Skillful Effort: The Five Lower Fetters I

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 151-153)

“And what is Right Effort?”

As the Buddha noted, we can direct our effort in four ways:

  1. Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind.
  2. Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen.
  3. Strive for wholesome states to arise.
  4. Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen.

Bhante G.:  “At every moment we choose whether to embrace wholesomeness or unwholesomeness.”  P. 149.

It takes effort to fully understand Right Effort!

Ten Fetters

Unwholesome states consist of the Ten Fetters.  These can be conceived as restraints preventing our freedom.  The Four Noble Truths show that suffering is caused by attachments and the way to end suffering is to abandon clinging.

In order to prevent and overcome unwholesome states, we need to have an understanding of what they are.  This is the first step before we engage our effort.

Five Lower Fetters

Here is the first of the Five Lower Fetters:

Belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul

This is the idea that we possess a soul that existed in previous lives and which has taken control of our body (form) and our mind (feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness).  These are called the Five Aggregates of clinging because of our attachment to them.  The belief also embraces the “soul” going to another life after the present one dies.

Why is this an unskillful state?  This belief limits who you really are.  The mind sets limits because that is all the mind can do.  Who you are is beyond the mind.  Who you are is indescribable without boundaries.

This is not to imply that there is no self (which is a similar mind trap to believing that there is a self).  Rather, consider the self and no self as concepts that the mind has created in an effort to explain the unexplainable.  You have deep knowing that you exist.  Stay with that.

More information on selflessness can be found in the talks, The Nature of Selflessness I & II.


  • Re-read and reflect on this each day.  When meditating, ask yourself, “who is meditating?”
  • Can you find that “who”?

Next: Skillful Effort: The Five Lower Fetters II
Previous: Skillful Effort: Introduction/The Ten Fetters