SuttaCentral

Questions​ on pre-anagami status

A friend presented me a very interesting practical questions on the topic of pre-anagami status for which I have no answer and would like to share with you guys.

In a previous topic about the shades of spiritual development typically listed in EBTs we explored a list of gradual attainments which stretches beyond the usual fourfold list of stream-entry / once-returner / non-returner and arahant.

The question is specifically about the case of a birth in the context of attainment of a pre-anagami status in a previous lifetime:

How can one know whether or not the current/present birth follows or succeeds one of those attainments? Or, how could one identify a child born in that condition?

In case the question is not clear. I am referring to the case of a birth which follows any of the pre-anagami attainments found in EBTs like:

##SA823 / AN3.88
(English transl. here)

家家 ~? kolaṅkola family-to-family attainer
須陀洹 ~ sotāpanna stream-winner
隨法行 ~ dhammānusārī Dhamma-follower
隨信行 ~ saddhānusārī faith follower

.

##AN10.63 / AN10.64
(English transl. here and here)

Sattak­khat­tu­paramassa one who has but seven more births at most
kolaṅkolassa one who is reborn in a good family
ekabījissa a one-seeder

.

##SN48.24
(English transl. here)

sotāpanna stream-winner
dhammānusārī Dhamma-follower
saddhānusārī faith follower

.

##SN48.15
(English transl. here)

ekabījī a one-seeder
kolaṃkolo one reborn in good families
sattak­khat­tu­paramo one destined to seven more births at most
dhammānusārī Dhamma-follower
saddhānusārī faith follower

.

##MA195 / MN70
kāyasakkhi body-witness
diṭṭhippatto view-attainer
saddhāvimutto faith-liberated
dhammānusārī Dhamma-follower
saddhānusārī faith follower

3 Likes

Let me make the link to this other topic and suggest we try as well to address the questions:

Is it possible to trace a parallel between Tibetan Buddhism’s concept of tulku and any of the aforementioned pre-anagami attainments?

Do the tulku identification / recognition methodologies shed any light on how one may know whether or not the current/present birth follows or succeeds one of those attainments? Or, how could one identify a child born in that condition?

Do EBTs indicate someone in a pre-anagami status could be able to self-recognise the attainment preceding the current birth?

The early texts don’t contain a single biographical narrative of a sekha disciple who passes away and is then reborn in the human realm. All the reported cases are reborn as devas or brahmās. I’ve been told by a couple of scholar monks who are much more erudite than I that this is also true of the later texts.

So, in the absence of any kind of Entwicklungsroman concerning the growing up of persons of this sort, I think any conjectures will perforce be confined to trying to imagine what a human being would be like who right from birth was free of the first three fetters, possessed of the virtue pleasing to ariyans and unshakeable faith in the Three Jewels, incapable of doing the nine things listed in the Bahudhātukasutta, etc. (This is of course assuming that there is no possibility of a sekha’s backsliding and so all these qualities will remain intact across lifetimes). It’s not an easy thing to imagine.

3 Likes

Somewhat related to this topic, though dealing with rebirth in celestial realms instead of the human, is an4.191. (Don’t read the English translation on SC, it is substantially different from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s, and from translations in other languages.)

It’s about a monastic who has “penetrated the teachings well by view”. So I assume that means stream-entry, or at least dhammafollower/faithfollower status. If they pass away “with muddled mindfulness”, they are reborn in a celestial realm and don’t remember their former dhamma practice at first. However, some trigger helps them to remember, and then the memories come back instantly and “that being quickly reaches distinction”. (Quotes from Bhikkhu Bodhi)

This seems to indicate that a reborn sekha might not remember their unshakeable faith and former practice for a while, even when reborn in a celestial realm, where they just pop up with a fully developed body. In the human realm where development takes so long, it would be even more likely that that person would be ignorant about their former practice for a part of their life, until they somehow come in contact with the Dhamma. Then of course they should immediately recognize it.

13 Likes

Thanks Bhante @Dhammanando, Ayya @vimalanyani

That’s exactly what I had understood before, such attainments are likely to minimise chances of a return to sensuality realms.

Is this because stream entry is usually occuring with the four jhanas? And the impact of the four jhanas in the mind is such that it pushes it to higher/subtler realms?

How then should we understand the status of one to be reborn in good families (kolaṅkola)?

I wouldn’t myself infer this from the fact that there are no EBT narratives about sekhas being reborn as humans. Even the narratives about sekhas being reborn as devas are very few in number and so I’d consider it too small a sample size to draw any conclusion from.

5 Likes

One thing I should add is that in narratives of pre-anāgāmin sekhas reborn as devas, the commonest destinations are given as Tāvatiṃsa and Tusita rather than the Brahmā realms. In effect this means that they are still in sensuality realms.

2 Likes

Thanks for that. I found the following suttas:

Then Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Ananda, having given this instruction to Anathapindika the householder, got up from their seats and left. Then, not long after they left, Anathapindika the householder died and reappeared in the Tusita heaven. MN 143

Venerable sir, Ānanda, knowing in what manner does The Blessed One declare the one who led the holy life and the one who lived the lay life gone to the same destiny after death? Venerable sir, my father Purana, led the holy life, abstaining from low sexual intercourse, after he died The Blessed One declared he is born in the world of happiness (Tusita) and is a once returner. My father’s brother Isidatta led a happy lay life contented with his wife and children, after he died The Blessed One declared he is born in the world of happiness (Tusita) and is a once returner. Venerable sir, Ānanda, knowing in what manner does The Blessed One declare the one who led the holy life and the one who lived the lay life gone to the same destiny after death? Sister, The Blessed One has declared this in this manner. AN 6.44

1 Like

Pardon my ignorance if I am misinformed, but these tulkus are not believed to be “truly” independent beings, but rather, emanations of bodhisattvas of avaivartika [non-retrograding] bhūmis, such as Avalokiteśvara, who emanates the manifestation of the Dalai Lama tulku. Avalokiteśvara does not perish every time that the Dalai Lama perishes, according to the internal worldview of Mahāyāna Buddhism, as best as I understand it, so the issue of how the Dalai Lama is able to “apparently” reincarnate several times similarly is somewhat sidestepped by this postulation of avaivartika bhūmis, coupled with the belief in the supernatural long lives of celestial bodhisattva like Avalokiteśvara.

