Thīna and middha are two akusala cetasikas which always arise together, they form a pair. Thīna can be translated as sloth or stolidity and middha as torpor or languor. When there are sloth and torpor one has no energy for kusala. In order to have more understanding of sloth and torpor we should study their characteristics, functions, manifestations and their proximate cause, and we should know which types of citta they can accompany.
The Atthasālinī (II, Book I, Part IX, Chapter II, 255) states about sloth and torpor: “Absence of striving, difficulty through inability, is the meaning.” We then read the following definitions of sloth and torpor:
The compound “sloth-torpor” is sloth plus torpor; of which sloth has absence of, or opposition to striving as characteristic, destruction of energy as function, sinking of associated states as manifestation; torpor has unwieldiness as characteristic, closing the doors of consciousness as function, shrinking in taking the object, or drowsiness as manifestation; and both have unsystematic thought, in not arousing oneself from discontent and laziness (or indulgence), as proximate cause.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 167) gives a similar definition. The Dhammasangaṇi calls sloth (thīna) indisposition and unwieldiness of mind (par1156) and torpor (middha) indisposition and unwieldiness of cetasikas (par1157) 1. When there are sloth and torpor there is no wieldiness of mind which is necessary for the performing of kusala. Instead there are mental stiffness and rigidity, mental sickness and laziness.
As we have seen, the Atthasālinī states that the characteristic of sloth is opposition to “striving”, to energy. Also akusala citta is accompanied by energy (viriya), but this is wrong effort; it is different from right effort which accompanies kusala citta. When there are sloth and torpor there is no energy, no vigour to perform dāna, to observe sīla, to listen to Dhamma, to study the Dhamma or to develop calm, no energy to be mindful of the reality which appears now. This does not mean that whenever there is lack of mindfulness sloth and torpor arise. As we will see, they do not arise with all types of akusala citta.
As regards torpor, its characteristic is unwieldiness and its function is closing the doors of consciousness. It obstructs the performing of kusala, it “oppresses..., it injures by means of unwieldiness”, the Atthasālinī (378) explains. The manifestation of sloth is “sinking of associated states”, it causes the citta and cetasikas it accompanies to decline. The manifestation of torpor is “shrinking in taking the object” or drowsiness. The Dhammasangaṇi (par1157) calls torpor (middha) “drowsiness, sleep, slumbering, somnolence”. The Atthasālinī (378) adds to drowsiness: “Drowsiness makes blinking of the eyelashes, etc.” The arahat has eradicated sloth and torpor. He can still have bodily tiredness and he may sleep, but he has no sloth and torpor 2.
We may be inclined to think that sloth and torpor arise only when there is sleepiness, but when we study the types of citta which can be accompanied by sloth and torpor we will see that there can be many moments of them, also when we do not feel sleepy.
As we have seen, the proximate cause of sloth and torpor is “unsystematic thought, in not arousing oneself from discontent and laziness”. When there are sloth and torpor there is “unsystematic thought”, that is, unwise attention (ayoniso manasikāra) to the object which is experienced. At such moments we do not realize that life is short and that it is urgent to develop all kinds of kusala and in particular right understanding of realities. We all have moments that there is no energy to read the scriptures or to consider the Dhamma. We may be overcome by boredom, we are not interested to study and to consider the Dhamma, or we make ourselves believe that we are too busy. Sometimes, however, we may realize that even the reading of a few lines of the scriptures can be most beneficial, that it can remind us to be aware of realities which appear. We should remember that when there are sloth and torpor we are not merely standing still as to the development of kusala, but we are “sinking”, we are going “downhill”, since there is opportunity for the accumulation of more akusala. If we realize that the opportunity to develop right understanding of the present moment is only at the present moment, not at some moment in the future, there can be conditions for mindfulness and then there is “wise attention” instead of “unwise attention”.
Sloth and torpor can arise only with akusala cittas which are “prompted”, sasaṅkhārika. Some types of cittas are “unprompted” or not induced (asaṅkhārika) and some types are “prompted”, instigated or induced. The inducement can be done by someone else or by oneself. The cittas which are prompted are, according to the Visuddhimagga (XIV, 91) “sluggish and urged on”. Thus, sloth and torpor which are lazy and sluggish with regard to the performing of kusala arise only with the akusala cittas which are prompted 3. They can arise with the four types of lobha-mūla-citta which are sasaṅkhārika and with one type of dosa-mūla-citta, the type which is sasaṅkhārika 4. This does not mean that they arise every time the akusala citta is “prompted”; they may or may not arise with these five types of akusala citta. The two types of moha-mūla-citta are not “prompted”, they cannot be accompanied by sloth and torpor.
