“Attato Samanupassati” – To View Something to be of Value

Attato samanupassati” means “to view something to be of value.” Therefore, “atta” indicates something of value, and “anatta” means the opposite. Anatta is a natural extension of anicca and dukkha regarding worldly things. It means any effort to seek refuge in worldly things is futile, leads to suffering, and is thus “not beneficial” or “useless.” 

October 20, 2023; revised February 28, 2024 

Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Wrong View that Worldly Pleasures Deliver Lasting Happiness

1. The Buddha summarized the attachment of a puthujjana (an average human) to sensory pleasures using five entities: rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. These are the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā.) However, we do not attach to all the rupa we experience. Thus, we will focus on pañcupādānakkhandhā; see below.

  • The internal and external rupa make it possible to experience sensory events. The mental phenomena arising from such sensory interactions can be summarized with four entities: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.
  • With the wrong view that sensory pleasures are worthwhile pursuing (sakkāya diṭṭhi), a puthujjana craves external rupa that can bring such experiences and also craves vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa that arise. For example, one highly values not only one’s possessions (spouse, houses, cars, etc.) but also vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa that arise when thinking about them.
  • That wrong view of sakkāya diṭṭhi leads to the idea that all those five entities are worthwhile to be considered “fruitful” or of the “atta (fruitful) nature.” When one starts seeing the opposite, one becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi.
Four Levels of Attachment (Based on Sakkāya Diṭṭhi)

2. In the “Samanupassanā Sutta (SN 22.47)” the Buddha described the wrong way of contemplation of a puthujjana regarding worldly things: “Idha, bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano ariyānaṁ adassāvī ariyadhammassa akovido ariyadhamme avinīto, sappurisānaṁ adassāvī sappurisadhammassa akovido sappurisadhamme avinīto rūpaṁ attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṁ vā attānaṁ; attani vā rūpaṁ, rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ.”

  • The first part of the verse means: “An ordinary person who has not heard/understood the Noble teachings from a Noble Person thinks about rupa (both internal and external) in four ways.
  • Those four ways are at four levels, starting with the strongest (rūpaṁ attato samanupassati.) The fourth (rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ) indicates the least attachment. Those four levels also depend on the person (some have strong wrong views compared to others) and also the type of sensory input (ārammaṇa.)
  • Then, the verse is repeated for the four mental aggregates: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. For example, “viññāṇaṁ attato samanupassati, viññāṇavantaṁ vā attānaṁ; attani vā viññāṇaṁ, viññāṇasmiṁ vā attānaṁ.”
  • Thus, we could summarize by stating, “pañcupādānakkhandhā attato samanupassati, etc..” The reason for using pañcupādānakkhandhā instead of pañcakkhandhā is discussed below.

3. It is worthwhile noting the meaning of the words “Samanupassanā” and “samanupassati.” It comes from “sama” (similar) and “passa,” meaning “see.” Thus, “samanupassanā” is to “see according to some specific criterion (here one’s wrong views).” 

  • Therefore, “samanupassati” means “someone seeing the world according to one’s views.” The four ways of attachment are rooted in sakkāya diṭṭhi (the view that worldly things can provide one with long-lasting happiness.)
  • As we discussed in the previous post, “‘Attā’ as “Self” – Wrong Translation in Many Suttās,” the meaning of the word “atta/attā” in this context is the wrong view that worldly things can be “useful/beneficial.”

4. The four levels of attachment can be briefly stated as follows:

(i) The “value/benefit” of a given rupa (and the “mind-made rupa” arising based on that rupa) cannot be expected from another; the perceived value is intrinsically associated with that rupa or a mental entity based on that rupa (rūpaṁ attato samanupassati,..)
(ii) some (external) rupa can be substituted for those in (i) in some cases (rūpavantaṁ vā attānaṁ, ..),
(iii) some rupa that are in a specific category (attani vā rūpaṁ, ..), and
(iv) any rupa that seems to provide happiness, i.e., even with a way one had not contemplated before (rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ, ..).

