May 13, 2018; revised June 20, 2020; September 4, 2022
1. Sammā Diṭṭhi (or comprehension of Tilakkhana) is the necessary first step to start on the Noble Eightfold Path. If one has gained Sammā Diṭṭhi (i.e., if one is a Sōtapanna/Sōtapanna Anugāmi), one would have understood the Four Noble Truths and can “see” (not with eyes, but with paññā) the path to Nibbāna:
- One has “seen” that there would be much suffering in future lives (especially in the apāyā) if one gets too attached to worldly things by assuming that they can provide lasting happiness (this is the comprehension of the anicca nature).
- The reason for such future suffering is immoral actions, speech, and conscious thinking (kāya and vaci saṅkhāra done with ignorance or avijjā). This is why the first step in Paṭicca Samuppāda is “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
- One can stop future suffering from arising by controlling one’s kāya and vaci saṅkhāra or staying away from dasa akusala.
- And the way or path to accomplish that is the Noble Eightfold Path.
Those are the Four Noble Truths.
2. We can analyze it differently by first discussing Nibbāna and Sōtapanna.
- The “Nibbānapañhā Sutta (SN 38.1)” clearly describes Nibbāna as, “..rāgakkhayō, dosakkhayō, mōhakkhaō, idan vuccathi Nibbānanthi“. That means Nibbāna is attained via removing greed, hate/anger, and ignorance from one’s mind.
- However, the step-by-step procedure to attain Nibbāna involves four steps, which remove seven types of anusaya or mental fermentations that contaminate a mind. That will lead to the stopping of the four types of āsava; see “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā.“
3. It is important to understand what anusaya or mental fermentations are, how they accumulate, and how they lead to grasping a new bhava at the moment of death.
- Let us take an example. When one keeps doing immoral things based on greed (hurting others, stealing, sexually misbehaving, etc. to satisfy that greed), then one’s mind accumulates “anusaya of greedy type.” “Mental fermentations” is a good translation for anusaya; it implies that the longer one keeps them, the more they get rotten.
- Another way to say that is to say one is cultivating “greedy gati.”
- This can be compared to adding rotten things to a pool of water. Contamination gets worse with time. Still, the dirt may settle down at the bottom of the pool, and the water may look relatively clean.
- However, when the water in disturbed, say by stirring with a long stick, some contaminants will come to the surface; that is anusaya. How much comes to the surface ( as āsava or cravings/temptations) depends on how hard the water is stirred, i.e., how strong the sense input is. Furthermore, even a slight stirring can bring dirt up to the surface if there is a lot of dirt.
4. Anusaya or mental fermentations are like mud at the bottom of the pool. When a mind has built up a lot of anusaya accumulating deep inside, it is easier for them to come to the surface (i.e., for cravings to come to the mind) when one receives a corresponding sensory input (seeing an attractive person, for example). This is āsava or cravings. So, how one automatically responds in a given situation depends on those three parameters (gati, anusaya, āsava), which are interconnected: “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gati).”
- Removal of the removal of 7 types of anusaya (the same as removing corresponding gati) leads to the stopping of the four types of āsava; see “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
5. The most important of the four āsava is the ditthi anusaya. All other āsava are influenced by the wrong views one has. With the removal of ditthi anusaya at the Sōtapanna stage, 99+% of all “mental junk” or “mental fermentations” disappear from the mind.
- This is why the Buddha said that a Sōtapanna had removed defilements comparable to the soil on the whole Earth. The remaining defilements due to all other types of anusaya are comparable to the amount of soil picked up by one’s thumb.
- Therefore, one needs to get a clear idea of what is meant by Nibbāna and to see why that necessarily means getting out of the rebirth process. The rebirth process is filled with so much suffering in the apāyā. The Buddha said that any given living being spends most of the rebirth process in the apāyā.
6. Therefore, the first and most important step towards attaining Nibbāna is to remove ditthi anusaya that builds up over time due to wrong views, at which time three types of samyojana are also removed; see, “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna“:
- The removal of diṭṭhi anusaya leads to the removal of ditthāsava and also “vicikiccā anusaya.”
- Simultaneously, the three samyojana (sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikiccā, silabbata parāmāsa) disappear.
- They are all removed by the “right vision.” It is called “dassanēna pahātabbā” or “removal via right vision.”
7. The hardest part to understand is what is meant by the “right vision.” We have discussed at length on this website that it involves the comprehension of Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta): That one cannot achieve long-lasting happiness by pursuing enticing things in this world, that one will be subjected to suffering in the long run if one does that, and therefore, such an approach will lead to one becoming helpless (especially when one is reborn in the apāyā).
- That is the basic “right vision” that must REGISTER in one’s mind. The truth of that needs to be accepted by the mind.
- Just reading about this and memorizing it is not enough.
8. Let us take an example to illustrate this point. Some people do not believe in rebirth. That is a “wrong diṭṭhi” or “wrong vision,” according to the Buddha. But if one’s mind does not see that rebirth must be valid, just reading about it will not change that impression in that mind.
