Sakadāgāmi, opapātika, anāgāmi. Are they late concepts i.e. not EBT?

It’s easy for misunderstandings to occur in text discussions. But to keep the forum beneficial for all, we need to keep things kind and and focused on the Dhamma.


Thank you for that!! In January this year I submitted my MA thesis on stream-entry, precisely, and seeing a PhD thesis on a related topic makes me feel both small and very happy!
Just by looking at the index I see some common points, like analyzing the assumed equation of sotāpatti and the dhammacakkhu.

The conclusion of my research was that the four stages arose gradually as an organisational template which included within it other organisational templates like the 10 fetters, the list of the ten ‘attainers’ and the seven ‘liberated’. We could say that it won the battle of organisational templates and was imposed upon all others.

However sotāpatti and arahant seem to also operate outside this template. For example, the definition of the sotāpanna as having four qualities (confidence in the three gems and noble virtue), although it is quite coherent in content with the definition in terms of fetters abandoned, is not presented as part of a progress scale of cumulative qualities. Likewise, there are passages that treat the sotāpanna as an overarching category which is inclusive of anyone who is neither an arahant nor a puthujjana, including other stages, and which holds diversities of progress. The middle stages, the ones that I also agree do not go back to the Buddha (althought I would not call them not EBT) do not function in this way, they are exclusive.

Supporting Manné’s intuitions, there are differences in concept and narrative treatment between arahant and sotāpanna on the one hand and sakadāgāmi and anāgāmi on the other. The latter are concerned with how many lives remain, a concern that is absent in the main formulas of the sotāpanna — I was shocked to find that, but the common idea that stream-enterers will attain awakening in a maximum of seven lives actually comes from other concepts, like the accomplished in view and the seven-times-at-most-attainer (sattakkhattuparama).

I went on a tangent, sorry, but yes I think these concepts evolved over time, albeit very very early, because they are inextricable in the main nikāyas. And I will take a look at that thesis, so thank you @crizna !


What exactly are you implying here, That these teaching were gradually revealed by the Buddha himself much like the vinaya rules as the need arose ?
they were the work of a later hand?

I’d incline to think the second. But then, scholarly, my conclusions were about different usages and then probably different layers of development. To whom to ascribe the second layer, either to the Buddha developing his discourse and shifting usage of a term, or to the early redactors, is another step which is much more tentative. It’s interpretation.


That’s a good point. They could also be regular-old pre-jhāna pīti and passaddhi since those both occur in a number of other places outside of the jhāna context. I don’t really have any convictions either way.

1 Like

Wonderful @crizna ! Thanks so much. I’ll give this other dissertation a look too.

I totally agree with Nanda. My research was more limited in scope and length though. I’d share it here but I’m waiting to see if there’s anything I can publish. If not, I’ll post it on the forum.


Very sorry that my short comment did not make any sense to you.

What I wanted to say is this dhamma has to be realised first before commenting on its various aspects.

The expression, “yadidaṃ cattāri purisayugāni aṭṭha purisapuggalā esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho āhuneyyo pāhuneyyo dakkhiṇeyyo añjalikaraṇīyo anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassa” is found in itivuttaka, tikanipāto, pañcamavaggo, aggapasādasuttaṃ. Itivuttaka is considered to be one of the nine components of the Buddha’s discourses which had been compiled during His lifetime.

Additionally, the same passage is available in fourteen other places in thirteen volumes of the EBT.

This adequately proves that the four ‘paths’ and four ‘fruits’ had been declared by the Buddha from the beginning.

About opapātikā, anāvattidhammo is same as anāgāmi (puna caparaṃ, mahāli, bhikkhu pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā opapātiko hoti, tattha parinibbāyī, anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā - DN - Mahalia Sutta)

Sukhi Hotu!


I don’t think this “proves” what you say at all. If it proves anything, it proves that this formula is very ancient, but not more. To me it reflects the most advanced development of the theory of stages, where the intermediate persons have been introduced, the “ones practising for”. This is a highly codified formula and it appears in the same way everywhere, it is a pericope, but this notion is not found in other texts outside of the rigid formula, in more narrative or situational texts, etc. Importantly, the one ‘practising for’ hardly exists in the canon as a real person in the way that the four ariyapuggala do.

