"The Fetters"

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Daniel M Ingram, modified 10 Years ago at 2/17/12 6:51 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/17/12 6:51 PM

"The Fetters"

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
So, lets do this again, but this time from the point of view of very clear, unambiguous, practical terminology, not which interpretation is correct.

So, there are 10 Fetters:

1) Attachment to Rites and Rituals
2) Personality Belief
3) Skeptical Doubt
4) Greed/Attraction
5) Hatred/Aversion
6) Attachment to Formed Experiences/Jhanas
7) Attachment to Formless Experiences/Jhanas
8) Restlessness and Worry
9) Conceit
10) The Last Veil of Unknowing

Let's work to define ways of describing the various aspects of how we may interpret these, rather than the classical trap that people fall into again and again of being absolutely certain their interpretation of the meaning of the ancient texts is correct.

For example, take "Skeptical Doubt":

Some might interpret this as meaning that a Stream Enterer would automatically believe every single thing in the Pali Canon as being perfectly correct

Whereas others might interpret this as meaning that these people may have some intuitive sense that further progress is possible, or that they realize that certain core dharma concepts have validity in a way that they didn't realize before

Or that, having seen Conformity Knowledge and the impermanence of experience in its totality on the entrance to Fruition will understand the Three Characteristics in a way that is beyond those who haven't directly perceived this

Or any of a number of other possible permutations and interpretations.

I would say the important things are:

a) reality testing based on stream enters we know (and we could even question what is meant by "stream entry", realizing that beyond a certain point if there is insufficient consensus on basic concepts then this will be less productive)

b) being clear on which of the various interpretations we are using

c) realizing that we need to define precisely what our interpretations are to have a meaningful conversation, realizing that we are all likely to presume that people automatically understand and agree with certain core concepts we hold dear while they completely may not

d) keeping this finally about how adopting a view improves or detracts from practice, realizing that all the factors that make for optimal practice, whatever that is, can't easily be known

This may get to the root of what we are trying to get to regarding the NS/Nibbana Thread
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Steph , modified 10 Years ago at 2/17/12 9:21 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/17/12 7:06 PM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 669 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
I'll put a personal reply about my personal experience when I have a bit more time later... but in case it is helpful to get things started... here is an explication of the first 3 fetters by Thanissaro Bhikkhu from an essay he wrote (with excerpts from relevant suttas) on Stream Entry. If we are trying to get totally away from others' interpretations and sutta references in this post, let me know and I'll just remove this part below.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/stream2.html#fetters

1. Attachment to Rites & Rituals: Thanissaro Bhikkhu's interpretation - "The fetter of grasping at precepts and practices is often described in the Pali canon with reference to the view that one becomes pure simply through performing rituals or patterns of behavior. This view in turn is related to the notion that one's being is defined by one's actions: if one acts in accordance with clearly defined precepts and practices, one is ipso facto pure. Although the Canon recognizes the importance of precepts and practices in the attaining the stream, the experience of the Deathless shows the person who has attained the stream that one cannot define oneself in terms of those precepts and practices. Thus one continues to follow virtuous practices, but without defining oneself in terms of them."

"Now where do skillful habits cease without trace? Their cessation, too, has been stated: There is the case where a monk is virtuous, but not fashioned of (or: defined by his) virtue. He discerns, as it actually is, the awareness-release & discernment-release where those skillful habits cease without trace." MN 78

2. Personality Belief: Thanissaro does not give an interpretation, but lists a variety of suttas, one of which - "He does not assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity does not come about." MN 41

3. Skeptical Doubt: Thanissaro's interpretation - "The fetter of uncertainty is defined as doubt in the Awakening of the Buddha, the truth of his Dhamma, and the practice of his noble disciples. What this uncertainty boils down to is doubt as to whether there is a Deathless dimension, and whether one can realize it through one's own efforts. The experience of the Deathless — following on the practice of the Dhamma to the point of entering the stream — cuts this fetter by confirming the possibility of a human being's awakening to the Deathless, the correctness of the Buddha's teaching as a guide to entering the stream, and the worthiness of those who have reached the stream." He goes on to reference AN 10.92
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Steph , modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 12:04 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 12:04 AM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 669 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
Here is my current understanding and experience of the fetters.

