The Assutava Sutta – Dependent Origination and The Five Clinging Aggregates

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Introduction

The Buddha awakened to the profound understanding that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing unsatisfactory experiences are dependent on for origination. The Assutava Sutta is another simple and direct sutta on Dependent Origination that also references the Five Clinging Aggregates.

It is interesting particularly because the Buddha addresses ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance as being more difficult in recognizing I-making, or conceit, than identification with the physical form, or the body. What this shows in a somewhat subtle fashion is the way that Dhamma practice develops gradually from wrong view to a profound Right View within the entire framework of the Eightfold Path. This way of presenting the Dhamma avoids the “relative” and “absolute” debate that leads to the mistaken wrong view of a non-dual reality.

An understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on the three marks of existence within the proper context of Dependent Origination shows that all things including awakening, or developing full human maturity, is an ongoing process. If that process is rooted in the framework of the Eightfold Path awakening is the end result. If the process is rooted in continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths then only continued ignorance can follow.

The Assutava Sutta

Samyutta Nikaya 12.61

The Buddha was at the Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed the assembled monks:

“Monks an uninstructed ordinary person might grow disenchanted with their body composed of the four great elements. They might grow dispassionate toward their body and gain release from clinging to it. How does this occur? Due to aging and decline the impermanence of their body composed of the four great elements becomes apparent. In this way the uninstructed ordinary person might grow disenchanted with their body and gain release from clinging to physical form.

Much is made of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water and these elements are often embellished to give them more meaning than is intended here. The four elements simply describe in a general way what constitutes the makeup of a human being and is used here to avoid creating specialness and simply point out the commonality and impersonal nature of having a human life. All things in the phenomenal world are made up of these four elements and these four elements are subject to constant change.

“But what is often called mind, intellect, or consciousness, the uninstructed ordinary person is unable to develop disenchantment or develop dispassion towards thinking (rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths) and gain release from it. How does this occur? Once ignorance arises the mind, intellect, or consciousness is relished, revered, grasped after, and clung to by the uninstructed ordinary person. They see this mind rooted in ignorance as ‘this is me, this is myself, this is what I am.’ From this self-referential view it is impossible to grow disenchanted or dispassionate towards the mind or to gain release from clinging to it.

A mind rooted in ignorance is conditioned to ignore anything that would challenge this initial ignorance. This is why all the attempts to adapt or a accommodate the Buddha’s original teachings to fit individual or culturally influenced views invariably results in a “Buddhist” practice that contradicts or ignores completely the Buddha’s direct teachings resulting in a modern “thicket of views.” [1]

“It would be more skillful for the uninstructed ordinary person to cling to their body more so than the mind as the self. Why is this? Because the body composed of the four elements can more easily be seen as impermanent and prone to decay. What is identified as mind, or intellect, or consciousness is seen as one thing that continues to attach to another thing. (E.G. constantly changing self-referential views resulting in confused views such as interdependence, interconnectedness, and inter-being) Just as a monkey swinging through the forest grabs one branch after another, in the same way what is seen as mind, intellect, or consciousness constantly grasps after one thing or another.

“The well-instructed disciple of the Dhamma attends mindfully and appropriately to Dependent Origination:

  • When this is, that it is.
  • From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
  • When this isn’t, that isn’t.
  • From the cessation of this comes to cessation of that.

These phrases are often taken out of the context in which they are intended to further the confused belief in interdependence, interconnectedness, and inter-being. When taken in the context of the Buddhist direct teachings it is clear the Buddha is referring to ignorance of Four Noble Truths as the required condition for confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing unsatisfactory experiences. When there is ignorance of Four Noble Truths, confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing suffering arises. It is for this reason that the teaching on Dependent Origination is altered or ignored to allow for all the accommodations and embellishments attached to the Buddhist teachings.

“In other words,

  • From ignorance as a requisite condition comes fabrications. (when this is that is)
  • From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.
  • From consciousness as a requisite condition comes Name-And-Form.
  • From Name-And-Form as a requisite condition comes to Six Sense Base.
  • From the Six Sense Base as a requisite condition comes contact.
  • From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.
  • From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.
  • From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging and maintaining.
  • From clinging and maintaining as a requisite condition comes becoming.
  • From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.
  • From birth as the requisite condition comes sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair. Such is the origination of the entire mass of confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering.

“Now from the complete cessation of ignorance of Four Noble truths comes the cessation of fabrication. (when this isn’t, that isn’t)

  • From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness.
  • From the cessation of consciousness comes a cessation of Name-And-Form.
  • From the cessation of Name-And-Form comes the cessation of the Six Sense Base.
  • From the cessation of the Six Sense Base comes the cessation of contact.
  • from the cessation of contact comes the sensation of feeling.
  • From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving.
  • From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/maintaining.
  • From the cessation of clinging/maintaining comes the cessation of becoming.
  • From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth.
  • From the cessation of birth comes the cessation of sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair. From the cessation of birth comes the cessation of the entire mass of confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering.

“Understanding this clearly (and within the proper context) the well-instructed disciple of the Dhamma grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feelings, Disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted they become dispassionate. Through dispassion, they are fully released (from the Five Clinging Aggregates.) With complete release, they know they are fully released. They know that giving birth to additional views rooted in ignorance has ended. They know that a life well integrated within the Eightfold Path has been fulfilled and that the task is done. They know that clinging to the world has ended.”

End of Sutta

The next to last sentence is typically translated as “the holy life has been lived, The task is done.” Of course, the “holy life” refers to living a life integrated within the framework of the Eightfold Path and the task accomplished is the task of developing profound Right View. In describing the Right View of an awakened human being the Buddha states “Right View fully comprehends Dukkha, Right View is a view that has abandoned craving and cleaning, Right View is a view arising from the experience of the cessation of Dukkha, and Right View has been developed through the Eightfold Path. (Digha Nikaya 22)

Modern Buddhism  – A Thicket Of Views

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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 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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Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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