Freedom From Belief as a Starting Point in the Understanding of Religion

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‘The view that is noble and emancipating(diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā)

There is a type of insight which is praised in the Pali Canon.  This insight is termed ‘the view that is noble and emancipating(diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā) and is found a number of times in the Nikāyas. The Papaṭcasūdanī explains this view as ‘a right-view connected with the way’ (magga-sampayutta sammā-diṭṭhi) or ‘right-view of the stage of stream-entry’(sotāpatti-magga-diṭṭhi, Ps I 401).  The content of this view consists of knowledge of the four truths or dependent origination i.e., knowledge of rise and fall, as mentioned in a previous post. In this post I will suggest that such teachings could lead us to question the idea that religion is about a set of key beliefs.

The view that is noble and emancipating is found in the Kosambiya-sutta (M I 320-5). This sutta is important in describing the nature of right-view.  The sutta finds the Buddha informing a group of bhikkhus that there are ‘six memorable qualities that create love and respect and conduce to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity’.[1]  The first three are to maintain, bodily, verbal and mental acts of loving kindness towards ones fellow companions in the holy life.[2]  The fourth is to share any gain (labhā) that accords with the dhamma, the Buddhas teachings and the true state of things. The fifth is to dwell in those virtues (silā) in common with his companions in the holy life (sīla-samaṭṭāgato) which, among other things, are conducive to concentration (samādhi, M I 322).  The sixth quality is described in the following terms:

‘A bhikkhu dwells both in public and in private possessing in common with his companions in the holy life that view that is noble and emancipating, and leads one who practises in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering.’[3]

The highest of the six, the sutta continues, is ‘the view that is noble and emancipating’ (diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā, M I 322-3).  The remainder of the sutta explains exactly how this view leads to the complete destruction of suffering.  The explanation takes the form of detailing seven knowledges (ṭāṇa) that are noble and supramundane (ariya, lokuttara M I 323), that the holder of the view attains.

Seven Knowledges that are Noble and Supramundane (ariya, lokuttara)

1. The first of the seven is the knowledge that there is no obsession (pariyuṭṭha, M I 323) that will so obsess the mind (pariyuṭṭhita-citto), that will ‘stop the view-holder from knowing or seeing things as they are’.[4] Eight things are then given that may obsess the mind and stop the bhikkhu from knowing and seeing things as they are: to be obsessed by sensual lust, ill-will, laziness and torpor, restlessness and remorse, doubt, speculation about this world or the other world, or quarrels and disputes.  With his mind obsessed he will not know and see things as they are.  With the mind calm it can be awakened to the truths.[5]

2. The second knowledge is the understanding that the development and cultivation of the noble-view conduces to stillness and serenity.[6]

3. The third knowledge is to understand that this view is unique to the Buddha’s followers and that no other recluses or brahmins possess such a view.[7]

4. The fourth knowledge entails confessing to a teacher or fellow bhikkhus any offence that may have been committed.  When he realises that he would do so, and confesses any offence, he understands that he has the character of one who is ‘accomplished in view’.[8]

5. The fifth knowledge is of a similar nature, this time however the explanation of the one who possesses the diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā is that, though engaged in matters of the monastic community, the holder of the view is also engaged in training in ‘higher virtue, higher mind, higher wisdom’,[9] and he understands that he has the character of one accomplished in view.

6. The sixth knowledge is possessing the strength of a holder of right-view.  This is to engage and to listen attentively to the dhamma when the Tathāgata, the Buddha, a Buddha, is teaching it.  When he understands in this way he knows he has the strength of a person who is accomplished in view.[10]

7. The seventh knowledge is to gain inspiration and gladness when the dhamma is being taught. When he understands in this way he again knows that he has the strength of one who is accomplished in view.[11] The sutta concludes by saying that ‘with the possession of these seven factors, the view-holder possesses the fruit of stream-entry’.[12]

The achievement of right-view entails an insight into the rise and fall of things, and in order to achieve this insight, action and thought are reciprocal.  One must act in accordance with a wholesome mental attitude. Put another way; right-view is a statement of fact and value: apprehending things in a certain way is transformative.

