Skillful Effort: The Five Lower Fetters II

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

Continuing from the Five Lower Fetters I

Belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul

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. 

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” –Albert Einstein

Sri Nisargadatta Maharj in I Am That stated:

“The person is merely the result of a misunderstanding. In reality, there is no such thing. Feelings, thoughts and actions face before the watcher in endless succession, leaving traces in the brain and creating an illusion of continuity. A reflection of the watcher in the mind creates the sense of ‘I’ and the person acquires an apparently independent existence. In reality there is no person, only the watcher identifying himself with the ‘I’ and the ‘mine’. The teacher tells the watcher: you are not this, there is nothing of yours in this, except the little point of ‘I am’, which is the bridge between the watcher and his dream. ‘I am this, I am that’ is dream, while pure ‘I am’ has the stamp of reality on it. You have tasted so many things – all came to naught. Only the sense ‘I am’ persisted – unchanged. Stay with the changeless among the changeful, until you are able to go beyond.”

Know that the concept of self is an “optical delusion” because the Three Characteristics (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness) apply here as well. 

Doubt in the message of the Buddha

This is doubt that following the Buddha’s teachings will bring true happiness.  Often doubt occurs when “you stray from what you truly know in the present moment and reflect unwisely on matters that tend to create uncertainty” (p. 154).  An example of a question that is imponderable and that creates uncertainly is “Is there life after death?”

Why is this an unskillful state?  Asking questions that cannot be answered without recognizing that they imponderable invites doubt and suffering.

Belief that one can end suffering merely by following rules and rituals

This is “an instinctive movement of mind to find some source of assistance from the outside, rather than from internal purification.   It manifests as clinging to belief in the efficacy of rules and rituals to bring enlightenment.”  P. 155.

Why is this an unskillful state?  It doesn’t work.  “Years later, even if you never miss a day (performing a ritual), you will not have moved an inch toward enlightenment”  P. 158.  Note the word, “merely.”  Rules and rituals can be useful for remembering the Buddha and the teachings (dharma) but they have no power within themselves.

Greed for sensual pleasures (Gross Greed)

This is desire. Desire for any sensual pleasure.  Sources include all six senses: sight, sounds, taste, touch, smell and mind (including thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and opinions).

Why is this an unskillful state?  You can never get enough of what you want and what you do get is impermanent.


This is aversion to anything unpleasant.  What you don’t like.

Why is this an unskillful state?  You suffer, cause others to suffer and get nowhere.

The first five Fetters are called the lower fetters because they must be overcome before one can address the rest.


  • Re-read and reflect on this each day.
  • When suffering (usually accompanied by a body sensation) arises, reflect to see if one of the lower fetters is at play.
  • Without judgment, be mindful (pay attention from moment to moment to what is).

Next: Skillful Effort: The Five Higher Fetters
Previous: Skillful Effort: The Five Lower Fetters I