August 6, 2017; revised February 14, 2018
1. Samyōjana (or sanyōjana) is translated to English as “fetters”, which is not a bad translation. Even though “fetter” is not a commonly used word, it means “a chain that is used to restrain or bind someone”.
- Dasa samyōjana are the ten “chains” or “bonds” that bind one to the rebirth process and force one to go through unimaginable suffering in the long run.
2. Samyōjana comes from the three roots (“san“, “yō“, and “ja” respectively meaning “defilements”, “bind”, and “birth”). It can be pronounced either as “sanyōjanā” or — as is the common practice with many words involving “san” –, as “samyōjana”.
- Therefore, samyōjana means “bonds that bind one to “san” and thus keep one in the rebirth process; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.
- When one breaks these bonds in a systematic way — in three steps and four stages — at each stage, one makes irreversible progress to Nibbāna (release from all suffering).
- For explanation of many words with the root “san“, see, “List of “San” Words and Other Pāli Roots“.
3. The “Saṃyojana Sutta (SN 41.1)” clearly states that there is “san” or “craving (chanda raga)” MUST be involved in samyōjana: “Evameva kho, bhante, na cakkhu rūpānaṃ saṃyojanaṃ, na rūpā cakkhussa saṃyojanaṃ; yañca tattha tadubhayaṃ paṭicca uppajjati chandarāgo taṃ tattha saṃyojanaṃ..”.
Translated: “samyōjana arise not due to eyes just seeing objects (rupa) , but due to craving that arises due that seeing..”.
4. Many people do not realize that there is an important step BEFORE one can start tackling dasa samyōjana. This step must be taken to enter the Noble Path and start breaking those bonds to the rebirth process. This is to get rid of the 10 types of miccā ditthi (wrong views) about the world that we live in; see, “Miccā Ditthi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage“.
- This important pre-requisite or the pre-condition to “enter the Noble Path” was specifically discussed by the Buddha in the “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty)“.
- The reason is that unless one believes in the laws of kamma and the rebirth process, there is no way one can start working towards Nibbāna (which is to be released from the suffering-filled rebirth process).
- Striving to attain Nibbāna without belief in the rebirth process is a useless thing, because by definition, Nibbāna is the release from the rebirth process. Most people confuse Nibbāna with a temporary relief from “day-to-day stresses of life”.
- Nibbāna can be described in simple or deeper levels; see, “Nibbāna“.
5. Buddha Dhamma is different from any other religion or philosophy. One first needs to understand the message of the Buddha before one can start on the Path prescribed by him. Many people waste time blindly pursuing things that have nothing to do with the Noble Path to Nibbāna.
- In order to understand the key message of the Buddha, one needs to understand that our world is much more complex than seen by our eyes. One needs to ‘see’ with wisdom. This wisdom or “pannā” can be cultivated only in steps, with an increasingly pure mind (i.e., with less greed, hate, and ignorance of the true nature of this world).
- In the early stage, when one is trying to get rid of the 10 types of miccā ditthi, one may need to stay away from dasa akusala with determination, i.e., even going to the extent of sticking to a set of rituals (saying I will not break the five precepts).
- However, when one becomes free of those basic immoral acts and speech (pāpa kamma), which are named the “big eight” in “3. The Second Level – Key to Purify the Mind“, in the Meditation section, one should be able to get rid of the 10 types of miccā ditthi mentioned above.
- At this stage, one’s mind is purified enough (i.e., pannā has grown enough) to start grasping the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) to some extent. Of course it is necessary to grasp the correct interpretations: “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.
6. The first step in the Noble Eightfold Path is “Sammā Ditthi“, which is not “something to be done”. It is a vision or a “new way of looking at how our world works”.
- This new way of looking at the world is through the world view that emerges from what is embedded in anicca, dukkkha, anatta. This is how one breaks the first three samyōjana of sakkāya ditthi, vicikicca, and sīlabbata parāmasa.
7. One has to break those bonds in one’s own mind. One gains sammā ditthi — right view to become free of ‘san’ — by comprehending the true nature of this world of 31 realms.
Anicca – that nothing in this world can bring a permanent happiness in the long run.
Dukkha – despite our struggles, we will be subjected to much more suffering than pleasures if we remain in the rebirth process.
Anatta – therefore, one is truly helpless in this struggle to attain “something of essence in this world”. That is just an illusion.
8. When one values a certain object, one can spend extraordinary amount of effort to get it. A normal human has many things in this world (a beautiful/handsome partner, nice house, nice car, etc) that are very valuable.
- Many people are willing to commit murder, robbery, lying, cheating, etc to get those. Then they get into trouble in two ways: If the society catches them, they will pay consequences like going to jail. Even if they manage to avoid “getting caught”, there is no way to avoid kamma vipāka, i.e., those actions will bring much harsher punishments in this life or in future lives.
- By comprehending the 10 types miccā ditthi, one will be able to see that one will have to pay for immoral actions without exception, and one that depending on the severity of the actions, one may suffer for millions of years in the four lower realms (apāyas). This very first step of getting rid of the 10 types of miccā ditthi will be quite beneficial in preventing one from getting into trouble in the future.