Sloth and torpor can arise together with wrong view, diṭṭhi, and in this case they accompany lobha-mūla-citta which is associated with wrong view and prompted. Sloth and torpor can arise together with conceit, māna, and in this case they accompany lobha-mūla-citta which is without wrong view and prompted 5. Sloth and torpor which arise with lobha-mūla-citta may be accompanied by pleasant feeling or by indifferent feeling.
Sloth and torpor can arise together with envy (issā), stinginess (macchariya) or regret (kukkucca) which, one at a time, can accompany dosa-mūla-citta, and in that case the dosa-mūla-citta is prompted. The accompanying feeling is unpleasant feeling.
Sloth and torpor are hard to eradicate. Even the sotāpanna, the sakadāgāmī and the anāgāmī still have sloth and torpor. Only the arahat has eradicated them completely. We are likely to have many moments of sloth and torpor, but it is not easy to know when they occur. We should remember that, when there are defilements such as wrong view, conceit, envy, stinginess or regret, sloth and torpor can arise as well if the citta they accompany is prompted. Sloth and torpor cause mental unwieldiness and mental indisposition or sickness, so that there is no vigour, no energy for kusala. Sloth and torpor are harmful, they are among the “hindrances” which prevent us from performing dāna, observing sīla or applying ourselves to mental development.
The Buddha told the monks to be moderate in eating and warned them not to be attached to the “ease of bed”, because such attachments give rise to sloth and torpor which are mental sickness and which destroy energy for kusala. We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, no. 16, Discourse on Mental Barrenness) that the Buddha, when he was staying near Sāvatthī, in the Jeta Grove, spoke about ways of mental barrenness and mental bondages. One of the mental bondages is attachment to food and sleep. We read that the Buddha said:
And again, monks, a monk having eaten as much as his belly will hold, lives intent on the ease of bed, on the ease of lying down, on the ease of slumber. Whatever monk, having eaten as much as his belly will hold, lives intent on the ease of bed, on the ease of lying down, on the ease of slumber, his mind does not incline to ardour, to continual application, to perseverance, to striving...
It is helpful, not only for monks, but also for laymen, to be reminded of conditions for laziness as to kusala.
We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Fives, Chapter VI, par6, The preceptor) about a monk who complained to his preceptor concerning his lack of energy for kusala:
Now a certain monk approached his preceptor and said:
“My body, sir, is as it were drugged; the quarters are not seen by me; things 6 are not clear to me; sloth and torpor compass my heart about and stay; joyless, I live the holy life; and doubt about things are ever with me.”
Such complaints may sound familiar to us, we may feel at times as though “drugged”. Doubts about realities cannot be solved unless right understanding is being developed. There are nāma and rūpa all the time, there is seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, anger or attachment; the objects of which right understanding is to be developed are right at hand but often there is no awareness of them. We read that the preceptor went with this monk to the Buddha who exhorted him thus:
“Monk, it is ever thus! When one dwells with doors of the senses unguarded, with no moderation in eating, not bent on vigilance, not looking for righteous things, nor day in day out practise the practice of making become things that are wings to enlightenment; then is the body as though drugged, the quarters are not seen, things are not clear, sloth and torpor compass the heart and stay; joyless, one lives the godly life; and doubts about things are ever with one”.
We then read that the Buddha told that monk to guard the doors of the senses, to be moderate in eating, to be vigilant and to cultivate the factors leading to enlightenment. The monk followed the Buddha's advice. The Buddha's words were the right condition for him to develop insight, even to the degree that he could attain arahatship. Thus he was no longer subject to sloth and torpor.
