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Open Access 30-04-2024 | ORIGINAL PAPER

On Freedom from Remorse (Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra): Its Place on the Well-Trodden Path from Moral Discipline to Samādhi Meditation

Auteur: Hao Sun

Gepubliceerd in: Mindfulness


The primary objective of this study is to shed light on the role and significance of freedom from remorse (avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra) in the cultivation of Buddhist concentration (samādhi) meditation. The study delves into the progression from avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra to samādhi, examining how moral discipline influences an individual’s conscience and, consequently, meditation. We commence by examining the well-established path of cultivation leading toward samādhi. A comprehensive study was undertaken to understand the term avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra, its significance for Buddhist meditation, the context in which it originated, and the various English translations that have been provided for it. Furthermore, a comparison is made between avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra and a seemingly synonymous term, kaukṛtya/kukkucca, with areas being sought where one or the other tends to be (or is exclusively) used within the discourse about Buddhist ethics and meditation. From various Buddhist scriptures, it is suggested that a morally disciplined individual typically progresses through a series of states, starting with freedom from remorse and potentially leading to concentration (samādhi). Avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra is pivotal in fostering positive meditative states, serving as a catalyst that propels individuals from negative emotions to wholesome ones on the Buddhist path. By contrast, both vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra and kaukṛtya/kukkucca are identified as basically synonymous words for disturbing emotions with somewhat different contexts of use, the elimination of such emotions being necessary if individuals are to progress on their spiritual journey. Avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra plays a crucial intermediary role bridging Buddhist ethics and meditation. Moral discipline and the subsequent understanding and confession of any personal misconduct are integral to fostering freedom from remorse. Such freedom not only paves the way to deeper meditation but also fortifies one’s confidence in Buddhist teachings, and so provides a foundation for true spiritual progress.

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Buddhist meditation, with its increasing resonance in the modern world, illuminates a path toward tranquility and enlightenment. However, despite its integration into contemporary lives, its ethical framework may appear to be more nebulous than clear. The pertinence of moral grounding to achieving meditative states poses thought-provoking questions: Can meditation truly be practiced in a moral void? Could an individual of tainted conduct nevertheless tread a straight path to meditative attainment, or would slivers or pangs of remorse inevitably retard if not totally frustrate the journey? These reflections, steeped in the discourse of Buddhist thought for over two millennia, remain as relevant today as they were in the times of early contemplative exploration, and typify the intricate interplay between ethics and meditation that invites deeper understanding.
This exploration of ethical considerations in meditation is not a free-standing inquiry but rather embedded in the broader context of human behavior and spiritual progression. In fact, various Buddhist traditions offer differing perspectives, highlighting the necessity for a nuanced and multifaceted approach when exploring the dynamic relationship between morality and meditative practice. Ethical considerations become all the more complex in the current era, where the essentials of Buddhist meditation are exposed to adaptation and, at times, dilution. The myriad forces at play, secular or otherwise, underscore the complexity of keeping meditative practices necessarily aligned with moral integrity.
One of the most common Buddhist meditative practices, samādhi, meaning (meditative) concentration (see Amaro, 2015; Anālayo, 2006; Bodhi, 2012; Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 1995; Schmithausen, 2013; Vajirañāṇa, 1962), occupies a key place in Buddhist teaching, constituting the second of its three overarching divisions of the Eightfold Path between śīla/sīla (morality) and prajñā/paññā (wisdom). Given its centrality, the prerequisites for samādhi have attracted much scholarly attention being devoted to the nuanced back-and-forth between morality and concentration. Key contributions to this discourse include Amaro’s (2015) insight that more carefully observed standards lead to a greater freedom from remorse, which in turn leads to better concentration, and Anālayo’s (2009) reconsideration of what the Five Hindrances encountered along the path exactly entail. The Sanskrit and Pali terms for the misconduct that leads to remorse or regret, along with other terms based on the same roots that denote freedom from such disturbances, will here come under closer scrutiny.
The pioneering studies directed toward understanding the samādhi-inducing practices include attempts to comprehend the mutually sustaining interaction between morality and concentration within Buddhist teachings. The insights garnered from this body of work offer a multidimensional view that takes in ethical and unethical conduct, internal responses to such conduct (including remorse and regret), and the collective impact on achieving states of samādhi. In this paper, building upon existing scholarly work, I will elaborate on the influence of ethics on an individual’s conscience and examine its subsequent impact on samādhi meditation.

