Abstaining from Unwholesomeness
The translation of the Pali word ‘pāpa’ (which we translate glibly as ‘unwholesomeness’) in fact has very broad scope of meaning. The implication of the word is one of ‘malfunction’. If you consider any other malfunctioning object such as a rundown house or a broken-down car or rotten food you might have a better idea of the unpleasant qualities of ‘pāpa’. However the important malfunctioning implied by the term is the malfunctioning of the mind. When the mind malfunctions it takes on the unpleasant qualities of cruelty, impurity and low quality. Anything that detracts from the quality of the mind is ‘unwholesome’ for the purposes of our understanding of the word ‘pāpa’.
C.1 Origin of ‘unwholesomeness’ in Buddhism
The Buddha taught that sin will not arise for those who do no unwholesome deeds. Unwholesomeness will only arise if you do unwholesome deeds, as we can see from the proverbs:
Natthi pāpaṃ akubbato
No unwholesomeness accrues to those who do no unwholesome deeds
Dh. v. 124and
Attanā pakataṃ pāpaṃ attanā saṃkilissati,
attanā akataṃ pāpaṃ attanā ’va visujjhati
Unwholesomeness accrues personally to those who do unwholesome deeds. Those who do no unwholesome deeds remain pure.
If you don’t do any unwholesome deeds, there will be no unwholesome consequences. If you do unwholesome deeds you will receive unwholesome consequences. You don’t find that one person does unwholesome deeds and another person receives the consequences. If a father eats a meal, he will be full. His son will be left hungry. It is never the case that the father eats a meal and his son has his appetite satisfied thereby! Thus in Buddhism unwholesomeness arises for a person as a result of the unwholesome deeds they do. Unwholesomeness arises in the mind of that person (not in their feet or hands etc.) Unwholesome will attach itself to the mind of the doer and will stain the mind of that person making the mind dull and clouded.
Unwholesome for Buddhists is produced by action of body, speech or mind which leads to unwholesomeness in the mind. The result of practicing discipline until attaining self-discipline is to remove oneself from the influence of the Tenfold Path of Unwholesomeness [akusaladhammapatha] (see Blessing Nine @D.2). The Buddha analyzed unwholesome states in a very detailed way, because he wanted us to be able to keep up with the changes occurring in our own minds. He expected us even to be able to recognize vengefulness arising in our own minds and withdraw from a situation before it worsens to anger, cruelty or aggression.
C.2 Characteristics of Unwholesomeness
In fact many of the dynamics of unwholesomeness are the same as for merit but they take their action in the opposite way. It is the residue of unwholesome karma which can be done with body, speech or mind. They are like poisons for the mind where merit is a food. Unwholesomeness will tend to cloud the mind, worsen the quality of the mind, it can be accumulated, it belongs to the person who did its originating evil deed, as it gives its fruits it will be exhausted, the amount of demerit depends on the strength of intention, amount of effort and the amount of ingratitude of the originating deed, and it will attract misfortune at four levels: mind, personality, lifestyle and society.
1. Level of mind: The first level of description at which unwholesomeness brings retribution is at the level of the mind. The retribution includes clouding the mind, decreasing the quality of the mind, bringing unease of mind, making the mind more unstable, making the mind less flexible, making the mind less radiant, decreasing the potential of the mind, obstructing decision-making, obstructing insightful analysis of any situation, make thinking less thorough and comprehensive, obstructing thought that is noble or deep;
2. Level of Personality: Damage to the quality of the mind brings about the following general changes in personality — physical awkwardness, bringing ignorance, crudeness and clumsiness, causing a decay of tastes and values, deterioration of character and personality, lack of skill in speech, deterioration of behaviour, more impatience, less control over temper, worsened personal appearance, more anxieties.
3. Level of Lifestyle: Unwholesomeness will take its effect on our mind and our personality immediately whenever we perform an unwholesome action. At the third level, that of the lifestyle, however, we cannot be sure how quickly the damage will be manifested because our quality of lifetime arises as the result of both present and past deeds. General disadvantages include failure, condemnation, vulnerability to misfortune, lack of attainment, disappointment in the things we wish for.
4. Level of Society: Beyond the level of lifestyle, accumulated collective results of the unwholesomeness of many people together will give rise to: Sorrow, disharmony, injustice, aggression, lack of progress, hardship at the social and family levels
C.3 Purifying oneself from unwholesomeness
In Buddhism unwholesomeness arises as the residue of our own unwholesome deeds. Unwholesomeness which we have accrued for ourselves will stay with us until it gives its retribution. To do good deeds does not even out the bad ones we have done — they are like two separate bank accounts. However, if we would like to reduce the effect of unwholesomeness you have accrued for yourself in the past is to do as many good deeds as you can, thereby to dilute the relative amount of unwholesomeness in your karmic history (as already mentioned in Blessing 16, @A.1, A.2).