Revised July 27, 2017
Here we discuss the difference between a Sotapanna and one who is striving for the Sotapanna stage and is on the right path (a Sotapanna Anugami).
1. The word sangha is used nowadays to refer to the bhikkhus. Yet sangha is “san” + “gha”, or those who have either gotten rid or are successfully getting rid of ”san”, and by this definition, one does not have to be a bhikkhu to belong to the sangha; see, “What is “San”?.
In the salutation to the sangha, they are referred to as “atta purisa puggala” (“atta” is eight, “purisa” here does not mean male, but with higher virtues, and “puggala” means person) or a person with higher virtues. Thus there are eight types of people belonging to the sangha. Who are the eight?
- There are four who have fulfilled the conditions for the four stages of Nibbana: Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami, and Arahant. They are said to be in the magga stage for respective stage. And there are four who have received the fruits (phala).
- A special case of kamma and kamma vipaka happens for these Noble kamma: once “what needs to be done” is fulfilled, the vipaka follow in the very next citta within a billionth of a second. Thus when one gets into the Sotapanna magga stage, for example, one receives the Sotapanna phala in the very next citta, and thus one becomes a Sotapanna virtually at the same time.
- However, when one starts grasping the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one becomes a Sotapnna Anugami (one on the way to attain the Sotapnna stage), and thus one becomes free of the apayas. In later commentaries, they are also called “Chula Sotapnna” or a “junior Sotapanna“.
2. Thus it is clear that “atta purisa puggala” consist of the eight Ariyas (Noble Persons): Sotapanna Anugami, Sotapanna, Sakadagami Anugami, Sakadagami, Anagami Anugami, Anagami, Arahant Anugami, and Arahant.
- The types of asavas eliminated at each stage is discussed at, “The Way to Nibbana – Removal of Asavas“.
- How lobha, dosa, moha, and also the ten fetters (sanyojana) are removed at each stage is discussed at, “Relinquishing Defilements via Three Rounds and Four Stages“.
3. A Sotapanna is someone who has seen Nibbana, not the full Nibbana, but a glimpse of it. One becomes a Sotapanna when one removes avijja (ignorance) about the true status of affairs in “this world of 31 realms”; with that understanding his/her mind is purified to an extent that will not allow him/her to do an immoral act that could lead to a birth in the four lower worlds (apayas); not only that, one will also not “latch onto” a kamma vipaka resulting from such an strong immoral act in the past. Thus a Sotapanna will never be born in an apaya again.
The other three stages have similar “demarcation thresholds”.
- A Sakadagami will be never again be born in the human or lower four realms. He/she can still be born in the deva worlds (i.e., still could be born in kama loka), but those devas do not have “flesh and blood” bodies that lead to physical discomforts and diseases. In the deva lokas, beings only have fine bodies that are not subject to old age and diseases.
- An Anagami has overcome any desire to be born anywhere in the kamaloka, i.e., the 11 lowest realms. He/she has no kama raga (desire for sense pleasures) or patigha (hate).
- An Arahant has no desire to be born anywhere in the 31 realms, and thus will never be reborn “in this world”. He/she has attained full Nibbana, full release.
4. One has to first hear the true message of the Buddha before one can fulfill the conditions to attain the Sotapanna magga stage, i.e., he/she needs to go beyond the mundane eightfold path; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“.
- One on the way to become a Sotapanna is called Sotapanna magga anugämi (or Sotapanna magga anugämika). In particular, a Sotapanna magga anugämi has heard about anicca, dukkha, anatta (Tilakkhana), or the “true nature of this world with 31 realms” from a Noble person.
- This is why association with a “kalana mitta” or “Kalyana Mitra” (basically a “Noble friend”, i.e., an Ariya) is a pre-condition for attaining the Sotapanna stage; see, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sotapanna Magga/Phala“.
5. Let us take a simile to see what this “demarcation” between Sotapanna magga anugami and a Sotapanna.
- Suppose it is known that a very valuable treasure is at the peak of a mountain, but it is not generally known where that mountain is. This is pretty much the status of Buddha Dhamma today; most people know that it is valuable, but they do not know what the right version is, and there are a lot of different versions.
- 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 him/her what Nibbana is and how to get to the Sotapanna stage. This is an important and a critical point.
