Adherence, belief and the escape through ’emptiness’ in the Nettippakaraṇa

Head-view-of-Burmese-Mandalay-Teak-Wood-Buddha-Statue-126

It is reported in the MyanmarTimes that the National League for Democracy cancelled public talks after a number of Buddhist  monks refused to take part due to two of the speakers being Muslim. There are very real issues at stake here. The lawyer U Ko Ni is reported as saying:

‘I’m really worried for my country’s future because [these monks] have discriminated against others religions and [ethnicities].’

It is then worth considering what the Pāli Canon says about clinging to belief and prejudice. In the Pāli Canon we find a certain type of person described who obstinately cling and adhere to their beliefs. They begin with a certain viewpoint and their view will not and cannot be changed. It is taught that these types of people are immersed in suffering. They will not move and they are attached to a tendency of the mind which means that they are not open – they are selfish, their own opinions and beliefs are primary. It appears to me that of whatever political persuasion it is taught in the Pāli Canon that such a person is bound to suffer and will lead others to suffer – because if their ingrained beliefs. They are averse to the ‘emptiness gateway to liberation’ – an open way of thinking.

I would like to consider a passage from the Nettippakaraṇa which in fact describes three gateways to liberation (tīhi vimokkhamukhehi). This discussion aims to show how the process of achieving a state free from craving and attachment is realised. The passages that I will discuss consider in some detail exactly which hindrances are associated with various forms of craving and which practices overcome them. The three gateways are:

The dispositionless gateway to liberation (appaṇihitaṃ vimokkhamukhaṃ)

The emptiness gateway to liberation (suññatā vimokkhamukhaṃ)

The signless gateway to liberation (animittaṃ vimokkhamukhaṃ, Nett 123).

These categories suggest how different hindrances are overcome by different practices. There appears to be some connection between these gateways and the four satipaṭṭhānas.[1] There is an emphasis in this analysis on emptiness overcoming corruptions based upon views. There is also an analysis of different temperaments that are defiled in different ways, requiring different practices to overcome these defilements.

Chapter three of the Nettippakaraṇa is called the ‘Moulding of the Guidelines’ (Nayasamuṭṭhānaṃ). It begins by suggesting how ignorance is a hindrance (nīvarana) and craving is a fetter (saṃyojana). The exposition is an attempt to show how those of different temperaments have different hindrances which are predominant, and so have different ways to reach their goal. Those in whom ignorance is predominant are called those of ‘view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritā). Those in whom craving is predominant are called those of ‘craving-temperament’ (taṇhā- caritā, Nett 109). On one level, those of view-temperament practise self-torment, and those of craving-temperament are devoted to the pursuit of sensual pleasures (Nett 110); insight and calm overcome these. In another sense, those of view-temperament approach each of the khandhas as self, and those of craving-temperament approaches self as possessing each of the khandhas, or the khandhas as in self, or the self as in the khandhas (i.e. sakkāya-diṭṭhi, Nett 111). The supramundane (lokuttara) eight-fold path (encapsulating calm and insight), disconnected from worlds, is opposed to this.[2] We have, as is often the case in the Buddhist analysis two ways of apprehending the world: the first based upon craving and attachment, the second on indifference and non-attachment. It is interesting that the distinction is made between view and craving-temperament. Though ignorance is predominant in those of view-temperament I do not take this as suggesting that ignorance is more of a hindrance in those of view-temperament than in those of craving-temperament. As I understand this, the term view-temperament applies to the craving of the mind. The Nettippakaraṇa is making the distinction between those who crave sensual pleasures and those who crave mental objects.

The Nettippakaraṇa goes on to consider these two ways of seeing in some detail.

It analyses ten sets of ‘defilements’ (kilesā) and considers whether they occur in a person of ‘craving-temperament’ (taṇhā-carita), or ‘view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-carita). It then further refines its analysis by suggesting that these defilements occur in persons of ‘lusting-temperament’ (rāga-caritassa), ‘hating-temperament’ (dosa-caritassa), ‘dull-view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritassa mandassa), or ‘intelligent-view-temperament (diṭṭhi-caritassa udatthassa). The meaning of these two latter categories will become clear. Finally, the means of overcoming these defilements is given, whether that be by the dispositionless, emptiness, or the signless gateway to liberation.

