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 [Dhamma Talk]


MN 64

A detailed discussion of the five fetters to lower rebirths and the practice by way of which these five fetters are eliminated so as to result in non-returning.

Read the Sutta

Recommended translation: Greater Discourse to Māluŋkya (Putta) Horner translation.
Index to available translations: MN 64



A detailed discussion of the five fetters to lower rebirths and the practice by way of which these five fetters are eliminated so as to result in non-returning.

This sutta is incomprehensable in any of the translations we have. A vital passage of this sutta is mangled by both Ms. Horner and Bhk. Bodhi and I put together an analysis which attempts to make sense of it in the archives of the old BuddhaDust Forum: The Five Fetters to the Lower Rebirths.

In brief: The Buddha objects to Malunkayaputta's statement that he has taught that x,y, and z are yokes to rebirth because what he has taught is that it is obsession with x,y, and z that is the yoke, not the x,y, and z itself.
In the second part of this sutta the Buddha describes five paths to either arahantship or by the abandoning of the five yokes to rebirth (remember: obsession with views of own-body, etc.,), non-returning: the first burning-knowledge (jhāna), the second, the third, the fourth, the realm of limitless space, the realm of limitless consciousness and the realm of nothing's-real, each, if accompanied by the perception that the khandhas are painful and not-self, and if one turns his mind from those things and dwells in stead on the deathless thinking:

'Etaɱ santaɱ||
etaɱ paṇītaɱ||
yad idaɱ||
nibbānan' ti.|| ||

'This is the real,
this is the ultimate,
that is
the calming of all own-making,
the ejection of all fuel,
the destruction of thirsts,

(In the abridged Chalmers and Bhk. Bodhi translations it is easy to read this as being one path, but it is five discrete paths — for a clearer picture of what is being said read the fully expanded Horner translation.)

Then, at this point Ānanda asks: "This being the Way, this being the walk to walk to the abandoning of the yokes to rebirth, how is it that some persons are heart-freed (ceto-vimutti) and some are wisdom-freed (paññā-vimutti)?"

Ānanda's question arises from the fact that each path terminates in the same insight and thought (as above); and that being the case, how is it possible that it could result in two sorts of freedom.

The Buddha's response is that this is a result of differences in forces (indriya-vemattata).

Ms. Horner quotes commentary as follows (Bhk. Bodhi paraphrases in a footnote): [I have inserted the underlying pali in square brackets; Bhk. Bodhi's translation in parenthesis:]

MA. iii. 147-8; If when a monk goes after calm [samatha = samādhi] (Bhk. Bodhi: serenity), one-pointedness of mind [cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ](B.B.: unification of mind) is to the forefront - this monk is called freed in mind [ceto-vimutti](BB: deliverance of mind); but if wisdom [paññā] is to the forefront - such a monk is called freed through wisdom [paññā-vimutti]. When one goes after insight [vipassana], if wisdom is to the forefront, such a monk is called freed through wisdom; if his one-pointedness of mind is to the forefront, he is called freed in mind. The two chief disciples attained arahantship with calm and insight to the forefront; Sāriputta was freed through wisdom and Moggallāna was freed in mind.

I say that what all this is saying is that of the multiple Ways and Walks to Walk to the one end result, there are two prominant interdependent modes of approach: by way of calm and serenity (samatha and samādhi) and by way of insight (vipassana). Both are necessary but emphasis is placed on one or another of these forces by different personality types.

Within each of the two modes there are two further sub-forces (really just echos of their opposite number) at work: intent to gain focus (or whole-hearted single-mindedness or to become 'centered')(cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ)(which is really just another term for samādhi); and intent to gain wisdom (paññā)(which is really just another way of speaking about vipassana).

'Heart' or 'Whole-hearted single mindedness' here is single-minded focus on the attaining of liberation without necessarily understanding the various mechanisms by which that liberation is attained (you must, at least, have knowledge of the meaning of freedom in the Buddha's Dhamma). You sit down to get freedom and you know if you are free and you know if you are not free and you intend to get free period. Intent on wisdom is the intent to attain freedom through the understanding of each step of the way. Wisdom is the ability to use that understanding both to advance the self and advance others of similar inclination. Some persons are more inclined one way others the other way, some both ways.

These are (back to describing what the commentary is saying) the different forces that in different combinations result in either heart-freedom or wisdom-freedom or freedom-both-ways.

1. samatha and samādhi --> cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ --> ceto-vimutti;
2. samatha and samādhi --> paññā --> paññā-vimutti
3. vipassana --> cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ --> ceto-vimutti;
4. vipassana --> paññā --> paññā-vimutti

I question the need to introduce samatha and vipassana except as a means of staking out territory. Vipassana is not listed among the forces (indriana;) samādhi and paññā are. If one understood that cetaso ekodi-bhāvaɱ could be classed as equivalent to samādhi = samatha (see MN 44) and paññā as vipassana we could have checked the list and not have had the complication of information not provided by the Buddha in the sutta. As explanation it could all have been said by saying that if in your approach to awakening you emphasize the direct attaining of freedom of heart through samādhi, you will end up heart-freed; if you emphasize the acquisition of wisdom through insight you will end up wisdom-freed, if you balance both or follow one with the other, you end up freed-both-ways.

It is interesting to note how the Chalmers translation (here and elsewhere) shows us the powerful influence of first translations on those that follow.

Note also in this sutta that the Buddha is describing attainment of Non-returning in multiple ways, the first of which is just the first jhāna.

Another thing to note is the importance placed on actually getting a grasp of the problem of rebirth: One must see body, sense-experience, perception, own-making and consciousness as not stable; so seeing one must see that as a danger and re-focus one's attention on the idea of escaping death and rebirth. So focused one must see that it is by ending own-making, stopping reaction to sense-stimuli and action based on desires and passions that this is accomplished. This is the major stumbling block I perceive out there in the world of Buddhist teachers and practitioners today [Saturday, November 28, 2015 7:01 AM], that is, that they do not perceive or teach the real issue, that Buddhism is being taught as though it's first importance were as a way to find happiness in this world. Bring your mind to attention to the real problem: death and rebirth. Happiness in this world results from those practices which deal with this real problem as a matter of course. It should not be made the goal.




The Five Fetters to the Lower Rebirths Discussion

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