Is cetana a universal mental factor?

Is cetana always present in any mental state? Or is its universal presence a later development?

I remember reading in Ven. Thanissaro’s books that it’s always there, except when one attains consciousness of nibbana. However, given that consciousness of nibbana isn’t supported by the EBTs, I’m wondering if ubiquitous cetana isn’t supported either.

There’s a sutta that says that phenomena arises dependent on attention, so maybe that’s evidence that intention (in this case attention) must be present?

Checking the Abhidhammattha Sangaha (Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma),
out of the 52 states (cetasikā) associated with consciousness (cetoyutta), there are 7 universals, always present in all consciousness.

Volition (cetanā) is the fourth.

(Chapter 2, Cetasikasangahavibhāga, part 2. )

Interestingly, Ven. Bodhi glosses this: “ cetanā, from the same root as citta, is the mental factor that is concerned with the actualization of a goal, that is, the conative or volitional aspect of cognition. “

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Thanks, Stephen!
Do you know if there’s any evidence for this in the early discourses as well? I think I could come up with evidence for the first 3 and last 2 universals (contact, feeling, perception, life faculty, and attention), but I’m not sure about intention.

Hi, it’s an interesting question, which perhaps can also be stated as -are the suttas and abhidhamma in accordance? Certainly the ‘goal’ of abhidhamma can be thought of as a systematization of what is present already in the suttas. (This might not always be the case)

Regarding this issue, Ven. Bodhi writes “the seven universals…perform the most rudimentary and essential cognitive functions, without which consciousness of an object would be utterly impossible. “

I think I would turn this around and ask, is there anything in the suttas that contradicts this?
But this whole line of inquiry is pretty abhidhammical and I don’t know if there is a sutta that speaks to this in a precise way.

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Having a quick look at Nina van Gorkom’s book ‘Cetasikas’, she speaks about how cetanā has a sense of ‘coordinating’ the citta and other cetasikas on the object.
She cites the Atthasālinī and Visuddhimagga for this. (Section 5.1)

So maybe this ‘coordinating’ role of cetasikā can be investigated in the suttas.

But as far as I know, in the suttas the word ‘cetasika’ is used as a general term for ‘mental’ (of the mind), contrasted with ‘body’ or ‘physical’ (kāyika).

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That makes sense. I was wondering if it was just a later development, but it seems that the early suttas, if don’t imply it, at least don’t contradict it. Thanks for the explanation!

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