The Path of Cultivation of a Morally Disciplined Person Toward Concentration

According to a great number of traditional Buddhist works, a morally disciplined (śīlavat/sīlavat) person who seeks enlightenment will develop the states of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra, gladness (prāmodya/pāmujja), joy (prīti/pīti), calmness (praśrabdhi/passaddhi), bliss (sukha), and concentration (samādhi), in this fixed sequence. This linear process of cultivation from avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra to concentration is reserved for persons of good conduct. One relevant passage from the Pāli Canon (AN 10.2, V 312) states this succinctly:
O Bhikkhus, it is natural (dhammatā) that freedom from remorse (avippaṭisāra) arises in a morally disciplined (sīlavat) person.... It is natural that gladness (pāmujja) arises in a person possessed of freedom from remorse.... It is natural that joy (pīti) arises in a person endowed with gladness.... It is natural that the body of one endowed with joy is calm.... It is natural that a person endowed with calmness (passaddhi) senses bliss (sukha).... It is natural that one concentrates one’s mind when endowed with bliss. (Translation based on Bodhi, 2012, p. 1340)
In Buddhist communities, it is widely believed that the Sutta Piṭaka, initially recited orally by the Buddha’s cousin Ānanda at the First Buddhist Council, dates back to the fifth century BC. It later evolved into written scriptures, including the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN), Dīgha Nikāya (DN), Majjhima Nikāya (MN), and Saṁyutta Nikāya (SN). Of the four major Nikāyas just mentioned, the Aṅguttara Nikāya is the largest one. It is characterized by well-edited Buddhist discourses arranged in numbered sets, and therefore, it is of great importance to Theravāda Buddhism.
Coming back to the Pāli quotation from the Aṅguttara Nikāya, we find a version corresponding to it in the Sanskrit Śrāvakabhūmi (ŚrBh, p. 92). This latter text along with the Bodhisattvabhūmi occupies the oldest stratum of the Yogācārabhūmi (the formative treatise of the Yogācāra school). Compiled in the third century AD, it was taken from India to distant places in Central and East Asia. In the seventh century, it was translated into Chinese by Xuanzang 玄奘. The observed consistency in the approach to concentration across Theravāda and Yogācāra traditions is rooted in their reliance on texts, regarded as authentic teachings of the Buddha (Buddhavacana). Apart from their lengthy expositions in the Aṅguttara Nikāya and Śrāvakabhūmi, we also encounter an abbreviated reference to the same process in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (BoBh, p. 50):
In this way, a morally disciplined (śīlavat) person is free from remorse (avipratisāra), experiences gladness and so on, up to concentration (samādhi).
Zimmermann (2013, p. 873) in a thorough study of the wider meaning of śīla in the Bodhisattvabhūmi of the Yogācāra school presents a new slant on the word as used in the tenth chapter of the Bodhisattvabhūmi, the Right Conduct Chapter (Śīlapaṭala), namely as reflecting “both spiritual and emotional training as well as the appeal to actively engage in the welfare of other living beings.” Granted that, within this broader sense of morality, śīlavat in the Bodhisattvabhūmi may also imply active social engagement, in this paper it will primarily be confined to its non-Mahāyāna definition along the lines of self-restraint, of which there are three aspects: (1) observing Buddhist moral precepts: in the Nikāyas, sīlavat is often glossed as sīlasampanna, which denotes one who obeys the (Buddhist) moral precepts (Sāmaññaphalasutta in DN 2); (2) maintaining moral discipline through such practices as confessing and correcting transgressions (ŚrBh, p. 90); (3) turning this obedience and maintenance of moral discipline into one’s habit, so that one becomes an ever more morally disciplined person of noble character (cf. Böhtlingk and MW, s.v. as well as Schmithausen, 2001).
For the purpose of explaining the path of cultivation as it figures in the present study, I offer the chart in Fig. 1.
It is noteworthy that the above-mentioned path of cultivation, as a notion, is not simply preserved in the textual Buddhist Canon, but continues to be also deeply embedded in the Buddhist community. For example, in a dharma talk he gave in 1985, the popular contemporary Buddhist monk Venerable Chanmyay Sayadaw recounts what went through the mind of the Sri Lankan monk Mahātissa during one episode in his life:
Reflecting on his spotless virtue, he experienced absence of remorse, gladness, rapture, tranquillity, and happiness. He observed all these mental processes as they really were. Observing the joy and gladness, the mind became happy and calm. (Sayadaw, 2004)
These words reflect the above canonical version of the path of cultivation. Later his sermon was published and was well received by local Buddhists. It is a modern exposition of that well-trodden path toward samādhi meditation, on which spotless virtue corresponds to śīlavat/sīlavat, absence of remorse to avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra, gladness to prāmodya/pāmujja, and so on.
Having identified the prominent role of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra on the road to samādhi meditation, one might go on to ask whether samādhi is still attainable absent avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra. The Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN 10.3, V 313–314) provides a clear answer to this question: samādhi meditation lacks a proximate cause (upanisā) for those deficient in the bliss resulting from the lack of avippaṭisāra.
Hence, it is hardly possible to steer clear of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra if we want to comprehend the causal chain leading to samādhi meditation. In fact, very little research has been done on this fundamental concept. In the pages that follow, I will expand on it, focusing on the circumstances in which it arises, its role in Buddhist meditation, and the multiple choices of English translations offered for it.

