Associations (Sēvana)- A Root Cause of Wrong Views

June 29, 2019; revised July 1, 2019; July 3, 2024

1. Our worldviews are first formed by our families. Most people maintain those views throughout their lifetimes. A good example is one’s religion.

  • With the advent of the internet, this is changing. Now, people are exposed to many worldviews, can learn about different worldviews, and decide for themselves which one(s) makes more sense.
  • Still, the primary mindset instilled at a young age can have a long-lasting effect. This is why it is important to ensure that our children are not exposed to “bad influences,” especially bad friends.

2. In the terminology of the Buddha, one’s “gati” (habits/character qualities) are determined by one’s worldview and vice versa. Furthermore, whether one acts with avijjā (ignorance) at any given time depends on one’s gati. In simple terms, “good gati” are associated with Sammā Diṭṭhi (correct views), and “bad gati” are associated with micchā diṭṭhi (wrong views).

3. Gati is carried from life to life. However, a new gati is FORMED mainly during human life.

  • If a human cultivates an “animal gati,” that human will likely be born as that animal in the next life (or a future life). This is explained clearly in the  “Kukku­ra­vatika Sutta (MN 57)” (English translation there: “The Dog-Duty Ascetic (MN 57)“). There, the Buddha explains how those “dog gati” that Seniya was cultivating would lead to him being born a dog.
  • Similarly, a human who cultivates “deva gati” by cultivating saṅkhārās that are good and moral (puññābhisaṅkhāra) — and thus engages in such thoughts, speech and actions — that human is likely to be born a deva.
  • A human is born with a particular set of gati acquired in past lives as a human. But a human CAN change such gati by WILLFULLY cultivating different types of saṅkhāra (and thus one’s actions). In particular, a human can cultivate “Ariya gati” by cultivating the Noble Eightfold Path (which means cultivating puññābhisaṅkhāra  AND by comprehending Tilakkhana).

4. A human baby has a similar gati to his/her parents. That is not an accident. Normally, a gandhabba with gati similar to those of the parents can take possession of the zygote in the mother’s womb that was formed by the union of mother and father; see “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.” This is another reason a child would likely maintain the parents’ gati (and thus worldviews, religion, and behavior patterns).

  • However, if the child comes under the strong influence of a bad set of friends, those gati can change for the worse. We discussed an example of a teenager transforming into a drug addict/gang member in our discussion of Paṭicca Samuppāda; see, “Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Bhava“.
  • In the same way, that teenager could have been pointed in the right direction if, for example, the parents themselves started following the Noble Path and encouraged the teenager to do the same.
  • Therefore, one’s environment (whom one associate with) can significantly impact one’s gati. This is true for adults, too, but children can be easily influenced. This is why one MUST associate with people with “good and moral gati.”

5. In the “Mangala Sutta (Snp 2.4)“, a deva comes to the Buddha and asks, “What are the highest auspicious deeds to be cultivated (“brūhi ­maṅga­la­muttamaṃ”); here, “maṅga­la­muttamaṃ” is “mangalam + uttamam,” where “mangala” means “auspicious” and “uttama” means “highest”).

  • The very first auspicious deed listed by the Buddha is: “Asevanā ca bālānaṃ, paṇḍitānañca sevanā..” OR, “not to associate with ignorant people (bāla) and to associate with the wise (paṇḍita).”
  • In the above I have translated “sēvana” as “to associate” and “asēvana” as “not to associate”. A better description would be “to get advice from and to follow” and “not to get advice from or to follow.” Sometimes, it is impossible to stop “associating” with a group of people, even if they have bad character qualities. For example, such people may be at one’s workplace, and it is impossible to stop interacting with them. However, one does not have to follow their bad opinions/worldviews.
  • In the same way, just “associating with an Ariya” does not necessarily qualify as “paṇḍitānañca sevanā.” For example, many people who associated closely with the Buddha himself (Devadatta and King of Kosala, for example) did not profit from that association: Devadatta was born in the apāyā, and the King of Kosala failed to become a Sōtapanna.