The defilements analysed fall into ten groups of four:

‘four nutriments’ (cattāro āhārā)

‘four perversions’ (cattāro vipallāsā)

‘four attachments’ (cattāri upādānāni)

‘four bonds’ (cattāro yogā)

‘four ties’ (cattāro ganthā)

‘four corruptions’ (cattāro āsavā)

‘four floods’ (cattāro oghā)

‘four barbs’ (catatāro sallā)

‘four steadying points for consciousness’ (catasso viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo)

‘four goings on bad ways’ (cattāri agatigamanāni, Nett 114).

The first distinction made is to classify these defilement as to whether they are defilements of a person of craving-temperament or view-temperament. This is done in the following way: the first two nutriments, perversions, attachments, etc., are imperfections in a person of craving temperament:

Defilements in a person of craving-temperament (taṇhā-caritassa puggalassa upakkilesā, Nett 114-15):

‘physical nutriment’ (kabaḷiṃkāro āhāro), ‘nutriment as contact’ (phasso āhāro);

‘perversion that there is beauty in the ugly’ (asubhe subhan ti vipallāso) ‘perversion that there is pleasure in the painful’ (dukkhe sukhan ti vipallāso);

‘attachment to sensual desire’ (kāmupādānaṃ) and ‘attachment to becoming’ (bhavupādānaṃ);

‘bond of sensual desire’ (kāmayogo) ‘bond of becoming’ (bhavayogo);

‘bodily tie of covetousness’ (abhijjhā-kāyagantho) ‘bodily tie of ill-will’ (byāpādo kāyagantho);

‘corruption of sensual desire’ (kāmāsavo) ‘corruption of becoming’ (bhavāsavo);

‘flood of sensual desire (kāmogho) ‘flood of becoming’ (bhavogho);

‘barb of lust’ (rāgasallo) ‘barb of hate’ (dosasallo);

‘form as a steadying point for consciousness passing on’ (rūpūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti) ‘feeling as a steadying point for consciousness passing on’ (vedanūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti);

‘going on a bad way through will’ (chandā agatigamanaṃ) ‘going on a bad way though hate’ (dosā agatigamanaṃ).

Defilements in a person of view-temperament (diṭṭhi-caritassa puggalassa upakkilesā, Nett 114-15:

‘nutriment as mind-choice’ (manosañcetanāhāro) ‘nutriment as consciousness’ (viññāṇāhāro);

‘perversion that there is permanence in the impermanent’ (anicce niccan ti vipallāso) ‘perversion that there is ôself in the not-selfö’ (anattani attā ti vipallāso);

‘attachment to view’ (diṭṭhūpādānaṃ) ‘attachment to the doctrine of self’ (attavādūpādānaṃ);

‘bond of views’ (diṭṭhi-yogo) ‘bond of ignorance’ (avijjāyogo);

‘bodily tie of clinging [to precepts and vows]’ (parāmāsa-kāya-gantho) ‘bodily tie of adherence to truth’ (saccābhinivesa-kāya-gantho);

‘corruption of views’ (diṭṭhāsavo) ‘corruption of ignorance’ (avijjāsavo);

‘flood of views’ (diṭṭhogho) ‘flood of ignorance’ (avijjogho);

‘barb of conceit’ (mānasallo) ‘barb of delusion’ (mohasallo);[3]

‘apperception as steadying point for consciousness’ (saññūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti) ‘volitional formations as a steadying point for consciousness’ (saṃkhārūpagā viññāṇaṭṭiti);

‘going in a bad way through fear’ (bhayā agatigamanaṃ) ‘going in a bad way through delusion’ (mohā agatigamanaṃ).

The text appears to be suggesting the simple distinction between what are, in the main, attachments to sense objects, and what are forms of attachment to mental objects. There are, though, as I have said, four further categories. The text introduces the categories of a person of ‘lusting-temperament’ (rāga-caritassa), a person of ‘hating-temperament’ (dosa-caritassa), a person of ‘dull-view temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritassa mandassa), and a person of ‘intelligent-view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritassa udatthassa), and analyses which defilements apply to each category. The text takes the first nutriment, perversion, attachment, bond, tie, āsava, flood, barb, steadying point for consciousness and going in a bad way, stating that these are all imperfections in a person of lusting-temperament (ime rāgacaritassa puggalassa upakkilesā, Nett 117). The same procedure is carried out for the other temperaments. Hence the second nutriment, perversion, etc., are imperfections in a person of hating-temperament.[4] The third nutriment, perversion, etc., are imperfections in a person of dull-view-temperament.[5] The fourth nutriment, perversion, etc., are imperfections in a person of intelligent-view-temperament.[6]

