The fetters (Skt. saṃyojana; P. saṃyojana; T. kun tu sbyor ba ཀུན་ཏུ་སྦྱོར་བ་; C. jie 結) are unwholesome mental factors that keep one bound to cyclic existence (saṃsāra) and impede the attainment of liberation (nirvana).
- view of a personal identity (satkāyadṛṣṭi)
- deluded doubt (vicikitsā)
- attachment to rites and rituals (śīlavrataparāmarśa)
- attachment to sensuality (kāmarāga)
- ill will (vyāpāda)
- desire for existence in the form realm (rūparāga)
- desire for existence in the formless realm (arūparāga)
- conceit (māna)
- restlessness (auddhatya)
- ignorance (avidyā)
Lower and higher fetters
- lower fetters (orambhāgiya-saṃyojana) - the first five of the ten fetters; these are eradicated upon becoming a non-returner (anāgāmi)
- higher fetters (uddhambhāgiya-saṃyojana) - the last five of the ten fetters; eradicated upon becoming an arhat.
- The five fetters abandoned by the first three paths are called the lower fetters (orambhāgiya-saṃyojana) because they bind beings to the lower world, the sensuous plane of existence. One who has eradicated them, the non-returner (anāgāmi), no longer returns to the sensuous plane, but he is still bound to the round of existence by the five higher fetters (uddhambhāgiya-saṃyojana). With the attainment of the path of Arahantship, these five higher fetters are also eradicated: desire for fine-material existence, desire for immaterial existence, conceit, restlesness, and ignorance.
Buddhist Dictionary states:
- The first five of these are called ‘lower fetters’ (orambhāgiya-saṃyojanā), as they tie to the sensuous world. The latter five are called ‘higher fetters’ (uddhambhāgiya-saṃyojanā), as they tie to the higher worlds, i.e., the fine-material world and the immaterial world (AN 9:67, 68; 10:13; DN 33, etc.).
- He who is free from 1–3 is a sotāpanna, or stream-winner, i.e., one who has entered the stream to Nibbāna, as it were. He who, besides these three fetters, has overcome four and five in their grosser form, is called a sakadāgāmi, a ‘once-returner’ (to this sensuous world). He who is fully freed from 1–5 is an anāgāmī, or ‘non-returner’ (to the sensuous world). He who is freed from all the ten fetters is called an arahat, i.e., a perfectly holy one.
Alternate list of ten fetters
The Abhidhamma Pitaka's Dhamma Sangani (Dhs. 1113-34) provides an alternate list of ten fetters, also found in the Khuddaka Nikaya's Culla Niddesa (Nd2 656, 1463) and in post-canonical commentaries. This enumeration is:
- attachment to sensuality (Pali: kāmarāga)
- anger (paṭigha)
- conceit (māna)
- views (diṭṭhi)
- doubt (vicikicchā)
- attachment to rites and rituals (śīlabbataparāmāsa)
- attachment to existence (bhavarāga)
- jealousy (issā)
- greed (macchariya)
- ignorance (avijjā).
The commentary mentions that views, doubt, attachment to rites and rituals, jealousy and greed are thrown off at the first stage of Awakening (sotāpatti); gross sensual lust and anger by the second stage (sakadāgāmitā) and even subtle forms of the same by the third stage (anāgāmitā); and conceit, lust for existence and ignorance by the fourth and final stage (arahatta).
Cutting through the fetters
In MN 64, the "Greater Discourse to Mālunkyāputta," the Buddha states that the path to abandoning the five lower fetters (that is, the first five of the aforementioned "ten fetters") is through using jhana attainment and vipassana insights in tandem. In SN 35.54, "Abandoning the Fetters," the Buddha states that one abandons the fetters "when one knows and sees ... as impermanent" (Pali: anicca) the twelve sense bases (āyatana), the associated six sense-consciousness (viññaṇa), and the resultant contact (phassa) and sensations (vedanā). Similarly, in SN 35.55, "Uprooting the Fetters," the Buddha states that one uproots the fetters "when one knows and sees ... as nonself" (anatta) the sense bases, sense consciousness, contact and sensations.
The Pali canon traditionally describes cutting through the fetters in four stages:
- one cuts the first three fetters (Pali: tīṇi saŋyojanāni) to be a "stream enterer" (sotapanna);
- one cuts the first three fetters and significantly weakens the next two fetters to be a "once returner" (sakadagami);
- one cuts the first five fetters (orambhāgiyāni samyojanāni) to be a "non-returner" (anagami);
- one cuts all ten fetters to be an arahant.
