16 Mar
Posted in: Talks
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Entering the Stream

More on “personality view” from Ajahn Sucitto. (I know this post is really long, but I just couldn’t bear to cut it.)

“The Buddha presented 10 “fetters” or “knots” that are released at Awakening. Awakening has several stages to it. At the first stage, the first three fetters all go at the same time. It’s not 1, then 2, then 3… because the first three fetters are really aspects of the same experience.

“The first is sakayaditthi (literally: ‘the view of being in this body,’ which is generally translated as ‘personality view‘). This is the isolated individual. It’s the belief in the individual as a separate reality and also that it can provide a good foundation.

“But as we practice, probably we begin to recognize that the personality is something that we have to be able to release, rather than to establish as a foundation. It doesn’t mean that there’s no sense of self. It means that we can begin to recognize that the personality is kind of like a structure, or a series of mental actions and perceptions that have been established through past karma and particularly through the social/domestic experience. So our personality forms as a response to the world around us.

“And so this is very much associated with the second fetter, attachment to ‘systems and customs,’ because that’s exactly what the personality gets indoctrinated into — systems and customs: Do this, do that. Get a job, get a mortgage, get two-point-five kids, get a dog, be happy. That’s it.

“I’m being humorous, of course. But there’s also nationalism, religious dogmatism — these are also aspects of systems and customs. What it leads to is a certain automatic quality, where we operate automatically according to certain socially generated norms.

“Neither of these mean that you don’t have any personality. Personality is a natural form. The citta (heart) develops a sort of skin, you could say, to interact in the world. But you don’t believe that that’s your final “statement”. That’s just the clothes you wear, you might say.

“I want to get that clear because in terms of people with a lot of deep practice, or who are said to be or understood to be or seem to demonstrate quite realized qualities — they still have a personality. But often it can be that they can kind of turn it off, as well. It’s not a fake thing. It’s just that when there’s a time for interaction, the personality is the appropriate way to interact.

But their personality is often quite light and flexible. It’s appropriate. They’re not trying to boost it, or emphasize it.

And certainly they can use systems and customs as is appropriate, as is suitable. Because if handled properly, systems and customs can be a ground for harmony: Let’s all do it this way. Fine. Then we know where we are and we don’t have to concern ourselves too much about these behavioral things.

“Also someone like this is aware of the rationale behind systems and customs. For the sake of harmony or out of mutual respect or imbued with conscience and concern, one can use a meditation system without it turning into: This is it. It’s the only way. I’ve got to be good at this… Instead: Ah, this is actually providing the ground for calming or steadying or it’s making me realize where the hindrances are. This is good! And one can use a range of those systems. One really sees the value of them and can use them rather than being disoriented without them or being dogmatic about them.

“This can be because the citta has realized something beyond the level of personal behavioral experience. It’s realized something deeper than that.

“So therefore it doesn’t have the third fetter: doubt (or lack of confidence). One is confident that this ‘me’ is not something I really have to concern myself about too much because there’s something more important here than my personality and what people think of me and whether I look good or…

“You also might say that this sense of right and wrong is much softer. Right and wrong often applies to dogmatic apprehension of experience: This is right and this is wrong. Instead one might say: This doesn’t seem to be very fitting right now.

“But the person where these fetters are really deeply embedded will have a lot of personality issues. Often complaining about themselves; the inner tyrant experience; critical mind; going on and on worrying about themselves. And also doing it to other people: She’s this and he’s that. Always focusing on the personalities of other people as a big issue.

“Without that, we can get on with a whole range of people because we’re not really making personality the main thing. So this makes life a lot broader and more expansive.

That really is the stream-enterer, but they still have things like sense-desire, ill-will, residences….. You know, they’ve still got stuff!

“I think that’s really helpful because if you’re aiming for total purity on day one, or you’ve got to let go of all your attachments, that’s a big ask. But that’s not it.

“So the next two fetters are: resistance (or irritability) and sense-desire. One’s mind is heated by the qualities of sense desire and one’s mind is also irritable. It’s not permanently irritable, but certainly you can sense that irritability to things, and resistances. Likes and dislikes. Even the once-returner [the second stage of Awakening] has still got that to a certain degree. Then that fades, wanes, as the foothold on what we’ll call the Deathless becomes more assured, so that one is experiencing a sense of comfort in it.

“The first realizations, or aspects of realization, are really not so much about feeling that great. The first thing that’s established, actually, is a sense of security. Or stability. Which is what ‘confidence’ means. Or ‘lack of doubt.’ You’ve touched something and you know… you don’t necessarily always feel great and comfortable and wonderful… but you know: This is it. And because of that, then the path is established. You know. Even though things are still somewhat uncomfortable — preferences, irritability — still you know: I have confidence; There is this; There is this place of refuge.

So the stream-enterer definitely has a refuge, a foothold on it. That’s why it’s called ‘entering the stream.’ They’re just getting their feet in it. They’re not totally buoyed up by it. So it’s just: There is a stream. It doesn’t mean one necessarily is completely immersed in it. [laughs] So the irritability and sense-desire are still there to a degree. But this doesn’t get in the way of what they’re doing.

“Another fetter is the attachment to meditation qualities: to fine mind-states, and then to even subtler mind-states — absorptions and calm and ease and spaciousness. Those are another two fetters. The stream-enterer still hasn’t really broken or released those.

“And there’s ‘conceit‘ — conceiving oneself to be something, either better or worse or the same-as. Having oneself as a concept, a ‘perceptual self’ you might say. Conceiving oneself as anything really — enlightened, half-enlightened, somewhat enlightened. That’s why the realized people just don’t say anything about being enlightened, generally. Because it doesn’t really make sense. [laughs] You just say: Suffering has stopped. 

“Then ‘restlessness,’ where the mind has still got some association with the conditioned realm. The conditioned mind is always shifting and moving. There’s an association with that, so the mind is being stirred. And the last is ignorance, or the lack of full comprehension. These then are not released — yet.

But stream-entry is perhaps the major breakthrough. The Buddha pointed to a mountain and then he pointed to the dirt under his fingernail and he asked: What do you think is greater — the amount of earth in that mountain or the amount of earth under my fingernail? And of course, the bhikkhus: Surely Lord…. [laughs] And then the Buddha said: Well, the amount of earth in that mountain, that’s what you shift at stream entry. And what I have under my fingernail, that’s the rest of it. So it’s considered a major breakthrough because then it is said that one is not going back. It’s going to continue. It’s going to deepen.

“The aim then is to keep referring the heart to that, keep establishing it, keep acknowledging what drags one out of it, and increasing the sense of enjoyment in it, and the comfortableness. And then working on the subsidiary fetters.

“You can notice what bothers you. So if you’re still worked up about him and her and myself and this-that-and-the-other, there’s some ‘personality view’ still there. Or if you momentarily get these irritable mind-states or a tendency to be critical, then you know that and your aim is to work on that.

Even though stream-entry is a major breakthrough, a stream-enterer isn’t always clear about it. Because it’s not that solid. It’s solid in the way that it’s not going to turn back, but you can’t really feel fully enriched by it. Stream-enterers can still misbehave. But because they’re not attached to their personality, they can acknowledge it. They’re not defensive because they’re not trying to present themselves as an ideal person any more. Which is a great help.”


This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and readability. It is Ajahn Sucitto’s answer to the question: “How would you characterize freedom from sakayaditthi (personality view)?” Click here for the full Q&A session.

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