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Fire Discourse Attachments to Passion
The following article on the Fire Discourse is an excerpt from The Truth Of Happiness book. Information on The Truth Of Happiness book and ten-week Dhamma Study is here.
The Buddha presented his first two discourses to the ascetics he had previously befriended. The first discourse on The Four Noble Truths explained the cause of delusion in the world and the path to understanding. The second discourse explained how the perception of individuality arises and what forms the belief in “self.”
About one month after the Buddha’s first two discourses, he presented The Fire Discourse to approximately 1,000 followers. Upon hearing this short discourse, most of those in attendance awakened.
At that time in northern India and Nepal there were various cults who engaged in ritualistic worship, sacrifice, and mystical practices. One of these cults was a popular fire cult, devoted to rituals using fire. The Buddha used the fire-worshippers as an analogy to how individual personalities “worship” what contacts the senses.
The Fire Discourse presented below is a brief but insightful look at how the physical senses interpreted by the intellect reinforce the belief in “self.”
Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Discourse
Samyutta Nikaya 35.28
The Buddha was staying in Gaya, at Gaya Head, with 1,000 monks. There he addressed the monks:
“Monks, the All is aflame. What All is aflame? The eye is aflame. Forms are aflame. Consciousness at the eye is aflame. Contact at the eye is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye – experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain – that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I tell you, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs.
The ear is aflame. Sounds are aflame…
The nose is aflame. Aromas are aflame…
The tongue is aflame…
Flavors are aflame…
The body is aflame…
Tactile sensations are aflame…
The intellect is aflame…
Ideas are aflame…
Consciousness at the intellect is aflame…
Contact at the intellect is aflame…
And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect – experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain – that too is aflame. ”
“Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.
“Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with the eye, disenchanted with forms, disenchanted with consciousness at the eye, disenchanted with contact at the eye. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: With that, too, he grows disenchanted.
He grows disenchanted with the ear…
He grows disenchanted with the nose…
He grows disenchanted with the tongue…
He grows disenchanted with the body…
He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with consciousness at the intellect, disenchanted with contact at the intellect.
And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, ‘Fully released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'”
That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted at his words. And while this explanation was being given, the hearts of the 1,000 monks, through no clinging (not being sustained), were fully released from fermentation and effluents.
End of Sutta
The Buddha is teaching that through Dependent Origination the components that make up the self are “inflamed” by the passions that arise from desire and aversion. This passion drives the worship (attachment) of sensory fulfillment and reinforces dukkha (suffering).
It is the preoccupation with dukkha that perpetuates delusion. The lesson to the 1,000 followers was how delusion and a wrong view of self arises and is maintained. The Buddha taught that reacting to phenomenon contacting the senses creates an identity that is attached to those sensations.
The Eightfold Path is the framework for mindful recognition of the origination of dukkha and for abandoning its causes.
Awakening occurs as understanding develops through The Eightfold Path. Through the Eightfold Path understanding of the nature of reality arises and disenchantment with the six senses develops. Disenchanted with constant sensory fulfillment, the mind quiets and wisdom arises.
The development of an ego-self through the Five Clinging-Aggregates is maintained by discursive thinking fueled by desire. Developing Right View or Right Understanding brings renunciation. The strong attachment to the wrong view of self manifests as hindrances to practice. 
Doubt rooted in an identity of self and the constant need for sensory input are to be recognized and abandoned. Doubt rooted in an identity of self manifests as an unwillingness to accept anything that would diminish or negate the image of self.
A defining characteristic of a mind stuck in wrong view is restlessness, always seeking sensory stimulation. The Eightfold Path, including Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, is the path of direct experience that ends doubt and brings insight to sense experience.
The Eightfold Path develops a tranquil mind with the ability to see passions as they arise. With a tranquil mind, insight, and Right Intention, the mind is free to develop lasting peace and happiness.
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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 Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, 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 edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.