Key to Sotāpanna Stage – Diṭṭhi and Vicikicca

1. The attainment of the Sotāpanna stage accomplishes the first and foremost goal of a Bhauddhaya: to remove the possibility of rebirth in the lowest four realms, where suffering is unbearable.

  • Even though I have analyzed different ways one can comprehend the “requirements” to be fulfilled to attain the Sotāpanna stage (they are all equivalent), one way to easily remember those requirements is to realize that a Sotāpanna has REMOVED two key immoral cetasika: diṭṭhi and vicikicca.
  • See, “Cetasika (Mental Factors)” and “Diṭṭhi (Wrong Views), Sammā Diṭṭhi (Good/Correct Views)” for introductions to the types of cetasika or “mental factors” that highlight one’s “gati” in one’s thoughts.

2. Cetasika are inter-related. A good example is dosa (strong hate), which arises as a result of  lobha (strong greed); actually lobha TURNS to dosa, they do not arise together. When someone kills another human, that is due to dosa; at the moment of the killing, only dosa was in that person’s mind. But that dosa likely arose due to lobha, strong attachment to something at an earlier time.

  • And lobha is strong when diṭṭhi is strong. In the above example, one would not have formed such strong lobha if one did not have diṭṭhi, and instead would have cultivated the moral cetasikasamma diṭṭhi, to some extent (i.e., if one knew the consequences of such a strong attachment that can lead to hate and then killing). Thus when diṭṭhi is removed, lobha gets to weaker strength of rāga (attachment to sense pleasures).
  • Removal of diṭṭhi also leads to the reduction of dosa (strong hate) to paṭigha (tendency to get angry or irritable).
  • Vicikicca is related to moha; when vicikicca is removed, moha (morally blind) is reduced to avijjā (ignorance of anicca, dukkha, anatta) level. As discussed in another post, vicikicca is the tendency to do unfruitful and harmful things because of a “covered mind”, i.e., not knowing the true nature.
  • Those two points are stated in another way by saying that the four “diṭṭhi sahagatha lobha citta” and the “vicikicca citta” are removed at the Sotāpanna stage (thus 5 of the 12 akusala citta are removed at the Sotāpanna stage). This was discussed in the post, “Why Do People Enjoy Immoral Deeds? – Diṭṭhi Is Key“.

3. In other posts I have discussed how one’s “gati” are intimately linked to the kinds of cetasika that dominate in one’s mind. The “apāyagāmi gati” or those habits or tendencies of a person that makes the person eligible to born in the apāyā (the lowest four realms) are mainly in several key immoral cetasika: lobha, dosa, diṭṭhi, moha, and vicikicca.

  • At the Sotāpanna stage, the cetasaika of diṭṭhi and vicikicca are REMOVED; then lobha is reduced to rāga (which can be separated out as kāma rāga, rupa rāga, arupa rāga); dosa is reduced to paṭigha, and moha reduced to avijjā.
  • At the Sakadāgāmi stage, from those remaining above, kāma rāga and paṭigha are REDUCED.
  • Those two, kāma rāga and paṭigha, are REMOVED at the Anāgāmi stage.
  • It is only at the Arahant stage that the remaining strength of those key immoral cetasika of lobha and moha (i.e., rupa rāga, arupa rāga, avijjā) together with all other immoral cetasika are removed.

4. As one sheds these immoral cetasika and thus “immoral gati“, one automatically cultivates “moral gati” with moral cetasika. We saw above that when diṭṭhi diminishes, samma diṭṭhi (which is the same as the panna or wisdom cetasika) grows.

