Shades of spiritual development

In the SN48.15, unfortunately only available in English here, one finds a relationship between the level of development of the five spiritual faculties and ten different levels - or shades - of spiritual development:

  • At the peak we see arahantship attained through full development of faith, energy / endeavour, presence / mindfulness, stillnes / concentration, wisdom / insight.

  • Below it the first shades of awakening are the four ways of release: release in the interval (between lifetimes), release ‘at landing’ (at a next lifetime), release without much trouble, and release with some trouble.

  • Further below, other shades of awakening are the fruition of i) those who land at a pure abode (i.e. a no-returner), ii) those who are to return only once, iiI) those who have won or entered the stream (of the path).

  • At the bottom we have the not so hopeless cases of Dhamma and Faith followers - what maybe we could somehow call candidates for stream-entry.

Below the full list as in the sutta:

"Monks, there are these five spiritual faculties.
What five?
The controlling power of faith,
the controlling power of energy/endeavour,
the controlling power of mindfulness/presence,
the controlling power of concentration/stillness,
the controlling power of insight/wisdom.
These, monks, are the five spiritual faculties.

By the completion and fulfilment, monks, of these five spiritual faculties one is Arahant.

By having them in a less degree, one obtains release midway / in the interval (antarā­pari­nib­bāyī).

By having them in a less degree, he attains release at landing (upahac­ca­pari­nib­bāyī).

By having them in a less degree, he attains release without much trouble (asaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī).

By having them in a less degree, he attains release with some trouble (sasaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī).

By having them in a less degree, he is ‘one who goes up stream,’ one who goes to the Pure Abodes (akaniṭṭhagāmī).

By having them in a less degree, he is a once-returner (sakadāgāmī).

By having them in a less degree, he is a stream-winner (sotāpanno).

By having them in a less degree, he is a Dhamma-follower (dhammānusārī).

By having them in a less degree, he is a faith follower (saddhānusārī).’"

The objective of this topic/thread is thus to explore further how are the different shades or grades of spiritual development presented in the EBTs.

To kick-start the conversation, I ask:

  • Does anyone know if such similar list is found anywhere in the Chinese Agamas or other parallels to the Pali Suttas?

  • Is there any further explanation to what each of these states found in the Suttas are?


MN 70, Kitagiri sutta also has a good list which overlaps the above list.

Then there are 3 types of stream entrants a well, based on how long they will remain in samsara. Attained to view, and liberated by faith are stream entrants based on dominant faculties.

Below that are dhamma followers and faith followers. These are guaranteed stream entry.

There are learned disciples (Ariya sravaka) below that. They (may) have faith, virtue, learning, generosity, wisdom. In some places virtue seems to be replaced by fear and shame of wrongdoing.

Those who have only taken refuge in the Triple gem are below that, without engaging in much practice.

Then there are those outside the dispensation called unlearned worldlings (asutava putajana).

With metta


It proves to be a pretty hefty topic that spans a good chunk of the texts. It’s something I’ve looked into some months ago, for one, trying to reconcile the list from MN 70 without satisfactory conclusion iirc.

In either case, just for items two through six from SN 48.15, AN 7.55 provides a pretty vivid metaphor for getting a sense of how they differ.

(tr. Bodhi) For example, when an iron bowl has been heated all day and is struck, a chip might fly off, rise up…

Different possible fates of that flying ‘chip’ are given to correspond to each item.

And SC lists MA 6 as parallel to AN 7.55 where the mapping to Chinese appears to be:

  • 中般涅槃 ~ antarā­pari­nib­bāyī
  • 生般涅槃 ~ upahac­ca­pari­nib­bāyī
  • 行般涅槃 ~ sasaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī (note the difference in order)
  • 無行般涅槃 ~ asaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī
  • 上流阿迦膩吒般涅槃 ~ akaniṭṭhagāmī

There’s another āgama SA 823 (cf. AN 3.88) that has a sequence that contains all ten shades of SN 48.15 and a couple more seemingly for the 3 types of stream entrants that @Mat mentions above.

  1. 『…梵行是立,所作已作…。』~? “…lived the holy life, done what had to be done…”
  2. 中般涅槃 ~ antarā­pari­nib­bāyī release midway
  3. 生般涅槃 ~ upahac­ca­pari­nib­bāyī release at landing
  4. 無行般涅槃 ~ asaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī without much trouble
  5. 有行般涅槃 ~ sasaṅ­khā­ra­pari­nib­bāyī with some trouble
  6. 上流般涅槃 ~ akaniṭṭhagāmī goes to the Pure Abodes
  7. 一種子道 ~? ekabījī one-seed attainer
  8. 斯陀含 ~ sakadāgāmī once-returner
  9. 家家 ~? kolaṅkola family-to-family attainer
  10. 須陀洹 ~ sotāpanna stream-winner
  11. 隨法行 ~ dhammānusārī Dhamma-follower
  12. 隨信行 ~ saddhānusārī faith follower

Note here that if the mapping above is correct, the order may be different from what we see in the pāḷi.