1) Attachment to Rites and Rituals: If rites and rituals means the symbolic behaviors and codes of conduct, and attachment to them means thinking they are the main way to get path, then this does not apply for me. I don't understand that acting a certain way is what designates any path or that sila (which is what many of these aim to reinforce) can be easily measured, although it can be conducive to practice (an Arahat will likely have more developed sila than a non-Arahat, but maybe more as an effect than a cause). I have not read most of the Vinaya, so I think it is safe to say that attachment to the rites and rituals therein would not be the case here. It would be useful to get clarification on what rites and rituals means today, especially for those of us who are not monastics or are not the lay practitioner who takes precepts, performs rituals, etc.

2) Personality Belief: I'll be honest, I don't quite remember what it was like to have a fixed sense of self. It's clear that this is auto-pilot and there is not the sense that there's some puppet master making anything happen. It is difficult for me to describe abstractions that have no definable qualities (like how do you describe something that doesn't exist?) so I turn to illustrative stuff to convey the process of experience. Like this: Sensations seem like a series of light bulbs getting turned on and it doesn't even necessarily seem like there is movement of any type either. Imagine a bunch of light bulbs on a board (the board represents the body). Imagine one light bulb gets turned on, then the one next to it gets turned on, then the one above and below it - so there are a bunch of lightbulbs turned on successively. It might seem like there is movement if lightbulbs in proximity are turned on one after the other, sort of like a pan of light, but really it is not. It is just individual lightbulbs getting turned on one after the other... and then turned off. The causes would be the switch of the light and the light bulb lighting up or turning off would be the effect. Electricity might be the latent karma and present karma (and perhaps at different kelvin to make different colored lightbulbs, to explain karma producing different experiences based on how contact happens). I'll stop there before I get too carried away with a light show spectacular.

3) Skeptical Doubt: I do not have very clear experiences of fruitions and still suspect I'm at least stream entry regardless. I've never much been on the lookout for fruitions, so it's possible that's why I don't notice them very clearly. What was quoted by Chelek in the Nibbana/NS thread about Mahasi vs. Chah stream enterers caught my attention. I mashed up a broader/surrender/nature style practice so much more predominately than the classic Mahasi, that I might just be of the stream enterer type that Chah's approach describes. I know that the route to ending suffering can be done through cutting off dependent origination as early in the chain as possible, each moment, time and time again- and so this is what happens, automatically. I have experienced a couple long PCE's and countless short ones, which is another type of unconditioned experience even if it is outside the Buddhist canon, thus knowing the unconditioned is possible and true. And yes, there was another clear permanent change after my first long PCE.

4) Greed/Attraction: I delight in things and am attracted to stuff at the sense doors, but when does it turn towards greed? I suppose any outright craving is greed, yeah? The tendency of the mind to re-form the past pleasant or to deepen any pleasantness as it's happening. Then the main greed right now is this - pleasant feelings are so oft occurring and so pervasive that there is a tendency to bask and amplify.

5) Hatred/Aversion: Lately there has been significantly reduced hatred/aversion manifesting in attitudes/feelings towards people. Namely one long since recurring resentment projected on someone else that seems to have been ditched, yet time and situations will tell. It has had the effect of carrying over to how I view everyone. So what seems to have been ditched, ultimately, is some pattern of self-loathing, which, in turn effects almost no noticeable outward projection of hatred/ill-will on others. I realize this fetter might not only about people, but my greatest forms of suffering have involved people (really I'm not sure I have ever been stark raving mad at something that was void of any human relational/social aspect/personal hangup). Still I'll say that there is some aversion to feelings and sensations that sometimes occur, such as those felt unpleasant or actually physically painful. Aversion manifests as a heady feeling of tightness and dulling of clarity, with the added step of attention grasping towards something other than what is felt unpleasant.

6) Attachment to Formed Experiences/Jhanas: I have an attachment to wanting to master the jhanas, but have not yet had significant experiences with them because I have only recently started making an effort to incorporate stuff along these lines. Does that count? haha. Not having much time/payoff invested in this yet, I could also probably easily drop this attachment if I found out it was unnecessary for going beyond the moon in ending suffering. I remember Dan writing something stating an Arahat has not necessarily mastered the jhanas. However, jhanic mastery is widely written about with regards to Arahats, so what's the deal there?

7) Attachment to Formless Experiences/Jhanas: Same as #6.

8) Restlessness and Worry: The pang to get up and do something else, to go somewhere, to move around. It's kind of like a sharp jolt that pops up in the nerves. Mostly a lack of patience or too many things not being perceived clearly which lends to a feeling of overwhelming. Yep, still happens too.