On the Concept Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra

The Negative Impact of Remorse and One of Its Antidotes

As stated in the above-quoted section of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, it is natural (dhammatā) that freedom from remorse (avippaṭisāra) arises in morally disciplined (sīlavat) persons. However, the passage does not expand on how to attain that state. In search of an answer, we shall first consider the definition of śīla/sīla. According to the thorough study of it made by Schmithausen (2001), this term is often used in Buddhist contexts in the sense of impeccable conduct that has become second nature. The attribute śīlavat/sīlavat is accordingly ascribable to persons exhibiting such ideal conduct, which sounds in fact unattainable; no one matches up all the time in real life. Does this imply that no Buddhist practitioner can ever hope to attain true śīla/sīla from the outset, let alone pass on to samādhi meditation in the future? The answer is obviously no. In practice, Buddhist monks and nuns regularly hold a karman ritual within their Saṅgha communities and make confession of faults in front of their fellow monastics. Through confession practitioners can turn a page on the past and move on along on the path of cultivation extending from avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra to concentration. One relevant passage in the Śrāvakabhūmi reads as follows:
If a Buddhist practitioner who, introspecting, knows that, [in their own words], “My physical activity so far has caused injury or oppression”, [and later] that Buddhist practitioner confesses (pratidiś) in front of fellow practitioners endowed with [great] knowledge and corrects (pratikṛ) [the fault] in accordance with [Buddhist] teachings; [and] if [then] that Buddhist practitioner, [still] introspecting, knows that “My physical activity is no longer detrimental [to others]”, and practises many days and nights with joy and gladness, then that Buddhist practitioner, introspecting well, [knows] that their physical activity is purified (suviśodhita) in the past, present and future time. Likewise, verbal activity should also be understood in this way. (Translation based on ŚrBh, p. 90)
The Śrāvakabhūmi thus offers a practical way to purify bad deeds, namely by confessing in front of fellow devotees and then rectifying one’s faults in accordance with Buddhist teachings. After this procedure, one again focuses introspectively on one’s own activity in order to know whether it has been purified. If it has, one can be confident of having restored moral self-discipline and of once again being pure in conduct (śīlaviśuddhi). Thus, free from remorse (avipratisāra), one proceeds on along the path toward concentration. The above passage in particular shows that avipratisāra is contingent upon facing up to a misdeed directly, confessing it, and then taking countermeasures whenever a person’s conduct has caused injury or oppression to others. According to this source, then, avipratisāra is not attained as long as one refuses to address the matter or even simply ignores it.
In comparison, the Bhaddālisutta (MN 65, I 437–440) associates the overcoming of vippaṭisāra and kukkucca with beseeching forgiveness. At the very beginning, for his own sake, Venerable Bhaddāli refused to accept the Buddha’s advice of eating a single meal during the day, and claimed that he would be consumed by remorse (vippaṭisāra) and feel the hindrance of regret (kukkucca) if he followed it. Then, in the next three months, he did not feel easy and avoided the Buddha’s presence. His fellow monks comprehended his distress, and comforted him by saying: “Please, friend Bhaddāli, learn your lesson. Do not let it become more difficult for you later on.” Venerable Bhaddāli was relieved, came to the Buddha, and apologized. He expressed his regret and remorse, and pled with him: “Sir, please accept my mistake for what it is, and I will restrain myself in future.” The Buddha well understood his mental states—feeling empty, hollow, and guilty (ritto tuccho aparaddho)—in the previous three months, probingly taught him why he was wrong, and accepted his confession. Afterwards, the Buddha elaborated on the Dharma, telling of a monk capable of meditating but who lived withdrawn and unreprimanded by a teacher, by knowledgeable fellow monks, by deities, or by himself.
It is quite interesting that Venerable Bhaddāli talked about regret and remorse on two different occasions: at first as a possible outcome of accepting the Buddhaʼs suggestion. His hesitancy can be expressed in words still heard today: “I will regret it later if I do this now.” Then later, after prolonged distress, he actually did become remorseful. The reason was a hollow feeling of guilt during three months of self-imposed isolation from the Buddha, during which he lost his grip on what he thought was a perfectly right and normal way of life. His fellows understood his predicament, comforted him, and guided him to the right re-entry point on the path: confession.
The dialogue in the Bhaddālisutta makes as a precondition for overcoming the suffering of vippaṭisāra and kukkucca—in the case of the Buddha’s contemporary followers who had been morally slack—forgiveness begged for in his presence. Given that the historical Buddha passed away more than two thousand years ago, this is now out of the question, but confession, this time in front of knowledgeable fellow devotees, as described in the Śrāvakabhūmi, is still a feasible recourse for the backslider who wishes to embark on the path toward samādhi.
In addition to their differing in the matter of the Buddhaʼs presence, the Śrāvakabhūmi and the Bhaddālisutta further exhibit two distinct scenarios: (1) offenders become aware of their transgressions on their own, and make their confession in front of others. Through confession, remedy, and practice, they are able to return to living in good conscience at having atoned; (2) offenders at the beginning feel justified for the wrong committed, but in course of time they come to feel utterly distressed. During confession, they are made to see why what they did was wrong, and only then do they feel remorse, but they soon come to realize that confession and remorse has purified them, and so do not need to let the incident be an albatross around their neck. (This summary is kindly provided by Mr. Pierce.)
Through proper confession, Buddhist practitioners can overcome distress and turn a new leaf. The other option is to remain stuck in that state for a long time without finding a way out. This theme occurs over and over in Buddhist literature.
In the Visuddhimagga, composed by Buddhaghosa (Theravāda’s most famous commentator and translator), it is again stressed (Vism, p. 54) that moral shortcomings are displeasing to both deities and human beings, leading to censure and remorse (vippaṭisāra). Interaction with the unreinstated is painful, and those who resist an accounting face long-lasting suffering in a state of loss.
One story (SuVi, p. 19) in the first volume of the Pāli Vinaya (the Buddhist monastic code) describes the stress of a regretful (kukkucca), remorse-stricken (vippaṭisāra) monk, Venerable Sudinna. His inner unrest occasions a whole series of worsening states: he becomes increasingly haggard and wretched. The whole panoply of physical problems that brought about his mental suffering is vividly captured in Horner’s translation (1982, p. 34).
Besides Pāli sources, the Chinese translation of the *Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra amplifies the way remorse and regret (in the Chinese translation 悔huǐ appears for vippaṭisāra or kukkucca) disturbs one’s peace of mind, and spiritual cultivation as well (T1509, 25, 184c11–21):
Persons who are prey to regret are like a criminal always tortured by fear. When the arrow of regret has entered the mind, it is implanted there and cannot be removed. Some stanzas say: if they have done what they should not do, if they have not done what they should have done, they are burned by the fire of remorse. Later they will fall into bad destinies. (Based on the translation by Gelongma, 2001, p. 789)
To sum up, in the Buddhist view, as long as one is assailed by remorse, one cannot easily lead a normal, peaceful life, let alone attain higher meditative goals. For anyone consumed by remorse, the first need is to attain avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra.

