Four Conditions for Attaining Sotapanna Magga/Phala

Revised March 22, 2016

1. In the suttas, especially the Dwitiya Sariputta Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya (which was a discussion between the Buddha and Ven. Sariputta), the Buddha has stated four requirements for someone to attain the Sotapanna stage of Nibbana:

  • Listening to Dhamma discourses (which includes reading these days).
  • Association with “Kalyana Mitra” (basically a “Noble friend”, i.e., an Ariya).
  • Act with Yoniso manasikara (basic idea of anicca, dukkha, anatta).
  • Dhammanudhamma patipada (following the Noble Path, which is beyond the mundane path; see, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.

When someone starts fulfilling the above conditions one becomes a Sotapanna magga anugämi (or Sotapanna magga anugämika); see, “Sotapanna Magga Anugami and a Sotapanna“.

2. First it is imperative to understand what was meant by the Buddha when he said, “my Dhamma has not been known to the world” (other than during the time of another Buddha). Most people follow what they deem to be “Buddhism”. In most cases, this is the version passed down from the previous generation or the version that one read about in a book. I strongly advise reading the following posts and spending some time thinking about this issue:

What is Buddha Dhamma?

Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and the discussion at, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.

  • As discussed in those posts, one becomes a Sotapanna magga anugämi after making progress on the mundane (lokiya) eightfold path. That is when one really embarks on the Noble Eightfold Path.
  • As I tried to point out in many posts, when one is on the mundane path, one abstains from immoral deeds out of fear of bad outcomes. But when one starts comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta, one starts avoiding immoral deeds because one sees the futility of such deeds: What is the point in hurting others in order to acquire sense pleasures that in the end do not provide any lasting happiness?

3. When one contemplates about the above, one realizes that one first needs to find out WHY the Buddha said “this wider world of 31 realms” or “our existence (not only in this life but in the 31 realms)” is filled with suffering; what we perceive as sense pleasures keep us bound mostly to the kama loka and very often to the four apayas.  That is the First Noble Truth.

  • The Buddha also said that if one really comprehends the First Noble Truth, then one will automatically comprehend the other three. Thus it is the basic vision or the first inkling of “Samma Ditthi” that is most critical.
  • One gets on the Noble Eightfold Path with a very rough idea about this vision, i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta. Now one is a Sotapanna Magga Anugami. As one comprehends these basic characteristics of our world, one will get to the Sotapanna stage by attaining the Sotapanna magga and Sotapanna phala virtually simultaneously (in the same citta vithi); see, “Sotapanna Magga Anugami and a Sotapanna“.
  • When one gets to Sotapanna stage, one comprehends the First Noble Truth, and thus all four Noble Truths to some extent; one has “seen” Nibbana. Now, one does not need any help to get to Nibbana (to “fully experience it”), because one sees the whole Path, and knows how to get there.

4. With that in mind, it is easier to grasp why the Buddha emphasized the importance of those four conditions. First, since Buddha’s message is unique, the true message has to come from a Buddha or someone “who can be traced back to the Buddha”. The following is an analogy given in the suttas.

5. The Buddha can be compared to a great tree, standing tall and firm. All other humans can be compared to “climbers” that need a tree to “climb up”. Such climbers do not have strong enough stems so they cannot stand erect on their own. They need the support of another plant or a stick to stand. Those plants are called climbers. Climbers have tendrils to hold the supporting plant or stick. Following are some examples.

  • Let us think of a forest where there are numerous climbers but only one tree and no other supports such as sticks. The only way for a climber to “climb up”, and thus not destined to its demise on the ground, is to get hold of that tree.
  • Only those climbers that are close to the tree can get hold of it and climb. But now others can get hold of them and climb too. Thus, as more and more climbers start climbing, the “access area” grows.
  • Therefore, if we can find a climber that is climbing up, we can ALWAYS trace it back to the original tree. In the same way, an Ariya or a Noble person (a Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami, or Arahant) can ALWAYS be traced back in lineage to the Buddha.
  • Because the message is unique, it has to come from the Buddha  himself or someone who can be traced back to the Buddha. One cannot attain even the Sotapanna stage without hearing the true message; if one has attained it, then he/she knows the message. Someone aspiring to become an Ariya MUST hear the message from another Ariya; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“.

6. Now we can see the logic of the first two conditions. One has to learn Dhamma (the correct version), AND thus it has to come from an Ariya (Noble) person.

  • The phrase “Kalyana Mitra” is actually Sanskrit; in Pali it is “kalana miththä“, for “a friend who helps to remove defilements” (“käla” is for “dirty” or “blackish” as in “dirty water” and “na” is for “removing”).
  • Many people take “Kalyana Mitra” to be a “good friend” in the conventional sense. But it is being more than just “good”; one needs to know the message of the Buddha in order to convey it to others.
  • And of course one has listen to this correct message or read about it, and then GRASP it.

7. One time Ven. Ananda, who was the personal assistant to the Buddha for many years at the end, approached the Buddha and said, “Bhante (Venerable Sir), I have been thinking that the future of the Buddha Sasana (doctrine) must be dependent at least 50% on the kalana miththäs”.

