The Anusota Sutta – Going With The Flow

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The Anusota Sutta – Going WIth The Flow is another concise but remarkable sutta that shows how often the Buddha’s original teachings as preserved in the Pali Canon are simple and practical advice on staying focused within the framework for the development of lasting peace and happiness, the Eightfold Path.

The Sutta Pitaka contains approximately 10,000 suttas, or individual discourses of the Buddha. These Suttas can be (loosely) categorized as:

  • The Buddha’s original teachings on the Four Noble Truths including the Eightfold Path
  • Supportive core teachings such as the nature of life in the phenomenal world – Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta [1] – or supportive concepts such as Dependent Co-Arising, [2] the Five Clinging-Aggregates. [3]
  • Practical Mindfulness, and contemporaneous and practical teachings on the importance of staying well-focused on the Dhamma.

In the Anusota Sutta,  the sutta on “going with the flow” the Buddha teaches that there are four types of individuals in the world. Keep in mind that the Buddha is teaching the Dhamma, and these four types of people can include anyone, even those with no knowledge or interest in the Dhamma. More specifically he is teaching that a Dhamma practitioner will likely lose the way if they are influenced through clinging to “go with the flow” and maintain or develop unskillful practices in order to fit the Dhamma to conditioned beliefs or worldly influences:

“There are four types of individuals in the phenomenal world. There is the individual who goes with the flow. There is the individual who goes against the flow. There is the individual who remains steady in the Dhamma. There is the individual who has gained released from clinging, whose mind is settled in equanimity, an Arahant.

“The individual who goes with the flow continues to indulge their sensual passions and performs mindless deeds. These will continue in confusion and disappointment.

“The individual who goes against the flow does not indulge their sensual passions or perform mindless deeds. Even though they still feel pain and sorrow they do so with mindfulness. They live the wholesome life that is pure.

“The individual who remains steady in the Dhamma has ended the five fetters. [A] They will achieve the unbound. They will be released.

“The individual who has gained released from clinging, their minds settled in equanimity, the Arahant, has ended the mental fermentations, are released from clinging to objects and views, their mindfulness steady and unmoving.

“These are the four types of individuals to be found in the phenomenal world.”

“People unrestrained in sensual passions,

Indulging sensuality,

Will continue their confusion and suffering,

Seized by desire, going with the flow.

The enlightened one, with mindfulness well-established,

Having abandoned sense-desires and mindlessness,

Experiencing disappointment and disenchantment,

They go against the flow.

Having abandoned the five fetters,

They are perfect in their practice,

They will not lose their way,

With mindfulness and composure they remain steady.

Having gained release from clinging, all fetters destroyed,

Their confusion and suffering has ended,

They have done all to be done,

There is nothing left for distraction and disappointment to cling.

With the almost infinite distractions of the world today, including what is considered Dhamma practice, it is often difficult to not “go with the flow” and engage in popular practices or ideas. The most difficult influence to going with the flow is our own conditioned minds. It is the nature of a conditioned mind to insist on maintaining it’s conditioning, to continue going with its own flow. This teaching, presented over 2,500 years ago is still as relevant today as it was then, even more so.

What is most important then is being willing to look at the flow of conditioned thinking. What arises that we have resistance to letting go of? What objects or ideas do we justify holding onto simply because they validate a held view or an established “practice?”

The Eightfold Path provides the framework for gaining a clear understanding of what will develop lasting peace and happiness and what will likely develop more confusion and disappointment. Grounded in Right View and motivated by Right Intention, the next five factors of the Eightfold Path support the development of Right Meditation through the final factor,  Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. In meditation, remaining mindful of the breath practically and very effectively interrupts the need to follow one thought immediately with the next. In a very effective and practical way, going with the flow is interrupted within the mind.

A less distracted mind will recognize when one may be just going with the flow.  A less distracted mind will recognize when engaging in all factors of the Eightfold Path and going against the flow and developing release from clinging, and a calm mind settled in equanimity.

Great gentleness with oneself is important when disengaging from the flow of conditioned thinking and the flow of the world. It can often feel isolating when initially going against the flow. Much of what brought distraction from disappointment can make life feel even more disappointing or painful, or simply boring.  Remaining dispassionate and mindful of the process of release from clinging, and maintaining a steady practice, will bring a measure of calm even within the turmoil of release. Remaining mindful of the entire Eightfold Path will bring comfort and deepen understanding.

Right View is initially the view that disappointment and distraction arises from clinging. The Eightfold Path is the path for developing release from clinging and developing a life of lasting peace and happiness. It is a practice of ease and joy, but not for the faint of heart. Going against the flow takes great conviction and great commitment to one’s own awakening. Always be gentle with yourself, abandon harsh judgments of yourself and your practice. Maintain focus within the framework of the Eightfold Path, be willing to go against the flow, and lasting peace and happiness will prevail.

The Anusota Sutta is a short teaching and when viewed in the context of the Buddha’s stated purpose of recognizing stress and distraction and developing lasting peace and happiness, it is profound in it’s simplicity and it’s relevance to awakening. Peace.

[1] Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta[2] Dependent Co-Arising[3] Five Clinging-Aggregates[4] Anusota 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, 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 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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