Sloth and torpor destruct energy for kusala. When there is right effort there are no sloth and torpor. However, there is no self who can put forth energy for kusala, for the study of the Dhamma or for the development of right understanding. We can prove this when there is listlessness and no energy for kusala. At such a moment we cannot force ourselves to take an interest in kusala. Right effort is only a conditioned dhamma, not self. There can be a long period of indolence, but at times there can be conditions for remembering words of the teachings which can encourage us to develop right understanding. Also sad events which happen in life can serve as a reminder of the impermanence of conditioned realities and then we may be urged to be vigilant, to “guard the sense-doors”, that is, to be mindful of the realities appearing through the different doorways. In this life we are in the human plane where there is opportunity for all kinds of kusala, for the study of the Dhamma and the development of right understanding. The goal has been reached only when all defilements have been eradicated, when arahatship has been attained. When we realize the task which lies ahead of us we are reminded not to waste time with akusala. When there is a true sense of urgency to develop right understanding there will be less opportunity for sloth and torpor. In the following sutta we are reminded of what we fail to win when there is indolence and what can be won when there is right energy. We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidāna-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Cause, 3, par22) that the Buddha encouraged the monks to apply energy in order to attain the goal. He said:
Sadly, monks, lives the man of sloth, involved in bad, wicked things. Great is the salvation which he fails to win. But he of stirred up energy lives happily, aloof from bad, wicked things. Great is the salvation that he makes perfect.
Vicikicchā or doubt is another akusala cetasika and this can accompany only one type of citta, namely the type of moha-mūla-citta which is called: moha-mūla-citta vicikicchā sampayutta (rooted in ignorance, accompanied by doubt).
The reality of vicikicchā is not the same as what we mean by doubt in conventional language. Vicikicchā is not doubt about someone's name or about the weather. Vicikicchā is doubt about realities, about nāma and rūpa, about cause and result, about the four noble Truths, about the “Dependant Origination”.
The Atthasālinī (II, Part IX, Chapter III, 259) defines vicikicchā as follows:
...It has shifting about as characteristic, mental wavering as function, indecision or uncertainty in grasp as manifestation, unsystematic thought (unwise attention) as proximate cause, and it should be regarded as a danger to attainment.
The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 177) gives a similar definition.
When there is doubt one “wavers”, one is not sure about realities. The Dhammasangaṇi (par425) describes doubt in different ways and states among others that it is “uncertainty of grasp”, “stiffness of mind”. The Atthasālinī (II, 259, 260) in its explanation of this paragraph of the Dhammasangaṇi states:
...“Fluctuation” is the inability to establish anything in one mode, thus, “Is this state permanent, or is it impermanent?” Because of the inability to “comprehend” there is “uncertainty of grasp”....
As to “stiffness”, the Atthasālinī remarks that “mental rigidity” is the inability to come to a decision as to the object. We read: “Stiffness is the meaning. For perplexity having arisen makes the mind stiff....”
When there is doubt one wonders about realities: “Is it such or is it such?” One wonders, for example, whether a reality is permanent or impermanent, or whether the reality which appears now is nāma or rūpa. When there is doubt there is mental rigidity, there is not the wieldiness of mind which is necessary for the understanding of realities. Doubt is to be considered as a “danger for attainment”; when there is doubt it is impossible to apply oneself to mental development.
Doubt is different from ignorance, moha, which does not know realities. But when there is doubt there is also moha which accompanies all akusala dhammas. When doubt accompanies the akusala citta, there cannot be determination (adhimokkha) which is “sure about the object”, neither can there be “wish-to-do” (chanda) which “searches for the object” and wants it 7.
The proximate cause of doubt is “unwise attention” to the object which is experienced at that moment. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Ones, Chapter II, par5) that the Buddha said to the monks:
Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of doubt and wavering, if not already arisen; or, if arisen, to cause its more-becoming and increase, as unsystematic attention.
In him who gives not systematic attention arises doubt and wavering, if not already arisen; or, if arisen, it is liable to more-becoming and increase.
When one performs dāna, observes sīla, studies Dhamma or is mindful of nāma and rūpa, there is no opportunity for doubt, because during such moments there is “wise attention”.
We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, no. 2, All the cankers) that the Buddha, when he was near Sāvatthī, in the Jeta Grove, spoke to the monks on the means of controlling all the cankers. He spoke about unwise attention and about various kinds of doubt, pertaining to the past, the future or the present, which may arise when there is no wise attention. We read about doubt:
In these ways he is not wisely attending: if he thinks, “Now, was I in a past period? Now, was I not in a past period? Now, what was I in a past period? Now, how was I in a past period? Now, having been what, what did I become in a past period?....