The text makes one final classification of these defilements, and that is the means to overcome them. This time the classification is three-fold and follows the three gateways to liberation (tīhi vimokkhamukhehi, Nett 119), by which they are overcome. The first two nutriments, perversions, attachments, bonds, etc., are understood as being overcome through the dispositionless gateway to liberation.[7] The third nutriment, perversion, attachment, bond, etc., are understood as being overcome through emptiness.[8] The fourth nutriment, perversion, attachment, bond, etc., are understood as being overcome through the signless.[9]

It is interesting to consider the distinctions the text is making here, particularly in the last two categories. One clue as to the reasons for these distinctions may be found a little earlier in the text. Of the one ‘steady in the third perversion, that there is ‘permanence in the impermanent’’,[10] it is said that this person, ‘assumes the view that has expectant affection for the round [of existences], and this is attachment to views’.[11] This person is ‘fettered by a destructive view, through being attached to view, and this is the bond of views’.[12] On the other hand, for one ‘steady in the fourth perversion, that there is ôself in the not-selfö’,[13] having ‘supposed a self, is attached’,[14] and this person is ‘fettered by ignorance through attachment to the doctrine of self, and this is called the bond of ignorance’.[15] The text is explaining various degrees of attachment to acts of cognition. It has explained that all these defilements occur in a person of view-temperament, but is now making the distinction between a dull-view, or one of dull-view-temperament, and an intelligent-view, or one of intelligent-view-temperament. It is tempting to suggest that the former view is held with a greater degree of attachment than the latter. In a sense the person of dull-view-temperament craves and is ignorant. Those of intelligent-view-temperament are only ignorant. Further, we must remember that for the Theravādins, after stream-attainment there are no more wrong-views, but, as we have seen, right-view still has a function. I would suggest that the role of right-view could be its very function in destroying, or keeping in check, attachment to any form of insight (cf., the discussion of the Paṭṭhāna). The stream-attainer is not attached to views, but still has a degree of ignorance.

The Nettippakaraṇa then explains what the three gateways to liberation (tīhi vimokkhamukhehī) consist of. It uses another group of ten categories, each consisting of four items. This is a positive counterpart of what went before (i.e. the four nutriments, perversions etc.,) but expressed as the wholesome alternative of the negative dhammas that ‘follow the world’s round’ (lokavaṭṭānūsārino dhammā, Nett 119); these ideas ‘follow the world’s stopping’ (lokavivaṭṭānusārī, Nett 113).

These forty ideas are the:

‘four ways’ (catasso paṭipadā)[16]

‘four foundations of mindfulness’ (cattāro satipaṭṭhānā)[17]

‘four meditations’ (cattāri jhānāni),

‘four abidings’ (cattāro vihārā)[18]

‘four right-endeavours’ (cattāro sammappadhānā)[19]

‘four wonderful, marvellous ideas’ (cattāro acchariyā abbhūtā dhammā)[20]

‘four expressions’ (cattārī adhiṭṭhānāni)[21]

‘four ways of keeping concentration in being’ (catasso samādhibhāvanā)[22]

‘four ideas dealing with pleasure’ (cattāro sukhabhāgiyā dhammā)[23]

‘four measureless states’ (catasso appamāṇā).[24]

The dispositionless gateway to liberation consists of the first and second ways, foundations of mindfulness, meditations, abidings, etc.[25] The former, the first way, etc., is also called ‘medicine for a person of lusting-temperament’ (rāgacaritassa puggalassa bhesajjaṃ), and the second way, etc., ‘medicine for a person of hating- temperament’ (dosacaritassa puggalassa bhesajjaṃ, Nett 122). The emptiness gateway to liberation is the third way, foundation of mindfulness, meditation, abiding, etc.[26] These are also ‘medicine for a person of dull-view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritassa mandassa puggalassa bhesajjaṃ, Nett 122). The signless gateway to liberation consists of the fourth way, foundation of mindfulness, meditation, abiding etc.[27] These are also said to be the ‘medicine for a person of intelligent-view-temperament’ (diṭṭhi-caritassa mandassa puggalassa bhesajjaṃ, Nett 122).[28] Clearly, in this exposition, the person of view-temperament is described more precisely, and the overcoming of the defilements in a person of view-temperament can be overcome by the emptiness or the signless gateway to liberation.[29]

