Sotāpatti aṅga, or the four qualities of a Sotapanna, are discussed in many suttas in the “Sotāpatti Saṃyutta” of the Samyutta Nikāya.
July 8, 2018; revised May 4, 2022; re-written September 18, 2022
1. There are over 70 suttas in the “Sotāpatti Saṁyutta” that repeatedly state the four “characteristics/qualities” (Sotāpatti aṅga) that one can use to determine whether one has attained the Sotapanna stage of Nibbāna. The series of suttas start with “Cakkavattirāja Sutta (SN 55.1).”
- I was surprised to see that these four qualities of a Sotapanna have not been discussed much in the current literature.
- Knowing them can help determine whether one has attained the Sotapanna stage.
Sotāpatti Aṅga Associted With a Sotapanna
2. The four qualities (or characteristics) of a Sotapanna — who has attained the Sotapanna phala — must not be confused with the four conditions that must be fulfilled to get to the Sotapanna stage.
- Those four conditions can be found in “Four Conditions for Attaining Sotapanna Magga/Phala.”
- Those four conditions to attain the Sotapanna stage are also called Sotāpatti aṅga sometimes; see, for example, “Dutiyasāriputta Sutta (SN 55.5)“. On the other hand, the four qualities of a Sotapanna are also listed as Sotāpatti aṅga in the “Nandiyasakka Sutta (SN 55.40).”
- Therefore, one must pay attention to which context the term Sotāpatti aṅga is used: whether to refer to the four conditions or the four qualities.
3. The four qualities of a Sotapanna are stated succinctly in the “Brahmacariyogadha Sutta (SN 55.2).” The Buddha asks: “Catūhi, bhikkhave, dhammehi samannāgato ariyasāvako sotāpanno hoti avinipātadhammo niyato sambodhiparāyaṇo. Katamehi catūhi?“
Translated: “Bhikkhus, the ariyasāvaka Sotapanna, free of the apāyā, has four qualities. Which four?”
Then the Buddha gives the answer: “Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako buddhe aveccappasādena samannāgato hoti: ‘itipi so bhagavā arahaṃ sammāsambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno sugato lokavidū anuttaro purisadammasārathi satthā devamanussānaṃ buddho bhagavā’ti. dhamme aveccappasādena samannāgato hoti… pe … saṅghe aveccappasādena samannāgato hoti… pe … ariyakantehi sīlehi samannāgato hoti akhaṇḍehi … pe … samādhisaṃvattanikehi. Imehi kho, bhikkhave, catūhi dhammehi samannāgato ariyasāvako sotāpanno hoti avinipātadhammo niyato sambodhiparāyaṇo”ti.
Translated: “A Sotapanna has reverence/faith (pasāda) in the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, that comes via losing deep-rooted cravings for things in this world (avecca). He is thus established in the ariyakānta sīla (moral conduct of the Noble Persons) that cannot be broken to make him/her do apāyagāmi actions (kamma). These are the four defining characteristics of a Sotapanna free of the apāyā”.
- First, we note that the “Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha” are listed in this sutta. Only the nine qualities of the Buddha are listed above in red. In the full sutta, the qualities of the Dhamma and Saṅgha are also fully listed.
Aveccappasāda and Ariyakānta Sīla
4. To fully understand this description of a Sotapanna, we need to understand the meanings of two keywords: aveccappasāda and ariyakānta sīla.
- I have not seen aveccappasāda discussed in English texts; where it is mentioned, it is described as “unwavering confidence.”
- But the reason for that unwavering confidence is itself hidden in that word. That is called “pada nirutti” (in the Sinhala language, “pada nirukti), i.e., the word’s meaning is in the word itself. Let us discuss that hidden meaning now.
Ariyakānta Sīla = Unwavering Moral Conduct
5. Average humans — who are not yet Ariyās — highly value sensory pleasures. Most are even willing to do immoral actions to get more sensory pleasures. Even those “moral people” are addicted to enjoying sensory pleasures attainable by moral means without hurting others.
- However, that “moral conduct” is not guaranteed to hold. Even the most moral person WILL BE tempted to do an apāyagāmi action under sufficiently “enticing” or “tempting” conditions.
