Tissa Sutta: Uncertain

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Introduction

This is a powerful and typical sutta in the depth of knowledge that is presented to Tissa in a concise and direct manner. Tissa is a cousin of the Buddha and a monk in the original Sangha. Tissa’s mind is still troubled from continued clinging to wrong views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

This is a common occurrence when one begins authentic Dhamma practice and is confronted by the challenges to long-held belief structures. This is often experienced as Tissa describes here with confusion, lethargy, indecision, and uncertainty. Indulging in the distracting modern common practice of over-analysis of these fleeting mind-states seeking “insights” only continues ignorance.

The Buddha teaches Tissa to frame his uneasy and troubling mind-states in the Eightfold Path. In doing so, Tissa avoids further dictation from self-indulgence and gains profound understanding and useful insight into the Three Marks of Existence. [1]

This sutta also shows the importance of learning the Dhamma from one who knows the Dhamma and the importance of a well-focused Sangha. As can be seen here, it is a well-focused and well-informed Sangha, engaging in Right Speech, that points Tissa back to the learned teacher. It is important to note that the Sangha avoids compassion rooted in ignorance and did not attempt to reassure Tissa that “all is well and things will work out according to a higher plan” as they knew that this would only continue Tissa’s ignorance and resulting suffering.

The Buddha’s reference to sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair is to the First Noble Truth: Dukkha occurs from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [2]

The Buddha’s reference to form, feelings, perception, fabrications, and consciousness is to his decoration of the ongoing personal experience of suffering, Five Clinging-Aggregates. [3]

This fifth aggregate, consciousness, is ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

Tissa Sutta

Samyutta Nikaya 22:84

The Buddha was at Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Tissa, a monk in the Sangha was distressed. He told a group of Sangha members, “Friends, I feel lost and uninspired. My mind is cloudy and overwhelmed. I am lethargic. I find this life unsatisfying. I am uncertain about the Dhamma.”

The Buddha heard of Tissa’s comments from the Sangha members and summoned him for a talk. Tissa went to the Buddha. He bowed in respect and sat to one side.

“Tissa, is it true that you feel lost and uninspired? Is your mind cloudy and overwhelmed? You are lethargic? You find this life unsatisfying? You are uncertain about my Dhamma?”

“Yes, great teacher.”

“Tissa, do you understand that one who is passionate, driven by desire, craving for and clinging to form and sensory satisfaction, will experience sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair due to change to form and loss of sensory satisfaction?”

“Yes, I understand, great teacher.”

“Good. This is what follows for one craving for form and sensory satisfaction.

“Tissa, do you understand that one who is free from passion and released from craving for form and sensory satisfaction does not experience sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair due to change to form and loss of sensory satisfaction?”

“Yes, I understand, great teacher.”

“Good. This is what follows for one released from craving for or clinging to form and sensory satisfaction.

“Tissa, do you understand that one who is released from craving for and clinging to feelings or perceptions or fabrications or consciousness does not experience sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair due to change to any of these aggregates?”

“Yes, I understand, great teacher.”

“Good. This is what follows for one released from craving for or clinging to any of these aggregates.

“Tissa, do you understand that form is impermanent and subject to change? Do you understand that feelings, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness, that all of these five aggregates are impermanent and subject to change?”

“Yes, I understand, great teacher.”

“Tissa, do you understand that what is impermanent, always subject to change, is stressful?”

“Yes, I understand, great teacher.”

“Well, Tissa, is it wise to cling to what is impermanent and stressful through self-identification as ‘this is me, this is mine, this is what I am?”

“No, it is not wise to cling through self-identification to what is impermanent and stressful.”

“Then, Tissa, I teach that any form, feeling, perception, fabrication, or consciousness shovel be known through wisdom and Right View as ‘this is not me, this is not minim this is not who I am.

“Train yourself, Tissa, in this manner:

“Any form or feeling or perception of fabrication or consciousness whatsoever that is past, present, or future, whether seen as internal or external, whether obvious or subtle, whether unique or pervasive, whether far to near, should through Right View be known as ‘this is not me, this is not minim this is not who I am.

“Understanding this, the well-instructed Dhamma practitioner becomes disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feelings, disenchanted with perceptions, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. From disenchantment, passions fade away. Dispassionate, the well-instructed Dhamma practitioner is released from clinging to wrong views. With release they know through direct experience ‘I am released.’ Released through their own efforts they know that ‘Birth is ended, life integrated with the Eightfold Path has been completed. There is no further clinging to the world.’

“Friend, Tissa, think of it this way. Imagine two men, one skilled in the Dhamma, and one not. The man unskilled in the Dhamma asks the skilled man to describe the Eightfold Path. The skilled man would answer ‘the path is like this: you walk along and come to a fork in the road. You avoid the left fork and take the right. You walk further and come across a thick forest. Further still is a swamp. Even further you come along a steep cliff. Continuing on the path you arise at a delightful place of spacious and level ground.

“Ii tell you this story to teach you that the unskilled man is an ordinary person with no knowledge of my Dhamma. The skilled man is a worthy and Rightly Self-Awakened man. The fork in the road represents uncertainty. The left fork is the wrong eightfold path. This path continues wrong views, wrong intentions, wrong speech, wrong actions, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, and wrong meditation. The right fork is the Noble Eightfold Path. This path develops Right Views, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation. The thick forest represents ignorance of Four Noble Truths. The swamp represents sensual desires. The cliff represents anger, resentment, and despair. The delightful place of spacious and level ground represents release from craving for and clinging to wrong views ignorant of Four Noble Truths.

“Rejoice now, Tissa, rejoice! A Rightly Self-Awakened one is here to inspire you, to guide you, to teach you!”

This is what the Buddha said. Tissa was gratified and delighted at hearing these words.

End Of Sutta

  1.  Three Marks of Existence
  2. Four Noble Truths
  3. Five Clinging-Aggregates

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, 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 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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