9) Conceit: See also - pride? Yes there is still pride that manifests something like a feeling of uplift from the heart that goes upwards in the head and makes it feel a bit buzzy up there. Maybe this is where the idea an overly proud person having a big head comes from... the sensation morphs up to the head.

10) The Last Veil of Unknowing: I don't know what this means.
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 5:38 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 5:30 AM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
I can't tell you what I think all the fetters refer to, but, for practical purposes, I can tell you minimum standards for some of them that I think their elimination entails that one will meet:

3) Skeptical Doubt


At minimum: understanding and agreeing with the 4NTs.

Not everyone who severs this may know what the 4NTs are, or have thought about them, so naturally this criterion isn't "agrees
with the 4NTs" but "would agree with them dependent on knowledge concerning them".

A key issue here is that the meaning of "craving" be understood in line with what the suttas are explicitly saying (e.g. craving for sensuality is part of the root of suffering, craving for sensuality can end, craving for sensuality is the everyday wanting of sex, food, social status, money, power, desire-fulfillment, etc. in gross and subtle forms.)

I would say that, without knowledge concerning the 4NTs, a person in whom this fetter is severed, who is of normal intelligence, would be able to explain, in a simple way, using terminology that may be idiosyncratic, that craving is the cause of suffering, craving can be reduced via some kind of practice however conceived, and craving includes the everyday wanting of sex, food, social status, money, power, desire-fulfillment, etc. in gross and subtle forms, however those things are understood to manifest in experience.

4) Greed/Attraction


Desire for sensuality. Any experience, body sensation, etc. that has any unpleasant quality (no matter how refined) apart from pure vedana which non-coincidentally relates to the urge or motivation to attain some sensual thing.

5) Hatred/Aversion


Any experience, body sensation, etc. that has any unpleasant quality (no matter how refined) apart from pure vedana which non-coincidentally relates to dislike, annoyance, rejection, anger, etc. Not necessarily aimed at another person (could be dislike for events, dislike for oneself, dislike for an experience, etc.)

What is "pure vedana"? Meditative analysis allows one to distinguish between a pure unpleasant sensation, and vibratory unpleasant stuff that is directly tied into cognition / emotion / motivation. The latter can be seen to be happening separately from the former. The existence of the latter is indicative of the continued existence of some fetter in my view. The existence of the former appears to be a consequence of human existence.

That seems like a good start for now.

a) reality testing based on stream enters we know (and we could even question what is meant by "stream entry", realizing that beyond a certain point if there is insufficient consensus on basic concepts then this will be less productive)


The problem of lack of consensus regarding this is larger than you may think, in my opinion.

Bhante V, for example, has an explicit criterion for "fruition of stream entry" (which permanent affects the relevant fetters) which is not the Burmese Theravada criterion. (As he practiced in the Burmese tradition and claims to have attained various things in that tradition before rejecting it, it is probably fair to say that he explicitly rejects fruition-as-you-understand-it as related to "fruition of stream entry".)

I personally don't know if I buy his theory (that fruition for each path involves seeing the operation of dependent origination in a special way), but I had an experience of seeing (some aspects of) dependent origination which was profoundly transformative, so I am not keen to write off what he says (though I do not claim that it meets or doesn't meet his criterion for what "seeing dependent origination" involves, as I am not familiar with his complete theory about dependent origination).

d) keeping this finally about how adopting a view improves or detracts from practice, realizing that all the factors that make for optimal practice, whatever that is, can't easily be known


The most obvious way this ties into practice, in my view, is that it provides high standards for what various attainments mean, which will help a person actually attain those things if those things are possible to attain through practice and if they are inclined to attain those things.
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 6:14 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 6:09 AM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Daniel M. Ingram:
2) Personality Belief


I did not offer minimum criteria for the severance of this fetter, and there is a reason for that, and it is important.

Lots of attainments relate to a change in the way a person understands the existence or non-existence of a self. MCTB 1st path was a clear moment for me during which I understood that nothing in experience is a self. What I consider MCTB 4th path was another clear moment of such, providing a different (fuller, more comprehensive) sort of understanding. My experience of (part of) dependent origination was another clear moment, providing a very different sort of understanding (removing some-or-all of the stuff that, at 4th path, was seen not to be self but remained and was recognized as "appearing as self").

If the basic criterion for severing this fetter is "understands no-self", the natural severance-point might be thought to be MCTB 1st path. However, before I had a serious practice, before I read MCTB, before I dedicated myself to spirituality as such, I could describe very clearly, based on my own intuitive understanding, how there was no self in experience, how every experience is "self-perceiving", etc. even though I didn't "live" that. So "understands no-self" might have been fulfilled at that point. And if it wasn't fulfilled at that point, because I didn't understand it "enough", I am not sure whether MCTB 1st path fulfills it "enough" either, as the understanding can still be deepened...at MCTB 4th path...at the point of reducing affective stuff to "residue"...perhaps even further on...