We read the same about doubt pertaining to the future and doubt pertaining to the present.
When doubt is accumulated there can be doubt about many different subjects. We read in the Dhammasangaṇi (par1004) that there can be doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, the Discipline, the past or the future or both, the “Dependant Origination” 8.
The Atthasālinī (II, Book II, Part II, Chapter I, 354, 355) explains as to doubts about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, that one may doubt about the qualities of the Buddha or about the characteristic marks of his body 9, that one may doubt whether there is attainment of enlightenment, whether there is nibbāna, or whether there are people who can attain enlightenment. As to doubt about the past and the future, this doubt can concern the “khandhas”, the “dhātus” (elements) and “āyatanas” (twelve bases) in the past and in the future.
Do we have doubt about rebirth? One may not be sure whether it is true that the last citta in this life will be succeeded by the first citta of the next life. One may have theoretical understanding of the fact that each citta which falls away is succeeded by a next one, but there may still be moments of doubt. We may at times also doubt whether it is possible to develop right understanding and whether this is the way leading to enlightenment. Doubt can never be eradicated by thinking. When we begin to develop understanding of nāma and rūpa there may be doubt whether the reality appearing at the present moment is nāma or rūpa. Their characteristics are quite different but we are confused about them. There can only be less doubt if we continue to be mindful of them when they appear one at a time. Only in this way can we learn that, for example, hardness is different from the experience of hardness and that visible object is different from the experience of visible object. It is useful to know that doubt is akusala, that it is a hindrance to the performing of dāna, the observance of sīla and to mental development. However, doubt can be object of mindfulness; when there is mindfulness of its characteristic right understanding can know it as it is.
Those who are not ariyans have not realized the four noble Truths and they may still have doubt about realities. The sotāpanna sees realities as they are, he has eradicated doubt completely. We read in the suttas that the sotāpanna has “crossed over doubt”. We read, for example, in the Middle Length Sayings (II, no. 91, Brahmāyusutta) about Brahmāyu:
...Having seen dhamma, attained dhamma, known dhamma, plunged into dhamma, having crossed over doubt, put away uncertainty and attained without another's help to full confidence in the Teacher's instruction...
The sotāpanna still has to continue to develop satipaṭṭhāna, but he is sure to be eventually liberated from the cycle of birth and death. He is full of confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. His confidence is unshakable and thus he has no more doubts about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Those who have not attained enlightenment need to listen often to the Dhamma and to be reminded to be aware of realities in order to eradicate doubt.
It is useful to study the different types of akusala citta and their accompanying cetasikas 10. The study will help us to see that akusala dhammas arise because of their appropriate conditions, that citta and cetasikas which arise together condition one another. We are reminded by the study of realities that akusala dhamma is not a person, that it does not belong to a self. However, we should not be contented with merely theoretical knowledge of the truth. We should continue to develop right understanding of realities which appear through the six doors. Akusala dhammas cannot be eradicated immediately. We should first learn to see them as they are: as conditioned nāmas, not self. Through right understanding of realities doubt, wrong view and all the other akusala dhammas can be eradicated.
 See Vibhaṅga par547 and Atthasālinī II, Book II, Part II, Chapter II, 377.
 Atthasālinī II, Book II, Part II, Chapter II, 378.
 In A Manual of Abhidhamma, in a footnote to akusala cetasikas, Ven. Narada explains that since sloth and torpor lack urge they cannot arise with cittas which are unprompted, cittas which are “keen and active”.
 There are eight types of lobha-mūla-citta, of which four are unprompted and four prompted; there are two types of dosa-mūla-citta, of which one is prompted and one unprompted. See Abhidhamma in Daily Life Chapter 4 and 6.
 Four of the eight types of lobha-mūla-citta are associated with wrong view, diṭṭhi, and four are without wrong view. Conceit can accompany lobha-mūla-citta without wrong view, but this is not always so.
 Dhammas. The commentary, the “Manorathapūraṇī”, explains: samatha and vipassanā do not appear to that monk.
 See Chapter 9 and Chapter 12.
 Book of Analysis, Chapter 17, par915.
 A Buddha has 32 bodily marks. See Dialogues of the Buddha III, no. 30.
 For a summary of them see Appendix 7.