Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.7.4: Indriyabhāvanāsutta

Mastering the Sense-faculties


‘‘Rūpesu saddesu atho rasesu,

Gandhesu phassesu ca rakkha indriyaṃ;

Ete hi dvārā vivaṭā arakkhitā,

Hananti gāmaṃva parassa hārino1’’.


“In visible objects, sounds and smells,

Tastes and tangible objects - safeguard the sense faculties!

Because if those doors are open and remain unguarded,

Like robbers in a village - they will cause devastation.”


‘‘Rūpesu saddesu atho rasesu,

Gandhesu phassesu ca rakkha indriyaṃ;

Ete hi dvārā pihitā susaṃvutā,

Na hanti gāmaṃva parassa hārino’’.2


“In visible objects, sounds and smells,

Tastes and tangible objects - safeguard the sense faculties!

Because if those doors are closed and remain well protected,

They, like robbers a village - can cause no harm.”


     At one time, when the Buddha was staying at Sāvatthi3 in the Jetavana-park of Anāthapiṇḍika, after having gone for alms with Ānanda the two of them spent their day meditating in the Eastern Park of the palace of Migāramāta. Having taken a bath there towards the evening the Venerable Ānanda suggested to visit the nearby and pleasant hermitage of the Brahmin Rammaka4. A number of Bhikkhus had met there5 and were discussing Dhamma. The Buddha waited for the discussion to end and then knocked on the door and was warmly welcomed and invited to sit down on a prepared seat. Inquiring about the topic of their discussion6, he approved of their talk by mentioning that for those having left the householders life when meeting together, two things were proper activities; To either talk about Dhamma: ‘Sannipatitānaṃ vo, bhikkhave, dvayaṃ karaṇīyaṃ – dhammī vā kathā, ariyo vā tuṇhībhāvo’’- or meditate together in silence.

     Then he explained what should be pursued as noble search and avoided as ignoble search: Dvemā, bhikkhave, pariyesanā – ariyā ca pariyesanā, anariyā ca pariyesanā. He explained that ‘ignoble search’ (being oneself subject to birth, aging, sickness etc. one seeks what is similarly bound to be subject to birth, aging, sickness etc.) would focus on objects of attachment. Then he delivered a detailed description of what in opposition to the first was: ‘noble search’. This would focus on security from bondage (nibbāna). He then described in full and inspiring detail how he himself had been successful in his own search and had reached full liberation from all bondage and suffering so all beings could follow his example:

‘Apārutā7 tesaṃ amatassa dvārā,

Ye sotavanto pamuñcantusaddhaṃ’9


‘Open for those are the doors of the deathless

Let those intend on hearing deliver their faith!’


     The Buddha concluded his narrative and elucidation of his own liberation with the strong warning, not to fall in the traps of Māra. As he himself had realised the profoundness and unfathomability of the Dhamma for those beings10, who were bound to lust he pointed to the following pitfalls of the dominating influence of sensual pleasures:

     ‘‘Pañcime, bhikkhave, kāmaguṇā. Katame pañca? Cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā11 rajanīyā, sotaviññeyyā saddā…pe… ghānaviññeyyā gandhā… jivhāviññeyyā rasā… kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca kāmaguṇā.” – “There are, O’ Bhikkhus, five constituents of sensual pleasure! What are the five? There are objects of vison, cognizable to the eye that are desired, agreeable, pleasing, delightful, accompanied by sensual pleasure and stimulating lust; there are objects of sound, cognizable to the ear that are desired……; there are objects of odour, cognizable to the nose that are desired……; there are objects of taste, cognizable to the tongue that are desired……; there are tangible objects, felt by the body that are desired, agreeable, pleasing, delightful, accompanied by sensual pleasure, stimulating lust. These are, O’ Bhikkhus, the five constituents of sensual pleasure!

     “Ye hi keci, bhikkhave, samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā ime pañca kāmaguṇe gathitā12 mucchitā13 ajjhopannā14 anādīnavadassāvino15 anissaraṇapaññā paribhuñjanti, te evamassu veditabbā – ‘anayamāpannā16 byasanamāpannā yathākāmakaraṇīyā pāpimato’.” – “Because those recluses and Brahmins, Bhikkhus, who are enjoying these five constituents of sensual pleasure, are bound, tied and enthralled, not aware of the danger in them and do know no escape from them. Regarding those it should be understood: ‘They have fallen into misfortune, they are bound to destruction and the Evil One may deal with them according to his liking!’”

