Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala

Revised March 22, 2016; September 22, 2017, June 28, 2019; critical revision of #3 on November 25, 2021

1. In many suttā, including Sotā­patti­phala Sutta (SN 55.55) and Dutiya Sariputta Sutta (Samyutta Nikāya 55.5), the four requirements for someone to attain the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna are stated: “Cattārome, bhikkhave, dhammā bhāvitā bahulīkatā sotā­patti­phala­sacchi­kiriyāya saṃvattanti. Katame cattāro? Sap­purisa­saṃ­sevo, saddham­mas­savanaṃ, yoniso­ma­nasikāro, dhammā­nu­dhammap­paṭi­patti“.

  • Association with “sappurisa (sath + purisa or “Noble friend,” i.e., an Ariya),” sometimes called a “kalyāna mittā” (“kalyāna mitrā” in Sanskrit.)
  • Listening to Dhamma discourses (while reading is enough to get to the Sotāpaññā Anugāmi stage, listening is necessary to attain the Sotāpaññā stage, see #3 below).
  • Act with Yōniso manasikāra (basic idea of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and Paṭicca Samuppāda).
  • Dhammanudhamma patipadā (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 Sōtapanna magga anugāmi (or Sōtapanna magga anugāmika); see, “Sōtapanna anugāmi and a Sōtapanna.”

2. It is imperative to understand what the Buddha meant by “my Dhamma has not been known to the world.” Most people follow what they deem to be “Buddhism.” 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 Sōtapanna magga anugāmi after making progress on the mundane (lōkiya) eightfold Path. That is when one embarks on the Noble Eightfold Path.
  • As I tried to point out in many posts, one on the mundane Path abstains from immoral deeds out of fear of bad outcomes. But when one starts comprehending Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one starts avoiding such deeds because one sees the futility of such acts. What is the point in hurting others to acquire sense pleasures that, in the end, do not provide any lasting happiness?

3. November 25, 2021: Previously, I had stated that one could learn about Tilakkhana by reading these days. That is still true, and one could become a Sōtapanna anugāmi by listening or reading.

4. When one contemplates the above, one first needs to find out WHY the Buddha said: “this wider world of 31 realms” has much suffering. Sensory pleasures keep us bound to the kāma loka and very often to the four apāyā.  That is the First Noble Truth.

  • The Buddha also said that if one comprehends the First Noble Truth, one will automatically understand the other three. That essential vision or the first inkling of “Sammā Diṭṭhi” 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 Sōtapanna Magga anugāmi. As one comprehends these fundamental characteristics of our world while listening to a desana by an Ariya, one will get to the Sōtapanna stage by attaining the Sōtapanna magga and Sōtapanna phala virtually simultaneously (in the same citta vithi); see, “Sōtapanna anugāmi and a Sōtapanna.”
  • When one gets to the Sōtapanna stage, one comprehends the First Noble Truth, and thus all four Noble Truths to some extent; one has “seen” Nibbāna. Now, one does not need any help to get to Nibbāna (to “fully experience it”) because one sees the whole Path and knows how to get there.

5. 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, it has to come from a Buddha or “someone whose knowledge traces back to the Buddha.” The following is an analogy given in the suttā.

6. The Buddha can be compared to a great tree, standing tall and firm. All other humans are like “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 a post. Following are some examples.

  • Let us think of a forest with numerous climbers but only one tree and no other supports such as sticks. The only way for a climber to “climb up” would be 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 climbing up, we can ALWAYS trace it back to the original tree. In the same way, an Ariya or a Noble person (a Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, 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 whose lineage is traceable to the Buddha. One cannot attain even the Sōtapanna stage without hearing the correct message. Someone aspiring to become an Ariya MUST hear that Dhamma from another Ariya; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”

7. 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 “Kalyāna mitrā” is Sanskrit; in Pāli it is “kalyāna mittā” (pronounced “miththā“), for “a friend who helps to remove defilements” (“kāla” is for “dirty” or “blackish” as in “dirty water” and “na” is for “removing”).
  • Many people take “Kalyāna mitrā” to be a “good friend” in the conventional sense. But it is more than just “good”; one needs to know the message of the Buddha to convey it to others.
  • And of course, one has listened to this correct message or read about it and then GRASP it.

