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The Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening

by

The Nagara Sutta

Samyutta Nikaya 12.65

The Buddha describes his awakening

The Buddha was at Savatthi at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed those gathered:

“Friends, before my awakening, when I was only an unawakened Bodhisatta, (Sanskrit: Bodhisattva) I came to the realization of the difficulties of the world. The world is born, it ages, it dies, it falls away and returns, but there is no understanding of ending the stress and suffering of aging and death. When will the world understand the cessation of the stress and suffering from aging and death?

“Then I had the thought: What initiates aging and death? What is the requisite condition that aging and death are dependent on for arising?

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From birth as the requisite condition comes aging and death.

“Then I had the thought: What initiates birth? What is the requisite condition that birth is dependent on for arising?

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From becoming as the requisite condition comes birth.

“Then I had the thought: What initiates name-&-form? What is the requisite condition that name-&-form is dependent on for arising?

Name-and-form (Pali nama-rupa) means self-identification through clinging to forms and self-referential views. 

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From consciousness as the requisite condition comes name-&-form.

In the Paticca-Samupadda-Vibhanga Sutta, the sutta on Dependent Origination [2] the Buddha shows that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that is the condition that the arising of mental fabrications are dependent on, and that the arising of consciousness is dependent on mental fabrications. Consciousness then in this context is ordinary ongoing thinking arising from ignorance. What arises from ignorance can only further ignorance.

“Then I had the thought: What initiates consciousness? What is the requisite condition that consciousness is dependent on for arising?

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From name-&-form as the requisite condition comes consciousness.

What theBuddha is beginning to describe here is the feedback loop caused by self-referential views and relying on these views, rooted in ignorance, to describe reality. This much like “I think; therefore I am” the famous quote from  Rene Descartes who hoped to find an irrefutable statement. His reasoning was that since he could not refute his own existence it must be that his (self-referential) thoughts prove that he existed (as a substantial and sustainable “self.”

Lacking understanding the resulting reality described ignores (continues ignorance) any thought, word, or idea that arises that would challenge these views now conditioned by ongoing ignorance. Once established, a framework for recognizing this feedback loop is now necessary in order to recognize and abandon these wrong views.

When the Dhamma is developed it is clearly understood that what constitutes a “self” is always in a constant state of becoming. Consciousness rooted in ignorance can only continue this feedback look furthering ignorance. The world becomes the mirror feeding back wrong views. As the Buddha’s path is developed consciousness is framed by the Eightfold Path and becoming awakened, becoming Buddha, is now possible.

“Then I had the thought: This consciousness turns back at name-&-form, and goes no farther. It is to this extent that there is birth, aging, death, falling away and returning. This is where ignorance is established. From (self-referential views) name-&-form is the requisite condition that brings consciousness and from (self-referential views) consciousness is the requisite condition that brings name-&-form.

“Then I had the thought: The six-sense base (five physical senses and consciousness) is dependent on the condition of name-&-form, dependent on self-referential views, and this is the origination of the entire mass of suffering.

The Buddha is stating that it is being stuck in the feedback loop of self-referential views, seeing all objects, events, views, and ideas from the perspective of “ME” and how objects, events, views, and ideas may affect ME one way or another I.e: not getting what is wanted, receiving what is not wanted, ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences, all arise from the initial ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

“Vision arose, understanding arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illuminating insight arose within me with regard to things never known before.

“Then I had the thought: What is the condition that the cessation of the stress of aging and death is dependent on?

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From the cessation of birth (birth of ignorance) as the requisite condition comes the cessation of the stress of aging and death.

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From the cessation of consciousness (thinking rooted in ignorance) as the requisite condition comes the cessation of name-&-form.

“From my appropriate mindfulness came a breakthrough of understanding: From the cessation of name-&-form as the requisite condition comes the cessation of consciousness.

“I have attained the following path to awakening:

  • From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of consciousness.
  • From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form.
  • From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media.
  • From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact.
  • From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling.
  • From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving.
  • From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging and maintaining.
  • From the cessation of clinging and maintaining comes the cessation of becoming.
  • From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth.
  • From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, & despair all cease.

“This is the cessation of the entire mass of stress. Vision arose, understanding arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illuminating insight arose within me with regard to things never known before.

The confusion that often arises in modern Buddhism is taking these teachings out of the context of Dependent Origination and The Four Noble Truths. Each of these statements, when seen in the proper context, shows that ignorance of Four Noble Truths originates the process of becoming stuck in a feedback loop of wrong views, a thicket of views.

When wisdom and understanding is developed through the Eightfold Path then “giving birth” to further views rooted in ignorance ceases and the conditions that the stress of aging and death, of sorrow, regret, pain, distress, & despair are dependent on all cease. 

“In this way I saw a timeless path to be traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones. And what is this timeless path traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones?* Just this noble eightfold path:

“Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation.

“This is the ancient timeless path traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones. I followed this path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of (the stress of) aging & death, direct knowledge of the origination of (the stress of) aging & death, direct knowledge of the cessation of (the stress of) aging & death, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of (the stress of) aging & death.

“I followed this path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of birth… becoming… clinging… craving… feeling… contact… the six sense media… name-&-form… consciousness, direct knowledge of the origination of consciousness, direct knowledge of the cessation of consciousness, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of consciousness. I followed that path.

“Following it, I came to direct knowledge of fabrications, direct knowledge of the origination of fabrications, direct knowledge of the cessation of fabrications, direct knowledge of the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of fabrications. Knowing this directly, I have revealed it to monks, nuns, male lay followers & female lay followers, so that this undefiled life has become powerful, rich, detailed, well-populated, wide-spread, proclaimed among many beings.”

End Of Sutta

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Sources

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.

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