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Faith-Follower & Dhamma-Follower

sotapatti
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#1

It is mostly understood that stream-entry (sotāpatti) is the first level of an irreversible shift from being a wordling (puthujjana). Several passages have a different view and list two levels before that, namely the faith-follower (saddhānusārī) and the dhamma-follower (dhammānusārī). From the two the dhamma-follower is always ranked higher than the faith-follower.

Defining the Faith- and Dhamma-Follower

SN 48.12 - SN 48.17, SN 48.24 mention the two, but don’t mention a specific faith or teachings. In these suttas from all the ariyas the faith- and dhamma-follower simply have the weakest faculties (faith,… wisdom).

DN 28, DN 33, MN 65, AN 7.14, AN 8.22, AN 10.16 also just list them among other types of people with higher realization. MN 70 has a similar list but features definitions as well:

What kind of person is a Dhamma-follower? Here some person does not contact with the body and abide in those liberations that are peaceful and immaterial, transcending forms, and his taints are not yet destroyed by his seeing with wisdom, but those teachings proclaimed by the Tathāgata are accepted by him after reflecting on them sufficiently with wisdom. Furthermore, he has these qualities: the faith faculty, the energy faculty, the mindfulness faculty, the concentration faculty, and the wisdom faculty.

What kind of person is a faith-follower? … and his taints are not yet destroyed by his seeing with wisdom, yet he has sufficient faith in and love for the Tathāgata. [… faculties as before].

SN 55.24, SN 55.25 are similar in definition, but add that faith- and dhamma-followers are freed from the lower realms:

… [for the dhamma-follower] some person does not possess confirmed confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. He is not one of joyous wisdom, nor of swift wisdom, and he has not attained liberation. However, he has these five things: the faculty of faith… wisdom. And the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata are accepted by him after being pondered to a sufficient degree with wisdom. This person too, Mahanama, is one who does not go to hell, the animal realm, or the domain of ghosts, to the plane of misery, the bad destinations, the nether world.
[for the faith-follower as above…] And he has sufficient faith in the Tathagata, sufficient devotion to him. This person too…

To summarize the above: No liberation, no fetters/taints destroyed, but accepted the teachings, or faith in the Buddha, plus the five faculties.

Faith- and Dhamma-followers as ‘mini-sotapannas’

While the above SN 55.24/25 tell us that the two can’t go to hell, MN 22 and MN 34 take a stronger stand regarding the fate of the two and have them heading towards liberation:

…those bhikkhus who are Dhamma-followers or faith-followers are all headed for enlightenment. (MN 22)

Just as that tender calf just born, being urged on by its mother’s lowing, also breasted the stream of the Ganges and got safely across to the further shore, so too, those bhikkhus who are Dhamma-followers and faith-followers -
by breasting Māra’s stream they too will get safely across to the further shore. (MN 34)

Faith in / investigating impermanence

SN 25.1 is more explicit about the teachings and gives it a different spin:

Bhikkhus, the eye [ear…] is impermanent, changing, becoming otherwise… One who places faith in these teachings and resolves on them thus is called a faith-follower, one who has entered the fixed course of rightness, entered the plane of superior persons, transcended the plane of the worldlings. He is incapable of doing any deed by reason of which he might be reborn in hell, in the animal realm, or in the domain of ghosts; he is incapable of passing away without having realized the fruit of stream-entry.
One for whom these teachings are accepted thus after being pondered to a sufficient degree with wisdom is called a Dhamma-follower… [rest as above]
(SN 25.2 - SN 25.10 go on to apply impermanence on forms… eye-consciousness… eye-contact… feelings born of eye-contact… perceptions of forms… volition regarding form… craving for forms… the elements… the aggregates.)

The major difference here is (1) the focus on specific teaching, namely impermanence and (2) that the faith-follower has faith in this teaching, not in the Buddha.

Conclusion

It seems save to say that some concepts about a faith-follower and a dhamma-follower existed in the earliest texts. This is based on (1) occurrence in all four nikayas (2) a diversity of texts, i.e. not just a copy of the same pericope.

