Hate speech, discrimination and unwholesome mental attitudes in Buddhism


There is the clear idea in Buddhism that certain mental attitudes should be encouraged. In the preaching by monastics to laypeople advice should be given about which states of mind are wholesome. These states of mind are a prerequisite for a Buddhist society to function upon Buddhist principles.


To put this in more straightforward terms, certain attitudes, such as discrimination, greed and hatred are condemned as leading to both destruction in this life and the next. Holding certain other mental attitudes is clearly described as being of great benefit. The mental attitude which proposes ‘actions have consequences’, acceptance of the law of karma, for example, is said to lead away from bodily, verbal and mental misconduct (M I 403, 06, 09). It is clear that an unwholesome action is one based upon greed, hatred and delusion, and a wholesome action on generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. A wholesome action is one that will lead towards good wholesome bodily, verbal and mental conduct (Apaṇṇaka-sutta, I 403, 06, 09). The reason for this is the following:


‘Because those good recluses and Brahmins see in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and they see in wholesome states the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing (vodāna).’[1]


It is explained that ‘wholesome’ (kusala) states ‘cleanse’ (vodāna) ‘unwholesome’ (akusala) states. The texts often refer to the hindrances of ‘craving’ (taṇhā) and ‘ignorance’ (avijjā). The former is overcome by calm, the latter by insight. These hindrances appear to suggest a certain dynamic found within early Buddhism. There are not two hindrances, craving and ignorance, which are overcome by calm or insight. Wisdom (paññā) eradicates all defilements. The texts seem fully aware of these distinctions, but do not see it as a dichotomy. In dealing with the soteriological problem, the aim is to overcome dukkha. This is not seen as either a wholly cognitive or affective problem and, therefore, neither calm nor insight are sufficient alone.


An explanation of this is found in a passage in the Nettippakaraṇa (Nett 160) which states that the suttas dealing with ‘defilement by craving’ (taṇhā-saṃkilesa) can be demonstrated by ‘craving for sensual desire, craving for being, and craving for non-being’ (kāma-taṇhāya bhava-taṇhāya vibhava-taṇhāya) andby the net of craving (see the Taṇhājālinī-sutta at A II 211-13). Those dealing with ‘defilement by views’ (diṭṭhi-saṃkilesa) can be demonstrated by ‘annihilationism and eternalism’ (uccheda-sassatena), by whatever one ‘adheres to by means of view, namely “only this is true, anything else is wrong”’,[2] and by ‘the sixty-two types of views, i.e., delusion’s net’.[3]


Cleansing (vodāna) from craving can be demonstrated by calm,[4] cleansing from views can be demonstrated by insight.[5] It is the same term ‘cleansing’ (vodāna) that we find in the Apaṇṇaka-sutta. The aim of the Buddhist path, in some respects, is to cleanse the mind of defilements. The Nettippakaraṇa explains elsewhere that cleansing is of three kinds; the defilement of craving is ‘purified’ (visujjhati) by calm, and this is the concentration khandha (samādhi-kkhandha); the defilement of views is purified by insight, and this is the wisdom khandha (paññā-kkhandha); the defilement of misconduct is purified by good conduct, and this is the virtue khandha (sīla-kkhandha).[6]


Cleansing is extinction free from the ‘corruptions’ (āsavas).[7] Both calm and insight cleanse ‘craving’ (taṇhā) and ‘delusion’ (in this case given as ‘wrong-views’, micchādiṭṭhi). The point seems to be that ‘cleansing’ consists of ‘purification’ (visujjhati), by calm, insight and good conduct. These three purifications constitute the three ‘aggregates’ (khandhas) of ‘virtue’ (sīla), ‘concentration’ (samādhi) and ‘wisdom’ (paññā).


Action and knowledge work together – they produce what is wholesome. Some mental attitudes defile the mind and produce unwholesome actions (and an unwholesome society). Some mental attitudes cleanse the mind and produce wholesome actions (and a wholesome society). It seems odd that, in this context, any Buddhist preaching can promote hatred and discrimination as these attitudes are completely condemned by the Buddha in the Pali Canon.



[1] passanti hi te bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ādīnavaṃ okāraṃ saṅkilesaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ nekkhamme ānisaṃsaṃ vodānapakkhaṃ, M I 403, 406, 409.

[2] diṭṭhi-vasena abhinivisati idam eva saccaṃ mogham aññan ti, Nett 160.

[3] dvāsaṭṭhi diṭṭhi-gatāni moha-jālaṃ, Nett 112.

[4] taṇhā-vodāna-bhāgiyaṃ suttaṃ samathena niddisitabbaṃ, Nett 160.

[5] diṭṭhi-vodāna-bhāgiyaṃ suttaṃ vipassanāya niddisitabbaṃ, Nett 160.

[6] tayidaṃ vodānaṃ tividhaṃ: taṇhāsaṃkileso samathena visujjhati, so samatho samādhikkhandho. diṭṭhisaṃkileso vipassanāya visujjhati. sā vipassanā paññākkhandho. duccaritasaṃkileso sucaritena visujjhati, taṃ sucaritaṃ sīlakkhandho, Nett 96.

[7] parinibbanti anāsāvā ti idaṃ vodānaṃ, Nett 96; see also Nett 128.


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