The Significance of Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra for Meditation

Having investigated the contexts and import of avipratisāra in the Sanskrit text Śrāvakabhūmi, I shall now turn to the Pāli term avippaṭisāra, focusing on its morphology as set forth in the Theravāda commentary. To start off, the word can be resolved into the negative prefix a- and the rest of word, vippaṭisāra, this being the antonym of the whole form. And as for the morphology of vippaṭisāra, the most renowned and authoritative Pāli commentator, Buddhaghosa, writing in his exegesis of the Dhammasaṅgaṇī (AS, p. 384), provides a detailed elucidation, as follow:
… vippaṭisāra of the mind is [first of all a mental] journey [backwards] to (abhimukhagamana) what has already been done or not done, what is blamable or what is not blamable. One does not get bad deeds [done in the past] undone or good things [undone in the past] done. Therefore, this retrospective (paṭisāra) [mental journey] is unnatural (virūpa) and contemptible [in the mind of that person]. Thus is [the word] vippaṭisāra [formed] (i.e., vi- from virūpa plus the form paṭisāra). It [describes a state] of mind, not [simply] of sentient being, whence vippaṭisāra is said in relation to the mind. This is an exposition of vippaṭisāra’s formal nature.
In the view of Buddhaghosa, then, the prefix vi- in vippaṭisāra is shorthand for the word virūpa: an unnatural (vi-) retrospective mental journey (pratisāra/paṭisāra) is called vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra.
For those plagued by remorse, it goes without saying that they find no inner peace and happiness by recollecting the past, let alone attain higher meditative states. One might liken the torture of vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra in the Buddhist context to sinking deeply into debt. Both bear certain similarities: (1) they are both long-lasting depressing situations; (2) they both may easily plunge one into a downward spiral difficult to get out of; (3) but if the situation can be overcome, the sense of relief is overwhelming.
The association between vippaṭisāra and loss, and avippaṭisāra and benefit, is exactly preserved in the Pāli Canon (AN 10.1 at AN V 2). On the one hand, as my previous citation from Visuddhimagga 2.1 shows, being trapped in a feeling of vippaṭisāra is compared to living through a seemingly endless state of loss (apāya); by contrast, the avippaṭisāra state is described in terms of benefit/gain (ānisaṃsa).
One can imagine the elation felt by someone in debt once that debt has finally been paid off; something similar can be expected to happen to a Buddhist who attains freedom from remorse (avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra) following a long, torturous period plagued by vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra. That is doubtless why avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra plays such a prominent role in Buddhist meditation: it marks the turning point, transforming negative feelings into positive states, just as turning loss into gain in our worldly lives does, through which a downward spiral can be broken and reversed, and life turned around. To put it in a nutshell, the attainment of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra serves as the starting point in the direction of successively more wholesome states (including meditative ones) along the Buddhist path. In what follows, I will discuss various English translations of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra.

Alternative Translations of Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra

