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The Sabbasava Sutta
For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked inline and at the end of this article. ([x]) Inline links will open in a new window.
Everything the Buddha taught was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and the ongoing stress, suffering and distraction that results from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
His first teaching was taught to describe the results of this common ignorance and the singular path the Buddha taught to recognize and abandon ignorance. [2,3] Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta | Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
The Sabbasava Sutta shows clearly the proper use of refined mindfulness. The Eightfold Path provides the guidance and effective framework for recognizing and abandoning mental fabrications that can only lead to ongoing confusion, delusion, and unsatisfactory experiences.
As concentration increases and supports the refined mindfulness to hold in mind these seven qualities, it becomes possible to recognize and abandon what is unskillful to hold in mind, and to develop what is most skillful to be mindful of.
The words fermentations, defilements, fetters, and the metaphor of Mara all describe the grasping and clinging quality of a mind rooted in ignorance.
Often characterized simply as greed, aversion, and deluded thinking, these three defilements manifest in many ways. Aspects of greed, aversion, and delusion that arise from ignorance can be experienced as Ill will, anger, Hostility, Denigration, Domineering, Envy, Jealousy, Hypocrisy, Fraud, Obstinacy, Presumption, Conceit, Arrogance, Vanity, Negligence
These are also known as “fetters” and are sometimes listed simply as greed, aversion and deluded (conditioned) thinking which include all defiling mental qualities.  Vatthupama Sutta
My comments below are in italics.
Ending Fermentations – The Sabbasava Sutta
Majjhima Nikaya 2
The Buddha was at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery, where he presented this teaching:
“Friends, the ending of the fermentations is for one who knows and understands skillful and unskillful mindfulness. The ending of the fermentations is not possible by one who does not know or understand skillful and unskillful mindfulness. When one is inappropriately mindful fermentations arise and increase. When one is skillful in their application of mindfulness additional fermentations do not arise and present fermentations are abandoned.
“Friends, there are seven ways to abandon fermentations:
- “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by understanding. In one lacking instruction, (of the Eightfold Path) having no regard for the Dhamma or for those of integrity, (those who have integrated the Dhamma) this one can not discern what is skillful to be mindful of and what is unskillful to hold in mind. They are lacking the framework for clear knowing provided by the Eightfold Path.
“And what are ideas that are unskillful to be mindful of? Whatever ideas that when held in mind develop sensual craving or increase sensual craving. Through unskillful sensual craving establishment of self-craving develops, continues, and increases. When sensual craving increases ignorance does as well. These are ideas that are to be mindfully recognized and mindfully abandoned.
“And what are ideas to be appropriately mindful of? Any ideas that do not develop sensual craving or increase sensual craving. Appropriate (Right) Mindfulness releases any sensual craving that has developed and no establishment of craving for a self arises and the fermentation of ignorance is abandoned.
“These are ideas that are unskillful to hold in mind:
- Did I exist in the past?
- Did I not exist in the Past?
- Will exist in the future?
- Will I not exist in the future?
- What am I now?
- What am I not? (Do I exist?)
- Where have I come from?
“Holding in mind these unskillful ideas six confused and deluded views will arise:
- The view that ‘I have a self’ is established
- The view that I have no self is established (nothingness, emptiness, annihilation)
- I have a self because I perceive a self (I think therefore I am)
- I have a self because I perceive that I am not a self (confused and discursive thinking)
- I am not a self because I perceive a self (confused and discursive thinking)
- I am constant, everlasting, eternal, never changing.
“This is a thicket of views that binds one to endless confusion, delusion, and suffering, that binds one to endless Dukkha.
These fabricated and speculative views were continually taught by the Buddhas as rooted in ignorance and are to be abandoned, not encouraged as they are with most of modern Buddhist practice. [5,6] Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views | Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma
“One who is well instructed in the Dhamma, who has developed the Eightfold Path, who has high regard for the Dhamma and those with integrity in regards to the Dhamma discerns what ideas are skillful to be mindful of and are to be cultivated and what ideas are unskilful to be mindful and are to be abandoned. This one remains mindful of skillful qualities and remains free of unskillful qualities.
“Having developed the refined mindfulness framed by the Eightfold Path they remain mindful of:
- This is stress (Dukkha)
- This is the origination of stress
- This is the cessation of stress
- The Eightfold Path is the path for developing the cessation of stress
“With this refined mindfulness the fermentations of Identity-view (self-referential or I-making views), confusion, and grasping after and clinging to unskillful precepts and rituals. These are fermentations that are directly abandoned by Right Understanding (Right View).
2. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by restraint. With the refined mindfulness developed through the framework of the Eightfold Path this one remains restrained and not distracted by contact with the eyes, or the nose, or the tongue, or the ear, or the body, or the intellect. The fermentations that would arise in those unrestrained at the six senses do not arise in one who has developed restraint.  Wisdom Of Restraint
3. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by proper use of what is necessary without creating an identity view. This one uses a robe solely for protection and modesty. This one uses food not for entertainment, or for intoxication, or for growing large, or for beautification, but simply for the survival and continuation of the body so that the Eightfold Path can be fully developed. This one uses lodging solely for protection and the enjoyment of seclusion. This one uses medicine for the purpose of curing sickness and to free of pain and disease.
“The fermentations of unskillful using (creating an identity from what is used) are abandoned by skillful using.
4. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by tolerating. One who tolerates, who abandons reaction to worldly causes and conditions such as cold, or heat, or wind, or harsh words, or unpleasant sensations, or nagging insects, will not give rise to fermentations and remain free of fermentations by tolerating what is occurring.
5. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by avoiding. One who mindfully avoids sitting in unsuitable seats prone to distraction or I-making. This one avoids sitting with wild (harmful) animals, or sitting in brambles, or in a cesspool, or other unsuitable habitats. This one avoids association with unskillful friends. This one avoids fermentations by avoiding what is skillful to avoid.
6. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by destroying arisen thoughts of ill-will or cruelty. This one abandons hurtful thoughts, words, and deeds and eliminates them from their existence.
7. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by developing the refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path. With the refined mindfulness developed through the Eightfold Path, they remain mindful of awakening dependent on seclusion, on dispassion, on cessation, on release (from clinging). They develop an understanding of the qualities of persistence, inspiration, serenity, concentration, and equanimity as factors of awakening. Having developed this understanding (through the Eightfold Path) the fermentations are abandoned.
“When a Dhamma practitioner has abandoned the fermentations through understanding, restraint, proper using, tolerating, avoiding, destroying, and developing, this one has severed all craving and clinging and has ended all fetters through Right Understanding of conceit, of I-making. This one has ended all confusion, delusion, and unsatisfactory experiences.”
End of Sutta
- Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
- Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
- Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
- Vatthupama Sutta
- Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
- Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma
- Wisdom Of Restraint
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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.
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