Dasa samyōjana are the ten “chains” or “bonds” that bind one to the rebirth process (with saṃsāric bonds.)
August 6, 2017; revised February 14, 2018; August 7, 2022; rewritten July 30, 2023
Samyōjana Are Bonds in The Rebirth Process
1. Samyōjana (or sanyōjana) is translated into English as “fetters,” which is not bad. Even though “fetter” is not commonly used, it means “a chain used to restrain or bind someone.”
- Dasa samyōjana are the ten “chains” or “bonds” that bind one to the rebirth process (with saṃsāric bonds.)
- (Note: Those are “mental bonds.” Most concepts in Buddha Dhamma refer to the mind and not directly to the physical world.)
- For example, as long as the first three samyōjana are there, there is a high possibility of rebirths in the four lowest realms (apāyās); see #13 below.
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 Sansāra (or Saṃsāra)“.
- When one systematically breaks these bonds — in four stages — one makes irreversible progress to Nibbāna (release from all suffering).
- For an explanation of many words with the root “san,” see “List of “San” Words and Other Pāli Roots.”
Root Cause Is Craving
3. The “Saṃyojana Sutta (SN 41.1)” clearly states that there is “san” (rāga, dosa, moha) or “craving (chanda rāga)” MUST be involved in samyōjana: “Evameva kho, Bhante, na cakkhu rūpānaṃ saṃyojanaṃ, na rūpā cakkhussa saṃyojanaṃ; yañca tattha tadubhayaṃ paṭicca uppajjāti chandarāgo taṃ tattha saṃyojanaṃ..”.
Translated: “samyōjana arise not due to eyes just seeing objects (rupa), but due to craving that arises due that seeing..”.
- It is a good idea to read the whole sutta; the English translation is good enough. Note that householder Citta was Anāgāmi, even though the sutta does not say that.
Cravings Are Uncontrollable Due to Wrong Views
4. Many people do not realize that there is an essential step BEFORE one can start tackling dasa samyōjana. This step is necessary to enter the Noble Path and break those bonds to the rebirth process. That is to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi (wrong views) about the world that we live in. See, “Miccā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.”
- This essential pre-requisite or the pre-condition to “enter the Noble Path” was explicitly 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 (to be released from the suffering-filled rebirth process).
- Most people confuse Nibbāna with temporary relief from “day-to-day stresses of life.”
- By definition, Nibbāna is the release from the rebirth process. The release from daily stresses is a bonus; a mind free of rāga, dosa, and moha is a calm mind.
- There are different ways to understand Nibbāna; see “Nibbāna.”
Need to Have a “Wider World View”
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.
- To understand the key message of the Buddha, one needs to realize that our world is much more complicated than seen by our eyes. One needs to ‘see’ with wisdom. This wisdom or “paññā” can be cultivated only in steps, with an increasingly pure mind, which means less greed, hate, and ignorance of the true nature of this world.
- In the early stage, when trying to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi, one may need to stay away from dasa akusala with determination. That may involve sticking to a set of rituals (saying I WILL NOT break the five precepts).
- However, by abstaining from immoral actions and speech (pāpa kamma), one should be able to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. Those are the “big eight” in “3. The Second Level – Key to Purify the Mind” in the Meditation section,
- At that stage, one’s mind is clear enough (i.e., paññā has grown enough) to grasp the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta). Of course, it is necessary to understand the correct interpretations: “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.”
Sammā Diṭṭhi Comes First
6. The first step in the Noble Eightfold Path is “Sammā Diṭṭhi,” 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 worldview that emerges from what is embedded in anicca, dukkha, and anatta. That is how one breaks the first three samyōjana of sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikicca, and sīlabbata parāmasa.
- See “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering.”
7. One has to break those bonds in one’s mind and get to the correct worldview, i.e., Sammā Diṭṭhi — the correct view to becoming free of ‘san’ — by comprehending the true nature of this world of 31 realms.
Anicca – nothing in this world can bring 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 the essence in this world.” That is just an illusion.
Our Tendency to Value Worthless Worldly Things
8. When one values a particular object, one can spend an extraordinary effort to get it. An average human has many things in this world (a beautiful/handsome partner, a lovely house, a nice car, etc.) that are very valuable.
- Many people are willing to commit murder, robbery, lying, cheating, etc. Then they get into trouble in two ways: If society catches them, they will pay consequences like going to jail. Even if they manage to avoid “getting caught,” there is no way to prevent kamma vipāka, i.e., those actions will bring much harsher punishments in this life or future lives.
- By comprehending the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi, one will be able to see that one will have to pay for immoral actions without exception and that, depending on the severity of the activities, one may suffer for millions of years in the four lower realms (apāyā). This first step of getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi will be quite beneficial in preventing one from getting into trouble.
9. However, grasping the Tilakkhana will eliminate an even more potent type of wrong vision or micchā diṭṭhi 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 reasonably sure of the truth of that. But one will be compelled to believe that “it is not WORTH to commit strong bad kamma that COULD lead to rebirth in the apāyā (intense greed and strong hate).
