Four stages of the supramundane path
of the supramundane path
The four stages are:
These four stages are identified as:
- stages that are traversed in the last of the seven stages of purification the Pali tradition
- the final stages of the sravakayana the Sanskrit tradition
- the final stages of the path within the early Buddhist schools
Brief descriptions of each stage
The stream-enterer has severed the first three of the ten fetters. Thus, they have 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 refers to the supramundane eightfold path.
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)".
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)".
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 of the path
The four stages, the fetters, and rebirths
the fetters abandoned
1. view of personal identity
up to seven rebirths
- attachment to sensuality (gross form only)
at most one more rebirth
4. attachment to sensuality
at most one more rebirth
6. desire for existence in the form realm
no more rebirths
Successive stages of the path are achieved through the progressive purification of the ten fetters.
- stream enterer
The stage of stream-enterer (srotāpanna) is attained when the first three fetters are abandoned:
- 1. view of a personal identity (satkāyadṛṣṭi)
- 2. deluded doubt (vicikitsā)
- 3. attachment to rites and rituals (śīlavrataparāmarśa)
The stage of once-returner (sakṛdāgāmin) is attained when the 4th and 5th fetters are significantly weakened:
The stage of non-returner (anāgāmi) is attained when the 4th and 5th fetters are completely abandoned:
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.
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
- Gethin 1998, s.v. Chapter 7, Section: The stages of insight meditation.
- Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. (2000), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Pariyatti Publishing
- Dalai Lama; Thubten Chodron (2014), Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions, Wisdom Publications
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Warder, A.K. (2000), Indian Buddhism, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers
- Ubeysekara, Ari (2018), Seven Stages of Purification (satta visuddhi) in Theravada Buddhism
- Mahasi Sayadaw (1994), The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha), Access to Insight