  • In the same way, as vicikicca is reduced, saddha (faith) cetasika grows. This is why a Sotāpanna has “unbreakable” faith (saddha) in Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha; vicikicca has been removed. However, that saddha comes through not via blind faith, but via understanding.
  • Still, paying homage to Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, via Tiratana vanadana or listening to pirith helps build saddha.; see, “Buddhist Chanting – Introduction“. This is why it is said that one needs to cultivate saddha and panna together.
  • Another thing to remember is that while alobha (non-greed) and adosa (non-hate) are moral cetasika opposing lobha and dosa, amoha is NOT  actually a cetasika. Unlike alobha and adosa, amoha is not cultivated; amoha is merely the absence of moha.
  • Instead, what is cultivated is panna (wisdom) or the samma diṭṭhi cetasika. And that requires understanding of anicca,dukkha, anatta. This is why panna (wisdom) has nothing to do with “book knowledge”, but is all about comprehending the “true nature of this world of 31 realms”. I will have another post on this important point.

5. Another illuminating way to analyze is to look at the removal of the äsavas at each stage. The four types of  äsavas are: ditthasava (asava for diṭṭhi), kāmasava (asava for sense pleasures, almost the same as kāma rāga), bhavasava (asava for bhava or existence, which is almost the same as rupa rāga plus arupa rāga), and avijjāsava (asava for ignorance). Of course “asavakkhaya” or removal of all āsavā is Nibbāna.

  • As we can see (by comparing with #3 above), ditthasava is removed at the Sotāpanna stage;  kāmasava is reduced at the Sakadāgāmi stage and removed at the Anāgāmi stage; bhavasava and avijjāsava removed at the Arahant stage.
  • Thus we can also see that it is the combination of ditthasava and kāmasava that give rise to strong greed (lobha) and strong hate (dosa). When one loses ditthasava by comprehending the true nature of this world, lobha and dosa are reduced to kāma rāga and paṭigha (which constitute kāmasava).
  • While such different analyses will be helpful for someone who has been studying them, all these different terms could be confusing to those who are new to these terms. But one will get used to these terms with time, and it is important to understand what they mean (not just to memorize) in the long term. With usage, they WILL become familiar.
  • In the days of the Buddha, Buddha Dhamma was called “vibhangavädi” or “doctrine that systematically analyzes by parts”. Just like medical students learn about the human body by dissecting dead bodies, it is informative to look at the mind by analyzing it in different ways. And all types of analyses are inter-consistent.

6. A Sotāpanna, by comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta to a certain extent, REMOVES diṭṭhi ( i.e., achieves diṭṭhivisuddhi) and cultivates samma diṭṭhi to a certain level. And when that happens, the strength of the moha cetasika is reduced to just avijjā level, and also the vicikicca cetasika is REMOVED. Simultaneously, lobha is REDUCED to rāga, which then are removed in stages at higher stages of Nibbāna as stated in #3 above.

  • The above paragraph briefly summarizes what happens at the Sotāpanna stage. It may seem simple, but it requires lot of effort to discipline the mind to get to that stage, mostly via learning and contemplating Dhamma.
  • One has reduced the strength of attachment to “worldly things” to the extent that one will NOT do certain immoral actions no matter how much wealth or sense pleasure is at stake. One WILL NOT act with vicikicca: there is no hesitation in trying to decide, one KNOWS such an act will lead to the birth in the apāyā. It is not something one has to think about at that moment; it comes out AUTOMATICALLY, because of such “apāyagāmi gati” have been PERMANENTLY removed.
  • Thus by getting to know some properties of key cetasika we can get an idea of how our minds work, and get an idea why different people respond to the same external influences in different ways. It is because their “gati” or dominant cetasika are different.

7. Now let us take some examples. Diṭṭhi is at the forefront because one’s “views” determines what one has gotten used to or one is comfortable with.

  • If we take the diṭṭhi (or view) that says if one bathes in a certain river one could wash away one’s sins. This does not appear to be a strong diṭṭhi, but it is dangerous one: then one can do all sorts of immoral deeds all day along and then take a bath to “wash away” all those sins and thus get rid of any kamma vipāka. Yet, this diṭṭhi is something that has been carried from generation to generation in parts of India.
  • Many people say, “I don’t do immoral things and even help out others, therefore, bad things will not happen to me”. That is a diṭṭhi too, because that person does not realize that he/she most certainly has done innumerable bad things in previous lives. That diṭṭhi therefore arises due to not believing in rebirth. The “cause and effect” is a valid argument, but that argument holds only within the broader world view, that this is not the only life we have had.