It seems that it is an issue of differing Buddhavacana that is fundamental here, as this discourse is largely absent from non-Mahāyāna Buddhism, even absent from schools who believed the Buddha was some sort of quasi-eternal Dharma protector (my phrasing). This absence is something that hampers the ability of schools that have this extra layer of teachings to communicate with the older tradition, which lacks it. Concepts cannot be explained because the content of the Buddhadharma is simply larger, more seems to have to be taken on faith (when will I even be able to verify an avaivartika bhūmi?).

I am not trying to speak negatively of any tradition, I am just saying something about the lack of ability to communicate between the schools, in some cases, due to them having different “basic assumptions” about what the Buddha taught.

1 Like

I once read some Tibetan masters have written commentaries tracing parallels between the super-human attainments found in EBTs and the late boddhisatta sutras’ bhumis. Do you happen to know of any text which does that?

[quote=“gnlaera, post:10, topic:5606”]
I once read some Tibetan masters have written commentaries tracing parallels between the super-human attainments found in EBTs and the late boddhisatta sutras’ bhumis. Do you happen to know of any text which does that?
[/quote]The person to ask would be Malcolm Namdrol-la, who you can probably reach on DharmaWheel, he is the only person I know who is easily reachable and familiar with the body of Tibetan commentaries that preserves late Indian Vajrayāna Buddhism before its disappearance (as his profession (?) as a translator of Tibetan, I think). I assume he would be more familiar with commentarial material on tantric practices, but he might know something about this.

He would be the only one I would know who might know them.

Sure. It would be great to see him around here as well.

This is what I found in Alexander Berzin’s StudyBuddhism.com:

The division scheme of aryas into stream-enterer (rgyun-zhugs), once-returner (phyir-‘ong), non-returner (phyir mi-‘ong), and arhat (dgra-bcom) is unique to shravaka and pratyekabuddha aryas. It does not apply to arya bodhisattvas.

Source: The Five Paths: Advanced Presentation

Clearly you do not know Malcolm. :stuck_out_tongue:

But yes, he’s very responsive on Dharma Wheel.

1 Like

Yes, those are three of them. I’ll post some more later. Got an ordination to attend now.

:lotus:

1 Like

Actually, there are plenty of stories of sekhas being reborn in sensual heavens, as Bhante @Dhammanando and @Deeele pointed out. So they clearly didn’t have strong jhana practice, otherwise they would have gone to a jhana realm.

It is debateable whether a stream-enterer needs jhanas. I think that there are very good reasons to think that they don’t, but I don’t want to derail the thread into a discussion on stream-entry and jhanas. :wink:

2 Likes

You’re right. So, a come back as a deva is possible, but what about as a human? EBTs don’t seem to indicate that is a very likely outcome right?

What do the folklore and mainstream beliefs of Theravadin countries like Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka tell us about the topic?

I have never heard of Thai Buddhist masters claiming or hinting they are “career” stream-winners / stream-enterers themselves. There is no such a thing as tulku systems over there right?

This is what the suttas say about the three types of streamwinners you have mentioned above (ekabiji, kolamkolo, sattakkhattuparamo), for example at AN9.12 (quotes from Bhikkhu Bodhi):

… With the utter destruction of three fetters, this person is a one-seed attainer who, after being reborn once more as a human being, makes an end of suffering.
… With the utter destruction of three fetters, this person is a family-to-family attainer who, after roaming and wandering on among good families two or three times, makes an end of suffering.
…With the utter destruction of three fetters, this person is a seven times-at-most attainer who, after roaming and wandering on among devas and humans seven times at most, makes an end of suffering. …

I heard a story that there are occasionally “special” children in Thailand who are drawn to monastics and enjoy meditation at a very early age. Anyway, folklore and mainstream beliefs can be very misleading, so I wouldn’t consider that reliable evidence.
I know someone who had a very strong sense of recognition when she came in contact with the Dhamma, and she has very strong practice.

1 Like

Some are drawn to spiritual practice and meditation at an early age, before one’s higher brain functions have biologically matured whereas others are not. Some are born in Buddhist countries to good Buddhist families, being exposed to and thus conditioned by Dhamma at a young, impressionable age whereas others are not. Some are drawn to Dhamma in a sudden, urgeful way whereas for others it takes time for its importance to sink in.

I don’t see these phenomena that are essentially out of our control as coincidental or having come to be purely by chance.

1 Like

I know of a Thai monk who is claimed (by others) to have been born as an anagami. When he talks about his child- and young adulthood it sounds like he was exceptionally morally pure and resolute.

I have no idea obviously if there’s any truth to it, just wanted to relate how this is possible perceived by contemporary folk theravadins.

1 Like

Yes, you are right. Some well respected Ajahns are known to have been ordained since early age, usually starting as samanneras as early as primary school age.

Maybe the common Thai practice of ordaining boys as samanneras was started as a way to “fish” those individuals into the Sangha as early as possible in their lifetimes!

http://www.thaibuddhist.com/ordination-of-novice-monks/

1 Like