This course involves lessons which lead students through a stepwise, progressive enumeration of groups of Dhammas similar to that found in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. The Course is broken up into Eight Units with each unit providing enough material for a suggested two weeks of in-depth study. The course discussion forum hosted through Discord can be reached through the link to the right.

1.5 – Wholesomeness and Unwholesomeness (Kusala and Akusala)



Two concepts lie at the base of the Buddha’s insights into reality and ethics: there is what is (1) wholesome/skillful (kusala) and what is (2) unwholesome/unskillful (akusala). Though there are discourses where the Buddha speaks of eventually transcending this dichotomy, this provisional distinction is paramount for a proper understanding of Right View as understood in a Theravada context. Far from being ambiguous like the English “good” and “bad”, kusala and akusala are very clearly defined in the Pāli context. This section and those which follow will begin to explore these essential concepts through primary texts and engaging commentary focused on lived practice.

You may download the topic’s flashcard deck on Quizlet or Anki for further study.

Pre-test yourself

1) Definitions

  1. Kusala
    1. wholesome
    2. skillful
    3. right
    4. kusala (Pali English Dictionary entry)
  2. Akusala
    1. unwholesome
    2. unskillful
    3. wrong

Review (Click text for answer)

2) Sutta Selections

  1. Kusala
    1. MN 9 One of Right View – Knowing the Wholesome (Kusala)
    2. AN 2.19 Develop What is Skillful (Kusala)!
  2. Akusala
    1. MN 9 One of Right View – Knowing the Unwholesome
    2. AN 2.19 Abandon What is Unskillful (Akusala)!

Review (Click text for answer)

3) Ancient Commentary

  1. Kusala
    1. MN-a 9 The Wholesome Courses of Action(Kusala)
    2. MN-a 9 The Wholesome Roots(Kusala)
  2. Akusala
    1. MN-a 9 The Unwholesome Courses of Action
    2. MN-a 9 The Unwholesome Roots

Review (Click text for answer)

4) Modern Commentary

  1. Kusala
    1. Ajahn Thanissaro “Skillfulness”
    2. Ajahn Sucitto “Kamma and the End of Kamma”
    3. Ajahn Sucitto “Kamma and the End of Kamma” – Skilfulness
  2. Akusala
    1. Ajahn Lee “The Lessons of Unawareness”
    2. Bhikkhu Thich Nhat-Tu “Kusala and Akusala as Criteria of Buddhist Ethics”

Review (Click text for answer)