The Yasa Sutta – Freedom From Entanglements

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Introdcution

This short sutta teaches that developing the wisdom of the Buddha will bring the ability to avoid self-aggrandizing and the distraction that occurs from creating a “Dhamma” practice that is dependent on external entanglements as its theme. Two additional suttas show how two monks developed the understanding of the importance of seclusion in their Dhamma practice.

Consistent Participation with a well-focused Sangha is very important in developing a useful Dhamma practice, but over-indulgence and dependence on a group practice is counter-productive to developing the Dhamma. While the Buddha always emphasized the importance of a well-focused Sangha, he also taught that Dhamma practice depends on, and flourishes, in seclusion. As in all things with the Buddha’s teaching, the middle way is the guiding principle.

The Yasa Sutta

Anguttara Nikaya 8.86

The Buddha was teaching in Icchanagala. The locals all knew of the Buddha as a Rightly Self-Awakened human being who is unexcelled as a teacher whose teachings are entirely useful and practical. They were a close-knit group who depended on their group for direction and guidance (rather than the Buddha’s direct teachings). They prepared a feast with many delicacies for the Buddha and his Sangha. They approached the Buddha’s dwelling and began making a noisy racket.

The Venerable Nagita was attending the Buddha. The Buddha asked Nagita what racket was about.

“Great teacher, those are the locals who have brought many delicacies to honor you and the Sangha.”

“Nagita, I do not seek honor or recognition. Whoever cannot obtain, through their own understanding and with ease, as I do, the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening, let them consent to this common pleasure, this dulling pleasure, this pleasure born of gain and of receiving offerings and fame.”

(The Buddha has recognized that the locals have created a group identity through their association that over-emphasized their association that created a type of worship of the Buddha that dismissed important aspects of the Eightfold Path and allowed them to avoid seclusion.)

“Great teacher, please relent now! The locals will follow you because of your virtue and understanding.”

“Again, Nagita, I do not seek honor or recognition. Whoever cannot obtain through their own understanding and with ease, as I do, the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening, let them consent to this common pleasure, this dulling pleasure, this pleasure born of gain and of receiving offerings and fame.

“There are many who are unable to develop the understanding with ease that leads to the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening. When people all live together, assemble together, and live committed to dwelling with a group, they are unable to develop understanding with ease which is why they live together, assemble together, and live committed to dwelling with a group.

“Nagita, when I see a community delighting in their interactions, laughing loudly, grabbing at one another, I know that they will not be able to develop the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening, which is why they are delighting in their interactions, laughing loudly, and grabbing at one another.

“Then there are those communities who revel in food, eating as much as they want, who take pleasure in sensory contact, pleasure in lying down, pleasure in dullness. I know that they will not be able to develop the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of peace, the pleasure of self-awakening, having eaten as much as they want, taking pleasure from sensory contact, from lying down in dullness.

“Then there are those who attempt to develop concentration in a community where disturbance is likely. (mundane ongoing activity) This, I know, is not conducive to developing the Dhamma.

“But, those that have found the root of a tree, or an empty hut, well-secluded, even though they may be drowsy, they will dispel their drowsiness and be mindful of their seclusion.

“Then there are those that have established seclusion and are not well-concentrated. Meditating in seclusion they will quickly develop concentration and will protect their concentration. They will end their distracted mind and be mindful of their seclusion.

“Then there are those that have established seclusion and are well-concentrated. They will develop clinging-release. They have found the benefit from seclusion.

“Then there are those that cling to a group and takes food, clothes, shelter, and recognition from the group and becomes enamored with the group. They do not establish seclusion and will not end distraction.

“Nagita, then there are those well-established in seclusion who receives food, clothes, shelter, and recognition from a group. Knowing the benefit of seclusion and restraint no disturbance will arise in them. [1]

End Of Sutta

The Yasa Sutta shows the importance of dismissing praise, even in very subtle ways, for developing the Dhamma. It also shows how seeking external validation for Dhamma practice will lead to further distraction and confusion (through group conformation and confirmation.) The Buddha presents very simple and direct meditation instruction and consistently teaches to “find the root of a tree, or an empty hut” for meditation in seclusion. Throughout the Pali Canon the Buddha teaches the importance of seclusion as a singularly necessary component of meditation practice.

While the Buddha’s Sangha would occasionally meditate as a group, they would congregate as a community primarily to hear a teaching by the Buddha or from one of the senior nuns or monks. In the Bala Sutta the Buddha asks Sariputta of the importance of seclusion and the Eightfold Path to end the defilements of craving, aversion, and deluded thinking:

(Sariputta) “The mind of a monk whose defilements are ended inclines toward seclusion, leans toward seclusion, tends toward seclusion, stays in seclusion, delights in renunciation, entirely rid of the qualities that act as a basis for the defilements. The fact that the mind of a monk whose defilements are ended inclines toward seclusion, leans toward seclusion, tends toward seclusion, stays in seclusion, delights in renunciation, entirely rid of the qualities that act as a basis for the defilements is also is a strength of a monk whose defilements are ended.

“The Noble Eightfold Path is well-developed by a monk whose defilements are ended. The fact that the Noble Eightfold Path is well-developed by a monk whose defilements are ended is a strength of a monk whose defilements are ended, with reference to which he affirms the ending of the defilements (thus): ‘The defilements are ended in me.” [2]

In the Viveka Sutta a monk, sitting in seclusion, considers the importance of withdrawing from worldly entanglements:

“Desiring seclusion
I have entered the forest,
and yet my mind
goes running outside.
If I subdue my desire for people.
Then I will be happy and free from passion.” [3]

The importance of seclusion was emphasized to those in the Buddha’s Sangha who were mostly removed from worldly duties but still clinging to continual social interaction. Establishing a meditation practice rooted in seclusion avoids the further conditioned thinking that a “social” practice leads to.

For most modern Dhamma practitioners the mindful consistent withdrawal from the world during meditation is the only opportunity to physically disentangle from the world but often overlooked by modern non-dual “dhamma as group consensus” views. The middle way of the Eightfold Path shows the importance of seclusion to establish practical initial detachment from worldly entanglements. This initial practical physical withdrawal then supports the mental disentanglement necessary to recognize and abandon the defilements and gain insight into the Three Marks of Existence. [4]

Liberation from worldly entanglements is founded in seclusion and is expressed through the mundane involvement that is inherent in living a well-concentrated life with the refined mindfulness of life as life occurs.

On a personal note, it took many years of secluded meditation practice to simply recognize my inclination towards a “social” dhamma practice that over-emphasized and substituted group practice for what is primarily a Dhamma practice that is characterized by withdrawal, even if only occasionally, from worldly entanglements. In the past, I often drove hours to join other meditators even though the practice itself was quite different from what the Buddha taught. I found it “easier” to meditate with a group rather than engage in a solitary practice that would have allowed me to recognize the need for external entanglements. This only led to more confusion due to my association and self-identification with these various adapted and accommodated practices.

It was not until I followed the direct teachings of the Buddha that I was able to understand the importance of disentanglement from worldly occurrences and to now deeply appreciate the opportunity that Dhamma practice provides for useful and effective and peaceful seclusion. The  un-conditioned joy of taking refuge in meditation in seclusion is a bright facet and direct experience of the jewel of the Three Refuges.

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

 

  1. Yasa Sutta
  2. Bala Sutta
  3. Viveka Sutta
  4. Three Marks of Existence

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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