Relinquishing Defilements via Three Rounds and Four Stages

be February 4, 2016; revised September 12, 2019

Tiparivattaya – Three Rounds of Bondage to This World

1. Here we will link the concepts like tiparivattaya in the sutta to other basic ideas that we have discussed in different sections at the site.

  • I want to emphasize that “relinquish” means “giving up voluntarily, through acquired wisdom.”
  • When one acquires wisdom, one realizes that defilements arise due to cravings for sense pleasures.
  • The real danger is when desires for sense pleasures lead to immoral actions or pāpa kamma (such as killing) that makes one eligible for the apāyās.

2. The Buddha gained all 12 types of knowledge at once in attaining the Buddhahood. However, an average human will go through the tiparivattaya (or the three rounds of bondage) via four stages of Nibbāna. We can compare this to building a new complex structure.

  • A Sōtapanna overcomes the first round by gaining the basic knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. Those are: what suffering is, the causes for suffering, stopping the causes from taking place, and the way to stop root causes. It is like seeing the plan to construct a building. All the details are in that blueprint.
  • Let us continue with the analogy of constructing a building. The Sakadāgāmi stage is starting to build the building.  With the basic structure finished, one is at the Anāgāmi stage. That overcomes the second round.
  • When the building is all finished with the finer details, that is like attaining the Arahant stage. One has overcome the third round. There is nothing more to be done.
Sōtapanna Anugāmi

3. Even though the above analogy gives the basic idea, we need to examine it in more detail. It is the Sōtapanna Anugāmi (one who is striving to become a Sōtapanna) who does the bulk of the work.  He/she needs to learn the necessary background on “how to design and build the building.”

  • He/she cannot do that without learning the critical fundamentals from a Noble Person who has gone through at least one of the three rounds (or one of the four stages).
  • Thus to become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi, one must learn the true nature of the world from an Ariya (at least a Sōtapanna). There are several posts on this issue. One can find by doing a keyword search or by looking through the posts under “Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna.”

4. To become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi, one first needs to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi; see, “Micchā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.

  • First, the mind needs to grasp that it has to be devoid of the extreme levels of greed (lōbha), hate (dōsa). That leads to a gradual reduction of total ignorance (mōha) via learning the right message of the Buddha, i.e., one needs to see the dangers in acting with lōbha, dōsa, mōha.
  • One cannot grasp the dangers of the rebirth process if one does not believe that the four lowest realms with unimaginable suffering exist. Those who are striving to become Sōtapannas need to carefully read about what constitutes micchā diṭṭhi, for example, “Key to Sōtapanna Stage – Diṭṭhi and Vicikicca.”

5. A subtle (but stronger) level of micchā diṭṭhi remains until one starts comprehending Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta). That means one needs to begin understanding that it is not possible to achieve AND maintain ANYTHING to one’s satisfaction.

  • Just by having learned the true nature of this world (anicca, dukkha, anatta), a Sōtapanna Anugāmi gradually removes a bulk of defilements and attains the Sōtapanna stage. Now he/she can see the Path to the Arahanthood.
  • It is important to note that he/she did not have to remove any attachments BY FORCE. All he/she did was to comprehend Dhamma to the level to see not only the unfruitfulness but the dangers of the rebirth process. See, “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?.”
Sōtapanna stage – First Round of Bondage Overcome

6. When one attains the Sōtapanna stage, one significantly reduces lōbha (extreme greed), dōsa (intense hate), and mōha (sheer ignorance). They cut to the levels of rāga (attachment to worldly pleasures), paṭigha (tendency to become irritated when one does not get one wants), and avijjā (not fully knowing the true nature of the world). These terms discussed in “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja.”

  • By going through this first round of the tiparivattaya, a Sōtapanna removes the bulk of defilements. See, “Why a Sotāpanna is Better off than any King, Emperor, or a Billionaire.” That illustrates how one is capable of doing immoral acts that makes one eligible for the apāyās, just because one has micchā diṭṭhi.
  • It is essential to realize that there are many people with micchā diṭṭhi who go through their lives without doing any such horrible acts. However, the possibility to do such actions remains with one through future lives until one attains the Sōtapanna stage. That is what is meant by anusaya, the hidden defilements. They can be removed only via learning and comprehending Dhamma.

7. What is the reason that a Sōtapanna WILL NOT do any highly immoral act that makes him/her eligible to be born in the apāyās? It is not something he/she does consciously. Such decisions come automatically. That is the result of comprehending anicca (unfruitful) nature of this world.

