What is the drawback of the faculty of wisdom?

In the Indriya-samyutta (SN48) we often find statements like the one below:

“Mendicants, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom. A noble disciple comes to truly understand these five faculties’ gratification, drawback, and escape. Such a noble disciple is called a stream-enterer, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening.” SuttaCentral

I understand the application of gratification, drawback, and escape to sensual pleasures etc. But what is meant by drawback of wisdom and the other faculties?




The 3 characteristics: anicca, dukkha, anatta are the drawbacks.

For example, one may attain jhanas with the faculty of immersion, the drawbacks of this faculty is the 3 characteristics. Seeing the drawbacks of jhanas leads to attainment, as can be seen in MN 64. One attains jhana, and sees the drawbacks, and then turns away from the 5 aggregates and towards the nibbana element.

You can read about the 10 drawbacks in Girimananda sutta.

As for the drawbacks of the faculty of wisdom, it is also the 3 characteristics, as the 4 noble truths are impermanent and will arise again when another Buddha arises.

"And where should the faculty of wisdom be seen? In the four noble truths. " - SN 48.8


“Monks, there are these five faculties. Which five? The faculty of conviction, the faculty of persistence, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, the faculty of discernment. When—having discerned, as they have come to be, the origination, the passing away, the allure, the drawbacks, and the escape from these five faculties—a monk is released from lack of clinging/sustenance, he is called an arahant whose effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, laid to waste the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis.”—SN 48.4

This sutta and the following one (SN 48.3 & 4) are unusual in that they apply a framework usually employed to explain the steps leading to an escape from unskillful qualities, and apply it to a set of skillful qualities: the five faculties. In this way, they make a point similar to that made by the simile of the raft in MN 22, that the goal is something that lies beyond the path, and that the act of abandoning the path, after it has been developed, is a necessary step in reaching the goal.—Thanissaro


I believe it’s said that the Noble eightfold was the best of sankharas. We know that all sankhara are dukkha. Or to consider it from another perspective the mundane suffering of wisdom is irritability -at seeing foolishness parade around in the world. And seeing people bow down to it. Also one’s head is lost in contemplation and loose the ability to communicate. Also one becomes conceited and set out to acquire knowledge rather than go about the humble practice. One’s knowledge and degrees become another possession.


Thanissaro’s thought are interesting, thank you.


Paul’s quote has answered your question, but I’d like to point out another type of potential drawback, which is wisdom (or the appearance of wisdom) when one lacks saddha (faith/confidence).

I was taught to see the list of 5 like a balance bar, with mindfulness in the middle, wisdom & faith on each end, and energy & samadhi at each side’s middle. Wisdom & faith balance each other, keeping faith from falling into foolish blind faith, and keeping wisdom from becoming too skeptical. Energy & samadhi balance each other, keeping energy from excess exuberance and keeping samadhi from falling asleep. And mindfulness, in the middle, needs no further balance.


I like that thought. The drawback of wisdom is too much wisdom with too little faith etc. But as you point out in the last sentence this does not apply to sati.


I think " truly understand " means the five faculties became five powers

When your heart is mastered by covetousness and immoral greed, you do what you shouldn’t, and fail to do what you should.
Abhijjhāvisamalobhābhibhūtena, gahapati,cetasā viharanto akiccaṃ karoti, kiccaṃaparādheti.10.3
Your fame and happiness are crushed.
Akiccaṃ karonto kiccaṃ aparādhento yasāca sukhā ca dhaṃsati.
When your heart is mastered by ill will …Byāpādābhibhūtena, gahapati, cetasāviharanto akiccaṃ karoti, kiccaṃaparādheti.
Akiccaṃ karonto kiccaṃ aparādhento yasāca sukhā ca dhaṃsati.
10.6dullness and drowsiness …Thinamiddhābhibhūtena, gahapati, cetasāviharanto akiccaṃ karoti kiccaṃaparādheti.
10.7Akiccaṃ karonto kiccaṃ aparādhento yasāca sukhā ca dhaṃsati.
10.8restlessness and remorse …Uddhaccakukkuccābhibhūtena, gahapati,cetasā viharanto akiccaṃ karoti, kiccaṃaparādheti.
10.9Akiccaṃ karonto kiccaṃ aparādhento yasāca sukhā ca dhaṃsati.
doubt, you do what you shouldn’t, and fail to do what you should.
Vicikicchābhibhūtena, gahapati, cetasāviharanto akiccaṃ karoti, kiccaṃaparādheti.
Your fame and happiness are crushed.
Akiccaṃ karonto kiccaṃ aparādhento yasāca sukhā ca dhaṃsati.

So basically the drawback of the faculties is that they’re conditioned?

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"There is the case, householder, where a monk, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He reflects on this and discerns, ‘This first jhana is fabricated & intended. Now whatever is fabricated & intended is inconstant & subject to cessation.’ Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental fermentations. Or, if not, then — through this very Dhamma-passion, this Dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five Fetters[1] — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world.


also to add, this is why a path attainer cannot die until they have attained Fruition. Fruition means destroying a fetter. Since the faculties are impermanent, one loses them when they die. Babies don’t have faculties but they have latent tendencies which become fetters. So if the fetter is destroyed, and a person dies and loses the faculties, when they are reborn they they won’t have the latent tendencies for rituals, identity view, and adhamma, and so those fetters will not be developed later on when the baby matures.