     The Buddha then compares these Bhikkhus with a forest deer, bound and laid down on a heap of snares so any hunter could deal with it according to his own liking. But those Bhikkhus, who are not relishing these five constituents of sensual pleasure, are neither bound, tied nor infatuated, fully aware of the danger in them and knowing the escape from them: ‘…… ime pañca kāmaguṇe agathitā amucchitā anajjhopannā ādīnavadassāvino nissaraṇapaññā paribhuñjanti, te evamassu veditabbā – ‘na anayamāpannā na byasanamāpannā na yathākāmakaraṇīyā pāpimato’ – they have not fallen into misfortune, they are not bound to destruction and the Evil One cannot do with them as he likes!’ These Bhikkhus are compared to a deer that walks free through the forest without any fear, it stands, sits and lies down without any fear because it is out of the hunter’s range. Those Bhikkhus are destined to develop the jhānas and bound to reach the higher stages.

     This reference here is mentioned as an introduction to the present sutta. The Indriyabhāvanāsutta itself emphasizes and clarifies the procedure of a meditator to train oneself in the section of the Saṃvarappadhāna17 in a more detailed way. On the base and by means of developing equanimity any input that arises through any of the sense-organs gets quickly extinguished, it is neither enjoyed, nor disliked and not followed up. Whenever any desirable vision, sound, fragrance, flavour, palpable feeling on the body or thought in the mind arise – they are considered to be manāpa–pleasant, agreeable and satisfying. Correspondingly whatever is considered amanāpa–undesirable presents itself as unpleasant, disagreeable and unsatisfactory. Similarly there are visions, sounds, fragrances, and flavours, palpable feelings on the body or thoughts in the mind that are of apparent neutral and indifferent nature which are manāpāmanāpa–neither agreeable nor disagreeable18. For an experienced meditator, who manages simply to observe these arising, staying and finally passing inputs through any of the sense-doors, manages to keep them in the background of his recognizing sensorium but determines to mainly focus on the reactions that any of these inputs will have on his body-level as arising, staying and passing sensations without losing the focus - his equanimity will get firmly established and developed: ‘Tatha yadidaṃ upekkhāti yā esā vipassanupekkhā nāma, esā santā esā paṇītā, atappikāti19 attho. Iti ayaṃ bhikkhu cakkhudvāre rūpārammaṇampi iṭṭhe ārammaṇe manāpaṃ, aniṭṭhe amanāpaṃ, majjhatte manāpāmanāpañca cittaṃ, tassa rajjituṃ vā dussituṃ vā muyhituṃ vā adatvāva pariggahetvā vipassanaṃ majjhatte ṭhapeti.’20 – Thus this equanimity is the equanimity of Vipassana which is peaceful, sublime and inaccessible to suffering. This is the meaning. Here a Bhikkhu encounters a desired object through the eye-sense-door, a pleasant object, a disagreeable object, a neutral neither agreeable nor disagreeable object, not having given any leeway to pleasure, annoyance nor bewilderment but by having resorted to Vipassana he establishes himself in a neutral state.’

     This ‘neutral state’ is described as21: Vipassanaṃ majjhatte ṭhapetīti anukkamena22 vipassanupekkhaṃ nibbattetvā taṃ saṅkhārupekkhaṃ pāpetvā23 ṭhapeti - in succession of produced equanimity of insight and thus caused to attain and maintain equanimity with mental conditioned formations: saṅkhārupekkhaṃ.

     The Buddha then concludes the sutta by pointing out to the higher training of a - sekho hoti pāṭipado – who gets disgusted, embarrassed and repelled by whatever arises: So tena uppannena manāpena uppannena amanāpena uppannena manāpāmanāpena aṭṭīyati harāyati jigucchati. The Buddha then terminates with the description of someone - ariyo hoti bhāvitindriyo - having reached the state of Arahanthood. Such a person can consider, whatever arises in the way he wants, perceiving repulsive in unrepulsive or vice versa, and by avoiding both, the repulsive as well as the unrepulsive he remains absorbed in equanimity24, fully aware with constant thorough understanding of impermanence: Sace ākaṅkhati – ‘paṭikūlañca appaṭikūlañca tadubhayaṃ abhinivajjetvā upekkhako vihareyyaṃ sato sampajāno’ti, upekkhako tattha viharati sato sampajāno.


1. hārin: taking, robbing

2. These verses summarize a simile given in Sīlappabhedakathā, Visuddhimaggo which compares well restrained sense faculties with well guarded and closed doors of a village, that can not be harassed by robbers – and vice versa.

3. Pāsarāsisuttaṃ, Opammavaggo, Mūlapaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāyo also known under Ariyapariyesanāsuttaṃ

4. Atha kho āyasmā ānando bhagavantaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘ayaṃ, bhante, rammakassa brāhmaṇassa assamo avidūre. Ramaṇīyo, bhante, rammakassa brāhmaṇassa assamo; pāsādiko, bhante, rammakassa brāhmaṇassa assamo. Sādhu, bhante, bhagavā yena rammakassa brāhmaṇassa assamo tenupasaṅkamatu anukampaṃ upādāyā’’ti.

5. In the morning, after some Bhikkhus had approached the Venerable Ānanda and expressed their desire to hear a talk from the Buddha, Ānanda suggested to them to gather at that same hermitage.

6. They replied that the very topic of their (interrupted) discussion had been the Buddha himself till he arrived: ‘‘Bhagavantameva kho no, bhante, ārabbha dhammī kathā vippakatā, atha bhagavā anuppatto’’ti.

7. apārutā (pp.) of apāpurati: open

8. pamuñcanti: emit, cast off, let loose, free, deliver

9. The Buddha expressed these verses only after Brahmā Sahampati, knowing that the Buddha had been inclined to keep his gained wisdom and the teaching to himself: - Itiha me, bhikkhave, paṭisañcikkhato appossukkatāya cittaṃ namati, no dhammadesanāya - entreated the Budha to teach beings, because among those were many with ears to hear and eyes to see and waiting to be shown the path towards liberation. (see: 1.3.6 - Tamotamasuttaṃ - From Darkness or Brightness to Brightness or Darkness, as well as 1.3.5 - Maṇḍūkadevaputtavimānavatthu - The Frog Transforms into a Deva)

10. ‘Kicchena me adhigataṃ, halaṃ dāni pakāsituṃ; rāgadosaparetehi, nāyaṃ dhammo susambudho.

‘Paṭisotagāmiṃ nipuṇaṃ, gambhīraṃ duddasaṃ aṇuṃ; rāgarattā na dakkhanti, tamokhandhena āvuṭā’’’ti

11. kāmūpasaṃhitā: kāma + upasaṃhitā: sensual pleasure + accompanied by, connected with

12. gathitā: gantheti: (pp.) bound, fettered, tied

13. mucchitā: mucchati: (pp.) infatuated, fainted,

14. ajjhopannā: (pp.) – addicted, enthralled, infatuated

15. anādīnavadassāvino: an + ādīnava + dassāvino: not + danger + seeing

16. anayamāpannā: anaya + m + āpannā (āpajjati pp.): distress, misfortune + fallen into, entered upon

17. See: 3.7.3 Saṃvarasuttaṃ – How can Right Effort get Perfected

18. manāpāmanāpa can also be felt as agreeable and disagreeable likewise but leaves in general an impression of indifference. The relation to or with mental conditioned reactions is described in the Sallasuttaṃ in the next chapter: By developing repugnance towards unpleasant sensation the dormant tendency of aversion gets strengthened; by developing craving towards agreeable sensations the dormant tendency towards craving for pleasant sensations develops and gets strengthened and likewise the dormant tendency of ignorance towards neutral, neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant bodily sensations gets strengthened when bored with their experience.

19. atappikāti: atappikā + ti: inaccessible to suffering

20. Indriyabhāvanāsuttavaṇṇanā, Vibhaṅgavaggo, Majjhimanikāye, Uparipaṇṇāsa-aṭṭhakathā

21. Indriyabhāvanāsuttavaṇṇanā, Uparipaṇṇāsa-ṭīkā

22. anukkamena: in order, regular succession

23. pāpetvā: pāpeti (ger.; caus.of pāpuṇāti): having caused to reach, attain

24. Whatever arises he remains mentally aloof, neither elated nor dejected: Kathaṃ paṭikūle ca appaṭikūle ca tadubhayaṃ abhinivajjetvā upekkhako viharati sato sampajāno? Idha bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā neva sumano hoti na dummano, upekkhako viharati sato sampajāno…pe… manasā dhammaṃ viññāya neva sumano hoti na dummano, upekkhako viharati sato sampajāno. Evaṃ paṭikūle ca appaṭikūle ca tadubhayaṃ abhinivajjetvā upekkhako viharati sato sampajāno’’ti. - Dasaiddhiniddeso, Paññāvaggo, Paṭisambhidāmaggapāḷi, Khuddakanikāye


Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.7.4

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Last modified: Tuesday, 9 August 2022, 7:52 PM