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[Pali][mnl]

The Five Fetters to the Lower Rebirths

This sutta yields great fruit for anyone interested in becoming a Streamwinner or a Once Returner or a Non-Returner or an Arahant (or why are you reading this?) This is one where the Nanamoli/Bodhi translation is better in a critical way than the Horner translation, but both still make a significant error.

In this sutta the Buddha asks if anyone remembers how he taught The Five Fetters Binding to the Lower World. Bhikkhu Malunkyaputta replies:

The Pali:[1]

Sakkāyadiṭṭhiṃ kho ahaṃ bhante Bhagatatā orambhāgiyaṃ saŋyojanaṃ desitaṃ dhāremi ... vicikicchaṃ ... sīlabbataparāmāsaṃ ... kāmacchandam ... byāpādaṃ

Horner:[2]

"I, revered sir, remember that the Lord taught that false[3] view of own body is a fetter binding to the lower shore ... perplexity ... clinging to rites and customs ... desire for sense-pleasures ... malevolence ..."

Nanamoli/Bodhi:[4]

Venerable sir, I remember personality view as a lower fetter[5] taught by the Blessed One ... doubt ... adherence to rules and observances ... sensual desire ... ill will.

The response of the Buddha:

"And who do you remember telling you this this way, foolish man? How would you, answering this way, deal with the response of wanderers of other views who challenged you with the similie of the infant?

Horner:

For, Malunkyaputta, if there were not 'own body'[6] for an innocent baby boy lying on his back, whence could there arise for him the view of 'own body'?
if there were not 'things'[7] ...whence could there arise...'perplexity'
if there were not 'habits'[8]...whence could there arise...'clinging to rites and customs)
if there were not 'sense pleasures'[9]...whence could there arise ...'desires for sense pleasures'
if there were not 'beings'[10]...whence could there arise ... 'malevolence towards beings'

Nanamoli/Bodhi:

For a young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion 'personality,' so how could personality view arise in him?
does not even have the notion 'teachings' ... how could 'doubt about the teachings' arise
does not even have the notion 'rules'(sila) ... how could 'adherence to rules and observances' arise
does not even have the notion 'sensual pleasurs'(kama) ... how could 'sensual desire' arise
does not even have the notion 'beings'(satta) ... how could 'ill will towards beings' arise

And then the conclusion of the statement:

Horner:

A leaning to the view of 'own body' (etc) indeed lies latent in him.

Nanamoli/Bodhi:

Yet the underlying tendency to personality view (etc) lies within him.

To put it together:

Horner:

For Malunkyaputta, if there were not 'own body' for an innocent baby boy lying on his back, whence could there arise for him the view of 'own body'? A leaning to the view of 'own body' indeed lies latent in him.

Nanamoli/Bodhi:

For a young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion 'personality,' so how could personality view arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to personality view lies within him.

And the Buddha's concluding remark:

"Would not the wanderers of other views defeat you with this similie of the infant?"

Take a look, friends, does either translation (as radically different from each other as they are) make sense as a rebuttal to Malunkyaputta by a wanderer of another view? No! In fact they take the form of arguments Malunkayaputta might make in defense of his own statement.

What the Buddha is saying is that the way Malunkayaputta is answering, in essence, says that because the problem is truth view itself, the fetter does not exist when truth view does not exist. The Buddha is saying that this is not the right way to see this.

Malunkyaputta's answer is wrong because he has put the blame on 'truth view' alone whereas the blame is to be placed on the obsession with (attachment to, involvement with) truth view.

What the translators here have done, apparently, is rely on the commentary which interprets the exchange another way: That Malunkyaputta's answer is wrong not because he places the blame on truth view, but because the way he has stated it indicates that it is only a problem when it is present, not when it is not present. Which argument is not supported by simply examining Malunkyaputta's statement, but which relies on the Buddha's answer for it's logic and then imputes to the Buddha the thinking of the commentator. The error being, in the Commentator's view, that 'truth view' (etc) is always present which he gets to by forcing it into latency for the infant. Consequently both translators try to force the final concluding remark to conform with this meaning.

Commentator and both translators are in too much haste as the solution is clearly spelled out in the next paragraph.

But first, here is the Pali, and my, I believe, more straight up translation:

Daharassa hi Māluṇkyāputta kumārassa mandassa uttānaseyyakassa sakkāyo ti pi na hoti,

An innocent baby, Malunkyaputta, lying on his back, has no "truth",

kuto pan'assa uppajjissati sakkāyadiṭṭhi; anuseti tv-ev'assasakkāyadiṭṭhānusayo.

from where then would come to it's mind truth-view; propensity toward obsession with truth-view?