I think the idea of different strengths of the spiritual faculties is actually very important, yet often overlooked. Take the factor of mindfulness. It is not simply the case that either you are mindful or you are not. Even when you feel strongly present, it is clear from what you have quoted above that mindfulness can be developed further. For instance, pre-samādhi mindfulness and post-samādhi mindfulness have very different qualities, and the deeper the samādhi the more powerful the mindfulness. This is one of the reasons why samādhi is so important for insight. It’s not just mindfulness, but its power that really matters.


I think it’s meaningful that they are described as spiritual senses, which seems to logically contrast them with the 5 senses of the sensual world. Combined with the practice of sense restraint, it seems to me that the implication is such that development consists in abandoning the world of the senses for a world of experience dominated by these spiritual senses or powers. In the same way an uninstructed worldling relies on and delights in the senses, a spiritual person comes to rely on and delight in the spiritual faculties.


Does this mean that first three fetters are not fully eliminated by a Sotapanna?
Specially the faith?

I am not sure I understand your question but it seems there is a misunderstanding.

Faith or confidence in Dhamma (saddha) is not a fetter, on the contrary, it is a spiritual faculty (indriya)

Grasping to rites and rituals / at habits and practices ( sīlab­bata­parāmāso) is a fetter, and has nothing to do with any of the spiritual faculties.

To better understand this I think it is worth checking this link:

The question is whether doubt is fully eliminated by the Sotapanna.
Isn’t doubt is the opposite of Saddha?

Hi Sarath,

Saddha is about hearing the Buddha’s dhamma and that giving rise to a feeling of trust and love for the teacher. It is an emotional response, yet not an irrational one. The five faculties including saddha increases the higher one goes up the path, as more and more dhamma is seen to be true and realised within oneself.

Doubt (vicikiccha) is doubt whether the Buddha’s path leads to liberation. When the Dhamma eye is realised the practitioner realises for themselves that it does. So reducing doubt happens as saddha increases. There are other kinds of doubt such as ‘did I leave my bowl in Savatti’ (I read somewhere!) which will remain till the end.

With metta

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In short yes. In the link I provided above you read:

The fetter of uncertainty is defined as doubt in the Awakening of the Buddha, the truth of his Dhamma, and the practice of his noble disciples.
What this uncertainty boils down to is doubt as to whether there is a Deathless dimension, and whether one can realize it through one’s own efforts.
The experience of the Deathless — following on the practice of the Dhamma to the point of entering the stream — cuts this fetter by confirming the possibility of a human being’s awakening to the Deathless, the correctness of the Buddha’s teaching as a guide to entering the stream, and the worthiness of those who have reached the stream.

Checking the discussion at the link provided it became clear to me that one would only have the doubt you raised if he/she were to consider either dhammānusārī or saddhānusārī attainments equivalent to the one of a sotapanna. I don’t think this is the case and don’t know if that understanding would be supported by EBTs.

@SarathW1, what is your view on that - do you consider dhammānusārī or saddhānusārī attainments equivalent to the one of a sotapanna?

So in your opinion doubt (whether the Buddha’s path leads to liberation) is not fully eliminated by a Sotapanna?

Hello Bhanthe

That’s right. Mindfulness (sati) leads to samadhi, which in turn leads to insight (panna), in the scheme of the five faculties.

Samadhi, especially deep samadhi is said to make the mind malleable. This allows the insight to penetrate and etch deeply in the mind. Samadhi also allows the temporary non-arising of the five hindrances which further allows the work of Insight to happen. It also allows the slowing down of the process of perception so that conceptual objects (in and out breath) can be tracked back to the origin (sensations + body sense door) and the arising and passing away of the five aggregates (consciousness at the body sense, contact, feelings, perception, intension etc) can be observed.

Samadhi also allows for the containment of feelings like revulsion in the process of the developing insight and finally in the factors leading to an experience of Nibbana (seven factors of enlightenment).

With metta


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Yes it is.

With metta


I read your reply as:
Yes it (doubt) is not fully eliminated by a Sotapanna.
I had a similar view at the beginning but I was convinces that is not the case.
ie: Doubt is fully eliminated by a Sotapanna.

Hi Sarath

Doubt whether the Path leads to liberation, is eliminated at stream entry.

With metta

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What do you think these states might mean for our practice?

With metta

Hi Mat,

MN70 clearly presents an interesting and alternative classification to the one I referred to at the beginning of the topic. Moreover, it presents a very sound argument for the gradual stages of cultivation of the path and gives us a hint of the different kinds of people the Buddha had among his early Sangha.

If I may, I would like to take the opportunity to bring us back to the thread’s initial questions/themes.

  • Is there any EBT which further explains what each of the pre-arahantship states listed in the SN48.15?

  • Can we cross reference those to the 9 pre-arahantship states listed in the MN70?

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Where in MN70 is the threefold stream entry defined / framed?

Here it is:

“With the wasting away of [the first] three fetters, he is one who has seven more times at most (sattakhatuparama). Having transmigrated and wandered on among devas and human beings, he will put an end to stress.

“he is one going from good family to good family (kolankola)[i.e., rebirth in the human realm or any of the deva realms]. Having transmigrated and wandered on among two or three good families, he will put an end to stress.

“he is one with one seed (ekabijin). Having arisen only once more in the human realm, he will put an end to stress. AN3.87

With metta


But nowhere it is explicit that these three can be called stream enterers / winners…