Relationship to other core concepts
Similar Buddhist concepts found throughout the Pali Canon include the five hindrances (nīvaraṇāni) and the ten defilements (kilesā). Comparatively speaking, in the Theravada tradition, fetters span multiple lifetimes and are difficult to remove, while hindrances are transitory obstacles. Defilements encompass all mental defilements including both fetters and hindrances.
- Anatta, regarding the first fetter (sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
- Four stages of enlightenment, regarding cutting the fetters
- Five hindrances, also involving the fourth (kamacchanda), fifth (vyapada), ninth (uddhacca) and second (vicikiccha) fetters
- Upadana (Clinging), where the traditional four types of clinging are clinging to sense-pleasure (kamupadana), wrong views (ditthupadana), rites and rituals (silabbatupadana) and self-doctrine (attavadupadana).
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Chapter 7: Compendium of Categories, "Fetters".
- Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2018b, s.v. Chapter 3: True Origins of Duḵha, "Fetters".
- Nyanatiloka Thera 2019, s.v. saṃyojana.
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. saṃyojana.
- Gethin 1998, Chapter 3.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, s.v. Chapter 9: Section 41, The Arahant.
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 656, "Saŋyojana" entry references Cula Niddesa 657, 1463, and Dhamma Sangani 1113. In fact, an entire chapter of the Dhamma Sangani is devoted to the fetters (book III, ch. V, Dhs. 1113-34), see also Rhys Davids (1900), pp. 297-303. (Rhys Davids, 1900, p. 297, provides the following English translations for these Pali terms: "sensuality, repulsion, conceit, speculative opinion, perplexity, the contagion of mere rule and ritual, the passion for renewed existence, envy, meanness, ignorance.") In post-canonical texts, this list can also be found in Buddhaghosa's commentary (in the Papañcasudani) to the Satipatthana Sutta's section regarding the six sense bases and the fetters (Soma, 1998).
- Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 537-41.
- Bodhi (2000), p. 1148.
- Bodhi (2000), p. 1148. Note that the referenced suttas (MN 64, SN 35.54 and SN 35.55) can be seen as overlapping and consistent if one, for instance, infers that one needs to use jhanic attainment and vipassana insight in order to "know and see" the impermanence and selfless nature of the sense bases, consciousness, contact and sensations. For a correspondence between impermanence and nonself, see Three marks of existence.
- See, e.g., Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction in Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 41-43. Bodhi in turn cites, for example, MN 6 and MN 22.
- Gunaratana (2003), dhamma talk entitled "Dhamma [Satipatthana] - Ten Fetters."
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (18 Jan 2005). MN 10: Satipatthana Sutta (continued) [Ninth dharma talk on the Satipatthana Sutta (MP3 audio file)]. Available on-line at http://www.bodhimonastery.net/MP3/M0060_MN-010.mp3.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. (2000), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Pariyatti Publishing
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Dalai Lama; Thubten Chodron (2018b), Saṃsāra, Nirvāṇa, and Buddha Nature, The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, Volume 3, Wisdom Publications
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism (Kindle ed.), Oxford University Press
- Gunaratana, Henepola (2003). Satipatthana Sutta [Dharma talks (MP3 on CD)]. High View, WV: Bhavana Society. Orderable on-line at http://www.bhavanasociety.org/resource/satipatthana_sutta_cd/.
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- Nyanaponika Thera (trans.) (1974). Alagaddupama Sutta: The Snake Simile (MN 22). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 15 Aug. 2010 from "Access to Insight" (2006) at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.022.nypo.html .
- Rhys Davids, C.A.F. (, 2003). Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, of the Fourth Century B.C., Being a Translation, now made for the First Time, from the Original Pāli, of the First Book of the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka, entitled Dhamma-Sangaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena). Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. A general on-line search engine for the PED is available at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/.
- Soma Thera (1998) (6th rev. ed.). The Way of Mindfulness: The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary. Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wayof.html.
- Sri Lanka Buddha Jayanti Tipitaka Series [SLTP] (undated). Potaliya suttaṃ [in Pali] (MN 54). Available on-line at http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima2/054-potaliya-p.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997a). Sabbasava Sutta: All the Fermentations (MN 2). Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.002.than.html.
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- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). Sanyojana Sutta: Fetters (AN 10.13). http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.013.than.html.
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- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (2005). Tissa Sutta: Tissa (SN 22.84). Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.084.than.html.
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- Walshe, Maurice O'Connell (trans.) (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
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