- At this beginning stage on the Noble Path, one could see the dangers of being born in the apāyā, and one’s mind will AUTOMATICALLY start rejecting such actions. That does not happen by sheer willpower. The mind needs to see that with wisdom. In the Abhidhamma language, the “votthapana cittā” in a citta vīthi will make that decision within a billionth of a second.
Sōtapanna stage Realized With That “Correct Vision”
10. So, it is essential to understand that getting rid of the first three samyōjana involves nothing else but comprehending the anicca nature.
- In other words, at this stage, one will lose a significant fraction of HOW MUCH VALUE one will place on ANY MATERIAL THING in this world. For example, there is NOTHING in this world that is worth killing another human being via pre-planning with hate in mind.
- At this stage, one is a Sōtapanna Anugāmi, and one will get to the Sōtapanna stage without a doubt. One has become one of the eight types of Nobles (Ariyās); see “Sōtapaññā Magga Anugāmi and a Sōtapaññā.”
11. Therefore, getting a release from rebirth in the apāyā depends on grasping the dangers of specific highly-immoral actions that are not worth doing because NOTHING in this world can be that valuable. Put another way, nothing in this world is worth taking the risk of paying back with a rebirth in the apāyā.
- The Buddha characterized dukkha as “dukkhaṃ bhayaṭṭhena,” i.e., “dukkha is another name for danger.” We should be afraid of committing new kammā leading to future suffering. Any suffering that one feels now is due to past kamma.
- We have control over the CAUSES that lead to future suffering. Those are the immoral kammā we do seeking sensory pleasures.
- We can stop future suffering by comprehending how different types of kammā (i.e., abhisaṅkhāra) lead to births in various realms. That means comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Apāyagāmi Deeds Are Done With Wrong Views
12. It is more challenging for an average human to see that things we value highly are not only worthless but also dangerous. That is because they can lead to future suffering via kamma vipāka.
- 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 Sōtapaññā, that could still be the impression.
- That is why Buddha’s foremost female lay disciple Visākā attained the Sōtapaññā stage at age seven and went on to marry and have 22 children. If Visāka had understood the consequences of kāma rāga, she would not have done that.
Removal of Kāma Rāga Comes At Higher Stages of Nibbāna
13. The next step towards Nibbāna involves getting rid of two more bonds or samyōjana, i.e., kāma rāga and paṭigha. That is done in the 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 an average human to grasp the anicca nature in kāma lōka.
- As we discussed above, it is easier to see the adverse consequences of highly-immoral actions that could lead to rebirth in the apāyās. And it is also easier to see the dangers of birth in the apāyā (the Buddha has described such unimaginable suffering in many suttā; see, for example, “Dēvaduta Sutta (MN 130)“. Furthermore, most humans are reborn in the apāyās; see “Manussacutiniraya Sutta (SN 56. 102),” “Manussacutitiracchāna Sutta (SN 56.103),” and “Manussacutipettivisaya Sutta (SN 56. 104.)“
Stopping Rebirths in Kāma Lōka
14. Once one overcomes those two samyōjanas of kāma rāga and paṭigha, one will be free of rebirths anywhere in the kāma lōka (lowest 11 realms, including the human and dēva realms).
- Only then can one be said to become healthy (not subject to illnesses) and free of the three sets of senses of smell, taste, and bodily contact. It is only the human body that is subject to diseases. A Sakadāgami would not be reborn in the human realm and thus free of diseases.
- When one attains the Sakadāgami stage by REDUCING kāma rāga and paṭigha, one could be born only in the 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, the two bonds of kāma rāga and paṭigha will be broken entirely. One will attain the Anāgāmi stage, never to be born in any realm of kāma lōka.
Breaking Bonds to Rūpa lōka and Arūpa Lōka
15. An Anāgāmi would still be 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 māna, uddacca, and avijjā, one’s mental body (gandhabba) would come out of the dead body at death. One will be in that state until the kammic energy for the human bhava is exhausted. Parinibbāna will happen at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment since one has lost upādāna for all 31 realms and thus cannot be born anywhere. So, the gandhabba would be in the antarā Parinibbāna state. That 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 an average human to understand the dangers of the apāyā but harder to see the dangers of kāma lōka. One cannot even imagine the dangers of rūpa and arūpa lōka. One has to proceed step-by-step.
- When an Anāgāmi removes rūpa rāga, they will 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.
There Is No Safe Realm Anywhere In The Thirty-One Realms
17. 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 reached the Anāgāmi stage and thus thought that he was out of danger.
- The Buddha asked him to consider the following. If one had touched feces and had just wiped it off, one might not see it anymore. But wouldn’t that remaining traces still smell bad? The Bhikkhu realized that one would not be free of ALL suffering until fully released from all 31 realms. It is harder to see the dangers at finer levels until something makes one aware of such “hard-to-see” dangers.
- 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 Tipiṭaka.
Nibbāna (Cooling Down) Can be Experienced in this Life
18. In the above, I mainly focused on one definition of Nibbāna as “stopping the rebirth process.” However, as one progresses on the path (moving closer to the pabhassara citta of a pure mind), one will experience increasing “Nibbānic bliss.”
- That is discussed in a new series of posts starting with the post “True Happiness Is the Absence of Suffering.”