The texts agree on several things:

  • The dhamma-follower ranks higher than the faith-follower, just below the sotāpanna
  • The faculties seem to be involved
  • They seem to be aryas in that they are free from rebirth in the lower realms or even heading towards liberation

Inconsistencies are:

  • They don’t appear nearly as frequently as the other ariyas
  • The texts don’t agree if the faith is in the Buddha, his teaching, or a specific teaching
  • The only specific teaching we get in this context is impermanence - but we don’t know if the dhamma-follower investigates (or the faith-follower has faith in) impermanence in all the mentioned dhamma, or if one of them is sufficient.

If you already lost faith that you’d not become a sotāpanna in this lifetime, maybe there’s hope: you could well be a faith- or dhamma-follower after all :slight_smile:


About Sotapanna - Please correct me if I'm wrong
The concepts of path (magga) and fruition (phala) and the EBTs
Sotapatti - hugh, what is it good for?
#2

Actually per SN 25.1, by attaining either Faith or Dhamma Following, one is guaranteed to attain Stream-Entry in his/her lifetime, or worst case, when s/he passes away:

“He is incapable of passing away until he has realized the fruit of stream-entry.” ~ SN 25.1 ~


#3

This is a methodical question. For me it would be too weak to say that as long as one sutta says something it must be true. That denies the myriads of possibilities for a text to be altered over some centuries. That’s why I generally treat a topic in all its appearances in the nikayas.

So whereas for many people it is enough when 1/20 suttas make a claim to take it as the confirmed word of the Buddha, to me it invites too much cherry-picking.

So in this case 3/20 suttas mention the afterlife of a dhamma- or faith-follower. It’s not nothing, but apparently also not the most interesting or consistent feature that this concept had back then.


#4

No, it’s not just 1 sutta, it’s actually 10 of them! (SN 25.1 through 25.10) that say Faith/Dhamma followers are incapable of passing away until they have realized stream-entry.


#5

Shout-out to SA 61 (no Pali parallel), condensed excerpt:

“Again, that [form/feeling/perception/will/consciousness] is impermanent, dukkha, and of a nature to change. If that [form/feeling/perception/will/consciousness] of clinging is forever given up without a remainder, completely relinquished, ceases, fades away, is appeased, and disappears, and further instances of the [form/feeling/perception/will/consciousness] of clinging are discontinued, do not arise, do not emerge—then this is reckoned sublime, this is reckoned peaceful, this is reckoned the complete abandoning of all acquisitions, the eradication of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nirvāṇa.

“Monks, if one gives attention with wisdom to this teaching, examines it, analyses it, and accepts it, then one is called a faith-follower, who transcends and leaves behind the round of births, who goes beyond the stage of a worldling, who will certainly attain the fruit of stream-entry and will not pass away in-between without having attained the fruit of stream-entry.

“Monks, if one gives attention with superior wisdom to this teaching, examines it, analyses it, and accepts it, then one is called a Dharma-follower, who transcends and leaves behind the round of births, who goes beyond the stage of a worldling, who will certainly attain the fruit of stream-entry and will not pass away in-between without having attained the fruit of stream-entry.


#6

Thanks for this really fascinating exploration, Gabriel. I’ve previously wondered about this point myself (and also wondered if the basic function of these two categories is to give hope to folk tempted to fall into the despair of hopelessness ;)).

To pick up on a few points your reflection raises for me:

I don’t know if this takes things a bit too off track, but I do wonder if its helpful, even necessary, to establish a definition of one realised to the path of stream-entry (given as “sotāpattimagga” by Ven. Nyanatiloka’s, Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines) so as to give the work of defining the faith-/Dhamma-follower proper supporting context.

Running a search I can only find entries specifically for “sotāpattimagga” in a couple of the ‘forgettable’ Khuddaka Nikāya texts, as well as the Kathāvatthu. However, “aṭṭha purisapuggalā” can be found enough times across the four Nikāyas to indicate that the stream-entry-path-attainer is a bona fide early Buddhist ‘thing’. I’d certainly love to have a definition of the sotāpattimagga, and further understand it’s relational position to the faith-/Dhamma-follower.

I’m not sure how much my lack of Pali skills will let me down here, but I am interested by the offered translation of “pondered”. The presented passages give the impression that the faith-/Dhamma-follower is working entirely at an intellectual level (by contrast to the supermundane/spiritual/which-ever-better-word-you-fancy vision of the Dhamma the stream-enterer+ has).

Is there enough of an evidence base to put it in quite such strong terms? The particular consideration I have in mind is that once a person has crossed the line into stream-entery the implication is that they essentially have absolutely no choice but to eventually become extinguished (if Bhante’s translation is going to take hold, then folk have to start using it ;-)). Is there anything to suggest becoming a faith-/Dhamma-follower is quite such a fixed ‘attainment’, or could one easily enough ‘back-slide’, lose confidence, take-up bad habits and eventually participate in activity that would have hellish consequences?

I wonder if this might be squared by what’s pointed to in eg. SN 22.87:

One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma.

I can at least give the anecdotal report of being in some way surprised when I noticed a great love for the Buddha had arisen in me (it doesn’t exactly easily fit in with my regular set of traits), but that love is absolutely entirely predicated on the magnificence of the Buddha’s teaching; so much so I’d definitely have a job separating them.


#7

Thanks! The Agama texts are so interesting sometimes! To those who are more familiar with chinese characters it would be enriching to know if they have those two kinds of people in other dhamma-contexts as well (apart from impermanence).

What is a bit weird, that in the SA 61 quote nothing really distinguishes the FF and the DF. Afaics the difference is that the FF applies ‘wisdom’ and the DF ‘superior wisdom’ - which doesn’t really explain their titles. So any more insights from the agamas would be helpful!


#8

I wish there was more material to back up any further theories about the FF & DF. If the agamas are not too revealing I’m afraid it all stands on shaky feet. Keeping that in mind…[quote=“Aminah, post:6, topic:5778”]
I wonder if this might be squared by what’s pointed to in eg. SN 22.87
[/quote]

I would personally follow completely (but couldn’t deduce it from these texts)! If the love for the Buddha is not backed up by dhamma, in what do I have faith in, the cool name ‘Buddha’? or ‘enlightenment’? or the ‘supreme holy man’? But that’s just my inclination to emphasize the dhamma - other followers might see it differently.[quote=“Aminah, post:6, topic:5778”]
Is there anything to suggest becoming a faith-/Dhamma-follower is quite such a fixed ‘attainment’…?
[/quote]

Unfortunately not. The sources I collected are really the only ones the four nikayas provide. So what we have is

  • SN 55.24/25 stating that they are not going to hell - which doesn’t automatically mean that they are inevitably destined to bodhi
  • and the stronger MN 22 and MN 34 that basically equate them with sotapannas

But to be fair - if FF and DF were a consistent concept - SN 25 says that they are bound to be sotapannas in their lifetime. That would get rid of the confusion: It’s not that they are sotapannas already, just that they are destined to become sotapannas in their lifetime. But that’s just SN 25, and also leaves us questioning ‘what happens in case of an accident - spontaneous sotapatti?!’…[quote=“Aminah, post:6, topic:5778”]
sotāpattimagga
[/quote]

It’s a bit of a stretch, but theoretically it could be that DF and FF are those who “practise to gain the
fruit of Stream-Entry” which are, according to DN 33 and MN 142 one of “Eight persons worthy of offerings”. These practitioners are also mentioned (without a ‘title’) in SN 22.122/123, SN 48.18, SN 55.55, AN 1.596, AN 5.260, AN 5.268, AN 8.19, AN 8.59, AN 9.9, AN 9.10. But it is nowhere mentioned that those are bound to sotapatti at the end of their lifes…
Please look for this discussion regarding the application of ‘ariya’ to not-yet-sotapannas. We collected some sources that imply that basically everyone who is ‘seriously’ on the path can be called an ‘ariya’: https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/ariyo-vs-ariya/

Certainly FF & DF don’t have any ‘knowledge’ or ‘vision’, or ‘have seen for themselves’, we can exclude that from the wider contexts in which the two are mentioned. I think the verb you are looking for here is khamati - not a satisfying word to translate (https://suttacentral.net/define/khamati):

Tathā­gatap­pa­veditā cassa dhammā paññāya mattaso nijjhānaṃ khamanti.
And the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata are accepted by him after being pondered to a sufficient degree with wisdom.

Anyway, good questions, and hopefully some agama-insights will help us further!


