed.
 In Pāli: patipatti. The English text translates here as: right conduct.
 Dhammasangaṇi, par1061.
 There are two types of moha-mūla-citta: one is accompanied by doubt (vicikicchā-sampayutta) and one is accompanied by restlessness (uddhacca-sampayutta).
 I have used the Thai translation, given by Ms. Sujin Boriharnwanaket, in her Abhidhamma lectures at the Saket Temple in Bangkok.
 See also Dhammasangaṇi par429.
 Defilements are classified into different groups and one of these are the “hindrances”, which are the following: sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and regret, and doubt.