The Nettippakaraṇa is describing, I think, how different defilements are overcome by different methods. There appears to be some connection between not-self, right-view and emptiness. Buddhaghosa equates these notions by citing the Paṭisambhidāmagga: ‘When one who has great wisdom brings [volitional formations] to mind as not-self, he acquires the emptiness liberation.’[30] As I have already said, it is tempting to understand sammā-diṭṭhi as a way of seeing that incorporates the notion of śūnyatā (emptiness) in other parts of Buddhist thought. In later Buddhist thought there is the connection between paṭicca-samuppāda and śūnyatā. Emptiness is equated with paṭicca-samuppāda.[31] In a well-known Saṃyutta passage, the Buddha refuses to assert whether there is or is not a self precisely because this would give the mind an object of attachment in the form of permanence or impermanence.[32] The dhamma is an empty doctrine in the sense that attachment to it is wrong-view. Knowledge of the dhamma must not produce craving and this is the function and significance, in fact one of the meanings of the term sammā-diṭṭhi. The dhamma, by definition, cannot be a view. In the same way, sammā-diṭṭhi requires, ultimately, the destruction of all views and is ‘empty’ of content in the sense of not producing craving and attachment. In this way it is the emptiness gateway to liberation.

Although often complicated in its detail the Pāli Canon is arguing that those holding strong beliefs, based upon, for example, prejudice or tradition, are simply attached to ideas, opinions and beliefs – they are not evaluating these things as mental constructs but constructing reality based upon ideas that are objects of mental attachment. Strong and immovable political ideas, prejudice and judgment are psychologically and in a Buddhist context ontologically, not part of the path as taught by the Buddha.


[1] The first two satipaṭṭhāna are related to the first gateway to liberation, the third satipaṭṭhāna to the second, and the fourth satipaṭṭhāna to the third; see D II 290.

[2] tassā paṭipakkho lokuttarā sammā-diṭṭhi, anvāyikā sammā-saṅkappo sammā-vācā sammā-kammanto sammā-ājīvo sammā-vāyāmo sammā-sati sammā-samādhi, ayaṃ ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo, Nett 111.

[3] Note misprint in Ñāṇamoli’s translation of the Nettippakaraṇa (The Guide p. 155, given correctly p. 153).

[4] tattha yo ca phasso āhāro yo ca dukkhe sukhan ti vipallāso bhavūpādānaṃ bhavayogo byāpādakāyagantho bhavāsavo bhavogho dosasallo vedanūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti dosā agatigamanan ti imesaṃ dasannaṃ suttānaṃ eko attho byañjanam eva nānaṃ, ime dosa-caritassa puggalassa upakkilesā, Nett 118.

[5] tattha yo ca viññāṇāhāro yo ca anicce niccan ti vipallāso diṭṭhūpādānaṃ diṭṭhayogo parāmāsakāyagantho diṭṭhāsavo diṭṭhogho mānasallo saññūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti bhayā agatigamanan ti imesaṃ dasannaṃ suttānaṃ eko attho vyāñnam eva nānaṃ, ime diṭṭhicaritassa mandassa upakkilesā, Nett 118.

[6] tattha yo ca manosañcetanāhāro ye ca anattani attā ti vipallāso attavādūpādānaṃ avijjāyogo idaṃsaccābhinivesakāya-gantho avijjāsavo avijjogho mohasallo saṅkhārūpagā viññāṇaṭṭhiti mohā agatigamanan ti imesaṃ dasannaṃ suttānaṃ eko attho byañjanam eva nānaṃ, ime diṭṭhicaritassa udatthassa upakkilesā, Nett 118.

[7] tattha yo ca kabaḷiṃkārāhāro yo ca phasso āhāro […] yo ca asubhe subhan ti vipallāso yo ca dukkhe sukhan ti vipallāso [] kāmūpādānaṃ ca bhavūpādānaṃ ca [] kāma-yogo ca bhava-yogo ca appaṇihitena vimokkhamukhena pahānaṃ gacchanti, etc., Nett 118-19.

[8] viññāṇāhāro [] anicce niccan ti vipallāso [à] diṭṭhūpādānaṃ [à] diṭṭhi-yogo suññatāya etc., Nett 18-19.