#9

While it’s understandable to question a few suttas regarding a particular idea, but to question the validity of all 10 suttas within the whole OkkantiSamyutta #25 is a bit forced. Matter of fact, the idea said in SN 25 is still pretty reasonable when compared to the idea of Dhamma/Faith Followers as lasting for a single mind-moment by the Abhidhamma. Ven. Bodhi’s note from “Middle Length Discourses” says:

According to the Abhidhamma system, with its conception of the supramundane path as lasting for only a single mind-moment, both the faith-follower and the Dhamma-follower should be such for only the one mind-moment of the path. This interpretation, however, though advocated by the commentaries, is difficult to reconcile with the Nikayas. For an interesting discussion of the two models, see Gethin, The Buddhist Path to Awakening, pp. 129–33.


#10

That’s entirely fair, and I wouldn’t want to tempt you otherwise and, furthermore, have extremely high regard for such caution.

At the same time, I think the texts do call on us to sensitively cross-reference with other bits of the canon to get the whole picture with respect to a given point that might not be fully treated in particular texts.

In this instance, it might be worth bringing the stock description of what it is to have faith into consideration:

He places faith in the enlightenment of the Tathāgata thus: ‘The Blessed One is an arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One." (Various)

To my own mind, this description of faith in the Buddha is so intertwined with what he knows and teaches that it doesn’t fall a million miles away from the notion put forward in SN22.87, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt to convincing anyone else of this. :smiley:

I, for one, am very sympathetic to the point you make and certainly have never been able to find a way by which the Abhidhamma explanation make sense. Saying that, because all the 10 suttas being referred to here appear to be duplications of one basic text, just for my own particular tastes, I’d sooner treat it as one text. If the 10 suttas where coming from different Saṃyuttas or Nikayas I’d find it much more compelling.

Quite so! Again, much thanks for opening up a really intriguing line of inquiry. :slight_smile:


#11

But maybe the whole point of such boring repetitions in SN 25 is to emphasize the very idea and make sure the novice learners will remember them by heart. One has to ask why bother spreading the infos. out into 10 separate suttas and make it an entire separate Samyutta all by itself while one can just easily squeeze all of them into 1 single sutta and get rid of SN 25 all together. Another point I’m trying to make beside comparing the Abhidhamma’s “single-moment” position, is that SN 25 explicitly and repeatedly say that DF/FF will not pass away without attaining Sotapanna. Other suttas lack this explicitness to refute that idea. Obviously “will not be reborn in states of woe” doesn’t automatically translate to “will be reborn as a human puthujjana”.


#12

Quite right, maybe! :slight_smile:

I was just setting out how I myself build confidence in a reading/conclusion, and I personally feel more comfortable when I find a given idea replicated widely across the canon rather than in one localised place. This doesn’t take anything away from other approaches.

Yes, it does. For my own tastes, I prefer to turn away from avenues heading towards strong assertions and refutations in this area - my primary interest in these texts is as a practical aid, and for me there are a whole bunch of details they cover (this being one of them) where I’m happier to just take some loose impressions from the texts and see what actually happens when I get there. :wink:


#13

Adding MN 70 to the thread :slight_smile: (Edit: For the second time, since it’s also in the OP)

“Bhikkhus, there are seven kinds of persons to be found existing in the world. What seven? They are: one liberated-in-both ways, one liberated-by-wisdom, a body-witness, one attained-to-view, one liberated-by-faith, a Dhamma-follower, and a faith-follower.

“What kind of person is a Dhamma-follower? Here some person does not contact with the body and abide in those liberations that are peaceful and immaterial, transcending forms, and his taints are not yet destroyed by his seeing with wisdom, but those teachings proclaimed by the Tathāgata are accepted by him after reflecting on them sufficiently with wisdom. Furthermore, he has these qualities: the faith faculty, the energy faculty, the mindfulness faculty, the concentration faculty, and the wisdom faculty. This kind of person is called a Dhamma-follower. I say of such a bhikkhu that he still has work to do with diligence. Why is that? Because when that venerable one…into homelessness. Seeing this fruit of diligence for such a bhikkhu, I say that he still has work to do with diligence.

“What kind of person is a faith-follower? Here some person does not contact with the body and abide in those liberations that are peaceful and immaterial, transcending forms, and his taints are not yet destroyed by his seeing with wisdom, yet he has sufficient faith in and love for the Tathāgata. [Same as above]


#14

ehem, sorry to point that out, but I quoted MN 70 in the first part of the essay, a bit shorter though…


#15

Ah, I did a search for MN 70 and it came up empty. There it is again though I guess :slight_smile:

Edit: Actually none of the sutta links show up on searching the topic. Possible bug?


#16

[quote=“Gabriel, post:6, topic:5778”]
It’s a bit of a stretch, but theoretically it could be that DF and FF are those who “practise to gain the fruit of Stream-Entry” which are, according to DN 33 and MN 142 one of “Eight persons worthy of offerings”. These practitioners are also mentioned (without a ‘title’) in SN 22.122/123, SN 48.18, SN 55.55, AN 1.596, AN 5.260, AN 5.268, AN 8.19, AN 8.59, AN 9.9, AN 9.10. But it is nowhere mentioned that those are bound to sotapatti at the end of their lifes…
[/QUOTE]

Come to think of it, I don’t ever remember having seen the usual viewpoint of magga and phala, as being closely occurring sub-stages within each level of enlightenment, anywhere in the actual Nikayas, or are there suttas on which this is based? Anyone know if this an Abidhamma/commentarial development? I haven’t really thought too deeply about the “eight persons worthy of offerings” versus four levels of enlightenment distinction before. From what I remember of the Nikayas, it does seem plausible, on thinking about it, that a dhamma-follower/faith-follower might be the first of the “eight persons worthy of offerings”. Perhaps the magga (path) to an attainment is simply that (and perhaps a path that might possibly take quite some time rather than being fairly instantaneous)?


#17

Whenever I’ve tried to get to grips with what is being referred to by the first of the eight persons (which admittedly isn’t all that much) something like what you’ve set out seemed one of the most natural explanations I could think of.

The one possible complication I’ve since run into is the potential complications it might introduce for the other categories of persons: if we take the 1st person as one who’s on a longish, ambling journey towards stream fruit (2nd person), then would we have to think that the 2nd person (stream fruit winner) is also the 3rd person (longish, ambling journey to once return); that the 4th & 5th are the same and the 6th & 7th are the same? This would then mean that effectively there were only actually 5 types of people! :grinning:

In all honesty, I’m not so bothered about persons 2-8. However, I am interested to know if person 1 is just someone who has taken up robes (necessarily so, as they are worthy of offerings) and is sincere in their practice (a lot like - if not the same as - what the DF and FF sound to be as per the above except perhaps could be either lay or robed), or if they have also had some supermundane insight.


#18

Even though the question of offering is more complex I would take it here as “don’t give ascetics of other sects, give to the Buddhist sangha”, at least this is how I understand “Giving discriminately is praised by the Fortunate One” (e.g. SN 1.33).

Category 1 is a conceptual mess I’m afraid. The easy answer would be that they have no supramundane insight. But MN 48 tells us a slightly different story. Here we have seven knowledges that all finish with “This is the first…seventh knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” The sutta ends with

When a noble disciple is thus possessed of seven factors, he has well sought the character for realisation of the fruit of stream-entry. When a noble disciple is thus possessed of seven factors, he possesses the fruit of stream-entry.

‘Unfortunately’ the one who has ‘sought well’ is exactly the sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya, i.e. person 1. Which, if we take it literally, means that along the way they had supramundane knowledges before becoming a full sotapanna.


#19

I think some other suttas might be used to qualify this idea, but essentially, yes, I should have been more precise, by ‘robes’ I was just trying to draw a distinction specifically between Buddhist mendicants and Buddhist lay followers.

It does appear a little that way! :smiley:

All the same, much thanks for the pointers as to where to look to try and get at least some clue.


#20

“Master Gotama, I have heard that ‘Gotama the contemplative says this: “Only to me should a gift be given, and not to others. Only to my disciples should a gift be given, and not to others. Only what is given to me bears great fruit, and not what is given to others. Only what is given to my disciples bears great fruit, and not what is given to the disciples of others.”’ Now those who report this: Are they reporting the Master Gotama’s actual words, are they not misrepresenting him with what is unfactual, are they answering in line with the Dhamma, so that no one whose thinking is in line with the Dhamma will have grounds for criticizing them? For we don’t want to misrepresent the Master Gotama.”

"Vaccha, whoever says this: ‘Gotama the contemplative says this: “Only to me should a gift be given… Only what is given to my disciples bears great fruit, and not what is given to the disciples of others,”’ is not reporting my actual words, is misrepresenting me with what is unfactual & untrue… AN 3.57