The Octads in a Nutshell


The Octads presents different statements on Truth and Truth-finding in which the words of arahants are contrasted with those of ‘so-called experts’. In summary the advice of the Octads is this:

  1. detach from everything.
  2. realise Truth
  3. purify yourself
  4. find peace
  5. abide in solitude
  6. attain the fruits of Truth-realisation
  7. dispel Darkness
  8. desist from arguments.
  9. develop good qualities – the ‘shoulds’

(1) Detaching from everything

One of the prominent themes of the Group of Octads is attachment – attachment to pleasure and views. Attachment to pleasure means that “if his pleasures diminish, he suffers as if pierced with an arrow” (v.767) and, for those so attached “when drawn into difficulty, they lament: ‘What will become of us in the hereafter?’” (v.773).

Attachment to views means thinking one’s own view is the best in the world (v.796), and asserting that it alone is Truth (v.832). It is 'The Highest' (vv.788;796). This leads to disputes (v.796); to unfriendliness (v.780); to seeing other people as inferior (vv.798); and calling them fools (v.887).

As for detachment, in the Octads, it seems that one can only detach from a path of virtue; one cannot detach from a path of non-virtue. One cannot cross over the flood of sorrow without having bailed out one’s boat (v.771). This is difficult to do (v.772). It involves freeing oneself from defilement, not just living physically detached in a cave (v.772). Nonetheless, people should see that, at death, separation does indeed happen, and should not lead the household life and should not cultivate possessivenesss (v.804-6). If one does not detach, one is not easily liberated (v.773). But when someone is detached, no one can pick an argument him (v.787) because he does not claim his own view is Truth (v.832).

Detachment means abandoning merit and evil (v.790) and the detaching from the notion ‘I am’ (v.792), from knowledge (v.800), from any aspiration for existence (v.801); from precepts and practices, and all conduct, whether flawed or not (v.900). In the Octads, these are called auxiliary bases of attachment (vv.789, 813, 908, 790).

Detaching from precepts does not mean immoral behaviour, because the Buddha describes the supreme person as one who is restrained in speech (v.850); not arousing contempt (v.852); who abstains from initiating new kamma (v.900). But if he falls from his precepts and practices, he would not be agitated, yearning for purity “like a wretched merchant living far away, for his home (v.899); he would not rebuke himself (v.913); he is truly called peaceful (v.946). So the arahant still continues to practise. He has the tenfold path (M.3.76), and ongoing contemplative work (S.3.169). This leads to his own benefit (diṭṭhadhammasukhavihāraya ceva saṃvattanti satisampajaññāya cāti), and is a good example for others follow (S.2.203; M.1.23).

(2) Realising Truth

Truth is single (v.884); there is not another Truth about which mankind should contend (v.884). Truth is realised through one’s own insight (sakkhidhammamanītihamadassī) (v.934). One who has realised Truth has done so by detaching from everything (v.946), both merit and evil, (v.790) and precepts and practices (v.900). He hopes for nothing from this world (v.794). Therefore he is peaceful (v.946).

But so-called experts think their own religious teachings, views and opinions are Truth, and call them ‘sacrosanct’ (subhaṃ) (vv.824; 832; 904; 910) or 'The Highest' (vv.833; 904). Other people’s views are called 'contemptible'; the sophists call them ‘Falsehood’ (musāti) (v.886).

(3) Purifying oneself

Purity is not clearly defined in the Octads. So-called experts think that purity is intrinsic to self-restraint (v.898), or to ascetic practices (v.901). They think that only in their own dogmatic teachings is there purity (v.892) and accuse people with other religious views of straying from purity (v.891). But the good say that these things proclaimed by so-called experts are merely auxiliary bases of attachment (v.908). As such, they cannot purify other bases of attachment (v.789). If one dedicates oneself to a basis of attachment, one is led on to further existence (v.898).

(4) Finding peace

Sometimes the goal is described as peace (santo). Peace is found by detachment (v.839), or by scrutinising religious views without grasping them (v.837). It is possible to find peace in this lifetime (v.876). This peace comes from within, not from some auxiliary basis of attachment (v.919). It comes from not clinging (v.912), from having let go of everything (vv.946; 949), from having extinguished the illusion of Self (v.933).

