Majjhimā Patipadā – Way to Relinquish Attachments to this World

January 22, 2016; Revised July 19, 2020; May 16, 2023

Please read the first post on the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (also called Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta) before reading this second post: “Dhammacakkappavatta Sutta – Introduction.”

1. In almost all English translations, majjhimā paṭipadā is termed the “middle way of the Buddha.” This gives the impression that all one needs to do is avoid extreme sense pleasures and extreme hardships for the body. In general, that is true, but the Buddha meant something more profound. One should live such a simple and comfortable life but should start seeing the dangers of craving sensory pleasures.

  • Many Pāli words have two meanings: conventional (mundane) and transcendental (lokuttara). We saw that the Noble Eightfold Path could be interpreted either way: “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” or “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).” As I explained in “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa,” I believe this was a strategy by the Buddha to facilitate at least the conventional transmission of the Tipiṭaka during times when Ariyā (Noble Persons) were few in number to explain the lokuttara meanings of key Pāli words.
  • Thus majjhimā paṭipadā is the “middle path” in the conventional sense, and it is an excellent first step. But the lokuttara meaning is more profound, and this sutta lays out the basic structure of explaining the more profound meaning. Throughout the 45 years of his ministry, Buddha explained the details in various ways.
  • One lokuttara (or deeper/transcendental) meaning of majjhimā paṭipadā is to “avoid being intoxicated by sense pleasures.” See “Need to Experience Suffering in Order to Understand it?“. Here we will examine It in detail to show that it is a gradual process. High levels of intoxication are removed via removing micchā diṭṭhi when attaining the Sotapanna stage. After that, lower and lower intoxication levels are removed as one gain more wisdom in steps.
  • We will follow the text of the sutta in this pdf: Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta-3

2. First, I want to emphasize what is meant by “relinquish” in the title. It means “voluntarily giving up” and NOT giving up attachments to this world by sheer will or force. This is something most people do not comprehend either. The mind will not give up things that it considers pleasurable unless there is a good reason.

  • Those reasons are what Buddha Dhamma is all about. One becomes a Sotapanna by truly comprehending why it is not only unfruitful but also DANGEROUS to attach to things that one perceives to be pleasurable. But even a Sotapanna only has “seen” the truth of the “anicca nature” of this world of 31 realms.
  • The actual “giving up” comes next, when one slowly starts “giving up” voluntarily and progress through the next two stages of Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi, and eventually gives up all attachments at the Arahant stage.
  • Thus one does not need to worry about giving up ANYTHING until reaching the Sotapanna stage. Giving up happens automatically when one realizes the true nature of this world.

3. In the first verse of section 2 of the above pdf says, “Bhikkhus, what is the majjhimā paṭipadā declared by the Tathāgata (Buddha) that leads to the vision, wisdom, calming down, special knowledge (abhiññā), comprehend “san” (sambodhi), and to Nibbāna?”

  • “It is the Noble Eightfold Path with sammā diṭṭhi, sammā saṅkappa, sammā vācā, sammā kammaṃta, sammā ājiva, sammā vāyāma, sammā sati, sammā samādhi“.
  • In the third verse, he affirms that it is indeed the Path or the majjhimā paṭipadā.

4. In section 3, the Four Noble Truths are briefly stated (uddesa; see,  “Sutta -Introduction“), and each can be described in detail, filling thousands of books, depending on the level of detail.

  • First, suffering is: “Jāti’pi dukkhā, jarā’pi dukkhā,….”. This verse we have already analyzed in “Does the First Noble Truth Describe only Suffering?” among others.
  • The next verse succinctly states the causes of suffering (dukkha samudaya): “The root cause is taṇhā. The tendency to attach to various things (yayaṃ taṇhā) makes bhava (ponobbhavikā) through valuing such things (nandirāga) and giving priority to them (abhinandini).  These things are craving for sense pleasures (kāma taṇhā), bhava taṇhā, and vibhava taṇhā“. The three types of taṇhā are discussed in: “Kāma Tanhā, Bhava Tanhā, Vibhava Tanhā.”
  • The third verse is the truth about how to eliminate those causes: “By removing taṇhā without a trace (yeva taṇhāya asesa-virāga-nirodho), by giving without expecting anything back (cāgo), by cutting off all bonds (paṭinissaggo), by becoming un-entangled (mutti), by removing all attachments (anālayo).”
  • And the fourth is the way to do that, i.e., via the Noble Eightfold Path that was stated in #3 above.
  • Other posts further describe the above four Noble Truths in more detail. You can use the “Search” box on the top right or scan the  “Pure Dhamma – Sitemap” to locate relevant posts. There are so many ways to present the material.

5. Sections 4 through 7 describe how the Buddha attained Buddhahood via comprehending tiparivaṭṭa (three walls of bondage) that keep one trapped in the rebirth process.  Paṭicca Samuppāda describes the process of generating new rebirths. That has never been known to the world (except during the times of previous Buddhas): “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu..”.

  • We discussed the term tiparivaṭṭa, or the “three rounds of bondage,” briefly in the previous post. We will discuss it in more detail in the next post.
  • I would like to first discuss the term, “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi..”. 