6. Of course, it is prudent to minimize interactions with those with micchā diṭṭhi. However, this again depends on the context.

  • For example, many prominent scientists have “ucchēda diṭṭhi,” which states that the physical body is all one has and that life ends at the death of the physical body. This is one of the two major wrong views associated with sakkāya diṭṭhi (that blocks the Sōtapanna stage); see “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Getting Rid of Deeper Wrong Views“.
  • It is OK to listen to them and even learn from them about MUNDANE things like science. Most of them have never been exposed to true Buddha Dhamma, and all of them are “moral people.” I discussed a good example recently (June 27, 2019 at 9:48 am post) at the discussion forum, “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Tilakkhana“. As I explained there, Dr. James Tour is correct when he explains why there is more to life than just the physical body. Furthermore, he explains with clear evidence why life could not have evolved from “inert matter.”
  • However, since he has not been exposed to true Buddha Dhamma, he cannot think of a reasonable explanation other than to say that life must have been created by God and that there is an everlasting “soul” (i.e., he has sāssata diṭṭhi). I do not blame him; as he firmly believes (and he is right), life is very complex and it is NOT possible to explain the origins of life by the theory of evolution.
  • What he has not been exposed to is Buddha’s explanation that life has ALWAYS existed (there is no traceable beginning to life) and evolves according to causes and conditions (Paṭicca Samuppāda); see “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.

7. Among the four conditions that must be fulfilled to attain the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna, “Sap­purisa­saṃ­sevo” or “Association with “sappurisa (sath + purisa or “Noble friend”, i.e., an Ariya)” is the first condition; see, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala.”

  • Since Buddha’s teachings are unique, the true message has to come from a Buddha or someone “who can be traced back to the Buddha”, as explained in the above post. The teachings can be explained accurately only by an Ariya who has GRASPED those unique teachings that have never been known to the world: “pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu..” (see #8 of “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Introduction“).
  • But it is not necessary to “hang out” or “directly associate” with an Ariya. The key is to “to get advice from and to follow” such Noble Persons, as explained above. That can be done by listening to their desanas (discourses) and/or by reading their writings.
  • One cannot attain the Sōtapanna stage while having sakkāya diṭṭhi (i.e., ucchēda diṭṭhi or sāssata diṭṭhi or some combination of the two): see, “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Getting Rid of Deeper Wrong Views.”

8. Now, we can look into the term “sappurisa” in more detail to better understand the situation. Many suttās describe sappurisa/asappurisa in different ways (all related to each other).

  • For our discussion here, the description given in the “Aṭṭhaṅ­gika Sutta (AN 4.205)” is more relevant: “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, asappuriso? Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco micchādiṭṭhiko hoti, micchāsaṅkappo hoti, micchāvāco hoti, micchākammaṃto hoti, micchāājīvo hoti, micchāvāyāmo hoti, micchāsati hoti, micchāsamādhi hoti. Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, asappuriso“.
  • Translated: “An asappurisa is one who follows micchā diṭṭhi, micchā saṅkappa, micchā vācā, micchā kammaṃta, micchā ājīva, micchā vāyāma, micchā sati, and micchā samādhi.
  • In other words, when one has wrong views (micchā diṭṭhi), one thinks in the wrong ways, speaks, acts in the wrong ways, follows a wrong livelihood, makes efforts to accomplish wrong (or useless) goals, gets to the wrong mindset, and thus ends up with a perturbed state (and therefore is prone to act unwisely).

9. Of course, a sappurisa is one who is on the correct pat with sammā diṭṭhi, sammā saṅkappa hoti, sammā vācā, sammāka mmanta, sammā ājīva, sammā vāyāma, sammā sati, and sammā samādhi.

  • Furthermore, the sutta explains that there is a worse asappurisa, who also encourages others to follow the wrong path.
  • Similarly, there is a better sappurisa who encourages others to follow the correct path.

