From Wikipedia's Sutta Pitaka's list of ten fetters:

The Pali canon's Sutta Pitaka identifies ten "fetters of becoming".

  1. sakkāya-diṭṭhi
  2. vicikicchā
  3. sīlabbata-parāmāsa
  4. kāmacchando
  5. vyāpādo
  6. rūparāgo
  7. arūparāgo
  8. māna
  9. uddhacca
  10. avijjā

My best guess is that "becoming", in this context, has the same meaning that it does in the context of pratītyasamutpāda.

  1. avijjā
  2. sankhara
  3. viññana
  4. nama-rupa
  5. salayatana
  6. phassa
  7. vedana
  8. tanha
  9. upadana
  10. bhava <--
  11. jati
  12. jarāmaraṇa

Notice that avijjā is both
(1) the last of the 10 fetters
(2) the first of 12 links of the dependent origination of suffering,

This suggests that cutting the last "fetter of becoming" results in the dependent condition which gives rise and sustains the entire cycle of suffering to cease.

Therefore, an understanding of avijjā and bhava and their inter-relationship will be of interest to many.

Gil Fronsdal describes the first 9 steps of dependent of origination (preceding "bhava/becoming") thusly

1: avijja: ignorance; the choice to ignore / avoid discomfort
2: sankhara: intention
3: viññana: attention
4: nama-rupa: mobilization of "body and mind" in the direction of the attention
5: salayatana: mobilization of the "6 senses" in the direction of the attention
6: phassa: contact
7: vedana: feeling tone
8: tanha: craving
9: upadana: clinging

Source: 2009-06-21: Gil Fronsdal: Dependent Origination

Notice that the choice to ignore / avoid the source of the discomfort conditions / shapes / influences our choice of intention.

Our choice of intention, in turn, conditions / shapes / influences our choice of attention.

Our choice of attention, in turn, conditions / shapes / influences how we are compelled to move in the world including our choice to believe that happiness depends upon the satiation of THIS desire for the THIS sensory experience.

Our choice of what we cling to (updana), in turn, conditions / shapes / influences becoming (bhava) by creating the conditions for the formation of an identity capable of attaining the craved sensory experience to which we are clinging.

For example, the pain of the perception of rejection might compel the formation of an identity to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of attaining the object of our desire.

So the meaning of becoming (bhava), in this context, is something like

moving/acting with the aim/intention
to create the conditions whereby
our clinging to a craved sensory experience
can be satiated.

With regard to the last 3 steps of dependent of origination, quoting the comments under this answer:

“When there is acquisition, aging-and-death comes to be; when there is no acquisition, aging-and-death does not come to be ... So long as the choice to pursue the sense-desire via becoming and birth is rewarded with acquisition, ignorance [AKA "avoidance"] is rewarded, clinging to “wrong view” is rewarded and we remain trapped in the cycle of suffering.

Only when the unskillful choice of ignorance [AKA "avoidance"] is not rewarded by acquisition does the mind feel forced to search for an alternative way to alleviate the suffering. Only then will it feel compelled to think more deeply about its unskillful choice to ignore the discomfort which is feedback to be investigated for insight. An insight the mind desperately needs to find to break the cycle of suffering."

Gil also suggests that jaramarana (aging & death) is short for "aging, death, sorrow, lamentation and despair".

Source: 2009-06-21: Gil Fronsdal: Dependent Origination

This suggests that even if we attain that which we were clinging to, new rejections will arise to fuel the fires of greed, hatred and delusion and hints and that the subjugation of conceit (mana) is not only necessary to end the cycle of suffering, it is in direct opposition to becoming (bhava) which seeks to strengthen the identity to attain the craved for sensory experience which is being clung to.

What is avijjā?

In this context and considering that avijjā is both
(1) the last of the 10 fetters
(2) the first of 12 links of the dependent origination of suffering,
understanding the meaning of avijjā is crucially important.

Being consumed by "sorrow, lamentation and despair" is compelling us to "ignore/avoid" something important and it is THIS choice to ignore/avoid which sustains the entire cycle of suffering.

Therefore, if the aim is to end suffering, understanding exactly what is being ignored/avoided is of some importance.

So what exactly are we choosing to ignore/avoid?

From neuroscience we know that ...

The sensory-motor brain evolved because it enabled beings to respond to sensory experiences with moves that improved the probability of gene survival.

It does so by constructing and continually refining a sensory-motor predictive model of the world to guide movement.

It does this by "knowing and seeing".

Whereby "knowing" is making moves in the world as if the model were 100% correct and "seeing" is verifying if the sensory experience predicted by the model is (1) correct or (2) a misprediction.

In the event of a "misprediction", beings respond by ruminating to discover the error in the predictive model (insight), reformulating the predictive model to improve its predictive power. i.e. Greater understanding (panna) enables us to move through the world with greater equanimity (uppekha) because our predictive model is constantly improving to make better predictions.

The problem is that mispredictions are accompanied with varying intensities of pain.

The biological purpose of "pain" is to provide the sensory motor brain with strong feedback that its predictive model of the world is incorrect and to keep the attention focused on the sensory experience until the source of the error in the predictive model has been discovered and corrected.

But the problem is, if the intensity of this pain (first arrow) exceeds our ability to hold it in spacious non-judgmental awareness and investigate it for insight, we will feel a compulsion to ignore it; to avoid investigating it; to leave the error in the predictive model unfixed; in favor of the pursuit of sense-desires.

