What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sōtapanna?

Revised May 10, 2017

Out of dasa akusala, only miccā ditthi is COMPLETELY removed at the Sōtapanna stage. But that itself accounts for more than 99% of akusala (defilements) from one’s mind since the “apāyagāmi strength” of other nine akusala kamma are also removed.

  • This illustrates the importance of removing miccā ditthi, and why I have so many posts on that.
  • Some people think a Sōtapanna is incapable of breaking the five precepts based on an incorrect translation of the Gihi Sutta (AN 5.179). The relevant verse is: “..ariyasāvako pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti, adinnādānā paṭivirato hoti, kāmesu­micchā­cārā paṭivirato hoti, musāvādā paṭivirato hoti, surā­meraya­majja­pa­mā­daṭṭhānā paṭiviratō hōti“. However, “pativiratō hōti” does not mean “abstains from” as translated at many online sites; it means “does not do with liking”. Thus, a Sōtapanna may — under some conditions — break the five precepts. It is only an Arahant that will absolutely not break five precepts or engage in any of dasa akusala.

1. There is a sutta in the Samyutta Nikāya, called the Nakhasikha Sutta, that describes the unimaginably large amount of defilements (and thus future suffering and stress) a Sōtapanna has removed compared to a normal human being.

  • One time the Buddha picked up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, and asked the bhikkhus, “What do you think, bhikkhus? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the soil in this great Earth?”.
  • Of course the bhikkhus answered that the amount of soil in this Earth is vastly larger than the bit of dust picked up on a fingernail.
  • Then the Buddha told the bhikkhus that the amount of defilements that a Sōtapanna has removed can be compared to the soil in the whole Earth, while the amount that he/she has left to remove can be compared to the bit of dust on his fingernail.
  • Correspondingly, the amount of suffering a Sōtapanna has left to be endured in the coming rebirths (within seven future bhava) is insignificantly small.
  • There is a decent online explanation of the sutta that one can look up: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn13/sn13.001.than.html

2. Another simile is given in the Sineru sutta of the Samyutta Nikāya. There it is stated that, “The amount of suffering a Sōtapanna has to endure can be compared to seven grains of sand on top of mount Sineru, if the amount of suffering a normal human has left to endure is compared to the sand contained in that mountain”.

  • This is logical, of course, since the suffering encountered in the niraya is never ceasing, and thus one birth in the niraya (hell) would lead to much more suffering than thousands, millions of births in the human realm or above. A Sōtapanna will NEVER be reborn in the four lowest realms, AND he/she will have only seven future bhava left, and those in the human realm or the realms above it.

3. This may be why most people tend to think that attaining the Sōtapanna stage requires attaining jhānas, all sorts of abhiññā powers, getting rid of the perception of “me”, etc. None of that is a requirement to attain the Sōtapanna stage.

  • But at least half of the ten defilements (dasa akusala) must be removed to become a Sōtapanna? No. It turns out that only one of the dasa akusala is removed by a Sōtapanna; that of niyata miccā ditthi. Of course, in achieving that, a Sōtapanna would have reduced the “apāyagāmi strength” of most of the other dasa akusala.This is the key to understand. In particular, abhijja or lōbha  is reduced to raga level and vyāpāda or dōsa is reduced to patigha level; see, “Lobha,Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja“.
  • For a discussion on dasa akusala, see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“. As discussed in that post, Niyata Miccā Ditthi (established wrong views) is an akusala that is done with the mind.
  • A Sōtapanna is said to have achieved “dassanēna pahātabba” or removal of defilements via correct vision; he/she has removed an unimaginably large amount of defilements (“keles” or “kilēsa” or “klēsha“) with the removal of miccā ditthi, or attaining the first stage of Sammā Ditthi: the true nature of this world of 31 realms.
  • How a Sōtapanna reduces dasa akusala via getting rid of miccā ditthi “to overcome apāyagāmi citta” is discussed in “Akusala Citta – How a Sōtapanna Avoids Apayagami Citta“. Here is it described how five out of the 12 akusala citta are removed at the Sōtapanna stage; those are the five that lead to birth in the apayas.

4. This is a critical point to understand: an unimaginably huge amount of defilements is removed via removing miccā ditthi. Most people worry excessively on the defilements done with the body and speech. They are afraid of even accidentally killing an insect, or telling even a “white lie”. Of course those need to be avoided too, because moral behavior (speech and actions) are a prerequisite for cleansing the mind.

