What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sōtapanna?

Revised May 10, 2017; December 1, 2017; July 7, 2018; August 16, 2019

1. Upon attaining the Sōtapanna stage, micchā diṭṭhi (the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi together with wrong views of nicca, sukha, atta) is COMPLETELY removed. That is one akusala out of dasa akusala. But that itself accounts for more than 99% of akusala (defilements) from one’s mind since the “apāyagāmi strength” of other nine akusala kamma are also removed.

  • That illustrates the importance of removing micchā diṭṭhi, and why I have so many posts on that. Also, see the first discourse in, “Three Marks of Existence – English Discourses.”
  • Some people think a Sōtapanna is incapable of breaking the five precepts based on an incorrect translation of the Gihi Sutta (AN 5.179). The relevant verse is: “..ariyasāvako pāṇātipātā paṭiviratō hoti, adinnādānā paṭiviratō hoti, kāmesu­micchā­cārā paṭiviratō hoti, musāvādā paṭiviratō hoti, surā­meraya­majja­pa­mā­daṭṭhānā paṭiviratō hōti“.
  • However, “pativiratō hōti” does not mean “abstains from” as translated at many online sites; it means “does not do with liking.” Thus, a Sōtapanna may — under some conditions — break the five precepts. It is only an Arahant that will not break five precepts or engage in any of dasa akusala.
  • The five precepts have deeper meanings too: “The Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them.”

2.  The six things that a Sōtapanna will not do (per “Bahu­dhātu­ka Sutta (MN 115)“:

  • Killing one’s mother.
  • Killing one’s father.
  • Killing an Arahant.
  • Injuring a Buddha.
  • Causing sangha bheda (spreading wrong Dhamma is included here).
  • Taking refuge in anyone other than a Buddha (i.e., believing in other ways of “salvation”).

3. Nakhasikha Sutta (SN 13.1) describes the vast amount of defilements removed by a Sōtapanna.

  • One time the Buddha picked up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, and asked the bhikkhus, “What do you think bhikkhus? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the soil in this great Earth?”.
  • Of course, the bhikkhus answered that the amount of soil in this Earth is vastly more massive than the bit of dust picked up on a fingernail.
  • Then the Buddha told the bhikkhus that the number of defilements that a Sōtapanna has removed could be compared to the soil in the whole Earth. The amount that he/she has left to remove can be compared to the bit of dust on his fingernail.
  • Therefore, the amount of suffering a Sōtapanna has left in future rebirths is insignificantly small.
  • There is a decent online explanation of the sutta that one can look up: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn13/sn13.001.than.html

4. Another simile is in the Sineru sutta of the Samyutta Nikāya. “The amount of suffering a Sōtapanna has to endure can be compared to seven grains of sand on top of mount Sineru. In comparison, the amount of suffering a normal human has left to endure is sand in the whole mountain”.

  • That is logical, of course, since the suffering encountered in the niraya is never ceasing. One birth in the niraya (hell) would lead to much more suffering than thousands, millions of births in the human or higher realms.
  • A Sōtapanna will NEVER be reborn in the four lowest realms. Furthermore, he/she will have only seven future bhava left, and those in the human realm or the realms above it.

5. That may be why most people tend to think that attaining the Sōtapanna stage requires attaining jhānā, all sorts of abhiññā powers, etc. None of that is a requirement for achieving the Sōtapanna stage.

  • But at least half of the ten evils (dasa akusala) must be removed to become a Sōtapanna? No. It turns out that a Sōtapannaa removes only one of the dasa akusala, that of niyata micchā diṭṭhi. Of course, in achieving that, a Sōtapanna would have reduced the “apāyagāmi strength” of most of the other dasa akusala. That is the key to understand. In particular, abhijja or lōbha reduced to rāga level and vyāpāda or dōsa reduced to paṭigha level; see, “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja.”
  • For a discussion on dasa akusala, see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala).” As discussed in that post, Niyata Miccā Diṭṭhi (established wrong views) is an akusala done with the mind.
  • A Sōtapanna is said to have achieved “dassanēna pahātabba” or removal of defilements via correct vision. He/she has removed an unimaginably vast amount of evils (“keles” or “kilēsa” or “klēsha“) with the removal of micchā diṭṭhi, or attaining the first stage of Sammā Diṭṭhi: the true nature of this world of 31 realms.
  • How a Sōtapanna reduces dasa akusala via getting rid of micchā diṭṭhi “to overcome apāyagāmi citta” is discussed in “Akusala Citta – How a Sōtapanna Avoids Apayagami Citta.” Here is it described how five out of the 12 akusala citta do not arise after the Sōtapanna stage; those are the five that lead to birth in the apāyā.