To me it looks like a clarification coming from abhidhammic thought, which has already started to think of the path in terms of a ‘thing’ that ‘lasts’ a particular number of ‘mind moments’. Therefore you get the distinction of the pair: one getting there, another one being there right now. But this way of thinking, I believe, is not typical of the suttas. And without the abhidhammic conception, the division into eight doesn’t really make sense, because one who is a stream-enterer is at the same time one practising for a higher stage, and not only for the stage immediately following, but for any higher stage, since in the suttas we don’t see the linear progression passing through all the stages necessarily. So I count and I don’t come up with eight distinct persons…

tvampi sukhi hotu!


What proof do you (or anyone) have that they aren’t definite milestones in the path? Why always choose the cynical self-serving conclusions that scholars conclude their theories with? I personally find these stages motivational.

1 Like

I’d wonder is it more likely that these intermediate stages came to prominence actually later in the Buddha’s life? Early in the Buddha’s teaching career, I presume he would have been dealing a lot more with already experienced mendicants, wandering from place to place, having relatively few of administrative burdens (number of followers still relatively small) and minimal rules and structures (Vinaya) in place. There are many incidences in the SN with the general form of a mendicant with some difficulties in practice (obviously with some insight and with Dhamma eye already open etc.), then the Buddha gives some instruction, he goes away and practices and it’s simply described that the person later became an arahant. These are quite streamlined descriptions of the progress to enlightenment.

Contrast with the period towards the end of the Buddha’s life. A large body of numerous followers (monastic and laity) have developed about him (of mixed abilities). This has come with its burden of administration and structures (lots more Vinaya rules have had to codified). At times, the Buddha seems exasperated at having to continually answer questions about the destinations of those who have passed on (I suspect the mirror of Dhamma given in the DN, though perhaps the sutta itself isn’t all early, was a real answer to a real need). Ud4.5 comes to mind here also: the sutta likening the Buddha to a Bull Elephant who, exasperated by the annoyances of the herd, goes off into seclusion for some peace:

Then it occured to the Gracious One: “At present I am living beset by monks, and nuns, and male lay followers, and female lay followers, and kings, and king’s ministers, and sectarians, and sectarians’ disciples, I am living beset, unhappy, and uncomfortable. Well now, I could dwell solitary, secluded from the group.”

At this point, there probably was a real “socio-religious” need for intermediate stages. For example, many of the laity were stream enterers, but what about particularly devoted householders who were celibate or/and skilled in the jhana states or whatever? There would have been pressure from the laity for stages beyond just stream entry. Or what about questions about the destinations and attainments of monastics who weren’t arahants but were still relatively advanced? And it’d be just human nature for followers to probe and pester the Buddha on such things and try to pin him down on intermediate states and destinations of the recently deceased.

I reckon it would have been difficult in this later context for the Buddha to avoid entirely talk of intermediate stages. These stages are evidently quite early, given their frequency in the Nikayas, and early followers seemed quite conservative in terms of doctrine. Would this four stage model really have come into existence if the Buddha had managed to sidestep the issue entirely? I doubt it. IMO the most plausible hypothesis is that a doctrine concerning intermediate stages came into existence towards the end of the Buddha’s life in response to a certain need/demand from followers. Though perhaps there was some further development later based on this nucleus (and retrofitting various models into this framework).


Thank you very much for the comment.

I would like to copy and paste EBT references to this gradual path of progress as declared by Sammasambuddha, all in Pali.

  1. DN, sīlakkhandhavagga, lohiccasuttaṃ:
    ye te kulaputtā tathāgatappaveditaṃ dhammavinayaṃ āgamma evarūpaṃ uḷāraṃ visesaṃ adhigacchanti, sotāpattiphalampi sacchikaronti, sakadāgāmiphalampi sacchikaronti, anāgāmiphalampi sacchikaronti, arahattampi sacchikaronti,

  2. DN, pāthikavagga, saṅgītisuttaṃ:
    cattāri sāmaññaphalāni – sotāpattiphalaṃ, sakadāgāmiphalaṃ, anāgāmiphalaṃ, arahattaphalaṃ.

