Revised July 27, 2017; January 15, 2018; September 26, 2018; February 13, 2019; April 13, 2020; August 11, 2021; July 18, 2022 (#5 added)
Here we discuss the difference between a Sōtapanna and one striving for the Sōtapanna stage. The latter is on the right path (a Sōtapanna Anugāmi).
Who Belongs to the Saṅgha
1. The word Saṅgha nowadays refers to the bhikkhus. Yet Saṅgha is “san” + “gha,” or those who have either gotten rid of or are on the way to getting rid of ”san.” By that definition, one does not have to be a bhikkhu to belong to the Saṅgha; see, “What is “San”?.
In the salutation to the Saṅgha, they are referred to as “aṭṭha purisa puggalā.” See “Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha.” Here, “aṭṭha” is eight, “purisa” does not mean male but one with higher virtues and “puggala” is a person. Thus there are eight types of people belonging to the Saṅgha. Who are the eight?
- There are four who have started on the Noble Path/fulfilled the conditions for the four stages of Nibbāna: Sōtapanna Anugāmi, Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi Anugāmi, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi Anugāmi, Anāgāmi, Arahant Anugāmi, and Arahant. Four are in the Anugāmi stages (working toward a given stage,) and the other four have reached their respective stage.
- A special kamma and kamma vipāka happens for Noble kammā (efforts toward a given stage.) Once “what needs to be done” is fulfilled, the vipāka follows in the next citta within a second. Thus when one gets into the Sōtapanna magga citta, for example, one receives the Sōtapanna phala in the next citta. Thus one becomes a Sōtapanna in two consecutive thought moments.
- However, when one starts grasping the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one becomes a Sōtapanna Anugāmi (one on the way to attaining the Sotapnna stage). Thus one becomes free of the apāyās. In later commentaries, they are also called “Chula Sotapnna” or a “junior Sōtapanna.”
2. The citta vithi for a magga phala is discussed at the end of the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs“:
B B B “BC BU MD P U A G Pa Fr Fr” B B B
- A Sōtapanna Anugāmi is getting closer to the “change of lineage” or G. The earlier stages of P, U, and A, may be reached gradually. Once that level of comprehension is complete, one makes that transition (G), completes the lokottara kamma, and immediately receives the phala.
- In a strict sense, it may be better to call one a Sōtapanna Magga Anugāmi (one trying to get to the magga citta) rather than Sōtapanna Anugāmi.
- The eight Noble Persons (Ariyā) are listed in the “Paṭhama Puggala Sutta (AN 8.59)” and in “Puggala Sutta (AN 9.9)“. In both suttā, Sōtapanna Anugāmi is “sotāpatti phala sacchikiriyāya paṭipannō.” One on the way to becoming an Anāgāmi is “anāgāmi phala sacchikiriyāya paṭipannō,” etc. In the second sutta, an average human is a “puthujjanō.”
The Eight Noble Persons
3. Thus it is clear that “aṭṭha purisa puggalā” consists of the eight Ariyā (Noble Persons) listed in #1. They are Sōtapanna Anugāmi, Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi Anugāmi, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi Anugāmi, Anāgāmi, Arahant Anugāmi, and Arahant.
- A critical point to note is the change from being an “average human” (puthujjana) to the Noble Person (Ariya) status. That transition happens at the “gotrabu” (“gotra” is the clan or lineage) before the Sotapanna magga/phala transition. See the “Citta Vīthi for Attainment of Magga Phala” section at the end of the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs.” Also, see “Sōtapanna Anugāmi – No More Births in the Apāyās.”
- The types of āsavā eliminated at each stage are discussed in “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā.”
- How lōbha, dōsa, mōha, and also the ten fetters (samyōjana) are removed at each stage are discussed in “Relinquishing Defilements via Three Rounds and Four Stages.”
- Both a Sōtapanna Anugāmi and a Sōtapanna would have “Sotapatti Anga – The Four Qualities of a Sotāpanna.”
The Stages of Magga Phala
4. A Sōtapanna Anugāmi/Sōtapanna is someone who has seen Nibbāna, not the full Nibbāna, but a glimpse of it. One becomes a Sōtapanna Anugāmi when one removes avijjā (ignorance) about the actual status of affairs in “this world of 31 realms”; see #5 below. With that understanding, their mind is purified to the extent that it will not allow them to do an immoral act that could lead to a birth in the four lower worlds (apāyās). Not only that, but one will also not “latch onto” a kamma vipāka resulting from such a robust immoral act in the past. Thus, an Ariya above Sōtapanna Anugāmi will never be born in an apāya again.
The other three stages have similar “demarcation thresholds.”
