Surprising passage in AN 7.50

Here is the passage in AN 7.50 that I find surprising:

Furthermore, an ascetic or brahmin who claims to be perfectly celibate does not mutually engage in sex with a female. Nor do they consent to massage and bathing. However, they giggle and play and have fun with females. … they gaze into a female’s eyes. … they listen through a wall or rampart to the sound of females laughing or chatting or singing or crying. … they recall when they used to laugh, chat, and have fun with females … they see a householder or their child amusing themselves, supplied and provided with the five kinds of sensual stimulation. … They don’t see a householder or their child amusing themselves, supplied and provided with the five kinds of sensual stimulation. However, they live the celibate life wishing to be reborn in one of the orders of gods. They think: ‘By this precept or observance or mortification or spiritual life, may I become one of the gods!’ They enjoy it and like it and find it satisfying. This is a break, taint, stain, or mar in celibacy. This is called one who lives the celibate life impurely, tied to the fetter of sex. They’re not free from rebirth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. They’re not free from suffering, I say.
As long as I saw that these seven sexual fetters—or even one of them—had not been given up in me, I didn’t announce my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans. But when I saw that these seven sexual fetters—every one of them—had been given up in me, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans. Knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives.’”

It’s the bolded part that I find surprising, I included the rest for proper context. The apparent problem here is that the Buddha seems to equate his enlightenment with simply abandoning sexuality. If it was that easy, any good christian priest would become a Buddha, which is obviously not the case.

What do you make of this?

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So this sentence does not reflect Christian priests?

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Fair point, although it doesn’t really affect the conversation.

So that sentence does reflect Christian priests.

Your point is that such celibate practice is easy and Christian priests can easily do. However Christian priests do such celibate practice without a noble goal, this you agree? So, it’s not easy at all.

Will that affect the conversation?

I think the point of the passage is, it’s not that “simple” to abandon sexuality. To my understanding this is what the Buddha is saying. It may be relatively simple to abandon the actual act of sex, but all these subtler forms, down to an underlying tendency that might spring up at a later time, that’s much harder to uproot.

Rebirth in a heavenly realm means postponing sex to another opportunity, that might be even better. Remember Ven. Nanda’s nymphs:

ud3.2:10.3: “If, sir, you guarantee me five hundred dove-footed nymphs, I shall happily lead the spiritual life under the Buddha.”

So Nanda starts out with a somewhat flawed motivation, but then overcomes this, and at the point when he becomes an arahant, the Buddha is automatically released from his “guarantee” of nymphs. And only at that point.

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Compared to becoming a Buddha, yes

Forget about Christian priests, they were indeed a wrong way to get my point across.

The question is, can we equate

becoming Buddha = abandoning sexuality + hopes of rebirth as a deva

I would be more interested in knowing your opinion on this

Is there sex in all deva realms? I may be wrong but my understanding is that Brahmas are not gendered and are born spontaneously, without parents and there is no sexuality in the Brahma realm. Is this incorrect?

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I am not an expert in heavenly realms, but as long as the underlying tendency to sexuality is not uprooted, it will spring up again when an opportunity arises. And the total uprooting only happens when you become an arahant.

See for example the Aggañña Sutta. After living for millennia in realms of light and bliss, those beings end up becoming gendered and having sex.

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I agree, but is this what the sutta says?

To me it says abandoning 6 levels of sexuality + not trying to get reborn as a deva = becoming a Buddha.

I have an explanation for this but I would like to see what others think first

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Are you familiar with the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions? The sutta doesn’t seem to say that overcoming sexuality is a sufficient condition for full enlightenment, only that it is a necessary one, which is, of course, confirmed by many other suttas.

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I was a math teacher :sweat_smile:

Well I would interpret this passage as saying it is a sufficient condition, because it is the case generally (if not always, outside this sutta, which I may check later) when this pericope is used (especially in the Samyutta Nikāya).

But when I saw that these seven sexual fetters—every one of them—had been given up in me, I announced my supreme perfect awakening

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One thing is to emulate a life in which you have abandoned sexuality, another thing is to truly abandon, extinguish it by uprooting its causes via liberating insight. :wink::pray:t3:

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I don’t think any of the “Yāvakīvañca …” passages indicate an equation of the achievement described with anuttarā sammāsambodhi. Not even the most famous one of the Dhammacakkappavattanasutta (for an arahant, whose enlightenment is not anuttarā sammāsambodhi, also sees the things described).