  • The Buddha replied, “Ananda, do not say that. The Buddha Sasana will be dependent 100% on the kalana miththäs”. Now we can see why.
  • If that lineage is broken, then that is the end of the Buddha Sasana. The words may still be there, but there will be no one to explain the true meanings of the key words, including anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • However, the Buddha has stated that his Buddha Sasana will be there for 5000 years, so we are only half-way through. Within that time there would be periods of “famine” where Ariyas will be few in numbers. But there will also be times when Buddha Sasana will shine with numerous Ariyas in the world.
  • The key here is once-in-a-while, a “jathi Sotapanna” is born who has fulfilled his paramitas to bring back the message of the Buddha, like Venerable Mahinda did about 600 years after the Buddha. They are not only jati Sotapannas, but have the “patisambhida nana” to figure out the true meanings of key Pali words, such as anicca, dukkha, anatta, and paticca samuppada.
  • I believe this is such a time. It is still too early to discuss the details, but such a unique Noble person is in Sri Lanka. And there are many “climbers” over the world who have already started “climbing up” with the help of that established “climber”.

8. The third condition is to “act with yoniso manasikara“. Here “yöni” means “origin”, “so” means “oneself”, and “manasikara” here means “with this in mind”.

  • In the Vibhangapakarana (Book 2, p. 234), ayoniso manasikara has been described as “perceiving anicca as nicca, dukkha as sukha, and anatta as atta“.  Thus acting with yoniso manasikara requires comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • To state that very briefly, if one believes that there are things in this world that can provide happiness in the long run, then one is acting with ayoniso manasikara. To act with yoniso manasikara is to see the unfruitfulness of these struggles to attain something that is not attainable, and thus to work diligently towards at least the Sotapanna stage because this life is so short.
  • But a more direct can be seen when one can see the “origins of various births or jathi” (i.e., rebirths).Yoni” in Pali and Sinhala means the birth canal; thus yoniso manasikara means the “understanding of origins”: One with yoniso manasikara knows the causes that lead to births in various realms, i.e., “bhava” and “jathi” are according to one’s gathi; see, “Gathi to Bhava to Jathi – Ours to Control“.
  • With that understanding, one will be motivated to cultivate “gathi” to be able to make good decisions, either automatically, or at least by contemplating on it. In other words, one will be able to make better judgements about morality, and to act with panna (wisdom).
  • Even more importantly, one will be able to automatically avoid those deeds that can lead to rebirth in the apayas.
  • Thus “yoniso manasikara” has a more deeper meaning than just “appropriate attention”. In particular, a Sotapanna comprehends “pati + icca” leads to “sama+uppada“; see, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.

9. When one is meeting the first three conditions, one is set to fulfill the fourth, “dhammanudhamma patipada“.  Here “dhammanudhamma” is “dhamma + anu +Dhamma” where “anu” means “according to”. The second “Dhamma” is the Buddha Dhamma; the first is the “dhamma” that one follows. “Patipada” is “procedure”. Thus it means following the procedures laid out in the true and pure Buddha Dhamma.

  • When one learns the true Dhamma from an Ariya (Noble) person, one begins to comprehend:

(i) what is really meant by suffering (dukkha),

(ii) that suffering arises due to the anicca nature, and thus

(iii) one does not have any refuge anywhere in the 31 realms (anatta).

  • Then one realizes that in order to seek the only refuge (atta) of Nibbana, one needs to act with yoniso manasikara and follow the “dhammanudhamma patipada“.
  • In the Dvitiya Anudhamma Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya), dhammanudhamma patipada is described as living with a clear vision of anicca nature of the pancakkhandha (rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana).

10. As pointed out in “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma“, dhammanudhamma patipada or the “Dhamma Path” starts with mundane samma ditthi, or how to sort out immoral from moral. Then one gets rid of the moha (deep delusion) that covers the mind, and the mind will be ready to grasp anicca, dukkha, anatta.

  • When a “moral mind” is exposed to the true Dhamma, the second stage or the Sotapanna magga/phala results at some point.

11. Let us take an example to illustrate this concept.

One does not intentionally cut oneself, because one can see the dangers in that. In the same way, moral people stay away from immoral acts because they can see the consequences of such immoral acts.

  • But there are people who enjoy cutting themselves up (even though rare); they can be compared to those who commit highly immoral acts because of their moha.
  • We can thus see why it is comparatively easy to get on the mundane eightfold path.

12. The lokottara eightfold Path is harder to see. This is why a Buddha or someone who has learned the message of the Buddha is needed to convey that.

  • If there is a party and people are enjoying good food and drinks that laced with poison. The poison is deadly but it takes time to digest and bring out its bad effects. So everyone is enjoying the food and having a good time.
  • And then someone comes and says, “this food is laced with poison, the more delicious the food is more poisonous it is”.
  • Most people just ignore that message. They cannot comprehend why this person is “trying to ruin the party”. But a few people ask for more information and try to find out whether what this person is saying is true or not.
  • Like that it is hard for most people to take the “long term perspective” and investigate whether it is really true that “it is not only fruitless, but also dangerous” to be attached to the sense pleasures of this world.

13. It is hard in the beginning to grasp this message. Even when one starts seeing the message (as one gets to the Sotapanna magga anugami stage), initially it is hard to instill discipline. A good analogy here is it is harder to resist scratching an itch, even though one may realize that it is not a good idea because one will then make that a wound. The tendency is to “enjoy the scratching”. In the same way, even when one starts seeing the dangers of the rebirth process, initially it is still hard to resist the sense pleasures.

  • The solution is to “put some ointment in the itch to calm it down”; in the same way, one can calm down the strong urges by reading/listening and contemplating Dhamma (thinking about consequences).
  • And one should initially focus on the “big itches”, and not try to take care of all “minor itches”. As one gets relief from the “major itches” one can see the benefits and is motivated to follow the same procedure for other “itches” as well. Similarly, following the Path (especially the Sotapanna magga anugami stage) is a gradual process. One needs to tackle the “bigger offenses” or get rid of the “worst habits (gathi)” first.

Next, “How Does One Know whether the Sotapanna Stage is Reached?“, ………..

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