Literally arising from the mind, a mental factor, as defined by Vasubandhu, is a secondary aspect of the mind that apprehends a particular quality of the object that the principal consciousness is perceiving. There are traditionally 51 mental factors divided into six groups: five omnipresent factors, five object-determining factors, eleven virtuous factors, six root delusions, twenty secondary delusions and four changeable factors.
Geshe Tashi Tsering explains:
- The Tibetan for mental factors, semlay jungwa chö (Skt. chaitasika dharma), means phenomena arising from the mind, suggesting that the mental factors are not primary to the mind but arise within a larger framework.
- The main mind is like screen in a cinema, and the mental factors are like the images projected on the screen.
In this analogy, we typically do not notice the screen because we are so caught up on the images.
- The main mind is like a king who sits passively on a throne, and the mental factors are like the king's busy ministers.
Lists of mental factors
Some of the main commentaries on the Abhidharma systems that studied today include:
- Abhidhammattha-sangaha by Acariya Anuruddha - a Theravada commentary that lists fifty-two mental factors.
- Atthasālinī by Buddhaghosa - a Theravada commentary that provides explanations for fifty-two mental factors
- Abhidharma-kosha by Vasubandhu - a Sarvastivada commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists forty-six mental factors.
- Abhidharma-samuccaya by Asanga - a Yogachara commentary (studied by the Mahayana schools) that lists fifty-one mental factors.
- Innermost Core of Topics of Knowledge (mDzod-phug) by Shenrab Miwo - a Tibetan Bon commentary that lists fifty-one factors.
- Seven universal mental factors common to all; ethically variable mental factors common to all consciousnesses (sabbacittasādhāraṇa cetasikas)
- Six occasional or particular mental factors; ethically variable mental factors found only in certain consciousnesses (pakiṇṇaka cetasikas)
- Lightness of mental body (kāyalahutā)
- Lightness of consciousness (cittalahutā)
- Softness/malleability of mental body (kāyamudutā)
- Softness/malleability of consciousness (cittamudutā)
- Readiness/wieldiness of mental body (kāyakammaññatā)
- Readiness/wieldiness of consciousness (cittakammaññatā)
- Proficiency of mental body (kāyapāguññatā)
- Proficiency of consciousness (cittapāguññatā)
- Straightness/rectitude of mental body (kāyujukatā)
- Straightness/rectitude of consciousness (cittujukatā)
- Sparśa - contact, contacting awareness, sense impression, touch
- vedanā - feeling, sensation
- saṃjñā - perception
- cetanā - volition
- Manasikara - attention
These five mental factors are referred to as universal or omnipresent because they operate in the wake of every mind situation. If any one of these factors is missing, then the experience of the object is incomplete.
- If there is no Sparśa (contact), then there would be no basis for perception.
- If there is no Vedana (sensation), there is no relishing of the object.
- If there is no saṃjñā (perception), then the specific characteristic of the object is not perceived.
- If there is no cetanā (volition), then there is no movement towards and settling on the object.
- If there is no Manasikara (attention), then there is not holding onto the object.
- chanda - desire (to act), intention, interest
- Adhimoksha - decision, interest, firm conviction
- smṛti - Mindfulness
- prajñā - Wisdom
- Samādhi - concentration
- sraddhā - faith
- hrī - self-respect, conscientiousness, sense of shame
- Apatrāpya - decorum, regard for consequence
- Alobha - non-attachment
- Adveṣa - non-aggression, equanimity, lack of hatred
- Amoha - non-bewilderment
- Vīrya - diligence, effort
- Praśrabdhi - pliancy
- Apramāda - conscientiousness
- upekṣa - equanimity
- ahiṃsā - nonharmfulness
- raga - attachment
- Pratigha - anger
- avidya - ignorance
- māna - pride, conceit
- Vicikitsa - doubt
- dṛiṣṭi - wrong view
- krodha - rage, fury
- Upanāha - resentment
- Mrakśa - concealment, slyness-concealment
- Pradāśa - spitefulness
- Irshya - envy, jealousy
- mātsarya - stinginess, avarice, miserliness
- māyā - pretense, deceit
- śāṭhya - hypocrisy, dishonesty
- mada - self-infatuation, mental inflation, self-satisfaction
- vihiṃsā - malice, hostility, cruelty, intention to harm
- āhrīkya - lack of shame, lack of conscience, shamelessness
- Anapatrāpya - lack of propriety, disregard, shamelessness
- Styāna - lethargy, gloominess
- Auddhatya - excitement, ebullience
- āśraddhya - lack of faith, lack of trust
- Kausīdya - Laziness, slothfulness
- Pramāda - heedlessness, carelessness, unconcern
- muṣitasmṛtitā - forgetfulness
- Asaṃprajanya - non-alertness, inattentiveness
- Vikṣepa - distraction, desultoriness
- Kaukṛitya - regret, worry,
- Middha - sleep, drowsiness
- Vitarka - conception, selectiveness, examination
- Vicāra - discernment, discursiveness, analysis
- Mental factors (Jeffrey Hopkins, Bhikkhu Bodhi, N.K.G. Mendis)
- Mental events (Herbert Guenther)
- Mental states (Erik Pema Kunzang, Narada Thera)
- Concomitants (N.K.G. Mendis)
- Concomitants of consciousness (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
- Subsidiary awareness (Alexander Berzin)