Prompted & Unprompted

Recently, I had a little chat with another Buddhist regarding Abhidhamma. It is related with the word: “ansankharika” (Pali), the proper translation is to be “Unprompted” or “not-instigated”.

A little background to the usage of this term in Abhidhamma:

Within Abhidhamma, consciousness (cita in Pali) is being classified into various groups. The total numbers of consciousness is either 89 or 121 (depend on how the classification is being done). Among these consciousness, there are a few that is associated with the term “prompted” or “unprompted”. If a consciousness is prompted, this implied, it arise premeditated. Conversely, if a consciousness is unprompted, then it arise spontaneously. In a more non-Buddhist term, it simply mean, a thought or an intention was arise premeditated, while another thought or intention was arise spontaneously.

This little chat happened, because, this Buddhist, started to imply “unprompted” is synonymous as “unintentional” – which by reading the above description, it is an inaccurate representation. Here, “prompted” or “unprompted” is simply an attribute of an intention, it is not an intention in its own right. Thus, I begin my email to him, in an attempt to correct this mistake.

“Yes, intention is the deciding factor if it is karmic action or not. No intention, no karma. Above is a general rule in Buddhism. There is a big but. In Abhidhamma, bad deeds can be committed without intention. These actions are called’ asankharika’ mental states. They still can cause bad effects.”


My reply:
Asankharika means “unprompted”.

If I quote straight from the “Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma”:

“Sankhara means prompting, instigation, inducing, or the application of an expedient. This prompting maybe imposed by others, or it may originate from within oneself; the means employed may be bodily, verbal or purely mental.”

So, if a person see an old lady, having difficulties in crossing the street, if he ask his friend, “please help her…”, this is will be considered as instigating others’. If he instigate himself, “I should help her…”. Until now, there is no actual intention to help.

If after this instigation, his friend, or he himself, decided, “I *will/must* help her…”, here the intention is established (Of course, we should be aware of different intensities or level for any intention. So “must” has a stronger intention than “will”).

Conversely, if a person, by nature is compassionate, then, if he encounter such situation, there won’t be a prompting/instigation of such intention required. He will automatically arise an intention to help her. This is what we meant by “asankharika”.

In Buddhism, only a volitional acts will have karmic consequences. There is no volitional act that is without intention. Since, volition is revolving around the actualization of a goal; if there is no intention, there is no goal.

Hence, whether one read from Sutta or Abhidhamma, there is no inconsistency.

“I declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is kamma. Having willed one acts by body, speech, and thought.” – The Buddha

Click to view the next email exchange…

  1. […] with the body. In that case there is mention of ansankharika vedanā (speak: asan khá rika). Len Rek interprets it as “an attribute of an intention”. A ninth-century Pali-Abhidhamma […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s