The Sambodhi Sutta – The Wings of Self-Awakening

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Introduction

In The Sambodhi Sutta – The Wings of Self-Awakening the Buddha teaches the importance of admirable friends and other requirements in supporting self-awakening. The Buddha was at Anathapindika’s monastery at Jeta’s Grove. He asked those gathered “Friends, if those of other sects’ would ask you what are the pre-requisites for developing the wings of self-awakening how would you respond?

Sambodhi Sutta

Anguttara Nikaya 9.1

The monks and nuns asked the Buddha to tell them his response so that “they would remember it clearly.”

“Listen closely, then.  The prerequisites for developing the wings to self-awakening are here for you: (available to everyone through the dhamma)

  • Having admirable friends and companions.
  • Remaining virtuous and restrained and understanding the danger of even slightest faults.
  • Hearing easily sober talk and talks conducive to gaining understanding. Hearing talks on modesty, contentment, the value of seclusion and quiet, non-entanglement, persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, and the knowledge of true vision and release (from craving and clinging.)
  • Remaining persistent for abandoning unskillful mental qualities and for developing skillful mental qualities. Resolute in Right Effort.
  • Furthermore, for one developing the wings to self-awakening, they would maintain discernment and understanding of impermanence and the cessation of stress. (Developing the Eightfold Path)

“When one has admirable friends and companions it is expected that they will be virtuous and restrained seeing danger in the slightest faults.

“When one has admirable friends and companions it is expected that they will hear sober talk and talks conducive to gaining understanding. They will hear talks on modesty, contentment, the value of seclusion and quiet, non-entanglement, persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, and the knowledge of true vision and release (from craving and clinging.

“When one has admirable friends and companions it is expected that they will maintain discernment and understanding of impermanence and the cessation of stress.

“ Once these qualities are developed there are four more to develop: contemplation of what is unattractive so as to abandon craving. Good will should be developed so as to abandon ill-will. Mindfulness of the breath in the body should be developed so as to develop non-distraction. They should develop understanding of impermanence so as to root conceit and further I-making.

“For when one understands impermanence, clinging to anatta, to not-self, is abandoned. Understanding not-self uproots conceit. Unbinding arises in this moment.”

End of Sutta

In this sutta the Buddha is teaching those assembled the importance of choosing associations wisely and just how those associations can support developing the Eightfold Path. As he was addressing those staying in their monastery, the Buddha was reaffirming their commitment to their sangha.

The lesson is also appropriate for all of us. Choosing associations wisely helps maintain a supportive environment for developing those qualities that are requirements to achieve awakening. One of the rules of the Patimokkha, the rules for monastic life, is that when gathered as a sangha to keep discussions on the Dhamma and avoid distractions of other teachings and activities.

In a monastery setting observing this rule is simple – “Hearing easily sober talk and talks conducive to gaining understanding.” In our modern life in the modern world it is not so simple. Many times we have no choice who were are with but being in physical proximity does not necessarily bring association. Association can be an aspect of clinging. Creating an identity based on associations can be very subtle but very common. This is why the qualities brought to mind in this sutta are so effective in developing and maintaining a true dhamma practice and remaining free of distracting entanglements.

This is not to say that it is skillful to judge others harshly. As we develop understanding of our own motivations and reactions, we gain an understanding of other’s motivations and reactions. What is important to learn from this sutta is to recognize situations and associations that are conducive to developing understanding, to associate as often as possible with truly admirable friends.

What is important to learn from the example of those living in the Anathapindika’s monastery is that when gathered as part of a sangha to remain mindful of the dhamma and the priceless value of having truly admirable friends.

The Buddha taught in the Ratana Sutta that there are three refuges from the world available to anyone: The refuge of the Buddha, the understanding that a human being awakened; the refuge of his dhamma, that he taught others how to awaken as he had; and the refuge of the sangha, the example of how to interact with admirable friends.

In any situation it is possible to maintain the eight qualities mentioned here. Nothing is more important than maintaining integrity with the Eightfold Path and the principles of the wings to self-awakening. Integrity with the dhamma avoids difficult entanglements and allows for true wisdom and continued useful mindfulness in any setting.

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 and Maurice Walsh, 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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