Despite been B.Sujato biggest fan, I have to disagree with him on a problem. Not only do I disagree, but I find it incredible how such a person like B.Sujato could have such a opinion about the problem. It’s a case more slim than Thanissaro eternal consciousness.
In the suttas, steam entry is achieved through contemplating discourses regarding higher teachings. All who ever achieved steam enty in the suttas (and there are probably 100 instances not just “a dozen in MN” as B.Sujato had said. There are about 30 only in SN) - all who ever did it, did it through contemplating a discourse on higher teachings. There is not a single mention of it happening in another way such as “he went into the forest to meditate, came back a stream enterer” - not a single such instance.
We see that those who were normal people achieved only stream entry when hearing higher teachings. There was even a serial killer who did it. Only case where somebody took 1 month of discourses to do it was a warior that was not very smart. Those who were ascetics achieved non-returning or arahanthip when hearing such teachings.
IMPORTANT: It should not be understand by this that you only nead to contemplate a sutta to achieve it. It requires contemplation of all the higher teachings not just some. Those who describe how they achieved it (there are 2 such cases in SN) said “he taught me aggregates, elements, sense bases etc.” We also know that the 5 ascetic friends of the Buddha took many hours of discourses to get it. They were first taught about conditionality, impremanence - then about aggregates - then about no-self. (the powerfull suttas about no-self, most difficult of all are found in SN chapter 4 first big colection of suttas of chapter 4). But people of today do not have a Buddha explaining it in person so it requires months of contemplation of higher teachings. Higher teachings are found in SN chapter 2,3,4 - 1500pag in total.
In the suttas, we see jhana as been something very difficult to achieve, something that takes decades and is probably impossible for a layman of today to achieve. (MN 39, 107, 125 + whole chapter 5 of SN) I know B.Sujato agrees with this witch makes his opinion on stream enty even more strange. In the suttas, we see jhana been connected with non-returning. If one does achieve jhana, he will soon become a non-returner.
We also see Steam entry described as just “right view” - the first step of the noble eithfold path. It represents only an intelectual understanding of no-self through contemplating higher teachings. We even have 4 suttas explicity saying a stream enterer does not poses jhana. (quoted by B.Bodhi in his paper about the problem) It is because Buddha discovered DO by himself that we do not need to rediscover it again today.
What stream entry means and why does it remove doubt: Imagine a budhman seen a car for the first time in his life. He will think the car is pushed foreward by a mysterious force or a spirit. Only after someone shows him the engine, explains him how it works and the bushman does some thinking - only after that will the bushman understand there is no mysterious force pushing the car. If somebody would come to you today and tell you the car is pushed by a spirit, would you have any doubt or inwards perplexity about it ? It is the same with non-existence of a self. Only after a person understand how the being really works will he understand there is no self. And only by understanding this will the person be capable of intellectually understanding nibbana without imagining it as some form of consciousness as Thanissaro does for example
In “A swift pair of messangers”, B.Sujato makes a case for stream entry requiring jhana based on 4 suttas where it is claimed that a steam enterer poses te 5 faculties to a sufficient degree. In all 4 cases, samadhi is described in the context of 5 faculties not in the context of noble 8thfold path. B.Sujato himself admits in the book there is no explicit mention of stream enterer posesing jhana in 10.000pag of sutta pitaka.
More than this, there are passages explicity explaining what this “samadhi” of a stream enterer means. B.Sujato even quotes these passages in the very same chapter. Here they are :
‘Then the Blessed One gave the householder Upāli graduated instruction;
that is, talk on giving, virtue, and the heavens. He explained
the danger, degradation, and defilement in sensual pleasures and the
blessings of renunciation. When he knew that the householder Up-
āli’s mind was ready, soft, free of hindrances, elated, clear of doubt,
he expounded to him the special teaching of the Buddhas: Suffering,
its origin, its cessation, and the path. Just as a clean cloth with all the
stains removed would take dye evenly, so too while the householder
Upāli was sitting right there, the stainless, immaculate eye of the
Dhamma arose in him: “Whatever is subject to arising is subject to
‘Endowed with these five qualities, monks, one listening to the true
Dhamma is incapable of entering the fixed course of rightness regarding
beneficial qualities. What five? One criticizes the teachings; one
criticizes the teacher; one criticizes oneself; one listens to Dhamma
as one of scattered mind, not of one-pointed mind; and one pays attention
away from the root. [But if one has the opposite qualities, one
This simply refers to concentration in general. You can not explain the higher teachings to a person eager to refute you. You first gladen his mind, make him curious, attentive using mundane teachings and then present the difficult higher teachings. How in the world somewone can fit jhana in here is beyond me. A person listen to higher teachings and suddently has jhana witch takes decades to achieve just by listening to the teaching ? Please somebody teach me how to do this so I can become a non-returner today.
The reason B.Sujato has been correct in most of everything else he ever said (except this point) - was because of following a simple and smart principle that he quotes all the time. The principle is: Never go with an ambiguous interpretation based on 3-4 suttas twisted around when that is contradicted by hundreds of other suttas and goes against the whole general picture of the pali canon.
Yet, over here we see B.Sujato making a case based on 4 suttas that claim a stream enterer poseses “samadhi” in the context of 5 faculties not the 8thfold path. And we even have passages explaining how that is reffering to simply attentiveness during a discourse.
B.Sujato goes on to claim all those hundreds of instances of people attaining stream entry after hearing a discourse (all, 100% of cases in the suttas been the same) - all these were added up later because of some King who wanted to make people in his kingdom look more enlightened. This despite the fact that there are at least 30 such instances in SN and this also happens in 10-15% of suttas from MN. About the general picture of how stream entry is achieved trough the canon, B.Sujato says it was because Buddha wanted to not scare people off with stream entry been too hard to achieve. And all this refutal of hundreds of suttas contradicting him based on what ? Based on what better evidence ?
I am sorry for such a harsh criticism of B.Sujato especially since he is my favorite bhikkhu and I consider only him, B.Bodhi and B.Brahmali to have good understanding. But what some do not understand is that good understanding does not mean you can never be wrong about anything. Those who understand it like that are prone to never changing any views no matter what evidence is presented. Having good understanding does not make you right in every point. That is why we have B.Sujato and B.Bodhi disagreeing on some points.
I consider the case presented here to be of uttermost importance since most people of today do anything other than contemplating higher teachings from SN chapter 2,3,4. The huge majority of people focus on entirely other things, despite all who ever achieved stream enty in the suttas doing it in the exact same way. And right view is the forerunner of them all. If there is wrong view, there is wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, etc. - wrong practice in general.