- A Sakadāgāmi will never again be born in the human or lower four realms. They can still be born in the deva worlds (i.e., in kāma lōka.) But those devas do not have “flesh and blood” bodies that lead to physical discomforts and diseases. In the deva lōka, beings have subtle bodies that are not subject to old age and diseases.
- An Anāgāmi has overcome any desire to be born anywhere in the kāma lōka, i.e., the 11 lowest realms. They have no kāma rāga (desire for sense pleasures) or paṭigha (hate).
- An Arahant has no desire to be born anywhere in the 31 realms and thus will never be reborn “in this world.” They have attained full Nibbāna, full release.
5. Subsection 1.1.55. Āsavakkhayañāṇaniddesa (toward the end of the “1.1. Ñāṇakathā” section) of the Tipiṭaka Commentary “Paṭisambhidāmagga” describes three types of ñāṇa attained on the way to the Arahanthood: “Anaññātaññassāmītindriyaṁ kati ṭhānāni gacchati, aññindriyaṁ kati ṭhānāni gacchati, aññātāvindriyaṁ kati ṭhānāni gacchati? Anaññātaññassāmītindriyaṁ ekaṁ ṭhānaṁ gacchati—sotāpattimaggaṁ. Aññindriyaṁ cha ṭhānāni gacchati—sotāpattiphalaṁ, sakadāgāmimaggaṁ, sakadāgāmiphalaṁ, anāgāmimaggaṁ, anāgāmiphalaṁ, arahattamaggaṁ. Aññātāvindriyaṁ ekaṁ ṭhānaṁ gacchati—arahattaphalaṁ.”
- It says the following. The first ñāṇa is Anaññātaññassāmītindriya attained at the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage. The second one, Aññindriya, is attained and optimized at the intermediate six stages (sotāpattiphala through arahattamagga.) The third one, Aññātāvindriya, is attained at the Arahant phala moment.
- Thus, something definitive occurs when one gets to the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage.
It Is a Step-by-Step Process
6. One must first hear the Buddha’s real message before one can fulfill the conditions to attain the Sōtapanna stage. Thus, they need to go beyond the mundane eightfold path; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”
- In particular, a Sōtapanna Anugāmi (or Sōtapanna Magga Anugāmika or Sōtapanna Magga Anugāmi) has heard about anicca, dukkha, anatta (Tilakkhana), or the “true nature of this world with 31 realms.” Of course, those concepts must come from a Noble Person who has grasped the basic idea.
- That is why the association with a “kalyāṇamitta” or “kalyāṇa mitra” (basically a “Noble friend,” i.e., an Ariya) is a pre-condition for attaining the Sōtapanna stage; see, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala.”
- Once attaining the Sōtapanna Anugāmi, one becomes a Noble Person (one of the aṭṭha purisa puggala) and thus is free from the apāyās, see “Sōtapanna Anugāmi – No More Births in the Apāyās.”
Difference Between Sōtapanna Magga Anugāmi and a Sōtapanna
7. Let us take a simile to see this “demarcation” between Sōtapanna Magga Anugāmi and a Sōtapanna.
- Suppose that a precious treasure is known to be at the peak of a mountain. But it is not generally known where that mountain is. That is pretty much the status of Buddha Dhamma today. Most people know that it is valuable but do not know the correct version among the many different versions put forth today.
- As the Buddha said in his first sermon, “my Dhamma has not been known to the world before.” Thus one needs a Buddha or a true disciple of Buddha to show them what Nibbāna is and how to get to the Sōtapanna stage. That is an essential and critical point.
- Suppose someone gets directions to the correct mountain with the treasure. Then they know which country to go to and which geographic location in that country the mountain is. This person is like one on the path to becoming a Sōtapanna, i.e., a Sōtapanna magga Anugāmi. They know exactly where to go and have a detailed map. And they have to get it from a Buddha or a true disciple of a Buddha. A true disciple has at least seen the mountain (a Sōtapanna), if not been to the top (an Arahant).
- Now they make the journey to the country and region where the mountain is. On the way there, they can verify the landmarks given by the “friend” (Ariya). Similarly, a Sōtapanna magga Anugāmi spends time contemplating the newly learned concepts of anicca, dukkha, anatta, Paṭicca Samuppāda, etc.
- Thus, with confidence, the person gets closer and closer to the mountain and starts seeing the mountain at some point. At that point, the person has “crossed the boundary” to become a Sōtapanna. They have seen a glimpse of Nibbāna for the first time. Now they can complete the journey without any help, even if the physical map is lost (i.e., even in a future life).
8. Going back to the simile of the mountain with treasure, different versions of “Buddhism” identify the mountain as being in different geographic locations. So people travel long distances and much effort to reach various mountains. All these are in remote places, and the journey is hard.
