Courses of (Un)skillful action: covetousness

Hello all,

In AN 10.176 and elsewhere, there is the formula of the 10 wholesome and unwholesome actions. For covetousness, here is the Pali, the English, and Piya Tan’s note on them from MN 41 (the only exegesis on this I could find with a quick Google):

Kathañca, cunda, tividhaṃ manasā asoceyyaṃ hoti? Idha, cunda, ekacco abhijjhālu hoti. Yaṃ taṃ parassa para­vit­tūpaka­ra­ṇaṃ taṃ abhijjhātā hoti: ‘aho vata yaṃ parassa taṃ mamassā’ti.


He covets the belongings of others, thinking, ‘O, that what belongs to others would be mine!’


  1. Covetousness (abhijjhā) [§8(8)] is the desire for the property of another. It occurs through inclination
    towards them, with the wish, “Oh, that this were mine!” There are these two constituents of covetousness:
    (1) another’s goods, and
    (2) the inclination for them to be one’s own.
    Although greed may arise on account of another’s property, it is not regarded as a karmic act of covetousness,
    that is, so long as one does not incline to them as one’s own, thinking, “Oh, that this were mine!”
    (MA 1:201)

I’m unsure of where the line is drawn between greed and the karmic act of covetousness. If I see some attractive product that I want to buy, is that line of thinking covetousness? Or is covetousness really more of a thought connected with theft, e.g. one sees some attractive item that one knows belongs to someone else, say a nice pen on a public park table outside or a bike parked without a lock, and has the thought of taking it? Do the venerable commentators have anything else to say on this?

Thank you in advance for sharing wisdom and knowledge.

:anjal:

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It is an interesting question, but i’m not sure if there’s a clear answer.

On the whole, in this context we are dealing with somewhat strong forms of these things. This is why we have abhijjhā rather than more generic terms for “desire”. (Pali has lots and lots of words for desire!)

What’s described in the example is a case of what is also known as visamalobha, “illegitimate greed”. Basically the idea is that having a certain degree of greed or desire is, while not ideal, still a normal part of life. It’s natural to want to eat food, but to “pig out” is not necessary!

So I would suggest that the example here is intended as a clear-cut case of such over-the-top desire, a form of desire that even in ordinary worldly terms is regarded as causing suffering, and potentially leading to a crime or other serious ethical violation.

Other forms of desire aren’t necessarily excluded, they are just less serious. So admiring someone’s nice bike might lead to greed, but it’s not as bad as wanting to steal it.

What is, I think, definitely excluded here are wholesome forms of desire such as desire to meditate and practice the path.

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Thank you, Bhante Sujato.

:anjal:

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A man with covetousness, seen a beautiful married woman and wishing to possess her may commit unwholesome action by words and deeds.


The ten kinds of akusala (evil) in relation to the
twelve types of immoral consciousness.
There are ten kinds of evil committed through deed,
word and thought.

Deed—(1) Killing (pàõàtipàta), (2) Stealing (adinnàdàna),
(3) Sexual Misconduct (kàmesumicchàcàra).

Word—(4) Lying (musàvàda), (5) Slandering (pisuõavàcà),
(6) Harsh speech (pharusavàcà), (7) Vain
talk (samphappalàpa).

Thought—(8) Covetousness (abhijjhà), (9) Hatred
(vyàpàda), and (10) False view (micchàdiññhi).14

Hi Sarath,

I’ve edited the formatting in your post, i hope this is what you were after.

Here we use markdown, where a series of === means “make this a heading!” I think you wanted “horizontal rule”, which you can add from the dialogue above, or simply by writing three hyphens, leaving a line above and below them.

Also, you’ve pasted a bunch of text from an old file which contains characters in an outdated encoding. For more than a decade, the universal standard for text has been Unicode, and that’s what we use here. If you take a little time to ensure that you use the correct characters and formatting, it helps us understand what you’re saying.

Thank you Bhante.