6. That is a critical point to understand. Removal of micchā diṭṭhi leads to the stopping of highly immoral actions. Most people worry excessively on the defilements done with the body and speech. They are afraid of even accidentally killing an insect or telling even a “white lie.” Of course, those need to be avoided too, because moral behavior (speech and actions) are a prerequisite for cleansing the mind.

  • But having niyata miccha diṭṭhi is million-fold more weighty. These and other types of Niyata Miccā Diṭṭhi (established wrong views) discussed in, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)” and “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).”
  • It would be beneficial to understand the weights of different types of kamma; see,  “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kammas.“
  • If one has a vessel that is leaking water, there is no point in trying to plug the smaller holes first. One should seal the largest hole first, which in this case is getting rid of micchā diṭṭhi or false views (about this world).
  • That may still not convince some. If so, see whether this conclusion is contradictory to anything in the Tipiṭaka. One should carefully examine all the “requirements” that need to be fulfilled to attain the Sōtapanna stage. It should become clear that indeed, this is all one needs to do.

7. So, we have come to the “crux of the matter”: How can one remove niyata micchā diṭṭhi? That is ALL one has to do to become a Sōtapanna.

  • However, complete removal of niyata micchā diṭṭhi requires an understanding of the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) to some extent.
  • One cannot PRETEND to believe in things that one honestly does not believe in. Just by saying, “I do believe in rebirth,” or, “I do believe that there are other realms in this world other than the human and animal realms,” for example, WILL NOT WORK.
  • That is not like going to courts of law and trying to convince a jury of one’s innocence. One’s mind needs to “see the realities of this world.”
  • And that comes only via learning Dhamma, the correct version, the version that was discovered by the Buddha and has been passed down through generations of Noble Persons or Ariyā. That is what we discussed in detail in the post, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala.”
  • That is also why we need to comprehend the term, saññā, commonly translated into English as “perception.”

8. Of course, Saññā is one of 52 cētasika and one component of pancakkhandha. It is one of the seven universal cētasika that arise with every citta.

  • Saññā works very closely with another universal cētasika called manasikāra. Manasikara is the cētasika that brings old memories and future hopes into a citta. When cētana “puts together the citta,” the citta recognizes the subject (saññā) and automatically produces vēdanā (feelings) about it. Thus we can see the significant roles played by those four cētasika right away.
  • But saññā is not limited to “recognizing objects.” Saññā is the “inner understanding” of any concept.
  • For example, when we hear the word, “fire,” we immediately recognize what that means. Even a picture of a fire may flash in our minds. But a baby (or a person who does not understand English) does not have a “saññā” for that word; it means nothing to them. But the baby (or that person) can understand what “fire” means if we teach it to them.
  • Growing up, we acquire innumerable “saññā” mostly by becoming familiar with them. We first recognize who “mother” and “father” are, know different colors, different objects, etc.

9. Even though we acquire “saññā” for most objects and people, some strong saññā may be “passed down” from previous lives.  That can take many forms.

  • Some people, when visiting a place that one had never previously visited in this life, may already “know” about that place in great detail. Children who remember past lives have been reported to lead investigators to various locations in faraway cities where they had lived in previous lives. Even many adults have said that they can walk a city with complete confidence that they are visiting for the first time.
  • Then there is the “ability” to play the piano, recite suttā, or just being able to comprehend complex mathematics as a child, etc. Some of these cases discussed in “Evidence for Rebirth.”

10. We “acquire” most saññā through our families first, then through friends, schools, workplaces, etc.

  • Thus most of our “world views” or diṭṭhis are acquired through our families. Our first impressions on moral issues, politics, and religions come from our families.
  • Those saññās are hard to change, depending on how forcefully and frequently they have been used.
  • However, the human mind is unique. When given enough substantial evidence, one’s saññā about something or some concept can PERMANENTLY change. For example, when one learns how to do algebra (addition and subtraction, etc.) correctly, one will never forget that. And even if an authority figure (a teacher) insists that one plus two is four, even a child will not accept that. He/she can count with fingers and show the teacher that the correct answer IS three.

11. As we grow up, we acquire saññā for more specialized tasks.  One could “learn” to become a carpenter, a doctor, an engineer, etc.

