Springtime Journey into the Ten Fetters

We will spend this spring looking into the ten fetters.  Everyone feels the weight of life.  We feel it as a permanent condition; as something negative or wrong; and as mine or me (my stress, my anger, my hurt or I’m wrong; I’m a failure; I’m broke).  We end up carrying a heaviness around not measuring up, worrying about the future or rehashing the past and completely over look the freedom of the present moment.  The ten fetters are the root of our heaviness and weight.

The ten fetters are ten erroneous beliefs that keep us tied to our suffering.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, a fetter is a shackle that restrains movement, action or progress.  In mindfulness a fetter is an unseen habitual pattern that keeps us tied to our delusions (ideas, opinions & judgments) and suffering.  Practicing with the fetters means looking (or noticing) the places where we abide in habitual expectations.  It is about trying to see where we are stuck in patterned behaviors and conditioning.  The more we investigate our habits, expectations, patterned behavior and conditioning the looser the grip becomes around these fetters.   Real freedom comes from seeing the attachment of a fetter and seeing the delusion in such thinking.  By seeing the delusion, we release the hold we have with our opinions, ideas, and judgments.  We are then free to explore and discern what is true for us in this moment completely independent from past experiences.

The ten fetters are:

  1. A belief in a concrete self.  It is commonly called an identity view.  We view the world through labels, identifications and description.
  2. Doubt about the truth of the practice.  This is not about blind faith but about an underlying mistrust in the unknown.  It points to our need to control.
  3. Having a belief in rituals.  It means believing that the ritual itself is liberating.  Simply following the ritual of meditation one will free one’s mind.
  4. Craving for stimulation of the senses.  It is the need to see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think experiences that are pleasurable.
  5. Having ill will or aversion towards any experience that is not pleasurable.
  6. Having a desire for existence with form by craving embodiment.
  7. Having a desire for existence without form by craving disembodiment.
  8. Habitually comparing, measuring and analyzing in the mind (conceit).
  9. Habitual restlessness in the mind due to an unsatisfied, self seeking mind.
  10. Failing to see the impermanent, unsatisfactoriness and impersonal nature of all phenomenon in any given moment.

Example practices to work with the first 3 fetters:

  • Notice when you have a strong sense of self.  What happens if you just become still for a moment.
  • Notice how strong your ideas, opinions and judgments can be.
  • Try looking at the world with soft new eyes.  Just release the labels/identifications of things around you and see if you can still function.
  • Notice how often you are confused about practice.
  • Question into the truth of all the reasons you don’t practice.  Check in with yourself about how much doubt you have in this practice.
  • Notice your hesitation around new things or unfamiliar things.  Notice how the thinking mind entices you to move away from the unfamiliar and mysterious aspects of life (which includes practice).
  • Question into whether your practice is just habit or something you do because you think you need to do it to be good.
  • Notice your behavior around habitual patterns.  What makes the habit pattern so important.  What benefit do you think you will gain through doing it.
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