Pamada (pramāda) and its negation, appamāda, are often discussed in the context of mindfulness and spiritual practices. While mindfulness, meditation, and living mindfully are gaining popularity in Western culture, these terms (pramāda and apramāda) are not as widely known outside of Buddhist and Hindu circles.
In this blog, we will explore the meanings of pramāda and appamāda within Buddhism and Hinduism.
The concept of appamāda was first introduced to me by a friend who is a Buddhist monk, and I have found myself deeply fascinated by this concept ever since.
The concept of pramāda and apramāda deals with mind control, discipline, and how we can minimize the suffering we experience in our lives.
They are important concepts to learn as we try to live in a world that is filled with pain, suffering, and problems.
What is Pramāda
Pamada (Pāli) or pramāda (Sanskrit) is the term for “heedlessness” in Buddhism and Hinduism (also referred to as: Pramada, Pramaada or pamāda).
Pamada —misunderstanding or inattention to reality and the consequences that have stemmed from it causing a type of mental trance.
Pramāda refers to a sort of state which occurs when one acts without proper regard for consequence. In other words, when we are in a state of pamāda, we act recklessly and are not responsible for our thoughts and actions.
There are 46 mental concomitants (caitta) in Sanskrit. Pramāda is one of them.
Buddhist scholars often use the word ‘heedlessness’ to describe one’s poor attention to reality. Or in other words, the ignorance of what is truly happening around us.
Other Definitions of Pramāda
Sometimes, pramāda is used to describe an illusion, like a false sense of grandeur. Pramāda may also mean madness, misunderstanding, or madness in love.
Ethically, it is one of the unwholesome factors present in a person’s mental continuum and is caused by taking intoxicants.
You can become intoxicated in many different ways. You can get drunk on fame, wealth, power, popularity or a good time just to name a few.
Pamada is the way of enjoying and rejoicing in a childlike sense. Pamada can also mean to enjoy oneself too much like you might see in a child who is running around smashing into things needlessly without caring about how they come across to others.
Pamada is showing that you don’t mind and seem not to care about something, overlooking or secluding minor deficiencies or flaws.
Pamada is a feeling of oblivion and happiness while exhibiting silly, often drunk-like behavior. It can also be called a type of carelessness that assumes no responsibility resulting in irresponsible, carefree actions.
What is Appamāda
The word ‘apramāda’ is derived from two Sanskrit words — ‘a’ which means ‘not’ and pramāda, which means ‘carelessness, negligence or laxity.’
One who is apramāda lives mindfully and aware of what they do in every moment or every situation. The word is a negation of pamāda, which means “negligent” or “lax.” A close synonym is vigilance.
Mindfulness and appamada practice go hand in hand. However, it also means being aware of karma and how we react to things in our actions (and inaction).
While knowing what to do may help us avoid bad karma, which leads to negative consequences, it doesn’t really help if we don’t know how to discern right from wrong, and so we tend to act on an impulsive whim without seeing all angles of a situation.
In order for appamada not just be for those who are entertaining their spiritual practice but for everyone – we must make sure not only that we meditate every day but also work on improving our mindset through taking inventory of our thoughts.
Karma depends on what you’re thinking during or after an action. One can either think bad things that will only hurt themselves in a negative manner or positive thoughts that will help create a better life for themselves.
Thus if we are intentional about our thinking, it will lead to the cessation of suffering.
Other Definitions of Appamāda
Pamada is a condition of a child who is misbehaving happily or even sometimes with drunkenness.
The word holds the meaning of foolish carelessness and happiness in doing things without any responsibility to think about the consequences of one’s actions. It is also often considered a type of indulgence.
It’s a term used for when an individual is behaving in an incautious manner.
Should one be intoxicated, pamada can make one act as though there were no risks involved in whatever they are currently doing – which can endear itself to the individual displaying it such as the joy they get out of indulging.
Conversely, “appamada” means to be aware of what is in front of you, and also what is not. It’s a level headed, serious and responsible attitude that we should all have.
Appamada refers to a calm, alert and focused state of mind. It is similar to the “wise mind” or umwelt psychology wherein one has both mindfulness – being present and aware as well as openness to novelty or change.
With appamada, one lives in the present, but also with awareness of what helps and hinders something they care about.
‘Pamada, in contrast to appamada, refers more to a mode of action that doesn’t know its limits at times because it pushes itself too far too quickly.
But appamada isn’t meant merely as a milder version of passion; it is complementary rather than in conflict with feeling; it does not suppress emotional energy, but uses it appropriately and justly for wholesome purposes.
The usual translation of this concept leads us to believe that one must always be busying themselves with something but this disposition is better explained as “zeal”, which can also mean “non-laxity” or even my preferred meaning – “earnest”.
Progress is regarded as the result of zeal, non-laxity, sincerity, and diligence.
Appamada is a grown-up, mature state of mind and body. A grown-up doesn’t sacrifice long-term goals for short-term rewards, but they also know when to kick back a little and have fun.
The best way to put this wisdom into practice is by being earnest and diligent in all that we do throughout our day and with an unwavering commitment to achieving the goals we set out to achieve in the first place.
Pramāda in Buddhism
Pramāda is defined by Pāli sources as a state of mental torpor which acts as an obstacle to the attainment of mental purity and can form the basis for unwholesome states of mind.
As described in section 30 of “Dharma Saṃgraha”, pramāda is one of the 40 conditions (saṃskāra) connected to mental consciousness (citta-samprayukta).
It’s one of the ‘;saṃskāra’—the unintentional thoughts or impulses, which can arise in a mind already disposed to engage in this type of thought.
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In section 69 of Dharma-samgraha, pramāda is also defined as a minor defilement (upakleśa).
In mahayana schools of thought, pramāda is defined as failing to devote oneself to removing one’s own stubbornness and cultivating wholesome actions.
In Tibetan phonetics, this word is referred to as “bakmepa”.
According to the Mahayana Abhidharma tradition, pramāda is one of the 20 secondary factors that contribute to unwholesomeness.
Pramāda in Sanskrit or in Hinduism
Sanatsujāta compares pramāda to mṛtyu, or death, since it ultimately leads to sansāra, or transmigration.
According to Patañjali Yogasutras, it is considered an obstacle to samādhi or yoga.
This is defined as not practicing ahimsa and satya, which are the prerequisites for reaching samādhi.
Pramāda can cause the mind to stray from yoga’s path and cause total destruction.
Appamāda in Buddhism
It may be said that appamāda is a summary of all the Buddhist teachings.
In his last exhortation, the Buddha advised,
Wisdom is always at the heart of Buddha-Dhamma. Hence, appamāda can only be useful when it is connected to wisdom or manifests from wisdom.
The practice of appamada cannot be carried out without wisdom. As a start, one needs knowledge (right views). And as a second step, one becomes vigilant (appamada) not to fall out of the wisdom threshold.
A mindfulness practice is also essential here. It is up to mindfulness to bring to mind which of those wisdoms is pertinent to any given situation.
To make Appamada manifest, one must be mindful and wise. Mindfulness contributes to appamada, much as mindfulness contributes to concentration/samadhi.
One example would be the sutta on the dancing queen and the man walking with a pot of oil balanced on his head. In order to avoid getting his head chopped off by an executioner, he must not look at the dancing queen.
Samadhi, jhana, and vipassana can only be developed through appamada. As such, focusing on the breath, etc. which are common ‘yogic’ practices rarely work since all you really need is appamada.
Pramāda: In Buddhist and Hindu Texts
According to ancient Hindu theology, human nature is imperfect, and it’s no wonder that mistakes come with the territory.
There are four major scourges known as pramāda (heedlessness), vipralipsā (jealousy), karaṇa-a-pāṭava (tarnished senses) and bhrama (misconceptions, or mistakenly seeing reality) which prevents human beings from recognizing the truth about reality.
The Buddhist scripture Abhidharma-samuccaya states:
What is heedlessness (pramāda)? This is the result of persisting in passion-lust (raga), detestation-hatred (dvesha), and confounding confusion (moha), aggravated by laziness (kausīdya).
Appamāda: In Buddhist Texts
The Mahaparinibbana Sutta (DN16) presents his final message in the following ways:
Then the Blessed One addressed the monks,
“Now, then, monks, I exhort you: All fabrications are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful.”
Again, the Appamāda Sutta (SN3.17) states:
“There is one quality, great king, that keeps both kinds of benefits secure — benefits in this life & benefits in lives to come.”
“But what, lord, is that one quality?”
“Appamāda, great king. Just as all the footprints of living beings are surpassed by the footprint of the elephant, and the footprint of the elephant is considered as the mightiest amongst them, just so have all the meritorious qualities zeal as their foundation, and zeal is considered as the mightiest of these qualities”
The Book of Analysis (Vibhańga), the second book of Abhidhamma Pițaka, elaborates on the word pamāda as follows:
Therein what is pamāda?
Wrong bodily action or wrong verbal action or wrong mental action or the succumbing and repeated succumbing of consciousness to the five strands of sense pleasures or not working carefully, not working constantly, working spasmodically, being stagnant, relinquishing wish, relinquishing the task, non-pursuance, non-development, non-repetition, non-resolution, non-practicing, heedlessness in the development of good states; that which is similar, heedlessness, being heedless, state of being heedless. This is called pamāda.
The word ‘appamada’ means being attentive to and focusing on the task at hand. ‘Appamada’ refers to the ways in which we discipline ourselves to stick to our objectives without letting distractions get the better of us.
It is working carefully, concentrating on each and every step, not giving up, but constantly moving forward towards a goal.
In order for us to be consistent in our practice of concentration we need to develop a sense of mindfulness, as well as endurance so that a mission can be consistently completed.
It means constantly being aware of the tasks you undertake in a day-to-day basis — making sure they’re constructive, productive and beneficial to you in both long and short term.
Being vigilant is working cohesively, not spasmodically and not on an irregular basis; it’s about being steadfast in attaining what you wish for instead of drifting aimlessly through life unable to make any visible progress.
It also keeps you from chasing after things without truly understanding them. It means not succumbing to the five types of sensual pleasures.