- Many people are wasting their time and effort targeting the “wrong mountain.” So, how does one know which “mountain” or version to pick? That is why it takes effort to weed out the wrong/incompatible versions of Buddha Dhamma; see, “Why is it Critical to Find the Pure Buddha Dhamma?”.
Grasping the Anicca (Unfruitful) Nature of This World
9. In technical terms, one gets to the Sōtapanna magga/phala when one understands anicca, dukkha, and anatta (the three characteristics of this world or Tilakkhana) to a minimum level, where one begins to realize that there is nothing in “this world” that can provide meaningful and unconditioned happiness.
- When one comprehends anicca, dukkha, and anatta to the extent that one can “see” this concept, one is said to have the “anulōma ñāna.” Here, “anu” means “through the understanding of Tilakkhana,” “lo” means “craving for worldly things,” and “ma” means “removal,” and thus “anulōma” means “removal of craving for worldly things to some extent via the comprehension of Tilakkhana.”
- We came across “anu” also in “anupassanā“; see, “What do all these Different Meditation Techniques Mean?“. In a previous post, I also discussed how “lōbha” comes from “lo” + “bha” or “immersed in craving for worldly things.”
- Thus it makes a huge difference if one incorrectly interprets anicca as “impermanence” and anatta as “no-self”; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations.”
10. Suffering is prevalent in the lower four realms (apāyās.) We can see at least one of those, the animal realm. Let us discuss one way to contemplate anicca, dukkha, and anatta using an example from this life.
- When young, it seems like one can get anything one wants by working hard. But we all have seen how our parents, grandparents, or even famous people spent their old age suffering from various ailments and finally dying helplessly.
- They may have “accomplished” many things. But they spend their whole lives working hard to achieve those, and then they have to leave it all behind.
- One may have a beautiful body when young, but for how long? We can see how that old movie star ages now. Some of them commit suicide because it is depressing to remember the “good old days” when one had all the attention in the world, but now it all seems to be slipping away.
- That is anicca and anatta. No matter how much we try, whatever we gain in this world lasts only a short time (in the saṃsāric time scale), and one becomes helpless in the long run. At some point, one realizes this and becomes distraught.
One Creates One’s Own Future Suffering
11. When one comprehends the true nature of this world, such sad thoughts do not arise. People who follow the Path and even those who have wisdom from previous lives (gati) can realize that “all things in this world” are subjected to this arising/destruction process. Beings come to existence and die. But those existence are “created” by oneself. See “Origin of Life – One Creates One’s Own Future Lives.”
- That understanding itself leads to ease of mind. A stronger version of this “ease of mind” is the “anulōma shānthi” that one experiences when attaining the “anulōma ñāna” (pronounced “anulōma gnāna”).
- The key to attaining the “anulōma ñāna” is to realize the fleeting nature of anything in this world. The next post discusses this.
Anulōma Ñāna and Sammatta Niyāma
12. With the “anulōma ñāna,” one realizes that permanently getting rid of suffering is impossible anywhere in the 31 realms. It can be achieved only by attaining Nibbāna. By this time, one has felt the niramisa sukha, and thus one needs to cultivate, “etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ…” the release one has felt and the value of Nibbāna. Then one truly embarks on the Noble Eightfold Path and is said to get to “sammatta niyāma” and to Sōtapanna phala.
- Therefore, it is critical to realize BOTH the unfruitful nature of this world with “anulōma ñāna” AND to realize the value and cooling down due to Nibbāna, i.e., “sammatta niyāma.”
- Further details in the post, “Anuloma Khanti and Sammattaniyāma – Pre-requisites for a Sotapanna.”
13. Thus, it is critical to understand that Nibbāna is “nicca, sukha, aṭṭha” after realizing that this world is “anicca, dukkha, anatta.” A Sōtapanna has understood both.
- Anything in this world (except nama gotta) is a saṅkhata, i.e., it comes into being due to causes, stays in existence for a time, and then inevitably is destroyed. The arising of a saṅkhata is called “udaya” in Pāli, and the destruction is called “vaya.” thus, “udayavaya ñāna” is the knowledge about that process.
- Nibbāna is the only asankata. Removal of all causes leads to Nibbāna.
- Many people have even attained Arahanthood without actually having heard about these terms like “udayavaya” or “anulōma.” Thus it is imperative to realize that just reading about these concepts does not get one anywhere. One needs to “see” the Tilakkhana or the unfruitfulness of craving for saṅkhata (through saṅkhāra) by true meditation or contemplation.
- Thus a Sōtapanna has the udayavaya (sometimes called udayabbaya) ñāna; see, “Udayavaya Ñāna.”
Next, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala“, ………