Samyutta Nikaya coverage of positive mental qualities

While looking into mindfulness of dharmas and discernment of dharmas in the Samyutta Nikaya, I began to make some notes generally about skillful and unskillful qualities. Initially I expected that given the topics, that the typical results I would find might be primarily in the samyutta for the Four Bases of Mindfulness, and the samyutta for the Seven Factors of Bodhi.

However, what I found is that many of the details were scattered across other samyuttas as well, such as those for the Five Roots, and the Four Iddhipadas. Putting some of these sources side by side and looking at the trends was quite interesting. And, naturally, the scope expanded somewhat, and some overall trends emerged.

Typical examples, by no means exhaustive:

  • SN 35.96: Bad, unskilled phenomena: memories and thoughts prone to fetters.
  • SN 35.96: Give up, get rid of, eliminate, obliterate unskilled phenomena.
  • SN 35.97: Mind immersed in samadhi: principles become clear.
  • SN 35.97: Mind not immersed in samadhi: principles are unclear.
  • SN 35.97: If principles are unclear, you are living negligently.
  • SN 35.97: If principles are clear, you are living diligently.
  • SN 35.97: If mind is polluted, there is no joy, rapture, etc.
  • SN 35.97: If mind is not polluted, there is joy, rapture, etc.
  • SN 45.1: Ignorance precedes the attainment of unskillful qualities.
  • SN 45.1: Knowledge precedes the attainment of skillful qualities.
  • SN 45.34: Get rid of dark qualities, develop bright qualities.
  • SN 45.34: Delight in seclusion, leave sensual pleasures.
  • SN 45.140: All skillful qualities are rooted in diligence.
  • SN 46.2: Qualities may be blameworthy or blameless.
  • SN 46.2: Qualities may be inferior or superior.
  • SN 46.2: Qualities may be dark or bright.
  • SN 46.2: Frequent proper attention to qualities develops dhamma-vicaya, etc.
  • SN 47.5: Five Hindrances are a heap of the unskillful.
  • SN 47.8: Mind becomes concentrated, corruptions abandoned, picks up sign (nimitta).
  • SN 46.33: Mind is corrupted by the Five Hindrances, becomes brittle.
  • SN 46.33: Mind should be like pure gold: pliant, workable, radiant.
  • SN 48.10: Energy in giving up unskillful qualities, embracing skillful qualities.
  • SN 48.10: Generate enthusiasm, make an effort, exert the mind, and strive.
  • SN 49.35-54: Bad, unskillful qualities should not arise.
  • SN 49.35-54: Skillful qualities that have arisen should remain.
  • SN 49.35-54: Skillful qualities should increase, mature, and be completed.
  • SN 51.20: Meditate perceiving continuity: as before, so after, etc.
  • SN 51.20: With an open and unenveloped heart, develop a mind full of radiance.
  • SN 51.22: Sink into a perception of bliss and lightness in the body.
  • SN 51.22: Body becomes lighter, softer, more workable, more radiant

Common trends:

  • Inferior → Superior
  • Dark → Light
  • Unclear → Clear
  • Polluted → Unpolluted
  • Ignorant → Knowing
  • Negligent → Diligent
  • Sensual → Secluded
  • Brittle → Pliant
  • Corrupt → Radiant
  • Corrupt → Concentrated

One overall pattern as well is simply abandoning unskillful qualities and embracing skillful qualities. In some later Indian Buddhist teachings and treatises, there is a tendency to cancel out pairs of opposites, to rid the mind of conceptualizations. However, here we see a clear overall trend of abandoning negative qualities and embracing positive qualities.


Thank you for sharing your research! :smiley:

1 Like

Yes in Theravada there is always duality:

Like climbing a ladder, what is skillful is achieved in dependence on its predecessor (SN 14.11).