  3. DN, pāthikavagga, saṅgītisuttaṃ:
    aṭṭha puggalā dakkhiṇeyyā – sotāpanno, sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno; sakadāgāmī, sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno; anāgāmī, anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno; arahā, arahattaphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno

  4. MN,uparipaṇṇāsa, vibhaṅgavaggo, dakkhiṇāvibhaṅgasuttaṃ:
    tathāgatasāvake arahante dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ tatiyā pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. arahattaphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanne dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ catutthī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. anāgāmissa dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ pañcamī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanne dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ chaṭṭhī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. sakadāgāmissa dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ sattamī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanne dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ aṭṭhamī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. sotāpanne dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ navamī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā. sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanne dānaṃ deti – ayaṃ dasamī pāṭipuggalikā dakkhiṇā.

  5. DN, pāthikavagga, dasuttarasuttaṃ:
    katame cattāro dhammā sacchikātabbā? cattāri sāmaññaphalāni – sotāpattiphalaṃ, sakadāgāmiphalaṃ, anāgāmiphalaṃ, arahattaphalaṃ . ime cattāro dhammā sacchikātabbā.

  6. SN, khandhavaggo, khandhasaṃyuttaṃ, dhammakathikavaggo, sīlavantasuttaṃ:
    ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, āvuso, vijjati yaṃ sīlavā bhikkhu ime pañcupādānakkhandhe aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi karonto sotāpattiphalaṃ sacchikareyyā”ti.
    sotāpannenapi kho, āvuso koṭṭhika, bhikkhunā ime pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi kātabbā. ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, āvuso, vijjati yaṃ sotāpanno bhikkhu ime pañcupādānakkhandhe aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi karonto sakadāgāmiphalaṃ sacchikareyyā”ti.
    sakadāgāmināpi kho, āvuso koṭṭhika, bhikkhunā ime pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi kātabbā. ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, āvuso, vijjati yaṃ sakadāgāmī bhikkhu ime pañcupādānakkhandhe aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi karonto anāgāmiphalaṃ sacchikareyyā”ti.
    anāgāmināpi kho, āvuso koṭṭhika, bhikkhunā ime pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi kātabbā. ṭhānaṃ kho panetaṃ, āvuso, vijjati yaṃ anāgāmī bhikkhu ime pañcupādānakkhandhe aniccato…pe… anattato yoniso manasi karonto arahattaṃ sacchikareyyā”ti.

  7. SN, mahāvaggo, maggasaṃyuttaṃ, paṭipattivaggo, paṭhamasāmaññasuttaṃ:
    katamāni ca, bhikkhave, sāmaññaphalāni? sotāpattiphalaṃ, sakadāgāmiphalaṃ, anāgāmiphalaṃ, arahattaphalaṃ – imāni vuccanti, bhikkhave, sāmaññaphalānī”ti

  8. SN, sotāpattiphalaṃmahāvaggo, maggasaṃyuttaṃ, paṭipattivaggo, paṭhamabrahmaññasuttaṃ: sakadāgāmiphalaṃ, anāgāmiphalaṃ, arahattaphalaṃ – imāni vuccanti, bhikkhave, brahmaññaphalānī”ti

  9. SN, mahāvaggo, indriyasaṃyuttaṃ, mudutaravaggo, paṭhamasaṃkhittasuttaṃ:
    imesaṃ kho, bhikkhave, pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ samattā paripūrattā arahaṃ hoti, tato mudutarehi anāgāmī hoti, tato mudutarehi sakadāgāmī hoti, tato mudutarehi sotāpanno hoti, tato mudutarehi dhammānusārī hoti, tato mudutarehi saddhānusārī hotī”ti

  10. SN, mahāvaggo, indriyasaṃyuttaṃ, mudutaravaggo, paṭipannasuttaṃ:
    imesaṃ kho, bhikkhave, pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ samattā paripūrattā arahaṃ hoti, tato mudutarehi arahattaphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno hoti, tato mudutarehi anāgāmī hoti, tato mudutarehi anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno hoti, tato mudutarehi sakadāgāmī hoti, tato mudutarehi sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno hoti, tato mudutarehi sotāpanno hoti, tato mudutarehi sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno hoti.