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

  • The Buddha replied, “Ananda, do not say that. The Buddha Sāsana will depend 100% on the kalyāna miththäs”. Now we can see why.
  • If that lineage breaks, then that is the end of the Buddha Sāsana. The words may still be there, but there will be no one to explain the true meanings of the keywords, including anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • However, the Buddha has stated that his Buddha Sāsana will be there for 5000 years, so we are only halfway through. There would be periods of “famine” within which Ariyās would be few in numbers. But there will also be times when Buddha Sāsana will shine with numerous Ariyā in the world.
  • The key here is once-in-a-while, a “jāti Sōtapanna” is born who has fulfilled his pāramitas to bring back the message of the Buddha-like Venerable Mahinda did about 600 years after the Buddha. They are not only jāti Sōtapannas, but have the “patisambhidā nana” to figure out the true meanings of key Pāli words, such as anicca, dukkha, anatta, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • I believe this is such a time. It is still too early to discuss the details, but there many Ariyā in Sri Lanka and even in other countries, thanks in large part to Waharaka Thēro: “Parinibbāna of Waharaka Thēro.”
  • There are many “climbers” worldwide who have already started “climbing up.” I am encouraged by emails from many reading this website on their joy in comprehending the “pure Dhamma.”

9. The third condition is to “act with yōniso manasikāra.” Here “yōni” means “origin,” “so” means “oneself,” and “manasikara” here means “with this in mind.”

  • The Vibhangapakarana (Book 2, p. 234) explains ayōniso manasikār as “perceiving anicca as nicca, dukkha as sukha, and anatta as atta.”  Thus acting with yōniso manasikāra requires comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta.
  • To state that briefly, if one believes that things in this world can provide happiness in the long run, then one acts with ayōniso manasikāra. To act with yōniso manasikāra is to see the unfruitfulness of these struggles to attain something that is not attainable, and thus to work diligently towards at least the Sōtapanna stage because this life is so short.
  • But a more direct can be seen when one can see the “origins of various births or jāti” (i.e., rebirths).Yōni” in Pāli and Sinhala means the birth canal; thus yōniso manasikāra means the “understanding of origins”: One with yōniso manasikāra knows the causes that lead to births in various realms, i.e., “bhava” and “jāthi” are according to one’s gati; see, “Gati to Bhava to Jāti – Ours to Control.”
  • With that understanding, one will be motivated to cultivate “gati” to make good decisions, either automatically or by contemplating them. In other words, one will be able to make better judgments about morality and to act with paññā (wisdom).
  • Even more importantly, one will automatically avoid those deeds that can lead to rebirth in the apāyā.
  • Thus “yōniso manasikāra” has a deeper meaning than just “appropriate attention.” In particular, a Sōtapanna comprehends “pati + icca” leads to “sama+uppada“; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.

10. When meeting the first three conditions, one is set to fulfill the fourth, “dhammanudhamma patipadā.”  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. “patipadā” is “procedure.” Thus it means following the procedures laid out in the correct and pure Buddha Dhamma.

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

(i) what is 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 to seek the only refuge (atta) of Nibbāna, one needs to act with yōniso manasikāra and follow the “dhammanudhamma patipadā.”
  • There is a series of four suttas, starting with the Anudhamma Sutta (SN 22.39)
  • Those sutta describe dhammanudhamma patipadā as living with a clear vision of anicca, dukkha, anatta nature of the pancakkhandha (rupa, vedana, sanna, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa).

11. As pointed out in “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“, dhammanudhamma patipadā or the “Dhamma Path” starts with mundane samma diṭṭhi, 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.

  • The second stage, or the Sōtapanna phala moment, will result at some point.

12. 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 wrong actions.

  • We can thus see why it is comparatively easy to get on the mundane Eightfold Path.

13. The lokottara eightfold Path is harder to see. One has to learn it from a Buddha or a true disciple of the Buddha.

  • If someone enjoys tasty food laced with poison, digesting and bringing out its harmful effects will take time. So everyone is enjoying the food and having a good time.
  • And then someone comes and says, “this food has poison; the more delicious the food is, the more poisonous it is.”
  • Most people 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 true that “it is not only fruitless but also dangerous” to be attached to the sense pleasures of this world.

14. It is hard in the beginning to grasp this message. Even when one starts seeing the message (as one gets to the Sōtapanna magga anugāmi 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 sensory pleasure.

  • 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 Sōtapanna magga anugāmi stage) is a gradual process. One needs to tackle the “bigger offenses” or get rid of the “worst habits (gati)” first.

Of course, one needs to have removed micchā diṭṭhi even to become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi: “Micca Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sotāpaññā Stage.”

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

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