The fetters - revisited

For years I have been following the fetters model associated with the four stages of awakening as I have found it very useful for monitoring one’s progress.

Recently I did a search on SuttaCentral and discovered, to my great surprise, that the so-called five higher fetters seem to be a late addition i.e. not likely taught by the Buddha.
They only appear in 12 suttas e.g. AN 9.70, DN 33, and at the end of each sections of the SN Mahavagga. In all these suttas these five fetters are just listed with no explanations at all. Most importantly there is no indication that they are connected to any stages of awakening. In particular it is not said that they have to be eliminated in order to move from non-returner to arahat. So what is the origin of these five fetters and their use as presented by the Theravadins?

In contrast the five fetters (that I will not called “lower fetters” as Horner translate as "the five fetters binding to this lower (shore) » (Could a pali expert review and validate Horner’s translation?)) are in some 50+ suttas in the Ud, MN, AN, SN and DN33. In particular in the MN (6,22,34,52,68,73) there are explanations how they are linked to the progress on the first three stages and possibly enough for even finishing the job (i.e. becoming an arahant).

For example in MN 6:
“By the total destruction of the three fetters may I be a stream-attainer, …”
“By the total destruction of the three fetters, by the reduction of attachment, aversion, confusion, may I be a once-returner;…”
“By the total destruction of the five fetters that bind one to the lower world, may I be of spontaneous uprising, one who has utterly attained to Nibbāna there, not liable to return from that world, …” (Note: what does “may I be of spontaneous uprising” exactly means and where is “there”?).
From there the monk if he wish: “‘May I experience the various forms of psychic power: …”
The way to reach the stage of arahat is not clearly stated but at the end of the sutta: “‘By the destruction of the cankers, …” may correspond to it.

Could we say that non-returner and arahat stages are in some cases the same?


I think “may I be of spontaneous uprising” refers to the immediate rebirth (no time spent in a womb, egg, or other gestational situation) of a Non-Returner in one of the higher heavens (pure abodes- referred to above as “there”)…and Yes - I think the “destruction of the cankers” refers to the Arahant.

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I’m surprised that nobody except Garrib has found this topic important to address.

Struggling myself for decades with the lower fetters alone, a discussion on arahant requirements was a bit beyond me. But it was interesting to read about.


Thank you karl_lew. What my research shows is that it is enough to work the 5 fetters (I won’t call them lower anymore) and not to worry about the so-called-higher-fetters and that’s a very good news as it simplifies the Path.


The path is a gradual path; that is, if we have not removed or in the process of removing the ten unwholesome action (dasa akusala - 3 done with body, 4 done with speech and 3 done with thought [last is wrong views]) we are not even on the mundane eightfold path let alone getting to know the ten fetters.

It is when we have removed the ten wrong views (miccaditthi, see MN 117 The Great Forty), then we are getting on the mundane eightfold path (Sila, Samadhi, Panna) and will be concern with the lower 3 fetters of sakkaya ditthi, vicikicca and silabbataparamasa.

It is only when we have attained the Sotapatti and had removed the 3 lower fetters where we will then be on the noble eightfold path (Panna, Sila, Samadhi). After Sotapatti, we will know the path which will be very clear to us and there will be at most seven existences (bhava) to attain the Arahantship.

Sakadagami will futher reduce the fetters of kama raga and patigha and Anagami will removed both of these.

It is upon attaining the Arahantship that all ten fetters will be removed.

This is a gradual process, tackle the fetters only when you are at that stage, do not be overly concern.

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Sorry but you are not addressing my topic which is my questioning the so-called-5-higher-fetters as not-being EBT and that we only have to be concerned by the “5-fetters that bind one to the lower world” (translation that I also would like to be validated by the pali experts).

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Interestingly some Ariyas may or may not know which of there fetters have been eradicated. I think we have all heard the the story how upatissa(sariputta thero) became a sotapanna simply by hearing the
phrase “Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā” from a wandering monk named Assaji. This was before he became a buddha savaka.

I think you called it correctly as the “Fetter model” . one may or may not use it. For example in the parayana vagga at the end of each sutta the listener becomes an arahant (except pingiya). There is no mention of fetters.

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For the eradication of fetters, there is no coincidence. There has to be a cause and that cause is the deligent practice by following the true dhamma and understanding the true nature of things and it is only by hearing from an ariya that a person can attain Sotapatti (sota means hearing and patti means attainment, thus Sotapatti means attainment by hearing).

The wandering monk named Assaji is no ordinary monk but one of the five ascetics who had severed the Bodhisatta Siddhartha during his quest for enlightenment. This Venerable Assaji together with Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa and Mahanama were the five monks who had listen to the Anattalakkhana sutta and attained Arahantship.

Most people take anatta to be the characteristic of not-self and anicca to be impermanence which is the reason why all has not been able to see the true nature of things.

Anatta is the outcomes or results of anicca and dukkha and that anatta means “not in-control” as we are helpless due to anicca and dukkha.

Anicca is not just impermanence but “nothing can be maintain to what one’s desire” of which impermanence is part of anicca and is encompass in “nothing can be maintain to what one’s desire”. If the things that we want and we are not able to have it then we are having dukkha.

Think about it, are we able to get what we want?

“sota means hearing and patti means attainment, thus Sotapatti means attainment by hearing”

yes i want deny this , but words used by the buddha has many facets like a gem.

sota can also mean stream and “sotapanna” one who has entered the stream. stream leading to the ocean of nibbana.

also, i remember reading a story in the jataka tales about a minister who was put in to prison unjustly. But became a sotapanna by practicing inside the prison. after getting out he goes to meet the buddha where the kamma he did previously to end up in prison is explained to him.