If fetters never arise again, why is nobody born a sotapanna?

Hi all.

So whenever someone attains a noble attainment, it is often said that fetters xyz are broken, never to arise again. But it seems to me that they do arise again in the next life. Because as far as I know, nobody has ever been born a noble disciple. So why and how do fetters arise again when a noble disciple dies and is reborn? Or am I wrong here? Please correct me if so.

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That’s a good question! I like questions like this that push out the boundaries on some these ideas (a kind of testing to destruction :slight_smile: ).

It’s really hard for me to imagine a human child being born not possessing any of the seven higher fetters (desire, aversion and upwards). Though such a person would be at least a non-returner and wouldn’t be reborn as a human anyway, which neatly disposes of that issue.

I can’t recall any examples in the suttas of a sotapanna being reborn as a human (some examples in the deva realms alright). For a sotapanna, their dhamma eye is supposed be open (even from birth I guess). Am not sure that that would be make any practical difference at the infant stage. Though, I guess when they are old enough they should have a deep intuitive grasp of the nature of self/reality/conditionality, quickly grasp which teachings seemed in accord with these intuitions, have a naturally appropriate relationship to rites and rituals, and be likely to find their way to Buddhism eventually, assuming the teachings were available (or maybe they’d be likely to be reborn to a Buddhist family). That’s the theory anyway I guess. Much the same would hold for a once-returner, I’d assume. The fetters of desire and aversion would still be there (just somewhat weaker) so it seems feasible.

For stage of non-return upwards, it’s not an issue (just as well because the model would really break down otherwise).

Why do you assume that in the next life one would be reborn under the same rules?

I don’t think there are any. In the suttas, as far as I know, when the Buddha is asked about the destination, it’s always a higher realm (or no realm if they were an arahant…).


I think you’re right in terms of the canon, but in Buddhist traditions the idea that people are born as stream-enterers is not uncommon. Whether it’s true or not, I couldn’t say.

But you’d expect that most stream-enterers would be reborn in heaven, and if they did take a human birth, it would be many millions of years in the future.


I think it’s worth noting that the concept of spiritually advanced reborn individuals the tulku institution of Tibetan Buddhism is based on has its parallels with the EBTs’ concept of kolankola individuals.

If you are interested in finding more about it I suggest checking this topic:

On a broader sense these other topics may prove interesting read as well:



Great Question! Where indeed can one find a reborn Sotapanna? :thinking:
Such a person would have to have the qualities @suaimhneas described…

Now these are complete speculations on my part:-

Could MK Gandhi have been a reborn Sotapanna? His account of his childhood certainly seems to cover many of these bases. And he seems to have adopted many Buddhist ideals in his life, even though he couched them in Brahmanical terms… :thinking: :thinking:
Mingyur Rinpoche (a reborn Tulku) gives an account of his childhood within the pages of his spiritual memoir “In love with the World”. Some of that is available here, in the public domain.
Both accounts paint similar pictures of a child haunted by a deep spiritual yearning, a lack of satisfaction in what would be considered ‘normal’ pleasures and a tendency to gravitate towards the quintessentially Buddhist practices of Virtue and Meditation.
Perhaps a reborn human Sotapanna only superficially appears to have the 3 lower fetters? And they are able to break free whenever their Mind becomes mature, because the fetters are never really locked in place? (A complete speculation… couldn’t find anything in the Suttas to support this.)

Perhaps Abhidhamma has more details? :thinking:


If so, the relevant chapter would be, in the Pali Canon at least, the Puggalapaññati:

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How can a sotapanna’s adult manomaya kaya stay locked (in terms of expression) inside a baby/child body which cannot express its whole content ?


I can’t say I’ve gotten any real insights into how rebirth might actually work in my readings of the suttas so far. Secondly, I’m not sure I fully understand some of the assumptions about rebirth that seem to underlie your question. Isn’t the idea of the “manomaya kaya”, mind-made body, mostly associated with certain psychic powers? I’m not familiar with it having a role in rebirth or stream-entry. If you mean by it something like full adult mind state, I don’t see why would that have to be carried over to the next life. I guess the minimum requirement is just that the first three fetters shouldn’t be present. I suppose what that would look like in a child depends on what precisely is meant by “fetter” in these cases (something profound but maybe actually somewhat subtle in manifestation? :man_shrugging: ). We can speculate a bit but I don’t really know.

“Isn’t the manomaya kaya associated with certain psychic powers ?” As far as i know manomaya kaya is what reincarnates. Yet what reincarnates might be a potential (this independently of the fetters subject) under the form of a mental “body”. Just a potential instead of this or that quality or default.

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I’ve often wondered what sort of little boy the Dalai Lama was. :slight_smile:

Hagiographies of famous spiritual teachers often characterise them as having been unusual children, especially those Burmese ones I’ve happened to come across. I don’t know if it’s the same in Thailand (where this type of writing would be less likely to get translated into English) but recently I’ve been reading this autobiography of Ajahn Dtun (for whose spiritual progress I have heard great claims made), and by his own account he was no average child.


Might indeed be by “manomaya kaya” :man_shrugging: , but I haven’t yet encountered any clear descriptions of the mechanics of the process in the suttas (if even such a description exists; I know different schools even had different ideas about the existence or not of intermediate states between lives).

Yes! :slight_smile: The childhood experiences of Mae Chee Kaew in her biography also did not sound very typical (able to see and communicate with deva-like beings as a child, memories of past lives, natural affinity with passing meditation masters like Ajahn Sao and Ajahn Mun).
P.S. That Ajahn Dtun book does look very interesting; thanks for linking to that!


Exactly. Stream-entry is an absence and can’t be defined by visions or dreams or reason. The specific fetters overcome by a stream-enterer pertain to conceptual understanding (the role of ethical precepts, doubt as to the path, view about a self). They couldn’t be expected to manifest in an infant, and they would become relevant only gradually in the course of development.


Thank you so much for this link! I was instantly drawn to it and am eagerly reading it. :meditation:


Was listening to MN64 this morning and it occurred to me that the following part of it was relevant to this discussion (in it the Buddha is talking about the five lower fetters):

“Who on earth do you remember being taught the five lower fetters in that way? Wouldn’t the wanderers who follow other paths fault you using the simile of the infant? For a little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘identity’, so how could identity view possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to identity view still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘teachings’, so how could doubt about the teachings possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to doubt still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘precepts’, so how could misapprehension of precepts and observances possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to misapprehension of precepts and observances still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘sensual pleasures’, so how could desire for sensual pleasures possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to sensual desire still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘sentient beings’, so how could ill will for sentient beings possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to ill will still lies within them. Wouldn’t the wanderers who follow other paths fault you using the simile of the infant?”