So, I actually don't have a good, explicit criterion in mind for the severance of this, because there are a bunch of things that could reasonably qualify, each of a higher standard than the last.

Concerning stream entry (which also involves severing skeptical doubt), I would say that at what I understood to be MCTB 4th path I did not understand the 4NTs, but I would say that at MCTB 1st I had a belief that might have qualified as as a very basic and low-quality understanding of them, which I ended up abandoning at some point due to "pragmatic dharma dogma" concerning what is involved in various attainments and what the path is about. That may say something about what stream entry is or isn't, or that may say something about how stream entry reality-tests, or something else; I don't know.
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katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 6:50 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 6:44 AM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
I offer that the last veil of unknowing refers to ignorance, that our knowing of the native freedom of mind is obscured by believing in various mental phenomena. In dukkha, we become, figuratively, like oxen being pulled by the cart (constantly arising thoughts, feelings, sensation), obscuring our ability to see the mind as this constant receptor of afferent sensations and generator of efferent sensations, obscuring our ability to see the body as this constant changing thing - both of which mind and body can be cared for and used skillfully in the unveiling (removing the veil to knowing their natures, not following their natures as "me" , but tending their natures figuratively like a loved garden through four seasons).

[edit: and as we lose control over the mind and body in old age and sickness, there may also be the belief that these changes are also "me" which changes should somehow be stopped or controlled; the effort to care for such changes is metta, while any mental suffering in response to these changes is delusion of "my permanence" or "my control"]

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Florian, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 12:13 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 12:13 PM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Daniel M. Ingram:
So, lets do this again, but this time from the point of view of very clear, unambiguous, practical terminology, not which interpretation is correct.


I'll give my take below, and how it relates to my practice and experience.

Disclaimer: I am not implicitly claiming the traditional Theravada titles and all they come with (modes of address and expression, color of clothing, cultural knowledge, membership in any kind of institution, allegiance to any kind of institution - and by institution, I mean doctrine and hierarchy alike) by adding my two cents/pennys worth here. Rather the opposite: I claim to express my experience honestly and accurately.

I'll have a go at the first three fetters, because they are traditionally associated with stream-entry, and so form a nice package.

1) Attachment to Rites and Rituals


I'll give an example: the five precepts. Worrying about keeping them, going to various extremes in any of several directions, trying to atone for failures to keep them, trying to interpret them in ways to allow for something, and so on - that's what I understand as being fettered by ritual.

Freedom from this fetter, curiously, is expressed as a kind of surrender. Rituals of any kind (such as keeping the precepts) are no longer experienced as something I impose on myself, but as a way to express that I'm not imposing some kind of self-conception (such as precept-keeper) on experience.

Which nicely leads up to:

2) Personality Belief


My self-image based on my opinions regarding how things (including myself) should or should not be. It's related to the above fetter, but instead of the outward expression in ritual, it's the inward expression of opinion.

Freedom from this fetter is, again, very much like surrender: surrender to the state of affairs that self-opinion is a big part of experience.

3) Skeptical Doubt


Like the previous fetter, but again with a outward angle: getting lost and captivated in playing with the many opinions out there. Is this teacher right? But that one contradicts him? Shold I chant this mantra? Should I sit like this? Green crystals? Blue mandalas? Apophatic or cataphatic? Concentration vs. Insight? Pay for teachings or not? Brown robes, black sashes, temples or forest traditions, are they all wrong? Are they all right? What is my place in all this?

To me, this fetter lost its grip because the question in italics in the last paragraph - what is my place in all this - lost its meaning. The teachings are tools, suggested exercises, experiments. Since they are tools, it's pointless to ask them about right or wrong, better or worse. I wouldn't ask my hammer to show me my place in the grand scheme of things. It's great for nailing paintings to the wall, and while it could be used to bash someone's teeth in, if they refused to see my point, that's not the point of having a hammer, really. Similarly, dependent origination, rebirth, the four noble truths, Jesus' parables, and MCTB.

Re-reading the above paragraph, it's a bit muddled, so here's the summary: questions don't dissolve when answered, but when questioned.