  • It sinks to one’s mind that no matter what one can gain by doing such immoral actions, it will lead to far more dire consequences in the future. Not only that but “what is the point of harming another being for anything in this world?.” One will have to give up that eventually, when one dies!
  • For example, one may kill someone and get a million dollars without getting caught and may live a luxurious life. But he/she will pay for it by being born in the apāyās for millions of years to come.
  • When one comprehends the anicca nature, one realizes deep down the foolishness (and the dangers) of such acts. Anusaya (craving) for such actions will be removed when one attains the Sōtapanna stage. One would have shed such “gati” (or “gati“) or character without a trace left. Again, there are many posts on these concepts.
The Second Round of the tiparivattaya

8. The second round of the tiparivattaya is tackled in by a Sōtapanna in two steps. First, to become a Sakadāgāmi and then to become an Anāgāmi. Anāgami has gone through the second round.

  • Remember that a Sōtapanna has reduced lōbha, dōsa, mōha to the levels of rāga, paṭigha, and avijjā; see #4 above. Raga means the attachments for things in this world, which are three basic types: (i) Kāma rāga means attachment to sense pleasures, i.e., those available in kāma lōka. (ii) Rūpa rāga means attachment to jhānic pleasures in rūpa lōka,  and (iii) Arupa rāga means attachment to jhānic pleasures in arūpa lōka.
  • Kāma rāga is actually of two “strengths”: “kilesa (kilesa) kāma” means attachment to sense pleasures. “Vatthu kāma” (“vatthu” means “property”) is stronger because one also wants to own such sense objects.
  • When a Sōtapanna sees the perils of sense pleasures and the tendency to angry (paṭigha), both kāma rāga and paṭigha are first reduced to the levels of a Sakadāgāmi. Here, one loses “vatthu kāma” completely. Thus, a Sakadāgāmi is said to be “healthy forever” because he will never be born with a body that is subject to diseases. That means he will never be born at or below the human realm.
  • As one sees the perils of kāma assāda (sensory pleasures) starting at the Sōtapanna stage, one begins to see the world more clearly; see, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction.”

9. A Sakadāgāmi makes more progress via contemplating the drawbacks or perils (ādinava) of sense pleasures and overcomes the second round of bondage to become an Anāgāmi. Thus at this stage one eliminates the “kilesa kāma” component of the kāma rāga AND remainder of paṭigha.

  • Thus an Anāgāmi has given up all attachments to the kāma lōka (those including the human and deva realms), and hence will not be born anywhere in kāma lōka.
The Third Round

10. Now we can see that an Anāgāmi has only the rūpa rāga and arūpa rāga remaining with him/her (which are low levels of greed). Furthermore, there is no trace of hate (dōsa) or friction (paṭigha) left. Thus only rebirths in the brahma realms are possible for an Anāgāmi. Of course, there is still some avijjā left-over too.

  • When an Anāgāmi overcomes those remaining defilements from his/her mind, the mind becomes purified. Then one attains the Arahant stage of Nibbāna by overcoming the third round of the tiparivattaya.

11. We are bound to the perpetual cycle of rebirths via ten fetters called “sanyōjana = “san+yōjana”; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“;  yōjana means bond. Sanyōjana is sometimes called samyōjana.

  • Those ten sanyōjana (or samyōjana) are also gradually removed as one goes through the three rounds or tiparivattaya in four stages.
  • At the Sōtapanna stage, one removes the two sanyōjana of sakkāya diṭṭhi and silabbata paramasa by removing micchā diṭṭhi. One also removes the vicikiccā sanyōjana that is associated with mōha, and thus reduces mōha to avijjā.

12. At the Sakadāgāmi stage, one reduces the two sanyōjana of kāma rāga and paṭigha. Those two entirely removed by attaining the Anāgāmi stage.

  • In terms of sanyōjana, an Anāgāmi has five left to remove: rūpa rāga, arūpa rāga, māna, uddacca, and avijjā.  With the removal of those, one attains the Arahanthood.

13. Thus we can see that there are many types of analyses one can do. They all mean the same thing at the end. One needs to first comprehend the three characteristics of this world (anicca, dukkha, anatta) to some extent to reach the Sōtapanna stage. That is the first round of tiparivattaya. Then going through the second and third rounds of bondage via the next three stages of Nibbāna leads to the complete comprehension of anicca, dukkha, anatta. That leads to stopping the saṃsāric (or samsāric) journey filled with so much suffering.

14. Therefore, the whole journey is a truth-seeking mission about this world of 31 realms. That suffering can be intense in some realms. But one’s comprehension of suffering is minimal at the beginning. The more one understands the true nature; one’s mind AUTOMATICALLY gives up attachments to this world VOLUNTARILY.

15. Thus, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (or Dhamma Cakka Pavattana sutta) gives the blueprint of what Buddha Dhamma is all about. What the Buddha did in the following 45 years was to describe this blueprint in detail in various ways.

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