- When such a strong sensory input (temptation) comes, one who has not comprehended Tilakkhana (in particular the anicca nature) WILL commit an apāyagāmi action at some point (in a future life, if not in this life).
- The “Unwavering/Unshakeable moral conduct” grows as a Sotapanna Anugami and is firmly established in a Sotapanna.
6. It is impossible to have “Unwavering/Unshakeable moral conduct” until one comprehends how future suffering arises, i.e., Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana. See “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
- This is hard for many even to believe. They think their morality cannot be “broken.” However, we hear such “moral people” committing heinous acts that we never thought they were capable of now and then. The “unbreakable morality” can be attained only by seeing the unfruitfulness/dangers in sensory pleasures.
- This is the uniqueness of Buddha Dhamma: It is possible to make one’s mind NEVER to commit an apāyagāmi action (at the Sotapanna stage) and NEVER to commit a single dasa akusala at the Arahant stage.
7. Thus, a Sotapanna‘s moral conduct is unbreakable FOREVER, even through future births. No matter how tempting the external sensory input is, a Sotapanna will NEVER do an apāyagāmi action (kamma). No willpower is needed to enforce it. That mind has fully grasped the futility/danger in such actions.
- This unbreakable moral conduct of a Sotapanna is called “ariyakānta sila.” Kānta (“ka” +”anta“) is the “cooled mindset” achieved via removing the two extremes (“anta“) the Buddha rejected: excess sensory pleasures and excess hardship or extreme austerity.
- Ariyakānta sila is established only in Ariyās, who have comprehended this unique message of the Buddha about how suffering arises in this wider world of 31 realms and how that future suffering can be stopped and a permanent state without suffering (Nibbāna) can be attained.
- Furthermore, the Pāli (and Sinhala) word for a vehicle is “riya,” and the stopping of “riya” (saṃsāric vehicle/journey) is called “Ariya.” One who has taken the wheels off the vehicle for the saṃsāric journey is called an “Ariya.” See #13 of “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?” Buddha (“bhava uddha“) has the same meaning: “A Buddhist or a Bhauddhayā?”
Buddha’s “Wider Worldview with Rebirth Process” Must be Understood
8. Without a Buddha explaining to us, it will be impossible to comprehend the widespread suffering in the wider world of 31 realms ourselves.
- How many of us have watched (and enjoyed) television programs where a deer is eaten alive by a tiger? How painful is that experience for the deer? How much pain will a fish feel, dangling by a hook that pierced its mouth and unable to breathe?
- Our minds are programmed to think that animals are not living beings who can feel pain. But ALL living beings experience pain, perception (recognition), and many other mental qualities.
- In the Abhidhamma language, feelings (vedanā) and perception (saññā) are UNIVERSAL mental factors (cetasika) that arise with ALL thoughts of ANY living being.
- Suffering is everywhere. If we pay attention, we can see so much suffering, even among humans. We are unaware of much of the suffering in the broader world of the 31 realms. There is unimaginable suffering in the other three lowest realms and the animal realm.
Step-by-Step Process – Prerequisites
9. However, the reasons (or causes) for such suffering cannot be understood without investigating (and then being convinced of ) the laws of kamma that REQUIRE the rebirth process.
- This is why one cannot comprehend the deeper aspects of Buddha Dhamma without first getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi or the wrong views about this world of 31 realms.
- One who has not removed the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi will have avijjā at the highest level, which is called mōha. Therefore, even a prestigious scientist can have mōha; it has nothing to do with “book knowledge.” When one gets rid of those, one gets down to the avijjā level; see, “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja.”
10. Once getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi, one can start to “see” (not with eyes, but with wisdom) that the real cause for suffering is taṇhā (getting attached) that arises due to iccā (our liking for sensory pleasures). Furthermore, taṇhā has origins in “iccā” or cravings.
- Again, this is the uniqueness of Buddha Dhamma. Whereas a normal human cannot imagine a “happy existence” without sense pleasures, an Ariyā sees the opposite: unfruitfulness and dangers in sense pleasures.
- The key to comprehending the dukkha sacca (First Noble Truth) and Tilakkhana is to see the suffering that is hidden sensory pleasures. The worst kind of suffering arises when one does immoral things to access sense pleasures; that is what a Sotapanna first realizes.