  • But if one firmly believes that there is no rebirth or there are no other living beings other than humans and animals, that firm belief is million-fold more weighty. These and other types of Niyata Miccā Ditthi (established wrong views) are discussed in, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)” and “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty)“.
  • It would be really beneficial to understand the weights of different types of kamma; see,  “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kammas“.
  • If one has a vessel that is leaking water, there is no point in trying to plug the smaller holes first. One should plug the biggest hole first, which in this case is getting rid of miccā ditthi or false views (about this world).
  • This may still not convince some. If so, carefully go through the relevant posts at this site (type “Sōtapanna” in the Search box on the top right and you will get many posts), as well as any other, and see whether this conclusion is contradictory to anything in the Tipitaka. One should carefully examine all the “requirements” that need to be fulfilled in order to attain the Sōtapanna stage. It should become clear that indeed this is all one needs to do.

5. So, we have come to the “crux of the matter”: How can one remove niyata miccā ditthi? This is ALL one has to do to become a Sōtapanna.

One cannot PRETEND to believe in things that one truly does not believe in. Just by saying, “I do believe in rebirth, or, I do believe that there are other realms in this world other than the human and animals realms, for example, WILL NOT WORK.

  • This is not like going to courts of law and trying to convince a jury of one’s innocence. One’s own mind need to “see the realities of this world”.
  • And that comes only via learning Dhamma, the correct version, the version that was discovered by the Buddha and has been passed down through generations of Noble Persons or Ariyas. This is what we discussed in detail in the post, “Four Conditions for Attaining Sōtapanna Magga/Phala“.
  • This is also why we need to clearly comprehend the term, saññā, which is translated to English as “perception”.

6. Of course Saññā is one of 52 cētasika and one component of pancakkhandha. It is actually one of the 7 universal cētasika that arise with each and every citta.

  • Saññā works very closely with another universal cētasika called manasikāra. Manasikara is the cētasika that brings old memories and future hopes into a citta. When cētana “puts together the citta“, the citta recognizes the subject (saññā) and automatically produces vēdanā (feelings) about it. Thus we can see the major roles played by those 4 cētasika right away.
  • But saññā is not limited to “recognizing objects”. Saññā is sort of the “inner understanding” of any concept.
  • For example, when we hear the word, “fire” we immediately recognize what that means. Even a picture of a fire may flash in our minds. But a little baby (or a person who does not understand English) does not have a “saññā” for that word; it means nothing to them. But the baby (or that person) can understand what “fire” means if we teach it to them.
  • Growing up, we acquire innumerable “saññā” mostly by becoming familiar with them. We first recognize who “mother” and “father” are, recognize different colors, different objects, etc.

7. Even though we acquire “saññā” for most objects and people, some strong saññā may be “passed down” from previous lives.  This can take many forms.

  • Some people, when visiting a place that one had never previously visited in this life, may already “know” about that place in great detail. Children who remember past lives have been reported to lead investigators to various places in far away cities where they had lived in previous lives. Even many adults have reported that they can walk a city with complete confidence that they are visiting for the first time.
  • Then there is the “ability” to play a piano, recite suttas, or just being able to comprehend complex mathematics as a child, etc. Some of these cases are discussed in “Evidence for Rebirth“.

8. We “acquire” most saññā through our families first, then through friends, schools, workplaces, etc.

  • Thus most of our “world views” or ditthis are acquired through our families. Our first impressions on moral issues, politics, and religions come from our families.
  • Those saññās are hard to change, depending on how forcefully and frequently they have been used.
  • However, human mind is unique. When given enough solid evidence, one’s saññā about something or some concept can PERMANENTLY change. For example, when one learns how to do algebra (addition and subtraction, etc) correctly, one will never forget that. And even if an authority figure (a teacher) insists that one plus two is four, even a child will not accept that. He/she can count with fingers and show the teacher that the correct answer IS three.

9. As we grow up, we acquire saññā for more specialized tasks.  One could “learn” to become a carpenter, a doctor, engineer, etc.

  • This “learning” is really acquiring “saññā” for a particular task. It is not just memorizing how to do things. When a physician finishes his/her learning, he/she can “troubleshoot” a brand new patient and figure out what is wrong. When an engineer builds a new structure, it could be something that had never been built before. One acquires “skills”.
  • Once one learns a “skill” one will never forget that; at least it is easy to “get back to it”. One who had learned to ride a bicycle as a child may never touch a bicycle for 30-40 years, but even at old age will be able to ride one even though he may fall once or twice initially.

