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University of Hong Kong

1. Barua, Dipen. Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon.

Degree: M. Phil., 2017, University of Hong Kong

This thesis is a textual study exploring the concept “fetter” (Pāli: saṃyojana), which denotes defilement (kilesa) in the Pāli Canon. The synonymous relationship of fetter with the Vedic terms pāśa (fetter) and bandhana (bondage) found in the Sutta-s is also discussed. The concept of fetter has three main functions: householder binding, intra-psychic binding, and existential binding which bind us in saṃsāra. The thesis deliberates that the Theravāda tradition links the existential binding with the ten fetters which define the four stages of liberation. The study demonstrates this theory is a doctrinal development in the Pāli Canon. It first presents the earlier usages of the concept of fetter by illustrating its multiple denotations as fetters of desire and lust (chanda-rāga), craving (taṇhā), delight (nandi), becoming (bhava), householder (gihi), the lure of the world (lokāmisa), the imperturbability (āneñja), the base of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana). It then examines different descriptions of attaining the four stages of liberation, the lexicons of which does not uniformly employ fetter as the standardized description of soteriological hierarchy in the Sutta-s. However, the use of ten fetters as description of the four stages became widespread in the Abhidhamma, and the reasons behind its gradual increase in frequency as depiction of signposts of spiritual maturation rather than other terms denoting defilements is explored. Following Soonil Hwang, it argues that the traditional list of ten fetters was developed primarily within the Dhammasaṅgaṇi, and the Kathāvatthu extensively uses the scheme to describe the Four Noble Persons. It further argues that the Abhidhamma list of ten fetters was compiled before the traditional list of ten fetters. The division of fetters into higher and lower schema is also shown to be a product of historical development, and on close analysis the internal incoherence would suggest it to be a constructed notion. The study moreover focuses on the function of ignorance (avijjā) as a root of not knowing the Four Noble Truths and investigates the reason why it was placed as the last in the list of ten fetters. It is noteworthy that the Theravāda tradition simply inherits the Abhidhammic explanation of the Four Noble Persons with reference to giving up of the traditional list of ten fetters, and discontinues other descriptions available in the Sutta-s. Finally, it is highlighted that the earlier connotations of fetter in its mundane and psychological sense was almost superseded by its existential usage, and the stratified nature of Buddhist literature is elucidated by the doctrinal analysis of fetters in its historical development.


Buddhist Studies


Master of Philosophy

Subjects/Keywords: Theravāda Buddhism; Buddhist philosophy

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APA (6th Edition):

Barua, D. (2017). Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon. (Masters Thesis). University of Hong Kong. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Barua, Dipen. “Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon.” 2017. Masters Thesis, University of Hong Kong. Accessed May 21, 2018.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Barua, Dipen. “Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon.” 2017. Web. 21 May 2018.


Barua D. Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon. [Internet] [Masters thesis]. University of Hong Kong; 2017. [cited 2018 May 21]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

Barua D. Developments of the concept "fetter" (Saṃyojana) in the Pāli Canon. [Masters Thesis]. University of Hong Kong; 2017. Available from: