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Four stages of the supramundane path

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The four stages of the supramundane path are four stages in the path of a "noble person" (arya pudgala), who is one who has directly seen the four truths.[1]

The four stages are:

These four stages are identified as:

Brief descriptions of each stage

Stream-enterer (srotāpanna)

The stream-enterer has severed the first three of the ten fetters. Thus they have thus has gained a first glimpse of nirvana, which marks their entry into the "stream" of the supramundane eightfold path. The stream-enterer is said to have "opened the eye of the Dhamma" (dharmacakṣus), because they have fully realized the truth of impermance (anitya) - that whatever arises will cease. A stream-enterer reaches arhatship within seven rebirths upon opening the eye of the Dharma.

The Sanskrit term srotāpanna means "one who enters (āpadyate) the stream (sotas)"; the stream in this case the supramundane eightfold path.

Once-returner (sakṛdāgāmin)

The once-returner, in addition to having severed the first three fetters, has significantly weakened the fourth and fifth fetters. Thus, the "once-returner" will have at most one more rebirth in the desire realm.

The Sanskrit term sakṛdāgāmin means "one who once (sakṛt) comes (āgacchati)".

Non-returner (anāgāmi)

The non-returner has completely severed the first five of the ten fetters. Hence, he or she will not return to the human world, or any unfortunate world lower than that, after death. Instead, non-returners are reborn in one of the "five pure abodes" within the form realm (rūpadhātu). From there, they attain liberation (nirvana).

The Sankrit term anāgāmi means "one who does not (an-) come (āgacchati)".

Arhat

The arhat has completely eliminated the ten fetters that bind one to cyclic existence (samsara); he or she has overcome all afflictions (kleshas) and is no longer bound by craving (tanha). Thus, they are freed from cyclic existence and no longer subject to rebirth. They have attained liberation (nirvana).

The Sanskrit term arhat is translated as "worthy one," "noble one," etc.

The fetters purified at each stage

The four stages of the supramundane path
(according to the Sutta Piaka)

stage's
"fruit"

abandoned
fetters

rebirth(s)
until suffering's end

stream-enterer

1. view of personal identity
2. deluded doubt
3. attachment to rites and rituals

lower
fetters

up to seven rebirths in
human or heavenly realms

once-returner

once more as
a human

non-returner

4. attachment to sensuality
5. ill will

once more in
a heavenly realm
(Pure Abodes)

arahant

6. desire for existence in the form realm
7. desire for existence in the formless realm
8. conceit
9. restlessness
10. ignorance

higher
fetters

no rebirth

Source: Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), Middle-Length Discourses, pp. 41-43.

Successive stages are achieved through the progressive purification of the ten fetters.

stream enterer
The stage of stream-enterer (srotāpanna) is attained when the following three fetters are abandoned:
1. view of a personal identity (satkāyadṛṣṭi)
2. deluded doubt (vicikitsā)
3. attachment to rites and rituals (śīlavrataparāmarśa)
once-returner

The stages of once-returner (sakṛdāgāmin) is attained with these two fetters are significantly weakened:

4. attachment to sensuality (kāmarāga)
5. ill will (vyāpāda)
non-returner

The stage of non-returner (anāgāmi) is attained when these two fetters are completely abandoned:

4. attachment to sensuality (kāmarāga)
5. ill will (vyāpāda)
arhat

The stage of arhat is attained when all ten fetters are completed abandoned; this includes the "five lower fetters" previously abandoned and the "five higher fetters", which are:

6. desire for existence in the form realm (rūparāga)
7. desire for existence in the formless realm (arūparāga)
8. conceit (māna)
9. restlessness (auddhatya)
10. ignorance (avidyā)

Gradual vs. sudden purification

Within traditional Buddhist texts, there are different views as to whether these four stages are attained gradually or suddenly.

Rupert Gethin states:

What precisely governs which of these four states is attained is not clear in the earliest texts. Two basic possibilities seem to be envisaged: either (1) that, at the first arising of the transcendent path, depending on individual circumstances, one may attain any one of the four states immediately; or (2) that one must attain each state successively, either in one life or over a series of lives. The interpretation of the later tradition is also not entirely clear. Buddhaghosa seems closer to the latter understanding, although one may attain each state in such rapid succession that one in effect goes straight from being an ordinary being to being an arhat. [...] Vasubandhu seems closer to the former.[1]

Four or eight types of noble persons

Those on the supramundane path are called "noble persons" (arya pudgala), and are said to belong to the "noble sangha" (arya sangha). The individuals in this group can be divided into four or eight kinds of individuals. There are four types of individual when the path and fruit are taken as pairs, and eight types of individual when each path and fruit are taken separately.

Four types Eight types
(i) stream-enterer (1) one who has entered the path to stream-entry
(2) one who abides in the fruition of stream-entry
(ii) once-returner (3) one who has entered the path to once-returning
(4) one who abides in fruition of once-returning
(iii) non-returner (5) one who has entered the path to non-returning
(6) one who abides in the fruition of non-returning
(iv) arahant (7) one who has entered the path to arahantship
(8) one who abides in the fruition of arahantship

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Gethin 1998, s.v. Chapter 7, Section: The stages of insight meditation.


Sources

  • Book icoline.svg Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism (Kindle ed.), Oxford University Press 
  • Warder, A.K. (2000), Indian Buddhism, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers 

External links