Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala

The four conditions for attaining the Sotapanna stage per Dutiya Sāriputta Sutta are discussed. One must understand the “previously unknown real nature of this world” revealed by the Buddha.

Revised March 22, 2016; rewritten December 16, 2022; revised February 25, 2024 (#9)

Buddha Dhamma Is a New Worldview

1. Buddhism is commonly treated as “another religion,” but it is strikingly different from traditional religions based on a Creator. See “Is Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) a Religion?” 

  • It is imperative to understand what the Buddha meant by “my Dhamma has not been known to the world.” Most people follow the mundane version of “Buddhism,” which mainly involve living a moral life and following rituals. Instead, they need first to understand the “real nature” of this world involving rebirths in suffering-filled existences.
  • Becoming a Sotapanna REQUIRES understanding that “previously unheard worldview” of the Buddha.
  • There are eight types of Noble Persons, with the highest at the Arahant stage. One starts at the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage; see “Sōtapanna Anugāmi – No More Births in the Apāyās.”
Pre-Conditions to Prepare for the Sotapanna Stage

2. As discussed in the following posts, one must first complete the mundane (lōkiya) eightfold Path to become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi. The Noble Eightfold Path starts at the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage.

  • I strongly advise reading the following posts and thinking about this issue: “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and the discussion at “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.
  • As I pointed out in many posts, one on the mundane Path abstains from immoral deeds out of fear of bad outcomes.
  • But when one starts comprehending the Four Noble Truths at the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage, one avoids such deeds because one sees the futility of such actions. What is the point in hurting others to acquire sensory pleasures that, in the end, do not provide any lasting happiness? Not only that, but such actions will lead to much suffering in future lives.
Four Requirements to Attain the Sotapanna Stage

3. In many suttā, including “Sotāpattiphala Sutta (SN 55.55)” andDutiya Sāriputta Sutta (SN 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 by an Ariya (while reading is enough to get to the Sotāpaññā Anugāmi stage, listening is necessary to attain the Sotāpanna phala moment, see #5 below).
  • Understand Yōniso manasikāra (how various rebirths occur according to Paṭicca Samuppāda).
  • Dhammānudhamma Paṭipadā (make a determination to follow the Noble Path); see, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.

4. When someone starts fulfilling the above conditions, one becomes a Sōtapanna Anugāmi (or Sōtapanna anugāmika); see “Sōtapanna Anugāmi and a Sōtapanna.”

Sotapanna Phala Moment 

5. One can become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi by listening or reading.

  • A Sotapanna Anugāmi becomes a Sotapanna when the “new vision” firmly establishes in mind. That happens in a split-second while listening to a discourse by a Noble Person at or above the Sotapanna stage. 
  • The javana power in a sotadvāra citta vithi is necessary to fulfill the requirement of saddhammassavanaṃ (saddhamma + savanaṃ or “listening to Dhamma”) as one condition, as in #3 above.
  • The following discourse by Waharaka Thero (in Sinhala) explains the mechanism. It is a deep analysis; I will write a post when enough background material is covered.

Here is the dēsanā in the Sinhala language:

  • There is still an open question of whether a recorded dēsanā would fulfill the condition. In a separate dēsanā, Waharaka Thēro has mentioned that listening to a recorded dēsanā should count, in his opinion.
  • However, even if a Sotapanna Anugāmi does not get to the Sotapanna stage in this life, he/she WILL attain the Sotapanna phala in a future life. A Sotapanna Anugāmi is a Noble Person and is free of the apāyas; see “Sōtapanna Anugāmi – No More Births in the Apāyās.”
Four Noble Truths, Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana 

6. 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 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 critical.
  • Understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda is essential to understand the Four Noble Truths. Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how rebirths in various existences occur, including in the apāyās (the four lowest realms, including the animal realm.)
  • That will lead to an understanding of the actual frightful nature of this world, i.e., Tilakkahana (anicca, dukkha, anatta.)
  • Details at “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
Only a Noble Person Can Explain Those Concepts

7. Now, 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 to explain that.

  • 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 climbers 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. Without being exposed to the correct message, one cannot attain even the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage. Someone aspiring to become an Ariya MUST learn that Dhamma from another Ariya; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”

8. 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 consider “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.
Value of a Noble Friend

9. 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 mittās”. Now we can see why. See “Upaḍḍha Sutta (SN 45.2).”
  • If that lineage breaks, that is the Buddha Sāsana‘s end. The words may still be there in books, but there will be no one to explain the true meanings of the keywords, including anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
  • In the Vinaya Pitaka, the Buddha said Buddha Dhamma will FLOURISH only for 500 years (that does not mean it will disappear): “20. Nuns (Bhikkhunī)” There is also the “Gotamī Sutta (AN 8.51)” that says the same.
  • After that, there will be periods where the teachings will go “underground,” meaning the absence of Ariyas, who can explain the teachings. A jāti Sōtapanna with the paṭisambhidā ñāṇa must be born from time to time to recover the actual teachings.
  • The Buddha emphasized that his teachings (among humans) will not disappear as long as there are at least Sotapannas among humans who can keep passing down the teachings to the next generation.
  • That is in the “Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16)”: “Yasmiṁ kho, subhadda, dhammavinaye ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo na upalabbhati, samaṇopi tattha na upalabbhati. Dutiyopi tattha samaṇo na upalabbhati. Tatiyopi tattha samaṇo na upalabbhati. Catutthopi tattha samaṇo na upalabbhati. Yasmiñca kho, subhadda, dhammavinaye ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo upalabbhati, samaṇopi tattha upalabbhati, dutiyopi tattha samaṇo upalabbhati, tatiyopi tattha samaṇo upalabbhati, catutthopi tattha samaṇo upalabbhati. Imasmiṁ kho, subhadda, dhammavinaye ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo upalabbhati, idheva, subhadda, samaṇo, idha dutiyo samaṇo, idha tatiyo samaṇo, idha catuttho samaṇo, suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehi. –Ime ca, subhadda, bhikkhū sammā vihareyyuṁ, asuñño loko arahantehi assāti.”

