What is meant by "higher ethics," etc., in AN 3.84 (Vajjiputtasutta)?

In AN 3.84, a Vajji monk is concerned about not being able to keep the more than 150 training rules. The Buddha tells him not to worry, and just focus on training in “the higher ethics [adhisīla], the higher mind [adhicitta], and the higher wisdom [adhipaññā]”:

“Sir, each fortnight over a hundred and fifty training rules are recited. I’m not able to train in them.”

“But monk, are you able to train in three trainings: the higher ethics, the higher mind, and the higher wisdom?”

“I am, sir.”

“So, monk, you should train in these three trainings: the higher ethics, the higher mind, and the higher wisdom. As you train in these, you will give up greed, hate, and delusion. Then you won’t do anything unskillful, or practice anything bad.”

The six suttas that follow talk more about these three trainings (AN 3.85, AN 3.86, AN 3.87, AN 3.88, AN 3.89, and AN 3.90). For example, AN 3.89 says:

And what is the training in the higher ethics? It’s when a mendicant is ethical, restrained in the code of conduct, with good behavior and supporters. Seeing danger in the slightest fault, they keep the rules they’ve undertaken.

The way I read this: in AN 3.84, the Buddha tells the Vajji monk to focus on the training recommended by the noble eightfold path (right motivation, right action, etc.), rather than on the particular training rules.

Is my reading correct? I am particularly confused about the distinction between “ethics” and “higher ethics.”

Thank you for shedding any light on this!


This refers to the functioning interaction between sila, samadhi and panna. That is the observation of the link between sila in practice to advances in samadhi and panna. The Buddha is telling the monk to go by observing his own experience. This is in any case the eventual aim of the precepts, as they are training rules. As cause and effect, the monitoring of the observance of sila shows mental seclusion is maintained.

“There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion,”—AN 9.36

Mental seclusion means being protected from the arrows of conventional reality. In practice sila is focused on eradicating the hindrance which most afflicts the individual practitioner, usually sensuality or anger and as advances are made, increasing mental seclusion results. Eradicating a hindrance is done by changing views, which is accomplished by thinking about a subject or directed meditation on it. When the view changes, perceptions also change.


I read “ethics” as comprehensive and “higher ethics” as individually experienced. It is valuable to focus on ethics that increase skillful behavior or understanding. But what is higher differs for each individual and changes over time.

For example, the rule on not shaving armpit hair confused me as seemingly irrelevant. So I spent some weeks thinking about it and it gave me a deeper appreciation of Mara’s tricks and the sparks that fuel desire. For that time of study, “not shaving” was the “higher ethic” that led to a deeper understanding.

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Thank you both!

Would you also agree that the difference between “ethics” and “higher ethics” is that “ethics” is accepted on intellectual grounds but “higher ethics” is internalized as it develops out of one’s own practice?

I can see how the same would apply to “wisdom” vs. “higher wisdom”: it’s the acceptance of “right view” based on authority vs. the acceptance of it based on personal experience.

As to “mind” vs. “higher mind”: does “mind” refer to the beginner’s attempts at calming the mind and the five hindrances, and “higher mind” to the skillful entering of the jhānas (or right samādhi) at will?


It is a broad description referring to the difference between the everyman’s ethics of mundane right view, compared with the ethics required for attaining nibbana (MN 117).


After four decades I am still a beginner attempting. There is always a higher mind and a higher wisdom.

AN2.5:1.1: “Mendicants, I have learned these two things for myself—to never be content with skillful qualities, and to never stop trying.


Note that MN 117 defines mundane right view as based on acquisitions and these are spiritual as well as material, such people are destined for rebirth in one of the heavens and live entirely within the cycles of cause and effect, relying on them. Being able to discern this in everyday life is itself a detachment and transcendence for those on the path of insight.

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First you have to discover the plan within the suttas, then you have to change the views, and the latter is a lifetime’s work for some, but the outline of the further shore is visible.

“Monks, there are these four modes of practice. Which four? Painful practice with slow intuition, painful practice with quick intuition, pleasant practice with slow intuition, & pleasant practice with quick intuition.”—AN 4.162

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“Zen mind, beginner’s mind.” :slight_smile: Definitely what I have in mind for my practice.

Thank you and @paul1 again for sharing your perspectives and the sutta references!


Here three stages are described, 1a, 1b and 2, which relate to the gross and fine division of the 10 fetters:

“In the same way, there are these gross impurities in a monk intent on heightened mind: misconduct in body, speech, & mind. These the monk — aware & able by nature — abandons, dispels, wipes out of existence. When he is rid of them, there remain in him the moderate impurities: thoughts of sensuality, ill will, & harmfulness. These he abandons, dispels, wipes out of existence. When he is rid of them there remain in him the fine impurities: thoughts of his caste, thoughts of his home district, thoughts related to not wanting to be despised. These he abandons, dispels, wipes out of existence.”—AN 3.100 i-x