  • This “learning” is acquiring “saññā” for a particular task. It is not just memorizing how to do things. When a physician finishes his/her learning, he/she can “troubleshoot” a brand new patient and figure out what is wrong. When an engineer builds a new structure, it could be something that had not been made before. One acquires “skills.”
  • Once one learns a “skill,” one will never forget that; at least it is easy to “get back to it.” One who had learned to ride a bicycle as a child may never touch a bike for 30-40 years. But then, even at old age, he will be able to ride a bike though he may fall once or twice initially.

12. A Sōtapanna acquires a basic level of understanding about “this world” and that “knowledge” or “comprehension” does not go away even in future lives.

  • Once someone sees a “glimpse” of the Buddha’s core message that there is no permanent happiness to be had by wishing for anything in this world in the long run. The term “in the long run” implies that one believes that at the end of this life one WILL BE reborn. And that rebirth WILL BE determined by not only how one lives this life, but also how one had lived previous lives.
  • That kind of a “vision change” does not happen quickly, unless one has “saññā” about that from previous lives; that is why it is easier for some people to grasp these concepts.
  • And this “saññā” cannot be acquired via memorizing suttā, how to recite Paṭicca samuppāda cycle, etc. Instead, one needs to COMPREHEND the concepts.
  • The KEY concept to grasp is the “anicca saññā.”

13. The only way to “build up” the correct saññā is to make an effort to understand the key message of the Buddha. Humans usually have wrong perceptions or “vipareetha saññā” that one can find happiness in this life by working hard. Most people do not even think beyond this life, even if they believe in rebirth. That is also called the “nicca saññā” (pronounced “nichcha saññā”), i.e., by working hard, or by sheer luck, one can achieve and maintain things in this world to one’s satisfaction.

  • The fundamental teaching of the Buddha is about the “anicca saññā,” i.e., it is NOT POSSIBLE to maintain ANYTHING to one’s satisfaction in the long run. The Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna is attained when the anicca saññā or is cultivated to some significant extent.
  • When one has developed the anicca saññā to this level, one’s mind automatically blocks “apāyagāmi citta.”
  • As we discussed in the Abhidhamma section, citta flow very fast, and we do not have control over those initial cittā. We are helpless to stop them in extreme cases like sudden rages or sheer greed. The key is to getting rid of immoral gati (by getting rid of micchā diṭṭhi among other things),
  • It is this anicca saññā that grows as one attains higher stages of Nibbāna (Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi) and peaked at the Arahant stage. At the Arahant stage, one can see the “anicca nature” of ALL sankhārā, not only abhisaṅkhāra. That is what is expressed by, “Sabbē sankhārā anicca,“ and in the Girimānanda sutta, the Buddha told Ven. Ananda, “Ayaṃ vuccati Ananda, sabba sankhārēsu anicca saññā”; see,Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – According to Some Key Suttas.”

14. When one develops the anicca saññā via learning Dhamma (listening and reading), the tendency to act immorally, even under extreme pressure, will slowly diminish.

  • One would be able to see the corresponding “cooling down” (reduced stress level) when one thinks back after several months (could be sooner for some people). One will gradually feel the nirāmisa sukha and drawn to Dhamma. One would automatically start spending more time on learning Dhamma.
  • One does not need to force anything, except to make an initial determination to verify the truth of what I have discussed above by reading (and listening) and developing the “Dhamma vicayasabbojjanga. Make a habit to critically evaluate relevant posts at this site and from other sources. That is the best and direct meditation technique for attaining the Sōtapanna stage. Buddha Dhamma is all about learning the true nature of this world, which WILL automatically lead to the purification of the mind; see, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind.”
  • The more one purifies one’s mind, the easier it will become to grasp the key Dhamma concepts and cultivate the “anicca saññā.” And developing anicca saññā itself leads to the purification of the mind. That is why learning becomes exponentially fast, once getting some traction.

15. It should be quite clear that an enormous number of defilements or “kilesa” (or “anusaya“) are removed just by getting rid of niyata micchā diṭṭhi.

  • That is because cultivating anicca saññā purifies one’s mind, and one can start seeing the critical message of the Buddha. Without the anicca saññā, one can struggle for years and years without any benefit.
  • Ask anyone who has done “breath meditation” (and believes anicca means “impermanence”) for even 20-30 years whether they have made any significant progress. I am not talking about just calmness of the mind (or even mundane jhānās) that is only temporary (and can be broken). One will know when one has reduced lōbha, dōsa, mōha to the extent that one will never be born in the apāyā.

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

More on the anicca saññā at: How to Cultivate the Anicca Saññā

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