9. However, grasping the Tilakkhana will lead to getting rid of even stronger type of wrong vision or miccā ditthi about this world, i.e., that there is NOTHING in this world that will bring a level of permanent happiness.
- When one first starts comprehending anicca, and realizes a glimpse of this truth, one may still not be quite certain of the truth of that. But one will compelled to believe that “it is not WORTH to commit those strong bad kamma that COULD lead to rebirth in the apāyas (strong greed and strong hate).
- At this beginning stage on the Noble Path, one could see the dangers in being born in the apāyas and one’s mind will AUTOMATICALLY start rejecting such actions. This does not happen by sheer will power, but it will programmed into the mind. In the Abhidhamma language, the “votttapana cittā” in a citta vīthi will make that decision in a billionth of a second.
10. So, it is quite important to understand that getting rid of the first three samyōjana involves NOTHING ELSE but just comprehending a bit about the true nature of this world, the anicca nature.
- In other words, at this stage one will lose a significant fraction of HOW MUCH VALUE one will places on ANY MATERIAL THING in this world. There is NOTHING in this world that is worth killing another human being via pre-planning with hate in the mind, for example.
- At this stage, one is a Sōtapanna Anugāmi, and one will get to the Sōtapanna stage without doubt. One has become one of the eight types of Nobles (Ariyās); see, “Sōtapannā Magga Anugāmi and a Sōtapannā“.
11. Therefore, getting release from rebirth in the apāyas depends on grasping the dangers of certain highly-immoral actions that are not worth doing because NOTHING in this world can be that valuable. Put in another way, nothing in this world is worth taking a risk of paying back with a rebirth in the apāyas.
- The Buddha characterized dukkha as “dukkhan bhayattēna“, i.e., “dukha is another name for danger”. This dukha is not the suffering that one is feeling at the moment (which has arisen due to a past kamma), but this dukha is the one that can be stopped from arising by comprehending the dangers of such actions.
12. The next step towards Nibbāna involves getting rid of two more bonds or samyōjana, i.e., kāma rāga and patigha. This is done in two stages: Sakadāgami stage and the Anāgāmi stage.
- In a way, these two bonds are harder to break because all through this beginning-less rebirth process we have spent probably 99% of the time in the kāma lōka. We are so attached to sense pleasures (kāma rāga), that it is almost impossible for a normal human to grasp the anicca nature in kāma lōka.
- As we discussed above, it is easier to see the bad consequences of highly-immoral actions that could lead to rebirth in the apāyas. And it is also easier to see the dangers of birth in the apāyas (the Buddha has described such unimaginable suffering in many suttas; see, for example, “Dēvaduta Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 130)“.
13. It is harder for a normal human to see that those things that we value so highly are not only worthless, but are in fact can lead to suffering and are thus dangerous (even though not to the extent of the dangers of apāyagāmi actions).
- Most “moral people” believe that if one lives a moral life without harming others, then one will not be subjected to suffering in the future. Even if one had comprehended Tilakkhana to a level of a Sōtapannā, that could still be the impression.
- This is why Buddha’s foremost female lay disciple Visākā attained the Sōtapannā stage at age 7 and went on to marry and have 22 children. If Visāka thought that the kāma lōka was also filled with suffering, she would not have done that.
14. Therefore, getting rid of the samyōjana of kāma rāga (attachment to sensual pleasures) — and thus to be freed also from patigha samyōjana — is a much harder thing. This is why it took me over three years to truly START comprehending the worthlessness of sense pleasures AND the dangers of being attracted to sense pleasures.
- Even though I knew the criteria for one to become an Anāgāmi, I did not realize that I would actually have to “see the dangers” in staying in the kāma lōka, in order to strive for it.
- I had been doing meditation on getting rid of kāma rāga all these years, but the mind has grasped the urgency to do that only in the last month.
- I had written about the importance of removing kāma rāga in the following section: “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction“. These posts were written before October, 2015.
15. So, I had known the “theory” part of it. But my pannā or wisdom had not been cultivated enough to see the possible dangers of sense pleasures!
- It needed a trigger for my mind to finally realize the “worthlessness” and “dangers” of REMAINING in the kāma lōka. I will write more about how it actually got triggered, but I am still working on trying to see the dangers of sense pleasures and thereby making a convincing case that all we perceive as “pleasures” in the human and dēva realms are in fact CAUSES for future suffering.
- The point here is that one needs to keep on striving as long as it takes for the mind to come to a stage to be “triggered” by some event (mine was not a major event). As long as one keeps striving, it is bound to happen. It came as a shock to me. But I will discuss those details in another post (I am not there yet anyway).
16. By the way, it is becoming more clear to me about the difference between magga phala and jhāna. While jhāna can help, jhāna are not NEEDED to attain magga phala. It is sīla, samādhi, pannā, and NOT sīla, jhāna, pannā. I will write about this in detail, but I see that many people seem to get discouraged that they cannot get to jhāna.