[9]manosañcetanāhāro [à] anattani attā ti vipallāso [à] attavādūpādānaṃ [à] avijjāyogo animittena, etc., ibid. However, later in the text non-accomplishment in virtue, views and conduct (sīla-vipatti, diṭṭhi-vipatti, ācāra-vipatti), are said to be overcome by emptiness, the signless and the dispositionless (suññataṃ animittaṃ appaṇihitan ti) respectively, Nett 126.

[10] anicce niccan ti vipallāso, see Nett 114.

[11] tatiye vipallāse ṭhito saṃsārābhinandiniṃ diṭṭhiṃ upādiyati, idaṃ vuccati diṭṭhūpādānaṃ Nett 116.

[12] diṭṭhūpādānena pāpikāya diṭṭhiyā saṃyujjati, ayaṃ vuccati diṭṭhiyogo, Nett 116.

[13] anattani attā ti vipallāso, Nett 115.

[14] catutthe vipallāse ṭhito attānaṃ kappiyaṃ upādiyati, idaṃ vuccati attavādupādānaṃ, Nett 116.

[15] attavādūpādānena avijjāya saṃyujjati, ayaṃ vuccati avijjāyogo, Nett 116.

[16] The text later gives ‘painful ways with sluggish and quick acquaintance and pleasant ways with sluggish and quick acquaintance’ (dukkhā ca paṭipadā dandhābhiññā dukkhā ca paṭipadā khippābhiññā, sukhā paṭipadā dandhābhiññā, sukhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā, Nett 123).

[17] Body, feeling, mind and dhammas. Explanations mainly drawn from Ñāṇamoli’s translation of the Nettippakaraṇa (The Guide, pp. 160-61).

[18] Heavenly, divine, noble and imperturbable.

[19] The effort to prevent the arising of unwholesome states, to get rid of unwholesome states that have arisen, to arouse wholesome states, to increase wholesome states that have arisen.

[20] Abandoning conceit, eliminating reliance, abandoning ignorance and pacification of being.

[21] Truth, generosity, understanding and peace.

[22] Will, energy, cognisance and enquiry.

[23] Faculty-restraint, ardour, discovery and relinquishment of all essentials of existence.

[24] Loving-kindness, compassion, gladness, onlooking equanimity, Nett, 119.

[25] dukkhā ca paṭipadā dandhābhiññā dukkhā ca paṭipadā khippābhiññā [à] kāye kāyānupassitā satipaṭṭhānaṃ ca vedanāsu vedanānupassitā satipaṭṭhānaṃ ca [à] paṭhamañ ca jhānaṃ dutiyaṃ ca jhānaṃ [à] paṭhamo ca vihāro dutiyo ca vihāro appaṇihitaṃ vimokkhamukhaṃ, etc., Nett 123.

[26] sukhā paṭipadā dandhābhiññā [à] citte cittānupassitā [à] tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ [à] tatiyo sammappadhānaṃ suññataṃ vimokkhamukhaṃ, Nett 123.

[27] sukhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā [à] dhammesu dhammānupassītā [à] catutthaṃ jhānaṃ [à] catutthaṃ sammappadhānaṃ animittaṃ vimokkhamukhaṃ, Nett 123.

[28] See also Nett 7.

[29] A further discussion of the three gateways to liberation occurs at Nett 90. This states that a person of lusting-temperament finds outlet by the ‘signless gateway to liberation’ (rāga-carito puggalo animittena vimokkhamukhena nīyāti), and this is the concentration category (animittavimokkhamukhaṃ samādhikkhandho). A person of hating-temperament by means of the ‘dispositionless gateway to liberation’ (dosa-carito puggalo appaṇihitena vimokkhamukhena nīyāti), and this is the virtue category (appaṇihitavimokkhamukhaṃ sīlakkhandho), and a person of ‘deluded-temperament’ (mohacarito) by means of the emptiness gateway to liberation (mohacarito puggalo suññata-vimokkhamūkhena nīyāti), and this is the understanding category (suññatavimokkhamukhaṃ paññākkhandho). These categories and passages have been discussed by Collins (Selfless Persons, p. 126).

[30] Vism XXI 70, citing Paṭis II 58.

[31] Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism, pp. 60-61.

[32] S IV 400-401.

One thought on “Adherence, belief and the escape through ’emptiness’ in the Nettippakaraṇa

  1. Pingback: ‘The Patriotic Burmese Monks Union’ | Dr Paul Fuller: Buddhist Studies

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