10. A Sōtapanna acquires a basic level of understanding about “this world” and that “knowledge” or “comprehension” does not go away even in future lives. Thus, it is a strong version of “memories from past lives” that some children report.

  • Once someone sees a “glimpse” of the Buddha’s core message that there is no permanent happiness to be had by wishing for anything in this world in the long run. The term “in the long run” implies that one believes that at the end of this life one WILL BE reborn, and that rebirth WILL BE determined by not only how one lives this life, but also how one had lived previous lives (of which we do not have any memories unless one develops abhiññā powers).
  • That kind of a “vision change” does not happen quickly, unless one has “saññā” about that from previous lives; that is why it is easier for some people to grasp these concepts.
  • And this “saññā” cannot be acquired via memorizing suttas, how to recite paticca samuupada cycle, etc. Rather, one needs to COMPREHEND the concepts.
  • The KEY concept to grasp is the “anicca saññā“.

11. The only way to “build up” the correct saññā is to make an effort to understand the key message of the Buddha. Humans normally have wrong perception or “vipareetha saññā” that one can find happiness in this life by working hard; most people do not even think beyond this life, even if they believe in rebirth. This is also called the “nicca saññā” (pronounced “nichcha saññā”), i.e., by working hard, or by sheer luck, one can achieve and maintain things in this world to one’s satisfaction.

  • The key teaching of the Buddha is about the “anicca saññā“, i.e., it is NOT POSSIBLE to maintain ANYTHING to one’s satisfaction in the long run. The Sōtapanna stage of Nibbana is attained when the anicca saññā is cultivated to some significant extent.
  • When one has developed the anicca saññā to this level, one’s mind automatically blocks “apāyagāmi citta“. As we discussed in the Abhidhamma section, citta flow very fast, and we do not have control over those initial cittas, and unless they are prevented from arising via reducing our asavas and gathi (by getting rid of miccā ditthi among other things), we are helpless to stop them in extreme cases like sudden rages or extreme greed.
  • It is this anicca saññā that grows as one attains higher stages of Nibbana (Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi) and is peaked at the Arahant stage. At the Arahant stage one can see the “anicca nature” of ALL sankhārā, not only abhisankhāra. This is what is expressed by, “Sabbē sankhārā anicca“, and in the Girimānanda sutta, the Buddha told Ven. Ananada, “Ayaṃ vuccati Ananda, sabba sankhārēsu anicca saññā”; see,Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – According to Some Key Suttas“.

12. When one develops the anicca saññā via learning Dhamma (listening and reading), the tendency to act immorally, even under extreme pressure, will slowly diminish.

  • One would be able to see the corresponding “cooling down” (reduced stress level) when one thinks back after several months (could be sooner for some people). One will gradually feel the nirāmisa sukha, and will be drawn to Dhamma. One would automatically start spending more time on learning Dhamma.
  • One does not need to force anything, except to make an initial determination to verify the truth of what I have discussed above by reading (and listening) and developing the “Dhamma vicayasabbojjanga. Make a habit to critically evaluate relevant posts at this site and from other sources. That is the best and direct meditation technique for attaining the Sōtapanna stage. Buddha Dhamma is all about learning the true nature of this world, which WILL automatically lead to purification of the mind; see, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind“.
  • The more one purifies one’s mind, it will become easier to grasp the key Dhamma concepts and cultivate the “anicca saññā“. And developing anicca saññā itself leads to the purification of the mind. This is why learning becomes exponentially fast, once getting some traction.

13. From the above discussion it should be quite clear that the amount of defilements (“keles” or “Klesha“) removed by just getting rid of niyata miccā ditthi can be compared to the volume of the Earth.

  • This is because cultivating anicca saññā purifies one’s mind and one can start seeing the key message of the Buddha. Without the anicca saññā, one can struggle for years and years without any benefit.
  • Ask anyone who has done “breath meditation” (and believes anicca means “impermanence”) for even 20-30 years whether they have made any significant progress. I am not talking about just calmness of the mind (or even mundane jhanas) that is only temporary (and can be broken). One will know when one has reduced lōbha, dōsa, mōha to the extent that one will never be born in the apāyas.

Of course, one needs to have removed miccā ditthi in order to even become a Sōtapanna Anugāmi: “Micca Ditthi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage“.

More on the anicca saññā at: How to Cultivate the Anicca Saññā

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