In my understanding of the term, avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra can be translated in at least a threefold manner: (1) absence of remorse, non-regret, or lack of regret; (2) a clear conscience; and (3) freedom from remorse. The subtle difference between the first and third options is that the absence or lack of remorse does not rule out its eventual appearance, while freedom from it implies that one has effectively been rid of it in the long term. Considering that remorse and regret causes worry and unease, which is not beneficial to meditation, it is not something wanted by serious practitioners.
The “absence of remorse,” “non-regret,” or “lack of regret” are long-established translations of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra adopted by a number of eminent scholars. There is some merit to them, but my main focus will be on to the other two, namely (2) and (3).
Firstly, there is obviously not much difference among the established expressions, be they “absence of remorse,” “non-regret,” or “lack of regret”: they all denote the contrary of regret or remorse. To give a review of these renderings, Vajirañāṇa (1962, p. 57) summarizes a passage from the Kimatthiyasutta in the Aṅguttara Nikāya with the words “… the benefit and advantage of moral virtues is the absence of remorse (avippaṭisāra)…. Morality (sīla) is of paramount importance in meditation.” Whitaker & Smith (2018, p. 57) stress that “lack of regret (avippaṭisāra) is critical to the development of open, clear and focused mindfulness. It is also essential for right concentration.”
It is noticeable that all the above translations of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra are framed negatively, with either the negative prefix non- or the negative phrases “lack of” or “absence of” at the beginning, corresponding to the negative prefix a- in Sanskrit or Pāli. At first sight, these seem to be utterly unproblematic renderings. However, non-regret, lack of regret, and absence of remorse all stand out against the other beneficial states: morally disciplined (śīlavat/sīlavat), gladness (prāmodya/pāmujja), joy (prīti/pīti), calmness (praśrabdhi/passaddhi), bliss (sukha), and concentration (samādhi) on the path of cultivation, which all are unequivocally affirmative terms. Heim (2014, p. 116) points out this apparent discrepancy when she states that the presence of an absence (non-remorse) is what makes possible the other processes. In my opinion, it is possible, and perhaps even preferable, to render the term avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra so that it aligns with the affirmative form of all the other progressional terms. One such candidate for the translation of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra would be “clear conscience.”
Let us consider this English phrase. As far as I can see, it largely reflects the meaning of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra in two respects. In the first place, “clear conscience” means “a knowledge or belief that one has done nothing bad or wrong,” according to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. This definition appears to comport with the literal meaning of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra in the Buddhist contexts, as discussed in “The Significance of Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra for Meditation” section. Moreover, as reported by Cottingham, a British scholar known for his research in the philosophy of religion and moral philosophy, “a clear conscience occurs when someone’s inner reflection leaves him/her in the happy position of finding nothing wrong with how he/she has behaved” (Cottingham, 2013, p. 731). This again matches up with the inner state that a practitioner needs to attain on the path of cultivation toward samādhi. In the second place, Vithoulkas & Muresanu (2013, p. 105) and other neuroscientists have determined that “a clear conscience has the advantage of feeling inner peace.” This, in my opinion, encapsulates the progression from avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra to sukha.
In previous studies, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra is sometimes indeed translated as “bad conscience.” Horner (1982, p. 172) argues that vippaṭisārī, the adjective form of vippaṭisāra, comes close to that underlying meaning (“self-recrimination” would be another term for it). She further comments that “words for conscience are sadly lacking in Pāli, but this may be an attempt to express the idea of it, emerging in the sixth century B.C.” The entry in the PTSD includes it among the synonyms of vippaṭisāra along with “remorse,” “regret,” and “repentance.” Once “bad conscience” is accepted as a fit translation for vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra, the translation “clear conscience” for avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra imposes itself. So expressed, it appears as a positively expressed phrase from the outset, in line with all the other states along the path of cultivation. And like avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra and vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra, “clear conscience” and “bad conscience” form a pair of opposites rather than one simply being the contrary (i.e., negation) of the other.
In spite of the advantages that “clear conscience” offers, it does not fully highlight actual function of avipratisāra, especially the turning point transforming negative feelings into positive states as elaborated in “The Subtle Differences Between Kaukṛtya/Kukkucca and Vipratisāra/Vippaṭisāra” section. Finally, I choose the third option, “freedom from remorse,” as the working definition for avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra. In the first place, the phrase “freedom from x,” indicating a state free from a negative condition, such as pain, fear, and worry, faithfully reflects the Sanskrit or Pāli prefix a- in avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra. In the second place, avippaṭisāra, like gladness (pāmujja), joy (pīti), calmness (passaddhi), and bliss (sukha), expresses a positive quality (guṇa), as repeatedly described in the Visuddhimagga: “the gaining of multiple good qualities starting from avippaṭisāra is the benefit of sīla” (kim ānisaṃsaṃ sīlanti, avippaṭisārādi anekaguṇapaṭilābhānisaṃsaṃ, Vism, p. 9). In this sense, to translate avippaṭisāra neutrally as non-remorse would not do full justice to its positive nature, let alone connote its sense here of ultimate immunity from recurring remorse in the future. We already know that the Pāli Canon draws an analogy between vippaṭisāra and loss (apāya). As the contrary of loss implies a certain freedom from loss, so too remorse and freedom from remorse form a similar pair. In the third place, the phrase “freedom from remorse” conveys a positive sense as a whole. Given that “bad conscience” is not an established translation for vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra, for now I shall stick with its common rendering “remorse” and apply a new term only to the translation of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra. Actually, Amaro (2015, p. 70) already briefly mentions that “through living ethically and responsibly, freedom from remorse arises.” Although in his paper he does not offer the Pali words for freedom from remorse, it is very likely avippaṭisāra. I believe that it is him who firstly coins this translation.
The passage from the Bhaddālisutta cited in “The Negative Impact of Remorse and One of Its Antidotes” contains two terms that convey some sense of remorse and regret: vippaṭisāra and kukkucca. In the following section, I will juxtapose vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra with its companion kaukṛtya/kukkucca, with a special focus on their relevance to meditation and ethics. A deeper study of these two terms ought to help us gain a deeper understanding of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra as well.