And consider AN8.64:

Monks, so long as this eightfold series of knowledge and vision of the higher devas was not fully purified in me, I did not realize as one wholly awakened to the highest awakening, unsurpassed in the world of devas, with its Māras and its Brahmās, or in the world of mankind with its recluses and godly men, devas and men.

But when the eightfold series of knowledge and vision of the higher devas was fully purified in me, then, monks, I realized as one wholly awakened to the highest awakening, unsurpassed in the world of devas, with its Māras and its Brahmās, or in the world of mankind with its recluses and godly men, devas and men.

Can anuttarā sammāsambodhi be equated with knowledge of devas?

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This is similar to many other suttas which are similarly worded (?? were they originally a set??) Somehow, they are now scattered all over the SN and AN.

SN14.31
But when I did truly understand these four elements’ gratification, drawback, and escape in this way for what they are, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.

SN22.26
But when I did truly understand these five grasping aggregates’ gratification, drawback, and escape in this way for what they are, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.

AN3.103
But when I did truly understand the world’s gratification, drawback, and escape in this way for what they are, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.

also see SN 48.21, SN35.13, AN8.64 etc… :grin:

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I think maybe we can try to look at AN7.50 through the perspective of the 3 defilements (āsavā): sensuality, desire for continued existence, and ignorance (kāmāsava, bhavāsava, avijjāsava).

We know that, for an arahant, all 3 defilements must be removed.

In AN7.50, we see that, the Buddha essentially declared his freedom from both kāmāsava and bhavāsava (expressed by the wish to reborn into god realms) via the abandon of all the seven sexual fetters.

The delicate part is avijjāsava (ignorance), can we come to the conclusion that without having removed avijjāsava, he can not fully remove kāmāsava and bhavāsava?
I think the answer is YES here. The reason is: only an arahant can remove the higher fetters which includes desire for rebirth in the realm of luminous form (rūparāga), desire for rebirth in the formless realm (arūparāga). Those higher fetters are reflected in bhavāsava.

So essentially, in AN7.50, he declared that all 3 defilements has been removed completely. And that is arahant level.

And so, he can announce supreme perfect awakening.

This is NOT easy feat at all.

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I agree with @Khemarato.bhikkhu and @faujidoc1. There are many suttas that have the same structure with different things that were realized. All of them are necessary but not sufficient. The fact that there is more than one instance of the use of that pericope usually means that any one particular instance is not a sufficient condition. If something was sufficient, the language would have been different; something like “As soon as I realized…”.
This pericope doesn’t even mean that there is a cause and effect relationship. It could just mean presence and absence of certain combinations of phenomena or states.

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Hi Bhante :slight_smile:

I would perhaps interpret these two – sensual pleasures and the wish to be reborn among the gods – as equivalent to the second noble truth (craving for sensual pleasures and existence).

The passage has the familiar gradual aspect, starting with the coarse (sex) and ending at the subtle (craving for future existence).

My impression of the suttas is that the Buddha is essentially teaching the same thing over and over again but from slightly different angles :pray:

To me it looks very much like ‘yāvakīvañca’ denotes a necessary condition while “yato ca kho” denotes a sufficient condtion, and that’s the reason why the two are separated in two similar, juxtaposed, but different statements, just like a mathematician would do when proving an equivalence.

It seems that a consensus has formed around this idea that the expression “yato ca kho…” does not denote a sufficient condition, as seen in the above example.

However, we can’t just declare such things without doing our due dilligence regarding intellectual honesty, to explain away an oddity. So I actually went through all the 120+ instances of this expression in the EBTs. And my finding is that it is sometimes very clearly meant to indicate a sufficient condition for something to happen, and that it can always be seen as a sufficient condition, except in 2 cases (out of 137 total). I am not going to paste all the cases I went through, but I will share some of the clearest ones. if anyone wants to see all the instances, I can provide them.

First, there are a number of instances where “yato ca kho” indicates a sufficient condition so clearly that it has been translated by “since”:

Pc 68
And since those monks were unable to dissuade the monk Ariṭṭha, who had formerly been a vulture-trainer, from that pernicious view, then those monks approached the lord

But since, monks, that monk who has fallen and was suspended sees (his offence)—well then, monks, restore that monk.”

