Implications of the classification of a worldling

Greetings all.

I’ve long wondered why the classification of stages on the spiritual path goes straight from uninstructed worldling (often described as having no regard for the noble ones) to stream winner. The question stems from the observation that there seem to be worldlings who have received instruction, and who do hold the noble ones in high regard. Yet I’ve never seen any variation in the standard definition of a worldling in the suttas.

From my admittedly uneducated viewpoint, I can envision two possible explanations for this:

  1. the classification is meant to highlight the vastness of the difference between an average Joe off the street and a noble one. so differentiating between worldlings doesn’t add new or helpful information to the equation. In other words, the standard description of a worldling is simply a tool for portraying a point

  2. the jump from worldling to stream winner is so immensely high that in comparison, there is basically no significant difference between worldlings of any kind. This would also seem to imply that “regard for the noble ones” is something much deeper and more powerful than one might expect, since apparently even the most faithful worldlings wouldn’t have an ounce of it

I’m asking this because the answer obviously has implications for how we should understand the nature of spiritual progress. The first option could allow for a snow ball effect kind of progress, with wisdom growing substantially even before the big breakthrough. The second would seem to imply that practice prior to stream entry is like laying the foundation for a house, in that it makes the house possible but on its own doesn’t get you above ground at all. And of course, there could be other explanations I’m not seeing.

So whats up with worldlings in the suttas? What are we to infer from the standard description of them? Any resources or knowledge would be greatly appreciated :pray:

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AN 8.59: Paṭhamapuggalasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (

See also AN9.9 and Ud5.5

To give you a context of why there is a stark difference from a Wordling to Stream Winner i will tell this story. Once the Buddha along with 500 of his monks were travelling. On the way there was a field and 500 cows were grazing on that field. The Buddha stopped and smiled after looking at that view. To this the Ananda thought, there must be definitely something otherwise the Buddha would not have smiled. So he asks the Buddha why he smiled. The Buddha replied, all these 500 cows were once Brahma in their previous existence. But these 500 Bikkhus, the least one being the Stream Winner, will never be born as Cows.

This shows how different the trajectory is for a normal worldling even if he is very virtuous one and a stream winner. There is no comparison.

A wordling may be a scoundrel, a murderer, a lowlife, a virtuous person, a very virtuous person, but he is bound to be reborn again and again in this samsara in this realm or the other depending on his kamma. There is no escape guaranteed for him. There is no guarantee that he will not be reborn in the lower realms. Even if he is virtuous in this life, he may commit some heinous crime in the next birth and thus further his escape from suffering.

But for a Stream Winner, escape from suffering guaranteed in max to max 7 rebirths. He is guaranteed not to be born in lower realms.

Therefore, Wordlings and Stream Winners are categorized differently.


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Majjhima Nikaya 117 states there is a classification before noble right view, yet would not be the wrong view of a worldling:

“And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.”

MN117 has its parralel at MA189 whoch as far as I know omits the distinction between “mundane” and “supra-mundane” right views.

It is therefore probabale that this is a sectarian position held by Therevada and not a pre-sectarian EBT distinction.

Good luck with your journey.

The sutta’s make this distinguishment between someone who has attained the fruit of stream-entry and those who are working towards this ( the one practicing to realize the fruit of stream-entry). I have understood that these last are considered to be the saddhanusarin and dhammanusarin. They have allready a certain level of resp. faith and understanding above the worldling, especially on anicca.

Right view is of many kinds in the suttas. It can refer to:

-just knowing what is wholesome and not, and knowing their roots (MN9)
-knowing all aspect of how one feeds oneself, physically and mentally (MN9)
-knowing all aspects of Paticca Samuppada (MN9)
-knowing all aspects of asava (MN9)
-having no notion of the existence and non-existence of the world because one knows the arising and cessation of the world as it actually is. Being not involved in the extremes of all exist and all does not exist (SN12.15)
-understanding or knowledge of the four noble truths (MN9, DN22, SN45.8)
-seeing that any phenomena arising is anicca, dukkha and anatta (MN115)

  • there is noble right view and mundane right view (MN117)
  • knowing that the six senses, what is sensed, what it triggers is all impermanent (SN35.156)

In general right view is regarded in two ways:

-it leads to Nibbana or the removal of all defilements (SN35.241, MN117 (supra mundane), (SN45.4, SN45.19, SN45.62, SN45.70).
-it leads to higher rebirth (AN2.28, AN1.313, DN2, DN28, DN33, MN4, MN41, MN51, MN77, MN130)

Right view is also related to behaviour:

-someone with right view is not attracted anymore with the six sense domains, his/her obsession is gone, he/she does not feel delight or any passion anymore to seek security or happiness in it. There is Nibbida and because of this lack of any passion towards what is sensed there is liberation (SN35.157)
-there is no fettering anymore to the world, there is no doubt anymore that what arises is only suffering arising (SN12.15)
-someone with right view is very conscientious and always training in moral, concentration and wisdom (MN48)
-someone with right view cannot commit the 5 heinous crimes (MN115)

I feel, it is really the base of Dhamma.

“If an ignorant individual makes a good choice, their consciousness enters a good realm. If they make a bad choice, their consciousness enters a bad realm. If they make an imperturbable choice, their consciousness enters an imperturbable realm. When a mendicant has given up ignorance and given rise to knowledge, they don’t make a good choice, a bad choice, or an imperturbable choice. Not choosing or intending, they don’t grasp at anything in the world. Not grasping, they’re not anxious. Not being anxious, they personally become extinguished”.

Those Good intentions do not lead out of the world and suffering. They lead to relative happiness in this and that life. For me this means…whatever intention arises and instigates the thinking, speaking and acting, it cannot be called pure and noble.

MN 117 distinguishes between Noble Teachings leading to Nibbana & ordinary teachings connected to merit. SN 20.7 offers an answer to your question.

MN189 must be very belated. Hundreds of years belated.

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Indeed. These are those ‘practicing to realize the fruit of stream entry’. This is the first rung of the four pairs, viz the eight individuals that comprise the Noble Ones (Ariyas) in the EBT. I dunno why people keep missing them out… :person_shrugging:

Eight persons worthy of a religious donation: The stream-enterer and the one practicing to realize the fruit of stream-entry. The once-returner and the one practicing to realize the fruit of once-return. The non-returner and the one practicing to realize the fruit of non-return. The perfected one, and the one practicing for perfection.

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There seems to be a distinction made between one who is Sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanne, “one who has entered upon the way to experiencing the fruit of Stream-Entry”,
and a virtuous worldling.

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