6. When the Buddha attained Buddhahood by comprehending this Dhamma that had never been known to the world, five types of special knowledge arose in him. Those are cakkhu, ñāṇa, paññā, vijjā, and āloka.

  • Here “cakkhu” is the “Dhamma eye,” the ability to “see” the true nature of this world. We can loosely translate ñāṇa and Paññā as “knowledge” and “wisdom.”
  • The next one is “vijjā” (the Sanskrit word is “vidyā“). This is the “ultimate science” about the world, what I call the “Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.”  A Buddha is the most outstanding scientist that comes to the world very infrequently.
  • Simultaneously with the comprehension of vijjā, one is totally removed from “this material world” or “āloka” (“ā” + “lōka“). The word “āloka” has other meanings, including “light.” 

7. Those five factors arise simultaneously in a Buddha upon attaining the Buddhahood, but all others attain them in stages. For a normal human being:

  • Cakkhuṃ udapādi” or “arising of the Dhamma eye” occurs upon attaining the Sotapanna stage, i.e., sammā diṭṭhi.
  • Ñāṇaṃ udapādi” takes place upon attaining the Sakadāgāmi stage.
  • Paññā udapādi” takes place upon attaining the Anāgāmi stage.
  • Vijjā udapādi” takes place upon attaining the Arahant stage, where “āloko udapādi” takes place simultaneously.

8. In section 9, it is stated, “..āyasmato Koṇḍaññassa virajaṃ vītamalaṃ dhammacakkhuṃ udapādiyaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamman’ti“.

  • Upon hearing this first desana, the ascetic Koṇḍañña became a Sotapanna, and dhamma cakkhuṃ udapādi or “Dhamma eye arose in him.”
  • The next part of the verse, “yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamman’tistates what that Dhamma eye grasped: “any Dhamma that gives rise to this world (samudaya dhamma), is a Dhamma that can be stopped from arising again (i.e., it is a nirodha dhamma).”
  • Thus at the Sotapanna stage, one can “see” how this “nirodha” is done. Actually, doing it leads to the following stages of Nibbāna and eventually to Arahanthood.
  • One gets to the Sotapanna stage (overcoming the first round of the tiparivaṭṭa) by comprehending the broader worldview and seeing the fruitlessness of “high levels of intoxication” just through that understanding.

9. When a Sotapanna acquires the second knowledge (“Nanan udapādi“), that is when he/she really “STARTS to see the anicca nature a bit more by cutting through apparent pleasures of the world with the Dhamma eye”. This process continues through the next phase, “Paññā udapādi,” when one is able to really see the adverse effects and the dangers of any sense pleasures and attains the Anāgāmi stage.

  • Thus, as you can see, the actual “giving up” happens gradually and naturally. One does not need to, and one should not try to, give up sense pleasures by sheer willpower (except, of course, those acts that are called “pāpa kamma,” i.e., that lead to the suffering of other beings).
  • For example, one does not need to feel guilty about eating a nice meal, having a lovely house to live in, etc. Those are the results of previous good kamma vipāka. But what one needs to do is to reduce the CRAVING for such things by comprehending the anicca nature of this world, i.e., by learning Dhamma and by contemplating. One would realize that cravings/desires for worldly things are fruitless.

10. I can give a simple example from my experience. A few years ago, my wife and I noticed we had not watched television for many weeks. We decided it was pointless to keep paying for the cable service and canceled the service (We still read the news on the internet). Thus we had not deliberately stopped watching television. We had gradually stopped watching even without us noticing it for several weeks. Of course, there have been more changes like that since then. I just wanted to mention this to emphasize that Buddha’s Dhamma is not just a theory. It can be experienced: “..sandiṭṭhiko, akāliko, ehipassiko..”.

  • Many of you may wonder why it is a good thing to stop watching TV (“That is something I enjoy after a hard day at work”). But that is a perception we all get used to. I remember being very agitated at night watching TV coverage of the 2008 US presidential election season. It is more enjoyable to listen to or read Dhamma.
  • Please note that I am not saying that one needs to stop watching TV to attain magga phala or that one who has attained the Sotapanna stage would necessarily not watch TV. There was a Sotapanna (named Sarakāni) during the time of the Buddha who could not give up his drinking habit. It is only at the Anāgāmi stage that one gives up kāma rāga (sense pleasures), as mentioned above. But each person could reduce or even give up some sensory pleasures upon attaining the Sotapanna stage, depending on one’s personality (gati).

11. I also would like to point out that one should not restrict one’s time only to learning Dhamma. One should also engage in meritorious deeds and make homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha as well. Those activities help get the mind to a state suitable for receiving and comprehending Dhamma.

  • This is a subtle aspect that was discussed in the “Anantara and Samanantara Paccaya” and a few other posts. Just like a seed needs suitable conditions (soil, water, sunlight, etc.) to germinate and grow, one needs to make necessary conditions for the mind to be receptive to profound and subtle concepts by doing meritorious deeds that make one’s mind joyful and calm. Engaging in giving (dāna) and living a moral life (sila) help enormously with Bhavana (contemplation and comprehension).
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