Sotapatti Anga – The Four Qualities of a Sotāpanna

July 8, 2018; revised May 4, 2022

1. There are over 70 suttas in the “Sotāpatti Saṁyutta” that repeatedly state the four “measures” (Sōtāpatti aṅga) that one can use to determine whether one has attained the Sotapanna stage of Nibbana. The series of suttas start with “Cakkavattirāja Sutta (SN 55.1).”

  • I was surprised to see that these four qualities of a Sōtapanna have not been discussed much in the current literature.

2. The four qualities (or characteristics) of a Sōtapanna — who has attained the Sōtapanna phala — must not be confused with the four conditions that must be fulfilled to get to the Sōtapanna stage.

3. The four qualities of a Sōtapanna 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 Sōtapanna, who is 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 Sōtapanna 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 qualities or defining characteristics of a Sōtapanna who is 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.

4. In order to fully understand this description of a Sōtapanna, 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. This is called “pada nirukti,” i.e., the meaning of the word is in the word itself. Let us discuss that hidden meaning now.

5. Humans — who are not yet Ariyās — highly value sensory pleasures. Most are even willing to do immoral actions in order to get more sensory pleasures. Even those “moral people” are addicted to enjoying sense pleasures that are 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).
  • This is why all of us have not been able to escape the samsaric journey or the suffering-filled rebirth process up to now.
  • 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 every now and then. The “unbreakable morality” can be attained only by seeing the unfruitfulness/dangers in sense pleasures.
  • This is the uniqueness of Buddha Dhamma: It is possible to make one’s mind NEVER to commit an apāyagāmi action (at the Sōtapanna stage), and to NEVER commit a single dasa akusala at the Arahant stage.

6. Furthermore, without a Buddha explaining to us, it will be impossible to comprehend the widespread suffering in the wider world of 31 realms by 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 a fish will feel, dangling by a hook that pierced its mouth and also not being able to breathe?
  • Our minds are programmed to think that animals are not living beings who can feel pain. But ALL living beings experience pain as well as perception (recognition) and many other mental qualities that we do.
  • In the Abhidhamma language, feelings (vedana), and perception (saññā) are UNIVERSAL mental factors (cetasika) that arise with ALL thoughts of ANY living being.
  • Suffering is everywhere. We can see so much suffering, even among humans if we pay attention. We are not aware of much of the suffering in the wider world of the 31 realms. There is unimaginable suffering in the other three lowest realms in addition to the animal realm.

7. However, the reasons (or causes) for such suffering cannot be really understood without investigating (and then be convinced of ) the laws of kamma that REQUIRES the rebirth process.

  • This is why one cannot really comprehend the deeper aspects of Buddha Dhamma without first getting rid of the 10 types of micchā diṭṭhi or the wrong views about this world of 31 realms.
  • One who has not removed the 10 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 rids of those, one gets down to the avijjā level; see, “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja“.

8. Once getting rid of the 10 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 sense 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 sense pleasures. The worst kind of suffering arises when one does immoral things to access sense pleasures; that is what a Sōtapanna first realizes.

9. When one starts to realize the truth at the Sōtapanna 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 sense 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.

10. 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 — that comes from comprehending the dangers of “iccā” for worldly pleasures —  is called “Buddhe aveccappasāda.”

11. 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.
  • 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.

12. Finally, now one’s moral conduct is unbreakable FOREVER, even though future births. No matter how tempting the external sense input is, one will NEVER do an apāyagāmi action (kamma).

  • This unbreakable moral conduct of a Sōtapanna is called “ariyakānta sila.” Kānta (“ka” +”anta“) is the “cooled mindset” achieved via removing the two extremes (“anta“) the Buddha rejected: excess sense 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.

13. This is the “unique vision” or Sammā Diṭṭhi in the Noble Eightfold Path. A Sōtapanna is able to see the truth of this “previously unheard” Dhamma.

  • Thus, when a Sōtapanna comprehends this “hidden truth” about the real nature of this world, he/she will begin to see the danger in getting attached to sense pleasures (however, a Sōtapanna will not be able to stay away from normal sense pleasures; only the correct vision about the dangers in sense pleasures is registered).
  • 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.” We will discuss this in the next post.
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