This is even more dramatically clear in the case of doubt:

An innocent baby, Malunkayaputta, lying on his back, has no Dhamma, from where then would come to it's mind doubt, propensity toward obsession with doubt?

The follow up, eagerly requested by Ananda, reveals all:

"Here, Ananda ... the uneducated common man ... lives with mind obsessed and dominated by 'truth view' (etc) and he does not understand the escape from 'truth view' and when such a truth view has become a habit that has not been eliminated it is a fetter. ... whereas the educated student of the aristocrats does understand.

Again: Malunkyaputta's answer is wrong because he has put the blame on 'truth view' alone whereas the blame is to be placed on the obsession with (attachment to, involvement with) truth view.

 


 

This is an excerpt from the translation of Digha Nikaya III.33: Sangiti Suttanta:

... a little more discussion of the idea raised by the above sutta, with what may be a helpful simile.

5.7: Five attachments to the lower rebirths:
One-truth-view, vacillation, attachment to trust in ethics and rituals, pleasure-wishing, anger.

Pañc'orambhāgiyāni saṃyojanānā:
sakkāyadiṭṭhi, vicikicchā, sīlabbata-parāmāso, kāmacchando, byāpādo.

 

§

 

On the important distinction between there being these types of things existing in the world and their being fetters; it is only when obsession with or attachment to things in the ways described by the sanyojanas develops that they become fetters.

The difference is that holding that the thing itself, or the type of attachment itself, is the problem makes the problem impossible to solve: one will never rid the world of own-self view, etc., and to say that one intends by that idea simply "ridding the self" of these things is to assume a self from which these things can be eliminated.

It's like looking at the sky and saying that seeing the sky is a problem and then attempting to get rid of the sight of it by getting rid of the sky. Not only will one not succeed in getting rid of the sky in the world, the individuality will not get rid of seeing it (whether attached to it or not, when the eye of the individual looks at the world, it will see the sky). It is not the sky or the seeing of the sky that is the problem, it is the attachment to seeing the sky as one's own, that is the problem.

This is the subtlety of Mara: that when the individuality comes in contact with some object and sense experience arises the habitual subjective tenancy is to identify with the reaction (desire, etc. arising from attachment) and to overlook the fact that the identification actually took place at the earlier stage (the point of the arising of sense experience). Then, when we strive after self-improvement, (if we fall into Malunkyaputta's error, which is likely) we focus on our reactions and not the source of the reaction: a situation that amounts to no more than simply reacting to reaction (the image of Bugs Bunny furiously fighting with himself comes to mind).

What the sanyojanas describe is a variety of classes of sources of reaction to sense experience, and the task for the practitioner is not to get rid of these constructs, but by using these constructs, to identify the areas where one is vulnerable to attachment.

When one can slow down sufficiently (by "not-reacting", which is not the same thing as fighting one's reactions) to see that one is reacting to sense experience because of one or another of these ways to become attached, one is able to move the attention up passed that and focus on the original source (in identification with the sensation): It is at that point that one has "got rid of the attachment to ..." or, in any case, is at least able to focus on the real problem with the predictable outcome that it will be solved soon enough.

A simile found in the suttas describes two cows, one black, one white (sense organ and sense object), with a rope that ties them together (attachment by way of view theory, etc.). It is not that the black cow is attached to the white cow, and it is not that the white cow is attached to the black cow, but it is that the two cows are attached to each other by the rope.
This simile is used to break down the view that the problem is in either the sense organ or in the sense object rather than in the attachment, so to bring this simile into alignment with the idea in the Malunkyaputta Sutta, we would need to add that when the cows becomes untied from the rope they are free, but not because of that is there a need to see that the white cow or black cow or rope has been destroyed — what has been destroyed is the being tied up by the attachment.

 


[1] Majjhima Nikaya, II, #64: MahaMalunkyaputtaSutta

[2] Majjhima Nikaya, II, #64: Greater Discourse to Malunkyaputta, PTS, Horner trans., pp102

[3] Horner puts the word 'false' into Malunkyaputta's mouth.

[4] Majjhima Nikaya, II, #64, Wisdom, Nanamoli/Bodhi trans., pp537

[5] Not a lower fetter, but a fetter to the lower realms

[6] Sakkayo:

Pali MO Horner Punnaji Bodhi Nanamoli Rhys Davids (Mrs)Rhys Davids Thanissaro Walshe Woodward
Sakkāya-ditthi One-truth-view Own-Body Personality perspective, self concept personality view personality view delusion of self, error of permanant individual entity error of permanant individual entity self-identity views personality-belief The view of the individual-group

[7] Dhammas

[8] Sila, conduct; see: The Pali Line, Sila; so perhaps this is something like Ethical Standards, Morals, rules regarding conduct

[9] Kama

[10] Satta. See: The Nine Abodes of Beings


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