- There may be people: with magga phala and without any type of jhāna; with anāriya jhāna and without magga phala; and also with anāriya jhāna and with magga phala. Those with Ariya jhāna MUST be at least an Anāgāmi, i.e., one who has REMOVED kāma rāga completely.
- The problem is that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between Ariya and anāriya jhāna. One thing is quite clear: One cannot attain Ariya first jhāna without REMOVING (ucceda pahāna, not just vishakambana pahāna) of kāma rāga, i.e., kāma anusaya must be removed, not just suppressed.
- But the “jhānic effect” is the same in both cases. The body and the mind have very similar sensations.
- If a Sōtapannā can get into the first Ariya jhāna, then he/she will never be born in the human world again; but we know that a Sōtapannā can be reborn in the human realm; thus a Sōtapannā would not have the first Ariya jhāna. Whatever jhānas that I had were not Ariya jhāna. I have started revising my old posts on jhāna. Please let me know any post that you see need revision.
- I was slowly coming to this conclusion over time; see, “Difference Between jhāna and Stages of Nibbāna“. Information in that fairly recent post is correct. I had forgotten to update the old posts. Another point is that it is Sammā Samādhi (not necessarily jhāna) that takes one to Sammā Ñāna and Sammā Vimukti to becomes an Arahant in the Noble Path.
17. Getting back to the main discussion: Once one overcomes those two samyōjana of kāma rāga and patigha, one will be free of rebirths anywhere in the kāma lōka (lowest 11 realms including the human and dēva realms).
- It is only then one can be said to be become healthy (not subject to illnesses) and also will be free of the three sets of senses of smell, taste, and body touches. Actually, it is only the human bodies that are subject to illnesses and that is first overcome at the Sakadāgami stage.
- When one attains the Sakadāgami stage by REDUCING kāma rāga and patigha, one will be forever released from the human realm and one could be born only in dēva realms of the kāma lōka. At this stage, one would have lost the desire to OWN objects that bring sense pleasures (vatthu kāma), but has not yet lost the URGE TO ENJOY sense pleasures.
- As one progresses more, the two bonds of kāma rāga and patigha will be completely broken and one will attain the Anāgāmi stage, never to be born in any realm of kāma lōka.
18. An Anāgāmi would be still bound to the rebirth process via five more bonds or samyōjana: rūpa rāga, arūpa rāga, māna, uddacca, avijjā.
- The first five types of samyōjana are called ōrambhāgiya–samyōjana or “lower bonds”. The higher five are called uddhambhāgiya-samyōjana or “higher bonds”.
- If a person has removed the first seven samyōjana but still has the last three of mana, uddacca, avijjā, then if one dies at that time, one’s mental body (gandhabba) would come out of the dead body and will be in that state until the kammic energy for the human bhava is exhausted. Parinibbāna will happen at the cuti-patisandhi moment since one has lost upadana for all 31 realms and thus cannot be born anywhere. So, the gandhabba would be in the antara Parinibbāna state during that time. This is what is presumed to have happened to Waharaka Thero; see, “Parinibbāna of Waharaka Thēro“.
- As one progresses to higher stages, it becomes harder to remove the higher bonds (from the perspective of lower levels). As we saw, it is easier for a normal human to see the dangers of the apāyas, but harder to see the dangers of kāma lōka. I cannot even begin to imagine the dangers of rūpa and arūpa lōka. One has to proceed step-by-step.
- When an Anāgāmi removes rūpa rāga, he/she would be never again born in any realm in the rūpa lōka. Similarly, removing the samyōjana of arūpa rāga would make one free of birth in the arūpa lōka.
19. Once the Buddha saw that a Bhikkhu had started “taking it easy” after attaining the Anāgāmi stage, and asked him why he was not striving hard as he used to. The Bhikkhu replied that he had attained the Anāgāmi stage and thus thought that he was out of real danger.
- The Buddha asked him to consider the following: If one had touched feces and had just wiped it off, one may not see it anymore. But wouldn’t that remaining traces still smell bad? The Bhikkhu realized that one will not be really free of ALL suffering until one is released fully from all 31 realms. It is harder to see the dangers at higher levels, until something happens to make one aware of such “hard-to-see” dangers.
- What I learned from my experience is that even though I was not fully focused on attaining the next stage, I had been conditioning my mind through meditation. So, when the trigger came, my mind “got triggered”; I saw the dangers in the kāma lōka virtually “in a flash”. Just several months before, last December, I had an even stronger life event (severe back pains), but that did not act “as a trigger” presumably because my mind was not purified enough at that time (i.e., my pannā had not been cultivated enough).
- Whichever stage we are “stuck at”, we should continue the effort without getting complacent. Results will follow (possibly triggered by some unexpected event).
- Sometimes such triggers lead to moments of “insights” (“ahā” moments) directly leading to magga phala. There are many such examples in the Tipitaka.
20. Finally, the ten samyōjana are removed via different methods:
- Sakkāya ditthi, vicikiccā, and sīlabbata parāmasa are removed via “correct vision” or “correct understanding” that happens when one is listening to a dēsanā by an Ariya or a Noble Person.
- Kama raga and patigha are removed via meditation.
- The five higher samyōjana are removed with wisdom (pannā).