    That means: “Subhadda, in whatever teaching and training the noble eightfold path is not found, there is no true Sotapanna, no Sakadagami, no Anagami, and no Arahant found. In whatever teaching and training the noble eightfold path is found, there is a true Sotapanna, a Sakadagami, an Anagami, and an Arahant found. The noble eightfold path is found in this teaching (Buddha Dhamma) and training (Vinaya).
    – As long as bhikkhus maintain the Ariya lineage, this world will have Arahants.”

Jāti Sōtapanna With Paṭisambhidā Ñāṇa

10. Thus, the teachings of the Buddha go “underground” for long periods. But 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 about 600 years after the Buddha. They must not only jāti Sōtapannas but have the “paṭisambhidā ñāṇa” 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. Pure Buddha Dhamma was hidden for hundreds of years until revealed by Waharaka Thēro: “Parinibbāna of Waharaka Thēro.”
  • Many “climbers” worldwide have already started “climbing up.” I am encouraged by emails from many reading this website about their joy in comprehending the “pure Dhamma.”
Yōniso manasikāra With the Comprehension of Paṭicca Samuppāda

11. The third condition is to “act with yōniso manasikāra.” Here, “yōni” means “origin,” “so” means “oneself,” and “manasikara”  means “comprehension.”

  • One understands how one can be reborn in a given realm (existence) based on one’s actions (abhisaṅkhāra.) One acts with the opposite of yōniso manasikāra (i.e., ayōniso manasikāra) when one generates abhisaṅkhāra with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” That initiates the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
  • Yōni” in Pāli and Sinhala means the birth canal; thus, yōniso manasikāra means the “understanding of origins.” One grasps yōniso manasikāra (i.e., the causes that lead to births in various realms) by comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda.

12. Paṭicca Samuppāda explains the arising of “bhava” and “jāti” 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 can make better moral judgments and act with paññā (wisdom).
  • No one wants to be born a dog. But if one acts like a dog, one will likely be born a dog. Dogs won’t hesitate to engage in inappropriate behavior: they defecate anywhere, engage in sex with any female dog, possibly even their kids, etc. With the comprehension of Paṭicca Samuppāda, we can figure out what kind of actions/speech/thoughts (abhisaṅkhāra) lead to what types of rebirths.
Connection to Tilakkhana

13. The Vibhangapakarana (Book 2, p. 234) explains ayōniso manasikāra as “perceiving anicca as nicca, dukkha as sukha, and anatta as atta.”  Thus acting with yōniso manasikāra requires comprehending anicca, dukkha, and anatta. That is another way to express the deductions from Paṭicca Samuppāda. 

  • To state that briefly, one generates abhisaṅkhāra with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” because one believes that things in this world can provide happiness in the long run. But that is acting with ayōniso manasikāra because those only lead to “bhava” and “jāti,” ending with a “whole mass suffering.” To act with yōniso manasikāra is to see the unfruitfulness of these struggles to attain something that is not attainable. See #7 of “Yoniso Manasikāra and Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • Even more importantly, one will automatically avoid those deeds (done with abhisaṅkhāra) that can lead to rebirth in the apāyā.
  • Thus, “yōniso manasikāra” has a deeper meaning than just “appropriate attention.” In particular, a Sōtapanna comprehends “paṭi + icca” leads to “sama+uppāda“; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.
Fourth Condition – Dhammānudhamma Paṭipadā

14. When meeting the first three conditions, one is set to fulfill the fourth, “Dhammānudhamma Paṭipadā.”  Here “Dhammānudhamma” is “Dhamma + anuhamma,” where “Dhamma” is Buddha Dhamma, which is Paṭicca Samuppāda. The Buddha stated, “Yō Paṭiccasamuppādam passati, so Dhammam passati.”  (i.e., “Whoever understands Paṭicca Samuppāda understands my Dhamma.“)

15. Anudhamma means “other Dhamma compatible with Paṭicca Samuppāda,” and “Paṭipadā” is “to follow.” Thus it means following other aspects of Buddha Dhamma (such as Tilakkhana, moral conduct, etc.) 

  • There are four suttas, starting with theAnudhamma Sutta (SN 22.39)” that describe various “anudhamma” like anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
  • Those suttas describe Dhammānudhamma Paṭipadā as living with a clear vision of the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature of the pancakkhandha (rupa, vedana, sanna, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa).

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

(i) What is meant by suffering (dukkha),

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

(iii) One has no refuge anywhere in the 31 realms (anatta).

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

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