On Buddhist Notion of Remorse and Regret

The Similarities Between Vipratisāra/Vippaṭisāra and Kaukṛtya/Kukkucca

In Buddhist literature, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra and kaukṛtya/kukkucca are the two most frequent terms used for describing the feeling of remorse and regret. The early co-presence of these two terms is preserved not only in the Bhaddālisutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, but also in the Vakkalisutta (SN 22.87, III 119), Assajisutta (SN 22.88, III 125), Paṭhamagilānasutta (SN 35.74, IV 46), and Dutiyagilānasutta (SN 35.75, IV 47) of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, and in the Saṅkavāsutta (AN 3.92, I 237) of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. In these texts, each monk (Bhaddāli, Vakkali, Assaji, or Kassapagotta, depending on the sutta) is assailed by what is called either vippaṭisāra or kukkucca. More important than the monks themselves are the situations which lead them to their feeling of regret and remorse, and whether each case is unique or else whether they can be categorized under a small group of different types, whether, that is, there is one or more distinct narratives of regret and remorse offering a kind of formula that could be applied to various monks in multiple suttas. The second possibility lends itself to explanation through Shulman’s recent theorizing, namely that “(early Buddhist) discourses (sutta) can be seen as legitimate combinations of formulas, shaping texts out of formulas much like children may create different buildings with the same blocks or Legos” (Shulman, 2022, p. 558).
Frequent instances of the co-presence of two terms relating to regret and remorse in the Nikāyas can be chalked up as synonymous usage. Three characteristics common to both vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra and kaukṛtya/kukkucca are as follows: (1) both are disturbing emotions, (2) one can [re-]embark on the chosen path of cultivation after eliminating either, (3) both are felt by someone who does not act in accordance with Buddhist teachings.
In the last section, I discussed the negative effect of vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra. Now I turn to kaukṛtya/kukkucca. It is often categorized under the Five Hindrances (pañca nīvaraṇāni) in Buddhist literature, which are the following: (1) the hindrance of longing for sensual pleasure; (2) the hindrance of malice; (3) the hindrance of sloth and torpor; (4) the hindrance of excitement (uddhacca) and regret (kukkucca); and (5) the hindrance of doubt. A Pāli version of this is seen, for instance, in DN 13 at DN I 246, with a Sanskrit correspondence in Samāhitābhūmi § 2.2.0 (SamBh, p. 131).
What the Five Hindrances impede is meditative practice. After eliminating them, one can finally meditate “brightly,” as declared in the Majjhima Nikāya (MN 127 at MN II 151):
Their bodily inertia has not fully subsided, sloth and torpor have not been fully eliminated, their excitement and regret have not been fully removed; because of this, one meditates, as it were, dimly. Their bodily inertia has fully subsided, sloth and torpor have been fully eliminated, their excitement and regret have been fully removed; because of this one meditates, as it were, brightly. (Translated after Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 1995, p. 1006)
Secondly, it is notable that the mental progression of a morally disciplined Buddhist who abandons the Five Hindrances coincides with the path of cultivation expressed in terms of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra, passing through the same intermediate states from gladness, joy, calmness, and bliss to samādhi, as asserted, for instance, in DN 2, I 70–73:
When practitioners possess this entire spectrum of noble ethics, they experience the happiness arising from blamelessness inside…. When those practitioners perceive that the Five Hindrances have left them, gladness arises; those who are glad have joy; practitioners possessed of joy calm [their] body; practitioners possessed of corporeal calm feel bliss; practitioners possessed of bliss concentrate [their] mind. (Translation after Sujato, 2018b)
The above citation ascribes the happiness of morally disciplined persons to their blamelessness (anavajja), which is the objective moral state corresponding to freedom from remorse (avippaṭisāra). It leads on to gladness, joy, and the other states. It appears to be merely a matter of perspective whether we approach the path of cultivation of a morally disciplined person via freedom from remorse (avippaṭisāra) or via elimination of the Five Hindrances (including the hindrance of regret, i.e., kukkucca).
Thirdly, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra or kaukṛtya/kukkucca can be improperly engendered by another person who does not act in line with Buddhist teachings. In the Vinaya literature, for instance, we encounter multiple accounts of one or another monk who deliberately engages in wicked behavior (kaukṛtya/kukkucca) that impacts his fellow monks and that calls for repentance; he is accused and penalized according to Buddhist regulations. AN 5.167, III 197 reveals that being accused of a fault in any one of five improper ways removes the burden imposed by remorse (vippaṭisāra). There, the Buddha addresses monks as follows:
The monk who is accused improperly should be reassured in five ways. “(1) Venerable, you were accused at the wrong time, not at the right time. There’s no need for you to feel remorse. (2) You were accused falsely, not truthfully…. (3) You were accused harshly, not gently.… (4) You were accused harmfully, not beneficially…. (5) You were accused out of secret hatred, not lovingly. There’s no need for you to feel remorse”. (Translation based on Sujato, 2018a)
Now, I shall turn to cases specifically involving kaukṛtya/kukkucca. In the Prātimokṣasūtra of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya under Pātayantikā 62 (PrMo, p. 225), it is noted that a monk who is judged to have deliberately committed a kaukṛtya fault affecting his fellow monks’ practice is guilty of a pātayantikā transgression:
Again, when a monk, having considered harming (viheṭhenā) another monk, intentionally commits kaukṛtya against another monk, and hopes the other monk will feel unpleasantness, if even only for one instant, then his having caused this is a straightforward pātayantikā violation.
In the Buddhist Vinaya, pātayantikā in Sanskrit (or correspondingly pācittiya in Pāli) stands as one of the three major kinds of monastic transgressions, which relegate Buddhist practitioners to an evil existence in the next life if they do not repent and make expiation. One reason that such a deed is penalized so severely is that it may impede the meditative practice of another monk, who may well be morally disciplined but may fail to perfect his concentration in the wake of the disturbance. On the other hand, if in line with Buddhist teaching one monk causes another monk to commit an offense for which the latter should be regretful, he himself does not commit pātayantikā/pācittiya. It is always, in any case, the duty of an elder monk to act as a preceptor to junior monks, as stressed by Anālayo (2009, p. 66).
In the Pāli Vinaya Suttavibhaṅga (SuVi II, 149), the finger was explicitly pointed at a group of six monks (chabbaggiyā bhikkhū) who deliberately caused other monks to feel kukkucca, and hence faced the following expiation:
Now at that time the group of six monks intentionally aroused regret in a group of seventeen monks.... [The Buddha addressed the assembled:] “Whatever monk intentionally arouses remorse in a[nother] monk, thinking, ‘There will be no comfort for him even for a moment’—if having done this precisely for this reason, not for another, there you have an offence requiring expiation (pācittiya)”. (Translation based on Horner, 1982, p. 53)
This shows that forcing morally disciplined monks to needlessly feel regret is condemned by the Buddha in a Pāli source along the same lines as previously mentioned. It should be noted, however, that the activities of groups of six monks in Buddhist Vinaya texts were often intended to be perceived as comic (Schopen, 2007, p. 218).
So far, I have analyzed in detail the similarities between two words for remorse and regret. Due to such commonality, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra serves frequently as a gloss of kaukṛtya/kukkucca. In the Sanskrit Pañcaskandhaka, the link is clear and concise: “What is kaukṛtya? It is vipratisāra in mind” (kaukṛtyam katamat. cetaso vipratisāraḥ, PS, p. 13).
Likewise, both the Sanskrit Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and Pāli Mahāniddesa also use vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra to gloss kaukṛtya/kukkucca:
Kaukṛtya is an abstract noun denoting some base act (kukṛta), but here kaukṛtya is said to be a dharma that has kaukṛtya as the object underlying it, viz., remorse (vipratisāra). (AbhKBh, p. 57)
Kukkucca, making one become kukkucca, the state of being made kukkucca, mental vippaṭisāra and mental perplexity (manovilekha)—these are [all] called kukkucca. (Nidd, p. 375)
All this being said, these two terms are not always interchangeable despite the great number of situations in which they appear to be so. In what follows, I will move on to the nuances evinced by the pair, with a special focus on their relationship to Buddhist ethics and meditation.