  • As you can see, the emphasis on a particular rupa decreases from (i) to (iv) above.
  • Note that the English translation in the link (and in most other translations) provides a very different interpretation. Those translators blindly use the mundane meaning of “attā” explained in ‘Attā’ as “Self” – Wrong Translation in Many Suttās.
Simple Analogies to Grasp the Meanings

5. The following are simple examples to help get an idea about the four categories:
(i) Suppose person A falls in love with B. The attachment is so strong that A says, “I would rather die if I don’t get to marry B.” In A’s mind, B’s rupa is the same as future happiness. Any vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa arising based on B cannot be separated from future happiness. This is an example of “rūpaṁ attato samanupassati” through “viññāṇaṁ attato samanupassati.”
(ii) Another person, C, falls in love with D but finds out that D is married. Now, C is actively looking for someone who looks like D.  This is an example of “rūpavantaṁ vā attānaṁ,” i.e., C believes someone who looks like D can bring happiness.
(iii) In another case, person E believes if a suitable partner can be found and married to such a person, that will lead to happiness. Thus, E is looking for someone but does not have a specific type of person in mind. This is “attani vā rūpaṁ,” i.e., there could be a rupa that can be of value.
(iv) Finally, person F is not thinking about marriage but runs into G and starts thinking, “Marrying G could bring happiness.” This is “rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ” or seeing possible value in this particular rupa. Here, F may get into the mindset of A in case (i) above if the attraction to G becomes strong.

Attato Samanupassati and Ucchēda Diṭṭhi

6. The strongest attachment for most people is associated with one’s physical body as “rūpaṁ attato samanupassati.” That person would also have the view that any mental phenomenon arising from that physical body is also “mine” and is firmly associated with “me” (vedanāṁ, saññaṁ, saṅkhāre, viññāṇaṁ attato samanupassati.

  • Usually, this view is the extreme view of ucchēda diṭṭhi; it is not possible to separate the physical body from “me.” When the physical body dies, that is the end of “me.”
  • Inherent in this view is another view that “life” ends when the physical body dies, which is a “materialistic view.” They believe that mental phenomena arise in the brain, and thus, all five aggregates “end” with the death of the physical body. 
  • Those five wrong views (i.e., rupavedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa are all of “attato samanupassati” nature) represent five out of twenty wrong views associated with Sakkāya Diṭṭhi.
Other Three Cases Associated with Sassata Diṭṭhi

7. Those who believe in a “permanent soul” or “an ãtaman” (in Hinduism) realize that life does not end with the death of the physical body. They believe in a soul-type permanent entity that goes from life to life. For Christians, that endpoint is either heaven or hell, i.e., one will forever live in happiness in heaven or forever live in agony in hell. In Hinduism, the permanent state (ātman) is realized when born in the Mahā Brahma realm.

  • Therefore, They do not consider the present physical body to be the same as “ultimate happiness” as those with ucchēda diṭṭhi.
  • They only believe that a “soul-type entity” is associated with the physical body, but it will survive the death of the physical body. Thus, they see a value in the physical body only to a certain level: “rūpavantaṁ vā attānaṁ; attani vā rūpaṁ, rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ.”
  • For them, the same is true for the mental entities (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.) Those are beneficial only to cultivating the path to heaven or the Mahā Brahma realm. That leads to fifteen types of wrong views associated with Sakkāya Diṭṭhi.
  • In other words, they believe that the five aggregates are not the “ultimate refuge,” but one cannot get there without them.
Twenty Types of Sakkāya Diṭṭhi versus the Analogies Discussed in #5

8. The twenty types of wrong views associated with sakkāya diṭṭhi discussed in #6 and #7 above are the extreme cases based on ucchēda diṭṭhi and sassata diṭṭhi.  See “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Getting Rid of Deeper Wrong Views” for a detailed discussion on the twenty types.

  • However, even the simpler types of wrong views discussed in #5 above (that apply to external rupa and mental phenomena arising based on external rupa) also belong to sakkāya diṭṭhi. 
  • As discussed under #5(i) above, under certain circumstances, one may value an external rupa even more than one’s own. 
  • Sakkāya diṭṭhi can manifest in different ways if one does not comprehend that nothing in this world can provide relief from suffering. If one digs deeper, that means (i) anything in this world arises due to causes and conditions, and (ii) thus, anything in this world CAN BE stopped from arising. The first is understood via comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda. The second shows that nothing in this world is permanent in the sense of a soul/ãtaman; anything that comes into existence has a temporary existence. 
No Need to Memorize Any Categories

9. While analyses such as those discussed above can help explain the concept of sakkāya diṭṭhi, memorizing such descriptions, categories, etc, is unnecessary.

