“The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.”

This quote most often seems to be in the form “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it,” although it’s also found as “If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation.”

In some sources a reference SN II 47 is given. This refers to the Pali Text Society numbering system. “II” refers to the second volume and “47” to the 47th page (in the Pali version of the PTS edition).

This would correspond to SN 12.31, which you can read here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn12.31

This sutta includes the following:

Venerable sir, one sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This has come to be,’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards what has come to be, for its fading away and cessation. One sees as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment.’ Having seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘Its origination occurs with that as nutriment, ’ one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards its origination through nutriment, for its fading away and cessation.

(Technically this is in SN II 48, but the confusion is understandable since the sutta runs over onto a new page.)

In a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 4th, 1996 in Plum Village, France. we find the following:

How that suffering has come to be, that is the second truth. That is about the nature of your suffering. If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation. That is a sentence uttered by the Buddha. Dear friends, if you look into the nature of your suffering, and if you see already what kind of nutriment that has brought about that suffering, you are already on the path of liberation; because everything needs food to grow, to be there, including your suffering. So if you look into your suffering, and if you can see how that has come to be, what kind of food you have fed it so that it is now there as a hard fact, then you are already on the way of liberation, because you have already seen a path of liberation. So the nature of your suffering is the cause of your suffering, the nutriment, the food that you have used in order to feed your suffering.

This seems to be a paraphrase of the sutta above. However the words quoted from the sutta are from the Buddha’s disciple Sariputta, not from the Buddha himself, as Thich Nhat Hanh mistakenly says.

In a later book by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, we read:

The Buddha said, “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” [Page 45]

This seems to be a condensation of the more expansive version given in the talk, probably created by one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s editors. It’s not uncommon for someone (in this case Thich Nhat Hanh) to summarize a teaching (“The Buddha said that…”), and for someone else (in this case an editor or ghost-writer) to take this to be a direct quote (“The Buddha said…”) and to then pass it on in that form. That seems to be what’s happened here.

So to summarize: this isn’t a quote from the Buddha. It seems to be a paraphrase of a teaching given by Sariputta, the Buddha’s disciple. The paraphrase itself seems to have been created by Thich Hnat Hanh and one of his editors or ghost-writers.

2 thoughts on ““The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.””

  1. It seem that much of Thich Hnat Hanh’s practice derives from the Avatamsaka Sutra. The concept that one has already achieved liberation once the understanding of a fundamental unity of all phenomonena arises is fundamental to that sutra and is repeated (along with several other concepts) in numerous portions of that gigantic sutra. There may well be a correlate in the Pali Canon, but I think that the statement:
    “The moment you know how your suffering came to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” is a derivitave paraphrase, certainly not a direct quote from the Avatamsaka, which is around 1,400 pages long. Sorry. Can’t presently provide the actual quotes since there is no index, which I am currently working on.
    Great website!

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