The Subtle Differences Between Kaukṛtya/Kukkucca and Vipratisāra/Vippaṭisāra

The nuances that attach to the two main words for regret and remorse in Buddhist literature manifest in primarily three areas: (1) their association (or lack thereof) with excitement (auddhatya/uddhacca) to form one of the Five Hindrances, (2) the widening gap between their respective usages in relatively late Buddhist primary sources, (3) their relationship to Buddhist ethics and meditation.
First of all, kaukṛtya/kukkucca is the word used consistently in the list of the Five Hindrances, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra appearing in this context, as far as I can tell, never. Kaukṛtya/kukkucca always appears as the fourth hindrance along with auddhatya/uddhacca. Studies conducted by modern scholars, starting with Rhys Davids in the early twentieth century, have landed on “excitement” as probably close to the intended meaning of uddhacca. Cousins (1973, p. 118) further holds that “uddhacca-kukkucca seems to refer to states of a mildly manic-depressive nature.” Schmithausen (2013, p. 477) is among the large number of scholars who have adopted the translation “excitement.”
Though it is not directly linked with uddhacca, avippaṭisāra results from the elimination of the fourth hindrance. The Visuddhimagga (Vism, p. 189) states that excitement (uddhacca) and regret (kukkucca) are abandoned through cultivation of a peaceful frame of mind. Peace is the means used as well as the aim sought by those experiencing regret. In the Majjhima Nikāya (MN 27, 38, 39), it is emphasized that once one abandons excitement and regret, one abides unagitated (anuddhata) with an inwardly (ajjhattaṃ) peaceful mind (upasantacitta).
One unique story in a Mahāyāna Buddhist sutra, the Ajātaśatru-kaukṛtya-vinodanā-sūtra, centers on kaukṛtya. It presents King Ajātaśatru as having dispelled kaukṛtya through a sustained consideration of the notion of emptiness (śūnyatā) in relation to the problems of moral responsibility and personal continuity that arose from his unspeakable crime of patricide (Hartmann & Harrison, 1998). No counterpart is attested with vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra substituted for kaukṛtya/kukkucca in Buddhist literature. I surmise that the reason may have something to do with the consistency with which kaukṛtya/kukkucca is featured under the Five Hindrances. This association was so firmly ingrained that the Ajātaśatru-kaukṛtya-vinodanā-sūtra chose the term kaukṛtya, and amplified it together with its antidote: emptiness.
The part regret plays in Buddhist ethics and meditation deserves special attention. For morally disciplined persons, the attainment of samādhi is assured along the path of cultivation that starts from avippaṭisāra. As the primary sources cited in the introduction above affirm, it is natural (dhammatā) that freedom from remorse (avippaṭisāra) should come to be established in such persons. The path from that point on to mastery of meditative concentration is linear and straightforward.
However, things are more complicated in the corresponding path of cultivation requiring that kaukṛtya/kukkucca be countered, for a kaukṛtya disturbance may even befall a morally disciplined person, having been instigated by someone else, as revealed in the medieval Chinese translation of the Buddhist Vinaya. As some portions of the Sanskrit Sarvāstivāda Vinaya are not existent, we often, when dealing with the background of (Mūla)-Sarvāstivāda sources, consult a corresponding Chinese translation such as the 根本說一切有部毘奈耶 Gēn-běn shuō-yī-qiè-yǒu-bù pí-nài-yē translated by Venerable Yijing 義淨 at the beginning of the eight century A.D. This translation contains a lengthy narrative (T1442, vol.23: 848a18–b21) exactly replicating the setting of the Sanskrit version of the Prātimokṣasūtra of the Sarvāstivādins cited above in “The Similarities Between Vipratisāra/Vippaṭisāra and Kaukṛtya/Kukkucca,” where kaukṛtya in the sense of regret is translated as 追悔 zhuī-huǐ. It revolves around a monk who, having committed no transgressive faults (in Chinese: 無過 wú guò, indicating that he was morally unblemished), still suffered from the kaukṛtya disturbance.
Whoever is assailed by kaukṛtya cannot concentrate well upon the eradication of the taints (āsava). Precisely speaking, of course, each of the other hindrances impedes concentration (see AN 5.23 at AN III 16). Among the Five Hindrances, malice (vyāpāda) is unethical without question. Longing for sensual pleasure (kāmacchanda) and sloth (thina) cannot be regarded as good conduct. Regret (kaukṛtya/kukkucca) arises most frequently in matters of personal conduct, and so is also closely bound to ethics.
As to the last hindrance, doubt (vicikicchā), in Buddhism it refers specifically to uncertainty about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, the path, or the practice (see, for example, AN 4.76 at AN II 79). Such doubt, and the inability to escape from it, prevents one from knowing what is one’s own good and the good of others (cf. AN 5.193 at AN III 233). It is intimately associated with Buddhist ethics, inasmuch as, in the first place, it is able to undermine ethical foundations and, in the second place, cause harm to oneself and others.
If we assume that the vippaṭisāra pattern and the corresponding kukkucca pattern overlap, then a morally disciplined person ought also to be free from the Five Hindrances, so that not only is good conduct achieved, but also confidence in future deeds and a firm Buddhist ethical foundation are built. A broader investigation of Buddhist ethics, however, is beyond the scope of this study.
Last but not least, I tend to translate vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra as remorse, and kaukṛtya/kukkucca as regret in this paper. Thanks to the kind reminder by Mr. Philip Pierce, in English, remorse is generally a strong emotion, whereas regret spans a wider range of emotion (it can be strong or weak). When we bear this in mind and consider in Buddhist context, it appears that kaukṛtya/kukkucca generally covers a wider range of emotion than that of vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra. In the Pāli Mahāniddesa, it is stated that term kukkucca, making one become kukkucca, the state of being made kukkucca, mental vippaṭisāra, and mental perplexity (manovilekha)—these are [all] called kukkucca (Nidd, p. 375). In the Sanskrit Samāhitābhūmi, the term kaukṛtya is elucidated in the following way, covering truly a wider range of emotion, thus fit the semantics of “regret” better than vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra.
What is kaukṛtya? [1] For ones who are reflecting/making rough examination (vitarkayat) on their kinsmen and so on (jñātyādi), [and thinking]: “Why did I leave my kinsmen? Why did I not go to that community? Why did I leave that community and come here (tyaktvehāgata), where such food is eaten, such drink is taken, and such dress (cīvara), alms (piṇḍapāta), sleeping place (śayana), seat (āsana), medicament having sickness as its cause (glānapratyayabhaiṣajya) and personal belongings (pariṣkārā) are obtained? Why did I become a monk at young age? It should be made (becoming a monk) when I am old!”,
[2] or when remembering former jokes and recreation and so, [and thinking]: “Why did I at that time amuse myself with recreation, enjoyment, and adornment? (Why did I) in spite of the wishes of crying and weeping kinsmen become a monk?” With [above] such causes kaukṛtya that is mental disturbance (vilekha), ālekha and vipratisāra arose ...
[3] Furthermore, for the one has done or not done something that should be done or not be done (karaṇīyākaraṇīya) according to circumstance [and thinking] “what ought to be done is not done by me; what ought not to be done is done by me.” “Thus having established kaukṛtya for the first time.
[To summarize,] the possession of kaukṛtya (kaukṛtyaparyavasthāna) is unable to (aśaknuvat) remove (vinodayitum) in the future (uttarakāla), that became the continuing (prābandhika) mental disturbance, kaukṛtya and vipratisāra.” This is another sort of the kaukṛtya-hindrance. (SamBh, pp. 133‒135)
As far as I can see, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra denotes a strong emotion, like painful state as stated in the Vism, p. 54 discussed before. Therefore, if we have to choose different English translations for vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra and kaukṛtya/kukkucca, I would suggest “remorse” for the former, and “regret” for the latter.