  11. AN, ekakanipāta, ekapuggalavaggo:
    katamassa ekapuggalassa? tathāgatassa arahato sammāsambuddhassa. imassa kho, bhikkhave, ekapuggalassa pātubhāvā mahato cakkhussa pātubhāvo hoti, mahato ālokassa pātubhāvo hoti, mahato obhāsassa pātubhāvo hoti, channaṃ anuttariyānaṃ pātubhāvo hoti, catunnaṃ paṭisambhidānaṃ sacchikiriyā hoti, anekadhātupaṭivedho hoti, nānādhātupaṭivedho hoti, vijjāvimuttiphalasacchikiriyā hoti, sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyā hoti, sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyā hoti, anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyā hoti, arahattaphalasacchikiriyā hotī”ti.

  12. . AN, ekakanipāta, kāyagatāsativaggo:
    kāyagatā sati. ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, ekadhammo bhāvito bahulīkato sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya saṃvattati… sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya saṃvattati… anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya saṃvattati… arahattaphalasacchikiriyāya saṃvattatī”ti.

  13. AN, tikanipāta, paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, puggalavaggo, samiddhasuttaṃ:
    na khvettha, sāriputta, sukaraṃ ekaṃsena byākātuṃ – ‘ayaṃ imesaṃ tiṇṇaṃ puggalānaṃ abhikkantataro ca paṇītataro cā’ti. ṭhānañhetaṃ, sāriputta, vijjati yvāyaṃ puggalo kāyasakkhī svāssa arahattāya paṭipanno, yvāyaṃ puggalo saddhāvimutto svāssa sakadāgāmī vā anāgāmī vā, yo cāyaṃ puggalo diṭṭhippatto sopassa sakadāgāmī vā anāgāmī vā.

  14. AN, pañcakanipāta, pañcamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, upasampadāvaggo: dutiyajhānasuttādisattakaṃ:
    “na khvettha, sāriputta, sukaraṃ ekaṃsena byākātuṃ – ‘ayaṃ imesaṃ tiṇṇaṃ puggalānaṃ abhikkantataro ca paṇītataro cā’ti. ṭhānañhetaṃ, sāriputta, vijjati yvāyaṃ puggalo diṭṭhippatto svāssa arahattāya paṭipanno, yvāyaṃ puggalo saddhāvimutto svāssa sakadāgāmī vā anāgāmī vā, yo cāyaṃ puggalo kāyasakkhī sopassa sakadāgāmī vā anāgāmī vā

  15. AN, pañcakanipāta, pañcamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, upasampadāvaggo, aparadutiyajhānasuttādisattakaṃ:
    pañcime, bhikkhave, dhamme pahāya bhabbo dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ…pe… bhabbo tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ… bhabbo catutthaṃ jhānaṃ… bhabbo sotāpattiphalaṃ… bhabbo sakadāgāmiphalaṃ… bhabbo anāgāmiphalaṃ… bhabbo arahattaṃ sacchikātuṃ. katame pañca? āvāsamacchariyaṃ, kulamacchariyaṃ, lābhamacchariyaṃ, vaṇṇamacchariyaṃ, dhammamacchariyaṃ

  16. AN, chakkanipāta, dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, ānisaṃsavaggo, aniccasuttaṃ:
    chakkanipāta, dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, ānisaṃsavaggo, nibbānasuttaṃ
    sammattaniyāmaṃ okkamamāno sotāpattiphalaṃ vā sakadāgāmiphalaṃ vā anāgāmiphalaṃ vā arahattaṃ vā sacchikarissatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjatī”ti

  17. AN, aṭṭhakanipāta, paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, mahāvaggo, pahārādasuttaṃ:
    evamevaṃ kho, pahārāda, ayaṃ dhammavinayo mahataṃ bhūtānaṃ āvāso; tatrime bhūtā – sotāpanno sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, sakadāgāmī sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, anāgāmī anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, arahā arahattāya paṭipanno. yampi, pahārāda, ayaṃ dhammavinayo mahataṃ bhūtānaṃ āvāso; tatrime bhūtā – sotāpanno sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, sakadāgāmī sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, anāgāmī anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, arahā arahattāya paṭipanno;

  18. AN, aṭṭhakanipāta, dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, gotamīvaggo, gotamīsuttaṃ:
    bhabbo, ānanda, mātugāmo tathāgatappavedite dhammavinaye agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitvā sotāpattiphalampi sakadāgāmiphalampi anāgāmiphalampi arahattaphalampi sacchikātu”nti.

