The third lower fetter (sīlabbata-parāmāsa)

Ajahn Brahm stressed that the most important immediate goal for Buddhists is to overcome the delusion of the “Self”, the first fetter, because nobody is safe from the bondage of samsara until one become a stream-enterer. But if all three lower fetters are broken at the same time for the stream-enterer, breaking the 2nd and 3rd fetter must be as important as the 1st fetter.

What does the third lower fetter (sīlabbata-parāmāsa) really refer to? What is the power of this fetter that ranks it as equally problematic as grasping on the “deluded view about the Self” and “Doubt”?

One of the translations of sīlabbata-parāmāsa is “attachment to rites and rituals.” This would mean Buddhists should give up religious rites and rituals. This makes sense since there is no mention of rites or rituals in the Eightfold Path, the only way to liberation. Rites and rituals are irrelevant to liberation from rebirths. Bhikkhu Bodhi said it is not an accurate translation. He translated it as “the distorted grasp of rules and vows”. But what rules? What vows?

Others have translated it as “grasping/clinging to precepts and vows, or precepts & practices, or works & rites.”

Buddhists observe precepts. Monks and nuns observe many more precepts than lay followers. Are there precepts that should be abandoned? What are the kind of work to relinquish? Should one refrain from any religious vows?

Kukkuravatika Sutta (MN-57) is often cited to explain the 3rd fetter. The ox-duty ascetic and the dog-duty-ascetic vows and practices are used as examples. But how many people, not to mention reasonable Buddhists, would vow and practice such extreme behaviors? Mahayana followers make “Bodhisattva vows” and also the “Four Great Vows”. But Mahayana followers had forsaken Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. They do not regard liberation from samsara and cessation of dukkha as their spiritual goal. They have a much grander ideal: “Buddhahood” and salvation of all sentient beings (one of the Four Great Vows). There are some “Buddhists” who follow practices such as dedicated meditation and vow not to sleep lying down, while others do prostrations while going on miles of long pilgrimage. Some lay Buddhists vow to be vegetarians. Are they examples of the 3rd fetter?

To understand the ten fetters, one could start with the Four Noble Truths. The 2nd Noble Truth pointed out craving and ignorance are the cause of dukkha, the bonds that trap sentient beings in samsara. The ten fetters, which are milestones along the way to liberation, is thus another way to understand the 2nd Noble Truth. Of the ten fetters, the 3rd fetter seems unique. The ten fetters included 4 of the 5 hindrances (which are nutriment to delusion or ignorance according to AN 10.61), fetters # 2,4,5,9. Delusion is related to fetters # 1,8,10. Fetters # 6,7 are cravings for existence. Is fetter #3 mainly about making religious vows, a form of desire for some attainment? Or is it a delusion about what spiritual pursuit is all about?


Mahayana practitioners forsake the Four Noble Truths? Probably not the right wording there. Forsaking the Four Noble Truths is not correct.

As a lay person here is how I see the 3rd fetter. When one in practice holds a desire for rites, rituals, rules, or vows and/or seems them for something they are not; this is when one is still bound by the 3rd fetter.

The answer was within your question. Your question reminds me though of something I think many are guilty of even myself…very often. It’s a kind of over analyses, looking for something that isn’t there. Like an unseen secret behind the words that we can’t see, “Oh it must be more, something hidden.” When in fact some is just what is, the complexity is our own not the Dhamma.

Now I’m not trying saying I am correct, just through my stone into the circle. I look forward to a more experienced practitioners input.

I find the first 6 minutes of Ajahn Sujato’s talk “Early Buddhism Course Workshop 2 Session 1” very instructive on how to approach learning dhamma texts. YouTube

AN 2.47 Two Assemblies

First fetter -sakkayaditti involves seeing through meditation that the five aggregates cannot be or contain the self. The Self view is then abandoned. This also involves how the five aggregates are causally arisen, via the D.O.

Seeing the five aggregates as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self, the meditator develops repulsion (end point of 1NT), dispassion (2NT) and cessation (3NT). With this cessation what is seen to happen is the cessation of the D.O. The complete suppression of delusion (avijja) leads to successive non-arising of causes and effects of the DO, as avijja is the original cause (stream entrant is said to have known and seen the DO).

So the meditator has now seen suffering at its fullest. She has seen the cause of suffering and what happens when the cause is replaced (temporarily) by the truth of suffering. Cessation or Nibbana takes place (3rd NT). This is the glimpse of Nibbana or Nibbana ‘proper’ of phalasamawatha samadhi of stream entry.

They also know that they got there by following the Noble Eightfold Path. So they understand the Four Noble Truths by direct confirmation in this manner.

They go beyond doubt, and know that rites and rituals cannot cause the end of suffering. They do not confuse this with the correct path. This is how the 2nd and 3rd fetters are removed. This limits their lifetimes to a maximum of 7.

With metta


I agree to this definition of silabbata-paramasa or silabbatupadana because silabbata is formed from words “sila” (precepts/morality) and “vata” (sprititual practices/observances). It doesn’t mean Buddhist should abandon precepts, but when someone practices precepts and regards precepts as the only way to enlighentment (Nibbana), his/her practice becomes silabbata-paramasa because from MN 24 we know that purification of morality is not Nibbana itself and therefore should not be clung to. Furthermore, AN 3.78 said:

“Take the case of someone who cultivates precepts and observances, lifestyle, and a spiritual path, taking this as the essence. If unskillful qualities grow while skillful qualities decline, that’s not fruitful. However, if unskillful qualities decline while skillful qualities grow, that is fruitful.”

I.e if the practice of precepts makes unskillful qualities increasing, then the practice is silabatta-paramasa. IMHO.