Understanding Upanisa Sutta SN 12.23

I’m looking for help understanding SN 12.23 Upanisasutta, which we’re covering in my sutta reading group. The person leading the discussion sent along a link to Bikkhu Bodhi’s essay Transcendental Dependent Arising, which I’m finding to be a bit of a slog. I’m hoping there’s something out there that will be a springboard to Bodhi’s essay. A search here turned up no results.

While I’m here, I’d like to express gratitude to Ajahn @Brahmali for his essay on Dependent Origination that was discussed on a recent (4 months ago?) thread. Reading his essay helped me discover where I had misunderstood namarupa, and suddenly the whole chain of DO came to life for me. Grazie mille, Venerable.

Edited to incorporate suggestion from Anagarika @Sabbamitta.


Maybe tag Ajahn @Brahmali so that he is notified that you are talking to him.

It’s my pleasure to second your gratitude for this essay! :heart:


The teacher is putting too much emphasis on DO. It seems like the environment you’re in to pursue practical meditation it would be necessary to study the insight knowledges independently, which is recommended, beginning with the seven factors of awakening.

SN 12.23 is divided into two subjects, one based on the insight knowledges. The insight knowledges are the inner dynamics of the noble eightfold path, allied to the seven factors of awakening. They are a sequence which occurs activated by morality, but in SN 12.23 shown on faith, which is a prerequisite to the knowledge leading to morality. It is logical that morality gives rise to freedom from remorse. This is why the analogy of rivers flowing one stage to another is used in 12.23.

“Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward.”

“And what is the purpose of freedom from remorse? What is its reward?”

"Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward." etc. —AN 11.1

"For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May freedom from remorse arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

"For a person free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May joy arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse." etc.—AN 11.2

Morality the starting point, requires an act of will.

The Anapanasati sutta instructions show the stepping-off point to insight meditation in a shortened version of the insight knowledges, so even though these factors arise naturally following one another (it is logical that knowledge of impermanence leads to the arising of dispassion), training is necessary to strengthen them:

“[4] On whatever occasion a monk trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out
focusing on inconstancy’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out focusing on
dispassion’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out focusing on cessation’;
trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out focusing on relinquishment’—MN 118

“knowledge & vision of things as they actually are” (SN 12.23) = impermanence


@elisabetta please let us know what is not understood. I usually find it easier to read suttas than to read essays about suttas.


I am glad to hear my essay proved beneficial to you. In fact, I have also written an essay on Dependent Liberation, which is essentially the same as the second half of the Upanisa Sutta. The essay is available here. Also, there are talks available on this subject. It is an inspiring topic, because it has to do with our personal experience of the path, especially meditation.

Have fun!


Thank you, Venerable. :pray:


@paul1 I cannot say whether the discussion leader is overemphasizing certain subjects. I joined this group in September, and it is the first time we’re discussing DO. (I read Brahmali’s essay on my own when it was posted here.)

Thank you for the references to other suttas addressing this path. I didn’t follow the leap to virtue, but having read the essay Brahmali posted above, I understand better what you wrote.

@karl_lew Thank you for the offer, and if I have a textual question I will be sure to ask. I find that supplemental reading can help me make the connection between my on the cushion experience and the description in the suttas. In this case, reading Brahmali and Bodhi verifies and expounds on what I was intuiting. :pray:


@elisabetta this gives me an idea!

It is possible that others may also have questions about particular phrases in the sutta simply because of the subtle nuances of meaning that enrich the suttas. Such key phrases often prove to be of high mnemonic value, especially when they reappear in other suttas.

If such “perplexing phrases” do come to mind, please share them with us so that we may include them in Voice examples as an invitation for all to explore and make connections of their own. For example, one of my mnemonics for SN12.23 is “for faith”, simply because it had never occurred to me that suffering is a vital condition for faith. And “for faith” also appears in two other suttas which elaborate on the Buddha’s statement in SN12.23.



Thank you for the astute comments.

I am speaking from the practical meditation perspective where it is not necessary to know anything about DO, but is to understand the experiential connection between sila, samadhi, and panna which AN 11.1 & 2 refer to. That is because the arising of mental seclusion followed by samadhi is largely dependent on sila, and that link should be a subject of observation by the practitioner.

This extract refers to “on the spot” removal of hindrances resulting in concentration attainment, but there is the accompanying long-term eradication process which follows the same lines:

“There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. As he remains thus focused on the body in & of itself, a fever based on the body arises within his body, or there is sluggishness in his awareness, or his mind becomes scattered externally. He should then direct his mind to any inspiring theme. As his mind is directed to any inspiring theme, gladness is born within him. In one who is gladdened, rapture is born. In one whose heart is enraptured, the body grows calm. His body calm, he feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind grows concentrated. He reflects, ‘I have attained the aim to which my mind was directed. "—SN 47.10


Here’s my understanding of the Upanisa sutta, inspired by the Therigatha… :rofl: Identifying the Mundane and Transcendental links within such kinds of verses might make what the Sutta is trying to say clearer?

Being afflicted by Ignorance
Craving and Clinging to existence
the thought arose “I am”
Immediately for Me
the World came to be
I knew
I felt
I suffered.
There was Birth & Death, and Birth again, you see.

Heedlessly tossed through Time and Space
I came across a virtual Buddha
“Be Kind, Be Gentle, Let Go” said He.

Filled with Faith, I did as He said
Lo, Behold-I saw the light.
Joy arose, the Path was in sight!
Steeped in Rapture, the body became Tranquil
I knew then the happiness
of a One Pointed Mind.

With This as condition, That comes to be
No permanence, No Certainty.
Shorn of its Magic, the All was exposed
Wheel within Wheel
All Empty
as a plantain Tree.

Free at last!
That was the end of “Me”.

Forgive the bad poetry please! Maybe like Ven Sujato says… “Ise been listening to too many Dhamma talks…:thinking: :smiley: :grimacing:


Perhaps this translation might be interesting to you:

Much mettā :cherry_blossom:


Please add AN10.61 & AN 10.62 to your sutta reading group, if these were not studied already. They are related to SN 12.23. As far as I can see, Ajahn Brahm have not given a talk on these suttas. (I wonder why) Ajahn Brahmali did. In the BSWA’s YouTube channel are two talks on AN 10.61. I am in the process of translating Chinese subtitles for the two videos. Ajahn Brahmali also gave talks on AN 10.61 at other retreats, e.g. BGF 2020 22nd Feb on YouTube.