  19. AN, aṭṭhakanipāta, dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, gotamīvaggo, paṭhamapuggalasuttaṃ:
    aṭṭhime bhikkhave, puggalā āhuneyyā pāhuneyyā dakkhiṇeyyā añjalikaraṇīyā anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassa? katame aṭṭha? sotāpanno, sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, sakadāgāmī, sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, anāgāmī, anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, arahā, arahattāya paṭipanno.

  20. AN, navakanipātanavakanipāta, paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, sambodhivaggo, puggalasuttaṃ, + paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, sambodhivaggo, balasuttaṃ
    etadaggaṃ, bhikkhave, samānattatānaṃ yadidaṃ sotāpanno sotāpannassa samānatto, sakadāgāmī sakadāgāmissa samānatto, anāgāmī anāgāmissa samānatto, arahā arahato samānatto. idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, saṅgāhabalaṃ. imāni kho, bhikkhave, cattāri balāni.

  21. AN, navakanipāta, paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, sambodhivaggo, puggalasuttaṃ:
    navayime, bhikkhave, puggalā santo saṃvijjamānā lokasmiṃ. katame nava? arahā, arahattāya paṭipanno, anāgāmī, anāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, sakadāgāmī, sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno , sotāpanno, sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, puthujjano – ime kho, bhikkhave, nava puggalā santo saṃvijjamānā lokasmi”nti.

  22. AN, dasakanipāta, paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, akkosavaggo, sakkasuttaṃ:
    idha mama sāvako nava rattindive… aṭṭha rattindive… satta rattindive… cha rattindive… pañca rattindive… cattāro rattindive… tayo rattindive… dve rattindive… ekaṃ rattindivaṃ appamatto ātāpī pahitatto viharanto yathā mayānusiṭṭhaṃ tathā paṭipajjamāno satampi vassāni satampi vassasatāni satampi vassasahassāni ekantasukhappaṭisaṃvedī vihareyya, so ca khvassa sakadāgāmī vā anāgāmī vā apaṇṇakaṃ vā sotāpanno.

  23. udāna, soṇavaggo, uposathasuttaṃ:
    evameva kho, bhikkhave, ayaṃ dhammavinayo mahataṃ bhūtānaṃ āvāso; tatrime bhūtā – sotāpanno, sotāpattiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, sakadāgāmi, sakadāgāmiphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, anāgāmī, anāgāmīphalasacchikiriyāya paṭipanno, arahā, arahattāya arahattaphalasacchikiriyāya.

This Dhamma in deep in meaning and difficult to understand.

Nobody, who had never been to various depths of the ocean, can tell the various temperatures in different levels. It has to be measured. By merely observing the surface or listening to some heresy would not give the true values.

Similarly, as per EBT, the jhānāni, phalāni, etc have to be experienced through bodily feelings. (Pharitvāti) not by reading or listening.

Any writing without following this pricipal rule of Dhamma will not help anybody to understand or realize dhamma.

Whether a Sammasambuddha comes to this world or not, this Dhamma would be active. That is as declared by Himself. So this is the Law of the universe, and hence called Universal Dhamma/Law.

One concluding story I heard :
There was a lady in India, who did her PhD thesis in Abhidhamma. Later she had attended to a ten day vipassanā course with Mr. Goenka. After the course she had declared that her understanding of dhamma achieved during the ten days is much more than what she accumulated during her research.

Sukhi Hot!
Dīghāyuko Hotu !

1 Like

Excellent points. Relevant here is AN 9.12. In this Sutta, a wanderer from another sect tells Sariputta that only those fully liberated are freed from bad rebirths. Sariputta asks Buddha about this, who says this is wrong — even lower ariyan disciples are freed from bath rebirths, not just Arahats. The Buddha says that, up to this point, he held back from teaching this because he was worried it would result in complacency.

It’s interesting that that Sutta doesn’t use the 4-stage model, but a 10-stage model using the 5 lower fetters. Trying to align it with the 4-stage model, it seems like he talks about 5 types of Anagamis, 1 type of once-returner, and 3 types of stream winners.


AN 9.12
Up until now, Sāriputta, I have not felt the need to give this exposition of the teaching to the monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.
Why is that?
For I didn’t want those who heard it to introduce negligence.
However, I have spoken it in order to answer your question.


I don’t think these intermediate stages were proposed as result of the Buddha wanting to meet the needs of the community. Rather it was the recognition that these stages happened to some people but not to everybody as the later Theravada tradition would like us to believe. The first Buddha disciples and the Buddha himself didn’t go through these stages because they had already years of practice of letting go of craving as mendicants so for them the cessation of sensual desires and ill-wills had happen before their exposure to the dhamma (e.g. Jhānas, 8FP, etc.) The people like me starting from scratch and living a lay life are more likely to go thru these stages sequentially and that’s what the Buddha may have realised and he acknowledged it by exposing these intermediate stages.


“scholar-bashing” :smile: :anjal:

Way i see it, intellectual inquiry is a legitimate part of the buddhist practice. Problem arises when scholars make all encompassing statements based solely on intellectual conclusions. scholarly pursuits have its place in this dhamma-vinaya as demonstrated by the following sutta.

"Monks, I do not say that the attainment of gnosis is all at once. Rather, the attainment of gnosis is after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice. And how is there the attainment of gnosis after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice? There is the case where, when conviction has arisen, one visits [a teacher]. Having visited, one grows close. Having grown close, one lends ear. Having lent ear, one hears the Dhamma. Having heard the Dhamma, one remembers it. Remembering, one penetrates the meaning of the teachings. Penetrating the meaning, one comes to an agreement through pondering the teachings. There being an agreement through pondering the teachings, desire arises. When desire has arisen, one is willing. When one is willing, one contemplates. Having contemplated, one makes an exertion. Having made an exertion, one realizes with the body the ultimate truth and, having penetrated it with discernment, sees it.

The identification of these stages were solely in the domain of the Buddha’s ability (‘Acinteyya sutta’). This constitutes an ‘imponderable’, and it seems to be something the Buddha did until his final days (‘mirror of the dhamma’ teaching to determine stream entrants) when he allowed others to examine themselves.

This is an interesting piece, precisely because, as @TheSynergist has pointed out, it uses another model. I used this text in my dissertation in the context of competing ‘progress scales’. Here we have what I call the 10 attainers (the 9 types of people plus the arahant). It uses the fetters as a template but only one of the terms of the 4-stages model —the once-returner, which perhaps comes originally from this context. Something interesting about the once-returner (Manné in her article sees it as the latest stage to develop) is that compared to the others it doesn’t have very strong defining characteristics: it’s the same fetters as the stream-enterer but with the weakening of the fires. One explanation would be that it comes from this framework, which makes several differentiations among people who fall under the same fetter-category. The fetters could have been superimposed unto a previously independent framework, that’s also a possibility.

Another thing that comes from this framework is the idea of the maximum seven more lives. Notice it doesn’t say stream-enterer anywhere, nor do any other main definition formulas of the stream-enterer talk about the number of lives remaining: the point which is consistent among the definitions is the inevitability of progress and the impossibility of regress, which is the relevant bit for me, at a practitioner level. This template may have been later ‘engulfed’ by the four stages.

Very interestingly, AN 10.64 calls ALL ten members of this list ‘stream-enterers’. The main thesis of my dissertation was that, quite likely, sotāpanna was at some point a fluid term operating outside of the model of four stages.

At to whether this was the Buddha’s own development or the work of early editors, this is much more speculative, so I’ll stick to my “I’d incline to think” @anon87721581.

@Mat The spiritualy validity of these ideas is not being questioned, not at all. But a closer look at the texts reveals many many different models of progress, so which one is ‘true’ or ‘valid’? I’m not sure why should one privilege the four stages among others, although this is what seems to have happened historically. But of course if you want to use this template this if absolutely fine :pray:


Very nice sutta. It’s very similar in some ways to some of the suttas in SN 48, particularly SN48.24, except the progression through morality, concentration and wisdom plus the fetters is replaced by just relative strength in the five faculties (though presumably there is a similar fairly linear progression in mastery through these from faith to wisdom). The Dhamma- and faith-followers are added as two more steps making it a 12-step model:

“Mendicants, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom. These are the five faculties. Someone who has completed and fulfilled these five faculties is a perfected one. If they are weaker than that, they’re one who is extinguished in-between one life and the next … one who is extinguished upon landing … one who is extinguished without extra effort … one who is extinguished with extra effort … one who heads upstream, going to the Akaniṭṭha realm … a once-returner … a one-seeder … one who goes from family to family … one who has seven rebirths at most … a follower of the teachings … a follower by faith.”

Though this is side-by-side with other suttas in this samyutta that describe the standard four-stage model and some lying somewhere in between, e.g. SN 48.15.

The meaning of SN 48.24 does actually seem a lot clearer to me when I lay it side by side with AN 9.12!


Good point! I didn’t notice that before.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that Mahayana Buddhists like to use a 10 stage model as well (the 10 Bhumis). In regards to the fetters — according to this discussion, The Chinese Agamas don’t mention the 5 higher fetters, a nor does the MN. The full list of 10 fetters, including in 5 higher ones, is mostly found in the SN.

Any thoughts on the distinction between “Once-returner” and “One-seeder”? Is it that the latter is only reborn as a human, while the former can be a Deva?


For the sake of contextualization:

Mahāyāna has a) different stages of the path, and b) a longer path, because this path is supposedly culminating in Supreme Buddhahood aeons in the future. In the meanwhile, as there is no need for a Supreme Buddha, no need for a samyaksaṃbuddha, Mahāyāna pracitioners aim for four degrees of Buddhahood which approach that.

The correspondences between the śrāvaka & bodhisattva pudgalamārga, people of the path, exist for the sake of mapping the śrāvaka practice of the Sarvāstivādins onto bodhisattvayāna. One of the major sources for this mapping is the Abhisamayālaṃkara.

A practitioner at the stage of a once-returner, for instance, who cultivates bodhicitta, is a bodhisattva on the fifth bhūmi. A stream-enterer who cultivates bodhicitta is on the first bhūmi. Etc.

There are three paths to complete during the culmination of bodhisattvayāna, a path of seeing, darśana, of cultivation, bhāvanā, and of completion, aśaikṣā.

Śrotāpatti is the end of the darśanamārga, at the close of the pramuditābhūmi, the first bodhisattvabhūmi.

A sakṛdāgāmin is at the close of the arciṣmatībhūmi,the fourth.

Anāgāmikāḥ are at the close of the close of the dūraṃgamābhūmi, the seventh. The sakṛdāgāmin & anāgāmi end the bhāvanāmārga, path of cultivation.

Beings past the 7th stage are known as Mahāsattvāḥ.

Avaivartikāḥ bodhisattvāḥ are on bhūmyaḥ 8-10, the aśaikṣāmārga, path of completion. Figures at these bhūmyaḥ are all different classes of Buddha.

The close of the tenth bhūmi is anuttarāsamyaksaṃbodhi. Upon completion of this dharmameghābhūmi the practitioner receives abhiṣeka from the Buddhas of the 10 directions. After this is the stage of a Supreme Buddha. For the sake of conceptualization, it can be treated as an 11th “Tathāgatabhūmi”.

That is the basic stages of the path in Mahāyāna.

Arhantaḥ are are avaivartikāḥ bodhisattvāḥ mahāsattvāḥ śrāvakabuddhāḥ at bhūmi 8. They rest between bhāvanāmārga & aśaikṣāmārga. They have the liberation of the 8th bhūmi but the wisdom of the 7th, because they are dvayānikāḥ (two-vehicle practitioners), because there is no cultivation of bodhicitta on those paths. Make no mistake, the Mahāyāna in no ways denies the Buddhahood of the Arhat. Mahāyāna also asserts that arhatship is the culmination completion and end of śrāvakayāna, which shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but is used to sectarian ends all the same. Mahāyāna is full of inconsistencies regarding whether or not Arhantaḥ are fully enlightened.