10. Another definition of a asappurisa is given in the “Paṭipadā Sutta (SN 22.44)“, which is relevant to the present discussion: “Sakkā­ya­sa­muda­ya­gā­miniñca vo, bhikkhave, paṭipadaṃ desessāmi, sakkā­ya­nirodha­gā­miniñca paṭipadaṃ.

Taṃ suṇātha. Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sakkā­ya­sa­muda­ya­gāminī paṭipadā? Idha, bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano ariyānaṃ adassāvī ariyadhammassa akovido ariyadhamme avinīto, sappurisānaṃ adassāvī sap­purisa­dhammassa akovido sap­purisa­dhamme avinīto, rūpaṃ attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ; attani vā rūpaṃ, rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. Vedanaṃ attato … saññaṃ … saṅkhāre … viññāṇaṃ attato samanupassati, viññāṇavantaṃ vā attānaṃ; attani vā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇasmiṃ vā attānaṃ“.

Translated:Bhikkhus, I will teach you the way leading to the origination of sakkā­ya (diṭṭhi) and the way leading to the cessation of sakkā­ya (diṭṭhi)The description in blue is exactly same as discussed in #2 of the post, “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Tilakkhana“.

  • The next verse in the sutta states that a sappurisa is one who has removed sakkā­ya diṭṭhi.

11. Two more relevant terms are “sutavā ariyasāvako” (a Noble person who has comprehended Buddha Dhamma) and “assutavā puthujjano” (who has not heard/comprehended Buddha Dhamma).

  • The “Ānandat­thera Sutta (SN 55.13)” describes a “sutavā ariyasāvako” as one who has “buddhe aveccap­pasā­dena samannāgato“, “dhamme aveccap­pasā­dena samannāgato“, “sanghe aveccap­pasā­dena samannāgato“, “ariyakantehi sīlehi samannāgato“. That means one who has “unbreakable faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, and an unbreakable moral mindset that would not do an apāyagāmi deed.” 
  • Those are the four qualities of a Sōtapanna; see, “Sotapatti Anga – The Four Qualities of a Sōtapanna“. The key terms “aveccap­pasā­dena” and “ariyakānta sīlaare discussed in that post. 
  • Again, many suttās describe these terms in different (but related) ways.  For example, “Dutiya­ari­yasāva­ka Sutta (SN 12.50)” describes a “sutavā ariyasāvaka” as one who has comprehended Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • Therefore, a sutavā ariyasāvako” is a Noble Person or an Ariya.
  • On the other hand, “assutavā puthujjano” is one who has not heard/grasped those.

12. Therefore, even a person who may be considered highly moral by mundane standards (like famous philanthropists, scientists, etc) is likely to be an “asappurisa” or an “assutavā puthujjano“. That is, IF they have micchā diṭṭhi (10 types of micchā diṭṭhi which include sakkāya diṭṭhi). As we have discussed, sakkāya diṭṭhi is ucchēda diṭṭhi or sāssata diṭṭhi or a combination of the two. Such persons would not be able to guide one on the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Again, that does not mean one cannot learn other useful (mundane) concepts from them.
  • One needs to avoid those who are engaged in immoral deeds: drug use, excessive alcohol use, sexual misconduct, etc.
  • To progress on the Noble Path, one should associate (follow and take advice from) a pandita (wise person) in the context of Buddha Dhamma, i.e., a sappurisa/sutavā ariyasāvaka. A pandita is not determined by age, educational degrees, or other metrics but only based on whether one has removed sakkāya diṭṭhi

July 1, 2019: Regarding #5 above, it is important to note that āsēvana means something different from asēvana.

  • Sēvana is association. Āsēvana (Ā + sēvana) means “came to associate with”; see, “Āsēvana and Aññamañña Paccayā.”
  • Asēvana (A + sēvana) is “not to associate with,” the negation as discussed in #5 above.

It is very important to see the difference, which illustrates how Pāli words combine (sandhi) to produce other words with very different meanings. Thanks to Tobias Große for bringing this distinction to our attention at today’s discussion forum.

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