The Problem with ‘Belief’

The Pali Canon suggests that there is a danger of obstinately adhering to certain beliefs. In fact ‘the view that is noble and emancipating(diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā) could be described as being completely at odds with a system of belief. Religion is too readily reduced to a key set of beliefs. In fact, when we encounter a person from another religion we might ask what that person believes. The answer to that question, it is supposed, will tell us about a given religion. For religions, we suppose, consist of a key set of doctrines to which adherents give their intellectual assent (though things are of course more complex than this) – they believe in a key set of doctrines. The Buddhism of the Pali Canon, however, advises that such a key set of doctrines could be a an object of attachment. A different starting point is suggested with the first stage of the Noble Eightfold Path being a mental attitude free from belief, not consisting of belief.


[1]chayime bhikkhave dhammā sārāṇīyā piyakaraṇā garukaraṇā saṅgahāya avivādāya sāmāggiyā ekībhāvāya saṃvattanti, M I 322.  They are described in the same terms in the Sāmagāma-sutta (M II 243-251) at M II 251-2.  The six are also found in the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta (D II 72-168) at D II 80-1 called ‘six things conducive to communal living’ (cha aparihāniyā or sārāṇīya dhammā,).  They are also found in the Sangīti-sutta (D III 207-271) at D III 245.

[2] mettaṃ kāya-kammaṃ, mettaṃ vacī-kammaṃ, mettaṃ mano-kammaṃ, M I 322.

[3] puna ca paraṃ bhikkhave bhikkhu yāyaṃ diṭṭhi ariyā niyyānikā niyyāti takkarassa sammā dukkhakkhayāya, tathārūpāya diṭṭhiyā diṭṭhi-sāmaññagato viharati sabrahmacārīhi āvī ceva raho ca, M I 322.

[4] yathābhūtaṃ na jāneyyaṃ na passeyyanti, M I 323.

[5] kāmarāga pariyuṭṭhito hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu byāpādapariyuṭṭhito hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu thīnamiddhapariyuṭṭhito hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu uddhaccakukkuccapariyuṭṭhito hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu vicikicchāpariyuṭṭhito hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu idhalokacintāya pasuto hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu paralokacintāya pasuto hoti, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti. sace bhikkhave bhikkhu bhaṇḍanajāto kalahajāto vivādāpanno aññamaññaṃ mukhasattīhi vitudanto viharati, pariyuṭṭhitacittova hoti so evaṃ pajānāti: n’ atthi kho me taṃ pariyuṭṭhānaṃ ajjhattaṃ appahīnaṃ yenāhaṃ pariyuṭṭhānena pariyuṭṭhitacitto yathābhūtaṃ na jāneyyaṃ na passeyyaṃ. suppaṇihitaṃ me mānasaṃ saccānaṃ bodhāyāti, M I 323.

[6] so evaṃ pajānāti:imaṃ kho ahaṃ diṭṭhiṃ āsevanto bhāvento bahulīkaronto labhāmi paccattaṃ samathaṃ, labhāmi paccattaṃ nibbutinti M I 323.

[7] so evaṃ pajānāti: yathārūpāyāhaṃ diṭṭhiyā samannāgato, n’ atthi ito bahiddhā añño samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā tathārūpāya diṭṭhiyā samannāgatoti, M I 323-4.

[8] so evaṃ pajānāti: yathārūpāya dhammatāya diṭṭhi-sampanno puggalo samannāgato, ahampi tathārūpāya dhammatāya samannāgatoti, M I 324.  One is reminded of Ariṭṭha.

[9] adhisīlasikkhāya adhicittasikkhāya adhipaññāsikkhāya, M I 324.

[10] so evaṃ pajānāti: yathārūpāya balatāya diṭṭhi-sampanno puggalo samannāgato, ahampi tathārūpāya balatāya samannāgatoti, M I 325.

[11] labhati dhammavedaṃ, labhati dhammūpasaṃhitaṃ pāmujjaṃ. o evaṃ pajānāti: yathārūpāya balatāya diṭṭhisampanno puggalo samannāgato, ahampi tathārūpāya balatāya samannāgatoti, M I 325.

[12] evaṃ sattaṅgasamannāgato kho bhikkhave ariyasāvako sotāpattiphalasamannāgato hotīti, M I 325.

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