This paper centers on a well-trodden Buddhist path of cultivation toward concentration (samādhi) via freedom from remorse (avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra), functioning as an essential interface between Buddhist ethics and meditation. This intermediate state deserves far more scholarly attention, but detailed studies of avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra are still rare. The first part of this paper sought to examine both the underlying reason why remorse hampers meditation and how freedom from remorse fosters it. In the end, avipratisāra/avippaṭisāra represents a significant watershed between lingering unfruitful mental tendencies and release from them, opening up the path forward to meditation. In the second half of this paper, the two most common terms for regret and remorse, vipratisāra/vippaṭisāra and kaukṛtya/kukkucca, were considered in some detail. My primary concern has been to investigate the significant role remorse plays within the framework of Buddhist ethics and meditation. It is seen that moral discipline not only ensures proper conduct but also brings the insight that personal misconduct needs to be dealt with through remorse and confession. Both discipline and insight point the way forward and spawn freedom from remorse. This in turn leads on to freedom from doubt about Buddhist teachings and the consequent strengthening of one’s Buddhist ethical foundations. Left to fester, both regret/remorse and doubt impede samādhi meditation.


In this paper, Sanskrit and Pāli terms, divided by a slash mark, are put in brackets directly behind their English translation. In cases where the Sanskrit and Pāli terms are identical, only that single form will be given. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the editors of Mindfulness, especially to the Guest Editors Prof. Eviatar Shulman and Prof. Michael Zimmermann, for their meticulous comments on this paper. Without the generous financial support of the German‑Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development under the project I‑136–107.1–2017 I am not able to complete the current study. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewer for many valuable remarks. Special thanks go to Mr. Philip Pierce for polishing up my writing and giving me insightful suggestions. Any errors that remain are mine.


Conflict of Interest

The author declares no competing interests.

Use of Artificial Intelligence

AI was used for editing the manuscript to improve English language in parts of the Abstract.
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On Freedom from Remorse (Avipratisāra/Avippaṭisāra): Its Place on the Well-Trodden Path from Moral Discipline to Samādhi Meditation
Hao Sun
Springer US
Gepubliceerd in
Print ISSN: 1868-8527
Elektronisch ISSN: 1868-8535