The Sabbasava Sutta


In the Sabbasava Sutta the Buddha teaches the ending of mental fermentations through appropriate, or refined mindfulness. Another word often used in the Pali Canon for fermentations is defilements. In the Vatthupama Sutta the Buddha describes defilement’s as:

  1. Greed
  2. Ill Will
  3. Anger
  4. Hostility
  5. Denigration
  6. Domineering
  7. Envy
  8. Jealousy
  9. Hypocrisy
  10. Fraud
  11. Obstinacy
  12. Presumption
  13. Conceit
  14. Arrogance
  15. Vanity
  16. 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. (Majjhima Nikaya 95)

The Sabbasava Sutta

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 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:

  1. “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:

  1. The view that ‘I have a self’ is established
  2. The view that I have no self is established (nothingness, emptiness, anihilation)
  3. I have a self because I perceive a self (I think therefore I am)
  4. I have a self because I perceive that I am not a self (confused and discursive thinking)
  5. I am not a self because I  perceive a self (confused and discursive thinking)
  6. 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.

“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:

  1. This is stress (Dukkha)
  2. This is the origination of stress
  3. This is the cessation of stress
  4. The Eightfold Path is the path 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 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.

3. “There are fermentations that are to be abandoned by proper use of what is necessary without creating an identity view (from using). 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 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

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.

This dhamma article is based on Thanissaro Bikkhu’s excellent translations of the Pali linked below. I have made contextual edits for further clarity and relevancy to The Four Noble Truths.

Sabbasava Sutta

Vatthupama Sutta

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