- One should look at the evidence for rebirth with an open mind; see “Evidence for Rebirth.” One should contemplate that nothing happens without causes, i.e., kammā will have vipāka. That, in turn, leads to the conclusion that rebirth must be valid.
- This is why getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi MUST happen before one can comprehend Tilakkhana and become Sōtapanna. The Buddha discussed this in the “Mahā Cattārīsaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).”
9. One issue that I do not quite understand is that some people do not believe in rebirth but want to attain the Sōtapanna stage and even the Arahant stage! Don’t they realize the contradiction?
- By definition, one wants to attain the Sōtapanna stage to avoid births in the apāyā. So, if one does not believe in rebirth, why does one believe that it is possible to be born in the apāyā?
- We must also remember that even those who believe in rebirth have been in this rebirth for a time that has no traceable beginning. Therefore, we must have also held such wrong views in the past. It is not easy to get rid of these ten types of micchā diṭṭhi.
10. In any case, we still need more clarification on what happens when one truly comprehends Tilakkhana.
- I think one good analogy is if one is wearing — say, blue-tinted glasses — all the time, then no matter how hard one tries, one WILL see the world see white objects as blue and other objects also distorted to appear with different colors.
- Removing a diṭṭhi (or wrong vision) is like taking off those tinted glasses. It happens when one’s mind comes to a certain stage of understanding. This is cultivating paññā (wisdom).
- The only way to remove those “tinted glasses” is to contemplate Buddha’s teachings and engage in puñña/kusala kammā, providing the conditions for the mind to comprehend those teachings.
11. A key factor that most people disregard is how much of a difference it can make in one’s mindset when one stays away from dasa akusala and engages actively in kusala/puñña kammā. One’s mind becomes clear and sharp, one will be able to comprehend deeper concepts easily; see, “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Punna and Pāpa Kamma.”
- Then one will be able to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi and then make the transition to the Noble Path by starting to comprehend Tilakkhana; see, “Sīla, Samādhi, Pannā to Pannā, sīla, Samādhi.”
- Comprehending Tilakkhana is different than learning mundane subjects like geometry or even mathematics. It can be difficult or relatively easier depending on how many “preparations” (dana, sila, bhāvanā) one has made in this life and also in previous lives; see “Punna Kamma – Dāna, Sīla, Bhāvanā” and “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Punna and Pāpa Kamma.”
12. As we discussed above, the key step in getting to the “right view” is for one’s mind to see the truth in the world view of the Buddha: That our world is much more complex than what we experience with our senses. That there are more realms of existence, that suffering is worst in those apāyā, and that unless we get rid of “apāyagāmi gati,” one can end up in the apāyā.
- Those “apāyagāmi gati” are closely related to ditthāsava, which arise and accumulate due to ignorance of the Buddha’s worldview or the real nature of the world (Tilakkhana).
- Furthermore, at the dying moment, the mind can grasp such an apāyagāmi sense input (arammana).
- As we have discussed before, those things happen AUTOMATICALLY, based on one’s gati (āsava). That is an important point to understand. Unless one is a Sōtapanna, those possibilities cannot be ruled out.
13. Another related key issue is the following. It does not matter not how many bad kammā bīja have been accumulated. Rather what is important is whether one’s mind will grasp a bhava (upādāna) in a given realm. That depends only on the level of paññā (wisdom) one has cultivated and, THEREFORE, what kind of gati one has.
- It DOES NOT matter how many kammā bīja suitable to give rebirth in the apāyā are there. If one has removed “apāyagāmi gati” by cultivating paññā to the Sōtapanna stage, then one’s mind would not grasp such bhava.
- If one’s mind has removed all gati that can lead to rebirth in any realm, then one’s mind would not be able to grasp any bhava, and thus one would attain Parinibbāna at the dying moment.
- For example, Angulimāla killed 999 people but was able to attain Arahanthood within a week or so. Bad kammā bījas that he generated were still there, but his mind would not grasp (upādāna) them. See “Account of Angulimāla – Many Insights to Buddha Dhamma.”
14. When one gets to Sammā Diṭṭhi (i.e., when one becomes at least a Sōtapanna Anugāmi), one’s gati have changed permanently. Since the next birth is according to one’s gati, one will not be born into a family with micchā diṭṭhi. This is how it is guaranteed that one will have only seven more bhava left.
- One may grasp Tilakkhana by focusing on one of them. But that will lead to comprehension of all three and even more characteristics like the asubha (unfruitful) nature. They are all interrelated.
- Of course, there are different levels of Sammā Diṭṭhi, and it will be completed only at the Arahant stage.
15. Finally, there is no need to worry about whether one has attained a certain stage of Nibbāna. One should concentrate on following the Path. The Buddha said that if one follows Satipaṭṭhāna, one will attain at the least Anāgami stage within seven years (some earlier). Of course, one must have a tihetuka birth.
- If one does not have a tihetuka patisandhi., the effort will not go waste but will help attain Nibbāna in future life. See “Patisandhi Citta – How the Next Life is Determined According to Gati.”
- He said that if a farmer plants seeds and takes good care of those plants, they will provide a good harvest. It is pointless to check every day to see whether the harvest is ready. It will happen in due time.