Again there is an element of surrender: Surrendering the self-image of knowing all about the Dhamma. Again, curiously, this surrender is an expression of knowing the Dhamma ("directly", though that direct knowledge is not in the form of a succinct answer, but in the form of surrender).

Relevance to practice:

I wrote all of the above from a heavy not-self perspective, since that is the one which is easiest to write about, but also because I practiced like that. Using the fetter teachings to practice seeing not-self was, on and off, a big part of my practice for the past few years.

Nice discussion, btw. I hope more people chime in.

Cheers,
Florian
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James Yen, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 1:40 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 1:40 PM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 270 Join Date: 9/6/09 Recent Posts
I kind of like Florian's interpretation above, seems very wholesome.

I only comment that it seems too bad that the Buddha never gave us a definition of each fetter, as opposed to just listing them.
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 2:44 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/18/12 2:40 PM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Having gotten (what I thought was) stream entry without knowing what it was, or ever having knowingly practiced within the Buddhist framework prior to that point I may have an even more different take on this. I honestly don't know what the classic view of the fetters are or how they're explained in the suttas, commentaries or elsewhere within Buddhism so I'll say what I think based on what changed when that first permanent shift happened, what appeared to have vanished from my experience completely and what changed in the way that I thought about the entire process of enlightenment after that point:

Attachment to Rites and Rituals
I understood that the only place answers could be found were right here in this moment, no amount of elaborate ritual or dogmatic devotion would reveal the truth. They could be used to direct the mind towards a certain outcome but were not worthy of the importance I had previously placed on them, and coming from a magickal background ritual was a big part of how I'd practiced before. Psychologically, a lot of mental habits and obsessive-compulsive behaviours no longer happened and if the associated thought patterns arose they were immediately seen clearly.

Personality Belief
The experience of there being a seperate and permanent observer was shattered in that moment, after that point there was no longer any sense that I had ever existed in the way I believed myself to have done. The center point didn't vanish entirely until 4th path but I was no longer able to believe that I, as this personality structure of arising and passing phenomena, existed anywhere other than as a mental construct.

Skeptical Doubt
I had no interest in the Dharma before stream entry. I really didn't like Buddhism and thought you needed to shave your head, become a monk and be a vegetarian to practice in this tradition. How very wrong I was. After finding out that what had happened was most likely to have stream entry, I bought MCTB and started practicing vipassana. Everything I read about the Four Noble Truths made perfect sense in a way I was unable to understand before, the entire framework made more and more sense and I saw that the Dharma was the real deal, the way out from suffering. You need to understand just how uninterested and downright insulting I was when it came to Buddhism before that point, this is one of the things that really did change the game for me and it's one of the fetters I can really be certain of having been cut away.

I'm not sure how relevant my own description are to this discussion, it's taken me a long time to realize that I actually don't know all that much about Buddhism and I've abandoned any ideas of attainments, Paths and the like in favour of straight-up hardcore practice without any other goal than ending suffering. I still don't see the Buddhist framework as being anything other than a useful overlay but I got caught up in it for quite a while there and didn't realize, it's still one of the clearest and most effective maps I've encountered though.
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Dannon F, modified 9 Years ago at 1/9/13 5:44 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/9/13 5:44 AM

RE: "The Fetters"

Posts: 40 Join Date: 1/6/13 Recent Posts
Tommy M:
Having gotten (what I thought was) stream entry without knowing what it was, or ever having knowingly practiced within the Buddhist framework prior to that point I may have an even more different take on this.


Hey me too! Nice to meet you.

I like how people are interpreting it for themselves. I would like to think that the Buddha didn't define the meaning and the "correct" interpretations because those answers come from our own knowing. Imagine the dogma if he did. He emphasized first-hand knowledge. This way we have to find out for ourselves.

Attachment to Rites and Rituals

I have never been attached to Rites and Rituals. I always just followed my heart. If I make up an impromptu ritual on a whim it is because my heart tells me to. But it comes from the heart, not rites and rituals.

Personality Belief

Well, there still is a personality here, but it isn't me. It is just a dream character. It might fade away but what will be left?

Skeptical Doubt

Once you know belief and doubt are no longer relevant. Attachment to rites and rituals is the fetter of belief, this is the fetter of disbelief. Both are obstacles of knowing. Belief and disbelief are thinking that you know, which is a delusion. Some say this, some say that, find out for yourself.

Greed

Greed is thinking that anything in this world will bring happiness. Greed is thinking that you will leave this world with more than you came into it with. Greed is thinking that something should make you happy. The desire to possess. Comes from a belief in the self.

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