Since, monks, that monk has fallen and was suspended but sees and is restored—well then, monks, achieve unanimity in the Order for settling that case.

MN 94
Master Udena, if I heard that the Buddha was within ten leagues, or twenty, or even up to a hundred leagues away, I’d go a hundred leagues to see him. But since the Buddha has become fully extinguished, I go for refuge to that fully extinguished Buddha, to the teaching, and to the Saṅgha.

AN 4.21
And since the Saṅgha has also achieved greatness, I also respect the Saṅgha.

AN 8.51
“Ānanda, if females had not gained the going forth from the lay life to homelessness in the teaching and training proclaimed by the Realized One, the spiritual life would have lasted long. The true teaching would have remained for a thousand years. But since they have gained the going forth, now the spiritual life will not last long. The true teaching will remain only five hundred years.

Then there are many cases where the expression clearly denotes a sufficient condition

SN 48:52
As long as the roof peak is not lifted into place, the rafters are not stable or fixed. But when the roof peak is lifted into place, the rafters become stable and fixed.

SN 56:38
as long as the moon and the sun don’t arise in the world, no great light or great radiance appears… But when the moon and the sun arise in the world, a great light, a great radiance appears.

AN 3.102
If they solely fanned it, the gold would likely be scorched. If they solely sprinkled water on it, the gold would likely cool down. If they solely watched over it, the gold would likely not be properly processed. But when that goldsmith fans it from time to time, sprinkles water on it from time to time, and watches over it from time to time, that gold becomes pliable, workable, and radiant, not brittle, and is ready to be worked. Then the goldsmith can successfully create any kind of ornament they want, whether a bracelet, earrings, a necklace, or a golden garland.

AN 5.7
And when the boy has grown up and has enough sense, his nurse would not worry about him, thinking: ‘The boy can look after himself. He won’t be negligent.’

MN 38
In a case where the mother and father come together, the mother is in the fertile part of her menstrual cycle, but the spirit being reborn is not present, the embryo is not conceived. But when these three things come together—the mother and father come together, the mother is in the fertile part of her menstrual cycle, and the spirit being reborn is present—an embryo is conceived.

I’ll stop here, but there are many other examples.

Actually, I found only a couple of instances where the expression can’t be interpreted as a sufficient condition:

MN 130
yato ca kho so, bhikkhave, bahusampatto hoti, atha taṃ dvāraṃ pidhīyati
When at long last he reaches the door, then it is shut

Here the expression is used in a narrative context, outside doctrinal statements of conditions and outcomes, so it can be discarded.

The other instance is the one and only similar oddity in the suttas, which has been shared by @Dhammanando

AN 8.64
As long as my knowledge and vision about the deities was not fully purified from these eight perspectives, I didn’t announce my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans. But when my knowledge and vision about the deities was fully purified from these eight perspectives, I announced my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans. Knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives

It should be duly noted that this instance is another oddity in the suttas (2 cases, AN 7.50 and AN 8.64 against more than 135 other cases, as some are eluded in repetitions) and not the general rule.

It seems to me that we may have two oddities, and that we must do our due diligence before stating an explanation for them.

and the father is fertile, etc. These are not the only conditions necessary for conception.

Similarly, there are plenty of other requirements for refining gold not mentioned here.

Here, it’s a very loose temporality, not a strict sufficiency.

quod erat demonstradum

Doesn’t an expression of causality imply a sufficient condition?

We can’t have the statement

if A, B and C happen then X happens

without implying that (A, B and C) is a sufficient condition for X to happen.

Whether this causality relationship can be deemed accurate regarding current knowledge in biology of reproduction is another matter altogether.

What interests us is to know what idea the text is conveying with this expression.

The suttas are not meant to be logically as ‘strict’ as a mathematical demonstration. I don’t see any issue with interpreting sufficient growth as a sufficient condition for self-reliance in this passage.

Yes it demonstrates that these two are oddities compared to over 135 other cases

I think we can explain both AN7.50 and AN8.64 through the perspective of 3 defilements as I have explained in my above post. Both of them essentially say that the Buddha has removed all the 3 defilements hence reached arahant level. So, he can declare supreme perfect awakening.

Of course, that’s NOT an easy task as you originally thought.