Through the 10 fetters to awakening

The concept of the 10 fetters is one of the Buddha’s discoveries.

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Buddha called them Samyojana – a word from the ancient Indian language Pali, which is usually translated as fetter. It is written down and can be read in the Pali Canon. In the Pali Canon, the core statements of the original teachings of the historical Buddha are explained using extracts of his discourses from the oldest traditions.

I was not a particularly well-read Buddhist myself. And at the Buddhist centre where I went to meditate, I never heard anything about these 10 fetters. So we don’t have to be Buddhists to work on the 10 fetters. And after that, we’re not anyway.

I don’t want to bore you with theory for long either. For one thing, because I don’t know anything about it. Secondly, because this is not about theory.

The path through the 10 fetters is a practical path. And practical here means: active.

We can also call fetters illusion, delusion, perception, assumption, belief, … … It is something that we assume is, that it is true, that it exists.

We simply assume that we are what we think we are and that reality is what we think it is, and we go from there. We accept these facts as fixed and certain and move on from that point. Thus the fundamental error from which all others are derived has already been made and is immune from being discovered and corrected.

Jed McKenna

And so seeing through the fetters, the deception, the illusion is a disillusionment. A disillusionment, as it says in the Pali canon.

The 10 fetters

The first fetter is the self illusion. The assumption that body, mind and consciousness are the self (I). It is the assumption that we exist. That we exist independently of everything else. That we are persons who have a life that we direct, over which we are the determinants. People who think, decide and act. Who control something and have it in their own hands.

The second fetter is the addiction to doubt: The assumption that we have the ability to doubt the truth.

The third fetter is the attachment to rules and rituals. The belief that we can be saved from suffering through rules or rituals.

The fourth and fifth of the 10 fetters are the assumptions that we have control over how things work.

The sixth fetter is the desire for form. Desire for form is the assumption that we perceive something outside of ourselves. We believe that we experience everything from our subjective perspective. That we are separate from everything else. That there is a boundary between our body and our surroundings. Separated from what we hear, what we see, what we feel, from our thoughts.

The seventh fetters is the desire for freedom of form: the desire for freedom of form is the assumption that we have the ability to perceive. We believe that perception is our basic ability and that there is a world outside of us that is reflected in our perception. This is the end of the world as you know it.

The eighth fetter is the sense of being: the assumption that I am. We believe that the sense of self is true and that being is our fundamental nature. This is the end of all identification.

The ninth fetter is restlessness. The search for something permanent and the assumption that there is such a thing.

The tenth fetter is not-knowing. We don’t want to know the truth.

Breaking the 10 fetters

Reading the theory about the 10 fetters and trying to understand them does not help to break them. It is about literally LOOKING through them.

To achieve this, we simply use the 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Nothing else is necessary. The point is to find out what is real (i.e. to experience it with the 5 senses) and what is only imaginary/illusionary/imagined.

Because we are so used to think about questions and answers, the greatest difficulty is not thinking.

Working with the 5 senses is called Direct Experience. If you are not yet familiar with it, there is an article about it here .

This method comes from the shortest instruction the Buddha gave to a seeker, the monk Bahiya.

Bahiya, you will recognise this:

In the seen, there will simply be the seen

In the heard there will be only the heard

In the thought there will simply be the thought

In the cognised there will simply be the cognised;

In all this you will not be seen, heard, thought or cognised.

If you are not seen, heard, thought or cognised, you are not there.

If you are not there, you do not exist, there or elsewhere.

This is the end of suffering.


After breaking all 10 fetters, there is awakening. Yes, perhaps a misleading word.

It’s more like this: it feels like being unpacked. Relieved. Everything has fallen away. Everything superfluous. Everything heavy. Everything concealing.

And it feels completely normal. As if the work is done.

Buddha explained that there are 10 assumptions or 10 fetters that stand in the way of awakening. If you want to know what they are, read on here: Through the 10 Fetters to Awakening.