The Bliss of Restraint to the Bliss of Freedom – on Mucalinda Sutta

Mucalinda sutta (Udana) - The Bliss of Restraint to the Bliss of Freedom


Blissful is solitude for the contented,
    Having learnt Dharma and seeing it.
Blissful is to forgo ill-will in this world,
    Having restraint towards all beings.
Blissful is dispassion in this world,
    Having risen above sense desires.
Yet, having subdued the attitude of ‘I am’
    Is indeed the most blissful!!!


सुखो विवेकस् तुष्टस्य श्रुतधर्मस्य पश्यतः।
अव्यापद्यः सुखं लोके प्राणभूतेषु संयमः॥
सुखं विरागता लोके कामानां समतिक्रमः।
अस्मिमानस्य विनय एतद्वै परमं सुखम्॥

– the Buddha in Mucalinda Sutra (Sutra expounded to Naga Mucalinda) / Udana


Homage to the supreme guide who showed the path to the stainless bliss and peace!


Tasting the supreme bliss of perfect awakening, rising from his profound meditation at the Mucalinda tree, not far from the Bodhi Tree, the lion’s roar of the Buddha’s speech flowed out as this gātha (verse). Through this, the Awakened One expressed the four levels of increasing freedom and deepening bliss (sukha) that comes in the stages of the path.


The Four Blissful Ways

Further, it is an instruction on the ‘way’ that can be practiced here and now. For that, through this verse, the Buddha teaches four ways of placing and protecting the mind in greater freedom and peace. The four ways, in the increasing order of refinement are,


1. Discovering the natural bliss of the settled mind, by being contented in solitude, free from confused entanglements with the world.
2. Discovering greater bliss even while engaging in the world, by forgoing ill-will and other negative thoughts and deeds. This is accomplished through restraint towards other beings.
3. Discovering even greater bliss and freedom by being able to engage in the world dispassionately, by rising above sense desires. This is accomplished through taming disturbing emotions. Then, the attitude towards other beings are that of empathy and kindness, and there is no more need of the effortful restraint towards them.
4. Discovering the greatest bliss and boundless freedom, by seeing the fallacy of the attitude of ‘I am’. This is accomplished through cultivating deeper insight. Then, there is no need for any effortful restraint or any wilful attempt to remain dispassionate, as there is no way suffering, destructive emotions or negativity can arise in the light of the wisdom of selflessness.
Dharma Quote - Blissful is solitude

So, it starts with simple, yet a coarse kind of restraint – that of avoiding confused entanglements. This restraint itself is blissful! Further, it helps us go deeper to refined restraints, ending with the boundless freedom of realising selflessness. There, we discover the greatest bliss, with no need for wilful restraint.  Then, even in the world, even in the midst of those who abuse, and even in the midst of all kinds of sensual stimuli of this world, one can experience the most sublime peace, bliss, clarity, lightness and freedom.


The initial restraint help us in turning inward and discovering the bliss and clarity of our nature as it is. As those natural qualities flourish in a manifest way, there is restraint-less and boundless freedom.


We shall come back to how these four can be used by anyone to protect the mind in peace and wholesomeness, even in the midst of worldly engagements. Before that, let us see these four in detail.

Insanely we wander!

We wander in the world, entangled, in search for happiness, comfort and satisfaction. Sometimes we hope that possessing something will make us happy. Other times, we hope that getting rid of something or some situation is all that we need for happiness. There are hopes for sense pleasures, gain (of wealth, status and relationships), fame and praise. And, there are fears about pain, loss, defamation and accusations. All through life, we keep chasing after hopes and battling with fears. What is the result? We reach exhaustion to the depth of weariness, only to rise up again and start chasing insanely.


In between, whatever glimpses of happiness and pleasure we find are like the carrot tied in front of the horse that pulls the cart. It just hangs in front of us to drive us to weariness and madness with more hopes and fears! Chasing after hopes and fears is also like drinking salt water to quench thirst. Alas, it fills us with more hopes and fears to chase after insanely!


All through this, we miss to see the real seat of joy, happiness and comfort. That is why we are discontented and confused. It is like running in search of a precious jewel all around the world, while it is hidden right there in your home. In fact, happiness and suffering, comfort and discomfort, contentment and discontentment, etc., are all varying states of mind. The mind itself is the seat of happiness. We have the power to be happy unconditionally.

Blissful is solitude

Blissful is solitude for the contented,
Having learnt Dharma and seeing it.

By reflecting upon the way worldly experiences come and go, one sees the unworthiness of the vicious circle of chasing after hopes and battling with fears. By letting go of those confused entanglements, the mind comes to rest in its own home. That leads to contentment. As the mind settles in solitude with clarity and understanding, a beautiful state of the quiescence of mind naturally arises. There one discovers the bliss of solitude, the first contact with immense peace latent within oneself. The inner solitude with its natural serenity, clarity and bliss makes it possible to refine the mind further and gain deeper freedom and bliss.