- Note: In both “icca” and “avecca” (or anywhere), the letter “c” is pronounced with the “ch” sound: “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1.“
Nirāmisa Sukha and Aveccappasāda
11. When one starts to realize the truth at the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage, one starts experiencing a different kind of “happiness,” which is the nirāmisa sukha.
- The real cause of this nirāmisa sukha is the abstinence from sensory pleasures. Again, this is hard to explain and needs to be experienced.
- With that comes the realization of the value of a Buddha, unbreakable faith in him, and a reverence for him. This is called aveccappasāda in the Buddha.
Aveccappasāda = Ava Icca Pasāda
12. Now, we can see the true meaning of aveccappasāda: “ava” means to overcome, and iccā is liking or craving. These two words, when combined, rhyme as “avecca.” Now, “pasāda” is reverence/faith. When the two words “avecca” and “pasāda” are combined, it rhymes as “aveccappasāda.”
- It must be a truly exceptional person to discover such an unimaginable cause for the suffering in this world and to find the way out of that suffering (by removing taṇhā or”iccā” for worldly pleasures).
- This unbreakable faith/reverence for the Buddha comes from comprehending the dangers of “iccā” for worldly pleasures: “Buddhe aveccappasāda.”
13. Of course, one will simultaneously have “Dhamme aveccappasāda,” unshakeable faith in the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, that allowed one to be free of the apāyā.
- Furthermore, one will not be able to learn this unique Dhamma of the Buddha without the Saṅgha, those Ariyās who have transmitted the true and pure Dhamma up to now. One could spend a lifetime learning “fake Dhamma” and will not be able to grasp the message of the Buddha. We are fortunate to learn the correct Buddha Dhamma only because of the Saṅgha, who have faithfully and correctly transmitted the Tipiṭaka over all these years.
- That realization leads to “Sanghe aveccappasāda,” reverence/faith in the Saṅgha.
Saṅgha and Bhikkhu
14. It is important to note that bhikkhus are not necessarily included in the Saṅgha. Only those eight Noble Persons (attha purisa puggala) are included in Saṅgha; see “Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha.”
- However, bhikkhus should always be treated with respect. They represent the Buddha Sāsana.
- As I understand, even a lay Anāgāmi should bow to any bhikkhu.
“Seeing Anicca Nature” Is to Understand Paṭicca Samuppāda
15. The Buddha described two sets of Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) for a reason. One set (different versions of Akusala-mula PS) describes the origin of the world or the origin of suffering. The other one describes Kusala-mula PS for the stopping of suffering.
- Comprehending the “Udayavaya Ñāṇa” means understanding those two processes. “Udaya” is the “arising (of world/suffering)” or the anuloma (forward) PS. “Paṭhamabodhi Sutta (Ud 1.1)” “Vaya” is the “stopping of that process” or the paṭiloma (reverse) PS process. “Dutiyabodhi Sutta (Ud 1.2)“
- ANYTHING in this world can be stopped from arising. That means NOTHING in this world has any essence. They can only bring more suffering. Thus, one only becomes helpless (in the long run) if one pursues “worldly pleasures” with abhisaṅkhāra.
- The above bullet summarizes the anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature! That “seeing” or Sammā Diṭṭhi comes just by comprehending the “wider worldview” of the Buddha. Details at “Worldview of the Buddha.”
Ariyakānta Sīla and Aveccappasāda Realized via Sammā Diṭṭhi
16. A Sotapanna has a “unique vision” or Sammā Diṭṭhi in the Noble Eightfold Path. A Sotapanna has seen the ultimate truth about this world. That is the “previously unheard” Dhamma of the Buddha.
- Thus, when a Sotapanna comprehends this “hidden truth” about the real nature of this world, he/she will begin to see the danger of getting attached to sensory pleasures.
- That “drastic change in vision” will automatically generate faith and reverence in the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Saṅgha, thereby generating aveccappasāda for them.
- This is why the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Saṅgha are called the Triple Gems and are worthy of homage; see “Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha.”
- However, a Sotapanna cannot avoid normal sensory pleasures. Most live married lives. Only at the Anāgāmi stage will one relinquish the desire for sensory pleasures. See, “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.”