Majjima Patipada – Way to Relinquish Attachments to this World

January 22, 2016; Revised January 23, 2016 (#9)

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, majjima patipada is termed the “middle path”. This gives the impression that all one needs to do is to avoid extreme sense pleasures and extreme hardships for the body. We will continue our analysis of the sutta from the previous post, and see that the Buddha meant something totally different.

  • Many Pāli words have two meanings: conventional (mundane) and transcendental (lokuttara). We saw that the Noble Eightfold Path can be interpreted either way: “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” or “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty)“. As I explained in “Sutta -Introduction“, 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) are few in number to explain the lokuttara meanings of key Pāli words.
  • Thus majjima patipada is the “middle path” in the conventional sense, and it is a good first step. But the lokuttara meaning is much different, and this sutta lays out the basic structure of how to explain the deeper meanings. Throughout his 45 years of his ministry, Buddha explained the details in various ways.
  • One lokuttara meaning of majjima patipada 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 removed as one gains 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 to give 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 start “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, it says, “Bhikkhus, what is the majjima patipada declared by the Tathagatha (Buddha) that leads to the vision, wisdom, calming down, special knowledge (abhiññā), comprehend “san” (sambodhi), and to Nibbāna?”

  • “It is the Noble Eightfold Path: Sammā diṭṭhi, sammā saṅkappa, sammā vaca, sammā kammaṃta, sammā ajiva, sammā vayama, sammā sati, sammā samadhi“.
  • In the third verse, he affirms that it is indeed the Path or the majjima patipada.

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 for suffering (dukkha samudhaya): “the root cause is tanha. The tendency to attach to various things (yayaṃ tanha), make bhava (ponobhavita) through valuing such things (nandirāga) and giving priority to them (abhinandani).  These things are: craving for sense pleasures (kāma tanha), bhava tanha, and vibhava tanha“. The three types of tanha are discussed at: “Kāma Tanhā, Bhava Tanhā, Vibhava Tanhā“.
  • The third verse is the truth about how to eliminate those causes: “By removing tanha without a trace (yeva taṇhāya asesa-virāga-nirodho), by giving without expecting anything back (chago), 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.
  • There are other posts that further describe the above four Noble Truths in more detail. You can use the “Search” box on 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 state how the Buddha attained the Buddhahood via comprehending — through Paṭicca Samuppāda —  the tiparivattaya (three walls of bondage to this world) that has never been known to the world (except during the times of previous Buddhas): “..pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu..”.

  • We discussed the term tiparivattaya 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 cakkhun udapādi, ñāṇan udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi..”. 

6. When the Buddha attained the Buddhahood via comprehending this Dhamma that has never been known to the world, five types of special knowledge arose in him at that moment: cakkhu, ñāṇa, paññā, vijja, and aloka. 

  • 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 “vijja” (the Sanskrit word is “vidya“). This is the “ultimate science” about the world, what I called the “Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“.  A Buddha Is the greatest scientist that comes to the world very infrequently.
  • Simultaneously with the comprehension of vijja, one is totally removed from “this material world” or “aloka” (“a” + “löka“). The word “aloka” has other meanings, including “light”, which we will discuss later.

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:

  • Cakkhun udapadi” or “arising of the Dhamma eye” occurs upon attaining the Sotapanna stage, i.e., sammā diṭṭhi.
  • Nanan udapadi” takes place upon attaining the Sakadāgāmi stage.
  • Panna udapadi” takes place upon attaining the Anāgāmi stage.
  • Vijja udapadi” takes place upon attaining the Arahant stage, where “aloko udapadi” takes place simultaneously.

8. In section 9, it is stated, “..āyasmato Koṇḍaññassa virajan vītamalan dhammacakkhun udapādiyan kiñci samudayadhamman sabban tan nirodhadhamman’ti“.

  • Upon hearing this first desana, the ascetic Kondanna became a Sotapanna and, “dhamma cakkhun udapadi” or “Dhamma eye arose in him”.
  • The next part of the verse “yam kiñci samudayadhamman sabban tan nirodhadhamman’tistates what that Dhamma eye grasped: “any Dhamma that gives rise to this world (samudaya dhamma), is a Dhamma that can be eliminated (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 next stages Nibbāna, and eventually to the Arahanthood.
  • One gets to the Sotapanna stage (overcoming the first round of the tiparivattaya) by comprehending the wider world view, and by seeing the fruitlessness of “high levels of intoxication” just through that understanding.

9. When a Sotapanna acquires the second knowledge (“Nanan udapadi“), 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 “Panna udapadi” 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 in a gradual and natural way. One does not need to, and one should not try to, give up sense pleasures by sheer will power (except of course those acts that are called “päpa 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 nice 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. Whatever cravings/desires that one had truly seen to be “fruitless” would have disappeared from one’s mind.
  • I can give a simple example from my experience. A few years ago, my wife and I noticed that 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 Dhamma is not just a theory; it can be experienced: “..sandiṭṭhiko, akaliko, ehipassiko..”.
  • Many of you may wonder why is it 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. We realized that it was “more enjoyable” to listen 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 Sarakani) during the time of the Buddha who could not give up his drinking habit as I mentioned in another post. 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 sense pleasures upon attaining the Sotapanna stage, depending on one’s personality (gati).

10. I also would like to point out that one should not restrict one’s time just to learn Dhamma. One should also engage in meritorious deeds and make an homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha as well. Those activities help get the mind to a state suitable to receive and comprehend Dhamma.

  • This is a subtle aspect that was discussed in the “Annantara 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 deep and subtle concepts by doing meritorious deeds that make one’s mind joyful and calm. Engaging in giving (däna) and living a moral life (seela) help enormously with Bhavana (contemplation and comprehension).
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