8. There are several key diṭṭhis that are common in Buddhist countries.

  • Many “Buddhists” believe that taking and obeying the eight precepts on Full Moon days is enough to attain Nibbāna. There are old ladies in Sri Lanka who do not miss a single Full Moon day and dutifully take those precepts. But their minds are filled with ignorance and some of them mostly get together and gossip all day.
  • While taking those precepts and mindfully disciplining oneself and meditating for a whole day is an excellent way to practice, just nominally taking precepts is not going to do anything to cleanse one’s mind.
  • Then there is the perception that taking even a glass of wine (or some mild alcoholic beverage) is highly immoral. While it is best to avoid taking any kind of alcohol, drinking a glass of wine or beer is not a “akusala kamma“. Of course if one gets addicted or intoxicated, then one could be led to do akusala kamma.  Actually, when one gains wisdom via learning Dhamma, the tendency to crave for alcohol or anything else gradually diminishes.
  • Rituals are prevalent in most Buddhist countries. People may do all sorts of immoral deeds (gossiping, slandering, using harsh words, fishing, hunting, are a few examples) during the day and at the end of the day, they light a lamp for the Buddha, say a few verses (“gatha“), and believe that is all they need to do.
  • All these come under one of the three sanyojana, “silabbata paramasa” (diṭṭhi that says following rituals or set guidelines can lead to Nibbāna), is removed at the Sotāpanna stage.
  • But it must be emphasized that most of such procedures CAN BE very effective in calming the mind and building saddha (both of which then help cultivate wisdom by being able to comprehend Dhamma), if done properly while making an effort to cleanse one’s mind; see, “Buddhist Chanting – Introduction“.

9. We can also see that vicikicca (tendency to do inappropriate/immoral/dangerous deeds) also arises because one is not aware of how kamma/kamma vipāka operate and has not comprehended anicca, dukkha, anatta.

  • It is easy for outside influences to change the mind of someone with strong vicikicca to do bad things. Since children in general are unaware of what is right and what is wrong, it is easy to manipulate their minds. This is why making sure children grow up in environments that are conducive to moral behavior is very important.
  • Even adults, who are not aware of the consequences of immoral behavior have high levels of vicikicca. They tend to only look at the immediate gratifications of an act rather than to have a long-term perspective.
  • Learning Dhamma is the only guaranteed way to remove vicikicca.

10. Some people tend to think that it is better not to even contemplate on bad consequences of bad actions, or to learn WHY bad actions are bound to lead to bad outcomes. The thinking is “as long as I don’t think about such depressing things, I will feel fine”.

  • Just like not knowing that a certain action is unlawful is not a valid argument in a court of law, ignorance of the Nature’s laws is not a valid excuse. Sometimes one can get away when a law is broken by telling more lies and changing the decision of a jury. But in the Nature’s court, it is one’s mind that makes the decisions and one cannot fool one’s own mind.
  • This is why diṭṭhis can be broken only by cleansing one’s mind. One cleanses one’s mind by first learning about kamma and kamma vipāka first and THEN reading about anicca, dukkha, anatta, and THEN comprehending the true meanings of those words, i.e., by comprehending the true nature of this world; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and “How to Cultivate the Anicca Sanna“.
  • One’s own mind needs to realize futility of doing immoral deeds, not just because they are bound to bring thousand-fold bad outcomes, but also because there is “no point”, “no real benefit” of doing bad things to fulfil one’s sense desires or to “own  valuable things”; such sense pleasures or valuable things do not last in the long term. But the consequences can linger on for long times.

11. As I pointed out in “Why do People Enjoy Immoral Deeds? – Diṭṭhi is Key“, we all have diṭṭhis that have been cultivated in us by the environment that we grew up in, whether it is cultural, social, or religious. And Buddhists are no exception. We all need to critically evaluate such diṭṭhis and sort out which ones are bad for oneself. Buddha has clearly stated which diṭṭhis are bad: “Three Kinds of Diṭṭhi, Eightfold Paths, and Samadhi“.

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