  • A Sotapanna may not even know about such categories. Different Sotapannas describe how they understand the concept of sakkāya diṭṭhi in different ways. One time, a bhikkhu went around asking other bhikkhus (who had declared attaining the Sotapanna stage) how to describe it. Each one gave different descriptions of the Sotapanna stage.
  • That bhikkhu got confused and complained to the Buddha. The Buddha gave an analogy of asking someone to describe a tree that had a unique trunk (black), unique flowers (bright red looking like pieces of red meat), and unique leaves (specific unique shape). Some people would identify the tree as having that unique trunk, while others described it with flowers or leaves. But they all had seen the tree! See  “Kiṁsukopama Sutta (SN 35. 245).
  •  The critical point is to understand the “anicca nature” of this world, i.e., that it will not be possible to stop suffering by chasing worldly pleasures. See “Aniccaṁ Vipariṇāmi Aññathābhāvi – A Critical Verse.” Understanding the anicca nature leads to comprehending dukkha and anatta nature; see #10 of “‘Attā’ as “Self” – Wrong Translation in Many Suttās.”
Difference Between Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Asmi Māna

10. It is also essential to see the difference between sakkāya diṭṭhi (a wrong view that things in this world can stop suffering, i.e., one can find refuge somewhere in this world) and asmi māna (perception of “me.”) 

  • Any average human (puthujjana) has both the wrong view of sakkāya diṭṭhi (a diṭṭhi vipallāsa; distorted view) and the wrong perception (saññā vipallāsa; distorted perception) that it is fruitful to perceive (with saññā) somethings in this world as “mine” or “me.”
  • That diṭṭhi vipallāsa goes away at the Sotapanna stage. Even though a Sotapanna has seen (with wisdom) the dangers of sensual/worldly pleasures, the distorted perception of worldly pleasures remains.
  • Therefore, saññā vipallāsa is much harder to remove and goes away completely only at the Arahant stage. Even an Anāgāmi knows that it is unfruitful to view the physical body as “me,” but that saññā of a “me” or “I” is still there.
  • The first glimpse of the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature helps remove diṭṭhi vipallāsa at the Sotapanna stage. Complete comprehension of the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature gets one to the Arahant stage.
  • If one immerses in a lavish lifestyle, even removing diṭṭhi vipallāsa will be difficult. A mind enthralled by sensual pleasures is an agitated mind; an agitated mind cannot comprehend Buddha Dhamma. One may not see it that way until one can experience the “relief” when living a simple life.
An “Evolving Self” Exists Until the Arahant Stage

11. The Buddha never denied the existence of a “person” if that is what is meant by a “self.” It is totally fine to say “me,” “my car,” “my body,” etc. But one must also understand the “deeper truth” that “I” will not be in this form (even the human form) for too long. Our lifestreams had been in the forms of animals and hell-beings as well as Devās and Brahmās in the past. See “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream.

  • The Buddha explained that the idea of a “permanent self” (that can live forever in heaven or a Brahma realm) is wrong. 
  • Any “lifestream” evolves according to the same principles dictated by Paṭicca Samuppāda: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” through “ jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’t.”  Those are all generic terms. Your lifestream will evolve dictated by those same steps as that of another person, an animal, or a DevaUnderstanding that, without a doubt, gets rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
  • However, getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi is the first step. That only gets rid of the wrong views. But the “perception of a me” will be until the Arahant stage. Yet, getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi will make one free of future rebirths in the apāyās

12. However, even an Arahant (who has removed the perception of “me,” “I,” etc.) would still speak using words like, “I am eating,” or “I scraped my arm,” etc. 

  • See “Arahanta Sutta (SN 1.25).” An Arahant cannot live in this world and communicate with others without using such words.
  • Of course, Arahant will not be reborn at the death of the physical body (Parinibbāna); there was no “soul/ātman” associated with the Arahant.
  • Therefore, instead of getting hung up on words, one must try to understand the meanings of the Pāli words depending on the context.
Attachment Is to Pañca Upādānakkhandhā and Not to Pañcakkhandhā

13. Also, note that in #2 above, I did not state, “pañcakkhandhā attato samanupassati, etc.” but “pañcupādānakkhandhā attato samanupassati, etc.” above. We do not attach to everything in this world; we attach to only those things we crave, i.e., pañcupādānakkhandhā.

  • Since the mind never attaches to something that is not of interest, pañcakkhandhā NEVER comes into play in Paṭicca Samuppāda.  Even from the first step of making a sensory contact, it is pañcupādānakkhandhāthat comes into play.   
  • Based on an ārammaṇa, cittas arise already contaminated (i.e., as pancupadanakkhandha), and possible attachment is to pancupadanakkhandha. I will discuss that in a later post.

14. The words “atta/attā” (and anatta/anattā) in the context of anicca, dukkha, and anatta refer ONLY to indicate the fruitful (and unfruitful) nature.

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