(5) Abiding in solitude

Sometimes the goal is said to be ‘solitude’ (vivekā). Solitude does not simply mean physical solitude (v.772). It means freedom from attachment, defilement and delusion (v.772) even in the midst of sense contact (v.851). It means freedom from passion, and also clinging to nothing in the world (v.915), regarding nothing in the world as one’s own (v.861). But solitude also means physical solitude; for instance, not pursuing sexual intercourse (vv.814, 820, 821), having no children, cattle fields or property (v.858) and not getting involved in disputes (v.859).

At S.4.37 a ‘solitary person’ (ekavihārī'ti) is one who, even when crowded round, dwells without wishes (taṇhā). At S.2.283, the Buddha said that spending the whole day alone is only a partial fulfillment of solitude (ekavihārī). For complete fulfilment (vitthāreṇa paripuṇṇo hoti), one must abandon the past and the future and thoroughly remove desire and attachment for the present forms of individual existence (yaṃ atītaṃ taṃ pahīnaṃ yaṃ anāgataṃ taṃ paṭinissaṭṭhaṃ; paccuppannesu ca attabhāvapaṭilābhesu chandarāgo suppaṭivinīto).

(6) Attaining the fruits of Truth-realisation

The good qualities that Truth-realisation brings are these: no illusion of Self (v.783); no boasting of one’s virtue (v.783); no conceit (v.783); seeing things as they are (v.793); conducting oneself openly (v.793); not hungering for existence (v.839); being untethered, unattached, not possessive (vv.839; 849; 851); being free of wishes and yearning (vv.849; 856); being free of strong emotions (vv.850; 852); being well behaved in body, speech and mind (vv.850; 852; 853); being free of sorrow (v.851); being not opinionated (v.851) or argumentative (vv.859; 912); not comparing oneself with others (vv.855; 860); being indifferent to pleasure (v.857); being free of time (v.860); not blindly following religious teachings (v.861).

(7) Dispelling Darkness

Darkness is that which should be dispelled (vinodayeyya), or put an end to (vihane). Having done this, one attains delight (ratimajjhagā). Darkness has many aspects, one of which is a disturbed mind (āvilattaṃ manaso). A disturbed mind should be dispelled, by recognising that it is part of Darkness. But some aspects of Darkness must be dispelled with a composed mind (ekodibhūto), by examining the Buddha’s teachings at suitable times, in suitable ways (vv.956, 967, 975).

(8) Desisting from arguments

Sages do not argue (vv.780; 844) because they do not cling to any view (v.787). They do not take sides in a dispute (v.800). They do not pit one view against another, or grasp any view as ‘The Highest ’ (paramuggahītaṃ). Having abandoned fixed opinions, they create no more trouble in the world (v.894). They regard non-dispute as the grounds for peace (v.896).

But people who maintain that their own view is 'The Highest', and other views are contemptible, have not gone beyond disputes (v.796). Such people proclaim that purity is intrinsic to their religious teachings alone (v.824). They go looking for arguments, seeking praise, considering other people fools (v.825). If they lose an argument, they are shaken by the criticism (v.826) and wail about their defeat (v.827). The victor, however, gets puffed up with pride. This will hurt him later (v.830). Seeing this, one should desist from arguments because it does not lead to purity (v.830).

(9) Developing good qualities – the shoulds

Of the Octads’ 113 ‘shoulds’, 82 are packed into the last three discourses, giving these discourses a distinctive tone. These ‘shoulds’ are the views that verse 837 says should be scrutinised without grasping. They occur as:

  • an answer to a request to “speak about the path of practice, about monastic discipline, and also about samadhi” (v.921);
  • a recitation of the training rules (v.940);
  • as an answer to Venerable Sariputta’s question: “For a monk going where he never before has gone... What should be the manner of his speech? What should be his field of conduct? What should be that energetic monk’s precepts and practices?”

Although these ‘shoulds’ are to be pursued, they are not to be made objects of pride. If they are grasped, one will be simply led onto further existence (v.898).     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font