Of course, solitude is not the final freedom. Solitude is neither the answer to all problems nor the goal of the Buddhist pursuit. Yet, it is a good first step, provided you don’t get stuck with it forever. Let us look at this a little more deeply.


Inner solitude of mental refinement

Let us be clear in distinguishing the meaning of this solitude.


The word the Buddha used for solitude is viveka ( विवेक ) in Pali, which literally means, separation or seclusion. This is the opposite of entanglement. Its profound meaning is an inner solitude – a state of non-entanglement with the worldly concerns. It is not just an outer solitude of sitting alone in a mountain cave. Again, this is not the inner seclusion of shutting off mind. It is an inner seclusion of an open and refined mind that comes from simply letting go of the chasing after hopes and battling fears. It arises from the wisdom of knowing and seeing the way in which worldly experiences come and go. That is the meaning of ‘having learnt Dharma and seeing it’.


Chasing after hopes and fears is like drinking salt water to quench thirst. Alas, it fills us with more hopes and fears to chase after insanely!

As you progress, there could be inner seclusion even while facing the world. However, for a novice, physical seclusion makes it easier to seclude the mind. For those who cannot train in complete physical seclusion of a retreat, staying in a secluded space of one’s own home for a short while can serve the purpose. For example, you can bid farewell to the world for half an hour daily (or even for five minutes) and think, “I abandon all worldly concerns (for the next half an hour), as I see them to the transitory, hollow and not worthy of reliance”. It helps to settle the mind effortlessly.


Let your mind rest there for a while by seeing the Dharma (truth) – the transitoriness (impermanence, Sanskrit: anitya, अनित्य ,  Pali: anicca अनिच्च ), hollowness (not-self, Sanskrit: anātma, अनात्मा, Pali: anātta, अनात्त ) and unworthiness (unsatisfactoriness / suffering, Sanskrit: duḥkha, दुःख,  Pali: dukkha, दुक्ख ) of all dharmas (all experiences of the world). As you rest in clarity and understanding, it reveals the blissful inner solitude. Once, you are familiar with it, even in the midst of worldly engagements you can find the strength of that inner solitude by simply recollecting Dharma – the actual way in which all dharmas (phenomenal experiences) come and go.


The sense of deep wellbeing

Let us also be clear what bliss means in this context. The bliss ( sukha, सुख ) that the Buddha referred to, is not pleasurable sensations, titillations or a state of intoxication that blinds the mind. It is not bliss in that ordinary sense and of course not something to chase after. Instead, it refers to a sense of deep satisfaction, wellbeing, peace, and ease. It has a sense of openness and freedom, and also a sense of settling in inner stillness and clarity.

Blissful is to forgo ill-will

The deepest distress for oneself in this world comes from wishing harm for others, and the resulting verbal and physical abuse to others. The negativity towards other beings tenses and complicates one’s engagement in the world. So, the first step in nourishing and enhancing the bliss of solitude forward into engaged life in this world is to abandon ill-will to other beings.

Blissful is to forgo ill-will in this world,
Having restraint towards all beings.


How does one achieve this? It is by being mindful and vigilant about our expressions of thoughts, words and actions through the three doors of body, speech and mind. Practising in this way, one engages in the world while maintaining restraint at one’s three doors towards all beings.

Blissful is to rise above sense desires

At the root of ill-will and negative actions is our own destructive emotions – such as the desire for clinging to sense pleasures and the aversion towards unpleasant. So, the next step to greater freedom and greater bliss is to rise above the sense desires. It becomes easier to do so if one has already tamed the mind from the strong clutches of ill-will and other negativities.

Blissful is dispassion in this world,
Having risen above sense desires.


How does one achieve this? It is through cultivating deeper wisdom through knowing Dharma and seeing it.


Emotions such as desire (kāma, काम ), aversion (dveṣa, द्वेष ) and close-minded delusion (moha, मोह ) are called afflictions (kleśā, क्लेशा ) because they are the immediate cause for distress. They are distress in themselves. And, they push us to engage in negativity and thus creating more causes of distress. As we remain too focussed on the object of those emotions, we miss the bliss that is innate to us and experience suffering. Afflicted by these emotions, we also lose the clarity of mind and the ability to discern correctly and perform in this world. By seeing the transitoriness, hollowness and unworthiness of not only the worldly pursuits, but of even such emotions, mind rises above such emotions.


As far as you remain dispassionate, by rising above sense desires, nothing in the world irritates you, and you can deal with the world with a deep sense of inner peace.

Going beyond the attitude of ‘I am’

As far as the sense of Self, the attitude of “I am’ is not overcome, there is the danger of falling into the trap of hopes and fears. Passions can arise again. Ill-will and other negativities can arise again in relation to other beings and there again can be confused entanglement. Even if you remain absorbed in the deep bliss in solitude and dispassion, there is the strain of clinging to that bliss and the fear of losing that bliss. How do you go beyond such limitations to the supreme freedom?