The entirety of the dharma is oriented towards correcting this single unskillful decision by training the mind to turn towards the suffering and to search for the insight which leads to the correction in the sensory-motor predictive model of the world.

In this context, becoming (bhava) should be corrected.

This would explain why it is one of the 4 āsavas:

1: kāmāsava
2: bhavāsava <--
3: diṭṭhāsava
4: avijjāsava


But this is only a strong intuition. I lack certainty in this meaning.

If you possess insight that can contribute to a stronger understanding, please provide commentary.

  • 2
    See also Wikipedia's Four stages of awakening.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 15, 2021 at 9:02
  • So “becoming” fully awakened to seeing things as they actually are?
    – Alex Ryan
    Aug 16, 2021 at 1:35
  • I think it means "becoming" like "the wheel of becoming" (i.e. samsara) -- the fetters which bind to the wheel.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 16, 2021 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


I don't know why they're called or translated as "fetters of becoming" instead of just "fetters".

The Pali word for "fetters" seems to be saṁyojana -- I don't know whether that same word is also translated "fetters of becoming", or whether for example there's also another word (a compound word) that's used sometimes and that adds a Pali word for "becoming".

The definition of saṁyojana says,

bond, fetter SN.iv.163 etc.; especially the fetters that bind man to the wheel of transmigration Vin.i.183; SN.i.23; SN.v.241, SN.v.251; AN.i.264 AN.iii.443; AN.iv.7 sq. (diṭṭhi˚); MN.i.483; Dhp.370; Iti.8 (taṇhā) Snp.62, Snp.74, Snp.621; Ja.i.275; Ja.ii.22; Ne.49; Dhp-a.iii.298 Dhp-a.iv.49.

So I guess it's "becoming" in the sense of "bound to the wheel of transmigration".

  • One who has no fetters is "unbound", an arahant.
  • One with fetters remaining continues: a non-returner (rebirth in heaven), and once-returner, and so on.

(Edit to add)

The Wisdomlib definition includes these:

Saṃyojana (संयोजन).—nt., once (Gaṇḍavyūha 387.3) °nā (= Pali °na, or saññojana, Pugg. 22.11 ff.), fetter, as binding to existence, to misery: parikṣīṇa-bhava-°na ity ucyate (Buddha) Lalitavistara 425.21

... and ...

Saṃyojana (संयोजन) refers to “fetters” and forms part of a title given to the Bhikṣus that accompanied the Buddha when he went to Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata at Rājagṛha according to Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra (chapter VI). Accordingly, “the Arhats have broken the fetters (parikṣīṇabhava-saṃyojana) of this existence”.

These fetters (saṃyojana) are nine in number:

  1. attraction (anunaya),
  2. aversion (pratigha),
  3. pride (māna),
  4. ignorance (avidyā),
  5. doubt (vicikitsā),
  6. wrong view (dṛṣṭi),
  7. unjustified esteem (parāmarśa),
  8. avarice (mātsarya),
  9. envy (īrṣya).

These saṃyojanas encompass all of existence and this existence encompasses all the saṃyojanas. Hence the expression parikṣīṇabhava-saṃyojana.

This is in the Mahayana portion of the definition, but is a compound word including bhava ("becoming").

A search for parikṣīṇabhava on suttacentral returns nothing.


What does “becoming” mean in the phrase “the 10 fetters of becoming”?

The five aggregates is the model I have always used for the term 'becoming'. The example in that answer refers to eye consciousness, but it also applies to thought forms as objects that impede the mind. In any case, it has served me well, and is an impromptu, no-fuss model that can be applied to yourself and other people anywhere and at anytime. Just that alone is enough to gather deep insight into the ten fetters and pratītyasamutpāda, the latter of which has been garnished far too extensively with a myriad of theory and heavy academia, leaving only the stench of a murky haze for other dhamma farers to try and struggle through.

So what exactly are we choosing to ignore/avoid?

Nothing that is worth writing home about. It is just our true nature. We choose to ignore it because it means that certain issues that we hold about ourselves have to be made conscious of. Many people would not want to go that deep with themselves, many people would not want to look at their stuff, which is all centred around the deceptive belief that the body is a personal object that the mind can own. Basically, you discover how selfish you are. The problem with that is there are many attachment types concerning the body, which can be roughly summarized using the ten fetters model.

  • My understanding is that the Theravāda tradition views emptiness (suññatā) as the not-self nature of the 5 aggregates. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%9A%C5%ABnyat%C4%81
    – Alex Ryan
    Aug 16, 2021 at 0:26
  • I agree that many people "do not want to go that deep" and they create "stories" to justify their lack of viriya to themselves. Perhaps the cloud of delusion created by clinging does not permit them to see clearly that courageously seeking to "see things as they actually are" is a far superior strategy for happiness than clinging and becoming?
    – Alex Ryan
    Aug 16, 2021 at 0:38
  • Yes, you're right. The aggregates have a clinging aspect through the channel of the sense organs, which gives us a kind of tunnel vision along with a strong sense of self-identity with the body. It is this clinging that we must see clearly so that we can understand the not-self aspect. The six-sense consciousnesses - succinctly known as the body - then become released... or blown out. That is why the Heart Sutra says there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind.
    – user17652
    Aug 16, 2021 at 6:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .