Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – “Seeing the Unfruitful Nature of the World”

Sakkāya diṭṭhi holds the wrong view that “it is beneficial to strive to acquire and enjoy pleasurable things in the world.” To understand why, one must learn about the Buddha’s “wider worldview,” including kamma/kamma vipāka and rebirth.

June 29, 2024

The “Big Picture”

1. One way to summarize Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths is in the following way: (i) There is much more suffering than pleasures in the rebirth process, (ii)  The root cause of that is attachment (taṇhā) for worldly pleasures, (iii) Taṇhā can be overcome by realizing that rebirth process is a “mind-made” process (i.e., by overcoming avijjā), and (iv) The way to do that is to follow the Eightfold Noble Path. 

  • Thus, the root cause of suffering in the rebirth process is our tendency to attach to various sensory inputs (ārammaṇa.) The following is a simplified analysis to get the basic ideas across.
  • Our five physical senses allow us to experience sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and body sensations. Some of them bring joy and happiness. We seek those and avoid others that “get in our way.” Thus, we attach (taṇhā) to such sensory experiences via greed or anger (and ignorance). Because sense faculties (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body) are essential to “enjoy sensory pleasures,” we consider them to be “me,” and that gives rise to “asmi māna” or “māna.” 
  • We also try to acquire those things in the external world (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches) that seem to provide such “sensory pleasures” with the idea of “mine.”
  • Therefore, taṇhā and asmi māna go together.
Craving Worldly Pleasures = Sakkāya

2. All our thoughts, speech, and actions arise based on sensory inputs (ārammaṇa). Thus, any kammās done with rāga, dosa, and moha start with attachment to a sensory event. Such a “sensory event” involves numerous citta vithi (thoughts) where many types of rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa are involved, i.e., they involve rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha, i.e., aggregates of those entities. See “Five Aggregates – Introduction.”

  • A sensory input starts with the contact between an internal rupa (e.g., cakkhu, sota, etc.) and an external rupa (rupa rupa, sadda rupa, etc.). We like our internal rupa and have “upādāna” for them. Regarding external rupa, we have “upādāna” only for a tiny fraction of external rupa (sights, sounds, etc.). Those types of internal and external rupa are “rupa upādānakkhandha.”  They comprise part of pañca upādānakkhandha.
  • Based on such sensory contacts, vedanā and saññā arise. Our attachments to such vedanā and saññā are represented by “vedanā upādānakkhandha” and saññā upādānakkhandha.”
  • Then, we start thinking, speaking, and acting on such sensory contacts. They involve mano, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra. Since we willingly engage in them, they belong to the “saṅkhāra upādānakkhandha.”
  • We engage in such activities with greed, anger, or ignorance and with some expectations. Those “expectations” are represented by the “vinnana upādānakkhandha.”
Sakkāya (or Sathkāya) =  Pañcupādānakkhandha

3. “Sath” means “good” or “fruitful.” And kāya here means an aggregate (collection). Here, it refers to the five aggregates or pañcakkhandha

  • If something is perceived as fruitful, we want to get more of it, i.e., we have “upādāna” for it.  Thus, “sathkāya” means pañcupādānakkhandha.Therefore, “sathkāya” means “pañcakkhandha is fruitful.” Furthermore, Sathkāya” rhymes as “Sakkāya.” 
  • Thus, sakkāya” means pañcupādānakkhandha.

4. A definition of sakkāya is in the “Sakkāya Sutta (SN 22.105)“: “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sakkāyo? Pañcupādānakkhandhātissa vacanīyaṁ. Seyyathidaṁ—rūpupādānakkhandho, vedanupādānakkhandho, saññupādānakkhandho, saṅkhārupādānakkhandho, viññāṇupādānakkhandho.” 

Translated: “sakkāya is pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā, i.e., rūpupā­dā­nak­khan­dha, vedanupā­dā­nak­khan­dha, saññu­pādā­nak­khan­dha, saṅ­khā­ru­pādā­nak­khan­dha, viñ­ñāṇupā­dā­nak­khan­dha”.

5. When seeking worldly (sensory) pleasures, we crave/desire to experience mind-pleasing external rupa with all our senses. We can take an example to clarify the idea behind sakkāya (pañca upādānakkhandha.

  • For example, a man’s mind may attach to a “beautiful woman” or any other sensory input like mind-pleasing music, taste, smell, or touch. Such sensory experiences generate vedanā and saññā.
  •  Based on that attachment, the mind starts pursuing that sensory object. That leads to (abhi)saṅkhāra generation with an expectation (kamma viññāṇa) to fulfill that desire.
  • Those five parameters (rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) record that initial sensory experience. However, many more cittās arise based on that ārammaṇa, i.e., numerous such sets (rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa) arise in mind within a short time.  When we become aware of the sensory input, “piles/aggregates” (or “khandha”) of those five entities accumulate. That is why we call them the pañca upādānakkhandha
  • Please spend some time contemplating and grasping those ideas. Although those terms may sound esoteric, they are simple concepts.
Sakkāya Diṭṭhi Arises Based on Sakkāya

6. All humans below the Sotapanna stage have the wrong view that it is beneficial to take any worldly thing as “me” or “mine” and to work hard to accumulate “pleasurable” things. That wrong view of “me” or “mine” (i.e., it is logical to view such rupa to provide happiness) issakkāya diṭṭhi, as we discuss below.