Having subdued the attitude of ‘I am’
Is indeed the most blissful!!!


Having subdued the attitude of ‘I am’, solitude and remaining in the world are equally blissful. Freed from all notions of self-references and self-identities, there is nothing in the world that can harm you. Since there is no possibility of falling, there is no need for any kind of effortful guarding.

By developing greater insight we can realise that not only the world, but also whatever we believed as ‘I am’ is just transitory (impermanent), hollow (not-self) and compounded (arising only through an assemblage of causes and conditions). Then, there is nothing to cling on to. The root cause for the stirring of passions, bubbling up of negative tendencies, the entanglement with insanity and suffering is our ignorant clinging to these transitory collections of experiences as ‘I am’. Since there is no real and permanent ‘I’, the only support on which all negativities and emotions can breed is our false clinging to an ‘I’ that is non-existent. Completely transcending that ignorance and clinging, one realises the uncompounded nature. This is the most blissful!


This is unconditionally blissful and peaceful. Once you transcend the clinging to ‘I am’, there is nothing in the world that can arouse passion, ill-will or entanglement. Solitude and remaining in the world are equally blissful. Freed from all notions of self-references and self-identities, there is nothing in the world that can harm you. Since there is no possibility of falling, there is no need for any kind of effortful guarding. Thus, by discovering the selfless nature of oneself, one reaches the supreme bliss of Nirvana, where there is no restraint, but limitless sense of freedom!

How to protect mind with this verse

The above explanation is about how one progresses through the four levels to full realisation of Nirvana. In addition, having understood the meaning of this verse, we can practice these four as a way to protect the mind and place it properly. While facing difficult situations in daily life, the recollection of this gātha (verse) either in its entirety or any of its four parts, can be used as a powerful antidote for regaining composure.

A drop of recollection

Let us see that in the reverse order of refinement.


While facing difficult situations that stirs up destructive emotions and worries, simply reflect how it is supremely blissful to subdue the very sense of ‘I am’. If you succeed in finding the Buddha within you in that way, you will quickly regain the clarity and peace of mind by letting go of the attitude of ‘I am’. You will see that whatever goes around hardly affects you any more than when sand castles are being washed away by the waves of ocean. You know they are ephemeral, you are ephemeral and there is nothing to cling on to.


If the waves of emotions are too strong and if you find it hard to regain the view of selflessness, take recourse to the next. Reflect upon how blissful it is to be dispassionate in this world by rising above the desires of sense pleasures. That will help you in rising beyond the stirring of emotions and engage in the world with deep inner peace.


If the disturbance from ill-will to others is too strong and if you find it hard to remain dispassionate, then take recourse to the next. Reflect upon how blissful it is to simply maintain restraint with respect to other beings and forgo all thoughts of ill-will and negativity. Soon, you can reconnect back to the natural peace of mind.


If your mind is too entangled and you just cannot let go of the ill-will to others (because, it bubbles up with ifs and buts, such as “What if he does that?”, “What if it happens again?”, etc.), take recourse to the first one. Reflect upon how this entire world is transitory, hollow and unworthy. Let the mind simply rest for a while, free from trying to fix holes and patch up a totally miserable Samsara. Surely, you will be reconnected with the natural peace of mind in this way.


How this relates to the stages of sravaka path

The expression of the four blisses by the Buddha in this verse is primarily done from the perspective of the practitioner of individual liberation (Śrāvaka). Thus, its emphasis is on disentanglement, dispassion and selflessness of person. For those who are inclined to have precise knowledge about how this verse relates to the path of a Sravaka, the following is a short explanation.


These four blisses also corresponds to the four levels of realisation on the path of a Sravaka. The first one corresponds to Stream-Enterer (Sanskrit: srotāpanna, स्रोतापन्न,  Pali: sotāpanna, सोतापन्न) – a person who has understood the meaning of the teaching and developed strong conviction about relying on the teacher (the Buddha), the path (Dharma) and the community of practitioners (Sangha). This is the level of never falling back to the insanity of wandering aimlessly in Samsara. The second one corresponds to Once-Returner (Sanskrit: sakṛdāgāmin, सकृदागामिन् ,  Pali: sakadāgāmi, सकदागामि ), a person who has tamed ill-will and coarse emotions. The third one corresponds to Non-Returner (Sanskrit: anāgāmin,  अनागामिन्  ,  Pali:  anāgāmi, अनागामि ), a person who has tamed emotions and will never be born again in the realm of desires and manifest sufferings. The final one corresponds to Foe-Destroyer (Sanskrit: arhat, अर्हत्  ,  Pali:  arhant, अर्हन्त् ), the one who has completely won victory over the enemies (one’s own emotions) and attained Nirvana.


This completes an explanation on the Buddha’s proclamation of the four blissful states.


May all beings discover the source of happiness, peace and wellbeing in their own minds! Traversing the sublime journey of deeper discovery, may they all reach the supreme bliss of selfless perfection and awakening!


Yogi Prabodha Jnana
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