Agati Sutta – Not Losing the Way

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Introduction

The Agati Sutta – Not Losing the Way is an article and talk on the difficulties of not losing the way as far as maintaining a Dhamma practice. Dhamma practice is likely even more difficult today than it was at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha did not have the nearly endless distractions and diversions we have today.

2,600 years ago there was no instant global communication and the subsequent awareness of the enormity of human disappointment and suffering. One’s view was confined to the local environment. Human disappointment and suffering was the same, but the overwhelming global nature of suffering was not something most humans had any knowledge of. The awareness of the extent of human suffering can, and usually is, a distraction simply due to the scope and immediacy of human crisis arising from greed, hatred and deluded thinking.

I say most humans were not aware of the extent of human suffering as the Buddha, an awakened human being, apparently was. The first noble truth, the Noble Truth of Suffering, states that as a consequence of having human existence subject to impermanence and uncertainty the life experience for all humanity will at times be unsatisfactory, disappointing, stressful and disenchanting. “There is Dukkha.”

The Buddha here is teaching that due to the universal impermanent nature (Anicca) of human life and arising from a misunderstanding of what is perceived as a “self,” (Anatta) clinging to objects and ideas associated with this self creates a life experienced as unsatisfactory (Dukkha).

Whether confined to a localized view of our own community or a more extensive (and potentially more distracting) global view, human life experienced in an impermanent environment of craving, aversion and deluded thinking will always be unsatisfactory, will always be Dukkha.

Furthermore, the advances in technology have created additional means for distraction. The Buddha describes the problem of clinging, of forming attachments, as “I-making.” By continually establishing and promoting an “I” we are continuing to establish and promote our own distraction and suffering.  [1]

The ability to instantly communicate with each other, with our friends and our circles, can often develop more “I-making” providing more opportunities for establishing attachments and promoting an impermanent image of self.

This is not to say that all technology is “bad” or stands in the way of human awakening. Just as the first noble truth does not imply that all of life is experienced as Dukkha, it is mindless use of technology that promotes delusion. Recognizing that modern communication can develop more distraction and suffering from how it is utilized can help minimize the distracting effects.

The Buddha taught a “middle way” path of awakening. This middle way developed from the Buddha’s awakened perspective that complete denial of the human experience was “painful, ignoble, not leading to the goal” and that indulging attachments to proliferating a “self” was “low, common, worldly, not leading to the goal.”  [2]

The “middle way” then shows that modern technology and expanded global awareness and expanded opportunities for clinging to views and further establishment of an ego-driven self can be met with wisdom arising from whole-hearted engagement with the Eightfold Path. It would be foolish to completely deny anything in the world, modern or ancient. It would be foolish as well to view anything that has arisen in the environment of Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta as not having the potential for furthering distraction and suffering, depending how the “self” engages with it.

The Agati Sutta was presented over 2,500 years ago. The Buddha’s teachings on not losing the (Eightfold) path are just as relevant today:

Agati Sutta

Anguttara Nikaya 4.19

“There are four ways of losing the way: One can lose the way through desire, through aversion, through delusion, and through fear. These are four ways one can lose the way.  If you through desire, aversion, fear or delusion wander from the Dhamma your mindfulness is lost.”

“There are four ways of not losing the way. One does not lose the way if one abandons desire, abandons aversion, abandons fear and abandons delusion. Through mindfulness of the Dhamma you will not become lost. If you abandon desire, aversion, fear and delusion you will remain mindful of the Dhamma and not lose your way.”

The enticement of the ego-self to instantly update our friends and those in our circles is great entertainment but it would be wise to gain insight that all activity is in accordance with Right Speech, Action or Livelihood. It would be wise to gain insight that the activity is not simply to continue establishing or promoting an ego self. Is the communication and its form actually “necessary” communication? Does the communication lead to cessation of clinging to objects and views?

As one developing understanding of the nature of delusion and suffering through “Buddhist” engagement, as The Buddha teaches engagement, mindfulness of activities that could cause losing the way, and leading other’s away from the path, is essential in maintaining integrity with the teachings.

With human evolution, including advances in communication, a global awareness has emerged. What this new global awareness shows is the extent of human suffering. The danger is that the awareness of the scope of the problem becoming overwhelming  and the ultimate distraction from the solution to the problem: whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma.

While we now have the ability to instantaneously become engaged with global human difficulties, this engagement should not cause one to lose their way. This only continues suffering for individuals and the global  community. The only difference in human suffering from 2,500 years ago to today is the understanding of the global scope of human suffering, not the nature of suffering. Awareness of the scope of the effect of craving, aversion and delusion should not minimize the importance of the path leading to the cessation of suffering, the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is a path of study and practice. If the distractions of the phenomenal world are allowed to distract from study and practice, awakening is not likely to develop. The study and practice of the Eightfold Path is not difficult to engage with or to develop. The teachings are meant for all humanity. The distractions of the world can make engaging with the dhamma difficult.

Spending time and energy on maintaining a nearly continuous connection (attachment) to the phenomenal world through technology, and finding little time or ability due to distractedness to engage in Dhamma practice, is not the middle way the Buddha teaches. Being mindful of the distractions of the modern world and making wise choices for how  one spends their time and efforts will bring mindfulness to whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma.

The question of daily “Buddhist” engagement then is finding that middle way and abandoning sensory fulfillment and continued “I-making” while avoiding the ascetic view of complete avoidance of modern communication. Mindfully developing a Dhamma practice that can actually bring dis-engagement with unnecessary and distracting worldly attachments and bring unbinding from “I-making” will develop an awakened tranquil mind resting in true insight.

It is also very easy to lose the way of the Eightfold Path to the nearly infinite choices of “spiritual” paths, those claiming to be Buddhist and otherwise. The need to make Dhamma practice include what an ego-self wants Dhamma practice to include is often the most difficult distraction to gain insight to and abandon.

A “spiritual” practice that has evolved from integrating teachings from popular teachings or charismatic teachers but lacking the teachings or intent of the Buddha then becomes an exercise in defending “Spiritual” views rather than gaining insight into personal clinging to all objects and views.

Taking an even broader view of “i-making” and the distraction of the phenomenal world, all engagement with the world through thought words and deeds is an opportunity for continued distraction and continued suffering, or an opportunity for recognizing and abandoning clinging in all its forms.

The Agati Sutta provides a simple framework for maintaining mindfulness of the teachings of the Buddha without being distracted from personal desires, aversions, fears or deluded thinking influenced by modern developments and a personal need that the Dhamma be something that it is not, or was never intended to be.

If thoughts, words or deeds continue to establish or defend an ego-self these actions will continue to proliferate distraction and suffering. The Eightfold Path is a direct and easily developed way of recognizing and abandoning all clinging to objects and views arising from a lack of understanding, from a lack of wisdom. The Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s teaching on developing lasting peace and happiness through cessation of clinging.

  1. Uddesa-vibhanga Sutta
  2. Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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