  • Once one understands how such efforts lead to rebirths in “suffering-filled lower realms” (like the animal realm), one becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi or a Sotapanna.
  • That understanding comes via comprehending the “upādāna paccayā bhava” and “bhava paccayā jāti” steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda, i.e., how “undesired rebirths” originate with “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra.” Here, it is easier to see immoral deeds done to access sensula pleasures, which can lead to rebirths in the four lowest realms, including the animal realm.

7. The “Sakkāyadiṭṭhi Sutta (SN 22.155)” explains, “rūpe kho, bhikkhave, sati, rūpaṁ upādāya, rūpaṁ abhinivissa sakkāya diṭṭhi uppajjati” OR “When one focuses on a rupa and generates upādāna for it (rūpaṁ upādāya) and is stuck on that rupa/ārammaṇa (abhinivissasakkāya diṭṭhi arises.”

  • Then, it repeats the same verse for vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. 
  • The same sutta (starting @ marker 1.9) explains that when one understands the anicca and dukkha nature of rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa, one will lose that wrong view.

8. The “Sakkāyadiṭṭhipahāna Sutta (SN 35.166)” explains how to get rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi. 

  • It says, “Cakkhuṁ kho, bhikkhu, dukkhato jānato passato sakkāyadiṭṭhi pahīyati” OR “One gets rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi by hearing and comprehending (jānato passato) that ‘cakkhu‘ leads to suffering.”
  • What needs to be understood is that “cakkhu” does not mean “physical eyes” or “cakkhu indriya.” It means to use cakkhu indriya as “cakkhu āyatana” (cakkāyatana) to enjoy sensory pleasures with avijjā.
  • Then it repeats the same verse for rūpa, cakkhu viññāṇa, cakkhu samphassa, and samphassa-jā-vedanā. Note that those entities also describe sakkāya” or pañcupādānakkhandha.
  • Again, we encounter the term “jānato passato.” See “Jānato Passato” and Ājāniya – Critical Words to Remember.”
Difference Between Sakkāya and Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

9. Even though they have removed that wrong view (“sakkāya diṭṭhi), a Sotapanna will still have the desire to enjoy “worldly pleasures,” especially those that can be experienced without hurting others. Thus, sakkāya” or pañcupādānakkhandha remains even after getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.

  • The desire/craving for sensory pleasures is based on asmi mānaor theperception of me.” That leads to the perception that “sensory pleasures” are worthwhile. The Buddha called that “sakkāya.” 
  • Even though a Sotapanna can “see” (with wisdom) that cravings/desire for sensory pleasures cannot be beneficial and can only lead to being entrapped in the kāma loka, it is not easy to overcome the “innate desire” to enjoy sensory pleasures. Therefore, they still perceive some worldly things to be “me/mine” even though they do not view those things to be “me/mine.” That asmi māna” goes away only at the Arahant stage.
Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and “Sakkāya Saññā”

10. Although “sakkāya saññā” is not a term used in the Tipiṭaka (I have not encountered it), it is an easy way to distinguish between sakkāya and sakkāya diṭṭhi.

  • Sakkāya saññā” can be thought of as the “perception of me/mine,” and sakkāya diṭṭhi is the “view of me/mine.” 
  • Even after the sakkāya diṭṭhi component goes away at the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage, sakkāya (pañca upādānakkhandha) remains (even though weakened) with the sakkāya saññā” or the “perception of a me/mine.”
  • Therefore, it is easy to see the difference that way. However, until we encounter that usage in the Tipiṭaka, it is advisable not to refer to it in formal documents. That is why I wrote it within inverted commas: “sakkāya saññā.” I am not sure, but I believe Waharaka Thero also used that term in a couple of discourses.
  • Only Arahants have removed both sakkāya diṭṭhi and sakkāya saññā” (or the perception of me/mine). Thus, undefiled pañcakkhandha (without upādāna) arises only in an Arahant
An Analogy

9. Let me give an analogy for that distinction between sakkāya diṭṭhi and sakkāya.

  • After looking into medical evidence of adverse health effects, an alcoholic may understand that drinking leads to health issues and even causes death (analogous to removing sakkāya diṭṭhi.) Thus, any wrong views about alcohol consumption will no longer be there.
  • However, many alcoholics, even after comprehending that fact (i.e., after getting rid of the wrong view), still cannot overcome the “innate craving” to have a drink. They may say, “Yes. I know it is bad for me. But I still cannot overcome the desire to have a drink because it gives me pleasure.” That is why it is so hard to overcome the “drinking habit.”
  • That innate perception that an alcoholic drink can provide a “pleasurable mindset” is analogous to our inherent desire to enjoy sensual pleasure. An alcoholic must continually contemplate the harmful consequences of drinking to get rid of that habitual drinking. 
  • In the same way, a Sotapanna must continually contemplate the harmful consequences of attachment to sensual pleasures to advance to the higher stages of Nibbāna. 
  • (There is an easier way of overcoming that innate perception (which the Buddha a “mirage”) by understanding the concept of the “distorted saññā,” as discussed in “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”We will discuss that again with a different approach in the “Meditation – Deeper Aspectssection.) 
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