Adittapariyaya Sutta: Buddhist Phenomenology of Suffering

This Sutta has helped me develop a simple, therapeutic method based on Theravada Buddhism:

  1. There is contact that causes pleasure, pain or neutral sensation (it is helpful to use the 8 failings of the world articulated in my previous article as the encompassing the sum total of all possible experiences of pain or pleasure).
  2. The bondage that is enforced through failure to be mindful of the conditions that generate pleasure and pain results from belief that this pleasure or pain will endure (failure to appreciate anicca or impermanence) and false belief in a self subtending the agency that pursues pleasure and avoids pain (anatta or no-self).

So, to put it more simply for use as a therapeutic method:

  1. Contact causes pleasure, pain or neutral feeling.
  2. Be mindful that it is temporary (anicca).
  3. Be mindful that there is no self (anatta).

The Buddha teaches in this Sutta that everything is “Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I tell you, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.” All contact is flammable. That is, all contact, even that which results immediately in pleasure, ends in pain if Buddhist methods of mindfulness and insight are not properly applied to it. In philosophy, what the Buddha is articulating is an example of what we call phenomenology. Phenomenology, in philosophy, is merely the study of the directedness of the subjective towards its object, whether mental or physical.

Dealing properly with contact (Phassa) results in disenchantment (Nibbida), which, when pursued to its end through Buddhist methods of meditation and mindfulness, end in the eradication of suffering. We come into contact with something pleasurable or painful and we either become attached to it or averse to it, and we do one or the other because we have an improper understanding or ignorance of the conditions of bondage to dependence upon contact as our means of enjoyment, by seeking out pleasant contact and avoiding unpleasant contact. These conditions that generate dependence upon contact as our means for escaping suffering and seeking pleasure, ironically, perpetuate suffering because they neglect the impermanence of pleasure and the bondage to pleasure-through-contact which such negligence perpetuates, and they presuppose a self that acquires such pleasure or avoids such pain, that does not actually exist at all. By cultivating the habits recommended by Buddhism, we progressively become disenchanted with contact and our dependence upon it weakens until it eventually dissolves completely.

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