- Suppose someone gets directions to the correct mountain with the treasure; then he/she knows exactly which country to go to and which geographic location in that country the mountain is located. This person is like one who is on the path to become a Sotapanna, i.e, a Sotapanna magga anugami. He/she knows exactly where to go and has a detailed map. And he/she has to get it from a Buddha or a true disciple of a Buddha who has at least seen the mountain (a Sotapanna), if not been to the top (an Arahant).
- Now he/she makes the journey to country and to the region where the mountain is located. On the way to there he/she can verify the landmarks given by the “friend” (an Ariya). Similarly, a Sotapanna magga anugami spends time contemplating the newly learned concepts of anicca, dukkha, anatta, paticca samuppada, etc.
- Thus with confidence the person gets closer and closer to the mountain and some point starts seeing the mountain. At that point, the person has “crossed the boundary” to become a Sotapanna. He/she has seen a glimpse of Nibbana for the first time. Now he/she can complete the journey without any help, even if the map is lost (i.e., even in a future life).
6. Going back to the simile of the mountain with treasure, different versions of “Buddhism” correspond to identifying the mountain to be in different geographic locations, all over the world. So different groups of people are making trips over long distances and with much effort to get to different mountains. All these are in remote places and the journey is hard.
- Obviously, a lot of people are wasting their time and effort by targeting a “wrong mountain”. So, how does one know which “mountain” or version to pick? This is why it takes some effort to weed out the wrong/inconsistent versions Buddha Dhamma; see, “Why is it Critical to Find the Pure Buddha Dhamma?”.
7. In technical terms, one gets to the Sotapanna magga/phala when one grasps anicca, dukkha, 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, anatta to the extent that one can “see” this concept, one is said to have the “anulöma nana”; here, “anu” means “through the understanding of Tilakkhana”, “lo” means “craving for worldly things”, and “ma” means “removal”, and thus “anuloma” means “removal of craving for worldly things to some extent via the comprehension of Tilakkhana”.
- We came across “anu” also in “anupassana“; see, “What do all these Different Meditation Techniques Mean?“. In a previous post I also discussed how “lobha” 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”.
8. Let us discuss one way to contemplate on anicca, dukkha, anatta, using an example from this life itself; it is easier to see it in lower four realms (apayas) that are filled with suffering.
- When one is young it seems like one can get anything one wants by working hard. But we all have seen how our parents or grandparents or even famous people spent the old age suffering with various ailments, and finally dying helplessly.
- They may have “accomplished” many things. But they spent 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 those old movie stars age 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 seem to be slipping away.
- This is anicca and anatta: no matter how much we try, whatever we gain in this world last only a short time (in the sansaric time scale), and one becomes helpless in the long run. At some point one realizes this and becomes distraught.
9. 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 (gathi) can take things in stride and realize that “all things in this world” undergo this arising/destruction process without an exception. That understanding itself leads to an ease of mind. A stronger version of this “ease of mind” is the “anuloma shanthi” that one experiences when attaining the “anuloma nana” (pronounced “anulöma gnana”).
- The key to attaining the “anuloma nana” is to realize the fleeting nature of anything in this world, i.e., a sankata. This is discussed in the next post.
10. With the “anuloma nana”, one realizes that getting rid of suffering permanently is not possible anywhere in the 31 realms. The next step is to realize that it can be realized only by attaining Nibbana; by this time one has felt the niramisa sukha and thus one needs to cultivate, “etan santan etan paneetan…”, the release one has felt, and the value of Nibbana. Then one truly embarks on the Noble Eightfold Path and is said to get to “sammatta niyama“., and to Sotapanna phala.
- Thus it is critical to understand that Nibbana is “nicca, sukha, atta“, after realizing that this world is “anicca, dukkha, anatta“. A Sotapanna has understood both.
- Anything in this world (except nama gotta) is a sankata, i.e., it comes into being due to causes, stays in existence for a time, and then inevitably is destroyed. This arising of a sankata is called “udaya” in Pali, and the destruction is called “vaya”; thus “udayavaya nana” is the knowledge about that process.
- Nibbana is the only asankata; it is attained by removing all causes.
- Many people have even attained the Arahanthood without actually having heard about these terms like “udayavaya” or “anuloma”. Thus it is imperative to realize that just having read about these concepts does not get one anywhere. One needs to “see” the Tilakkhana or the unfruitfulness of craving for sankata (through sankhara) by true meditation or contemplation.
- Thus a Sotapanna has the udayavaya (sometimes called udayabbaya) nana. I will discuss that in a future post.
Next, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sotapanna Magga/Phala“, ………