Ah!! Okay, thank you so much for your thoughtful and generous reply. I see now where you’re coming from.
And yes, I think we’re coming from different places:
I, for one, celebrate the diversity of descriptions, as it helps us be more clear about what SE is and isn’t. The same jhana formula repeated a hundred times doesn’t give any new information, but the various (sometimes slightly different, sometimes wildly different!) descriptions of SE in the Canon each add their own color, nuance or perspective. Personally, I take that as a sign that SE was considered tremendously important by the redactors of the Canon: too critical to be smoothed over with a stock description.
Now, that said, I understand your hesitation to fabricate your own understanding. It genuinely is a tricky business, trying to understand the map while walking in new territory! You’re going to be wrong sometimes, and boy do I know how painful it can be when we discover our map was upside down!
But — and here is where I can only offer the words I tell myself every day — we can’t learn without making mistakes. It’s okay to be wrong.
So, let’s be wrong!
Let’s remember that we’re wrong sometimes and keep an eye open for any superior treasure. But let’s also not use our imperfect understanding as an excuse to not try. To do so would be to waste a precious opportunity, for even a flawed and partial understanding of the dhamma can bring so much benefit if trusted and put into practice.
If I might ask, regarding SN24.4, where exactly are your doubts?
I ask because SN24.4 reads almost like a checklist, and I’m guessing that we all here have complete certainty about most, if not all of the following:
sn24.4: Linked Discourses 24 sn24.4: 1. Stream-Entry sn24.4: 4. It Might Not Be Mine sn24.4: At Sāvatthī. sn24.4: “Mendicants, when what exists, because of grasping what and insisting on what, does the view arise: sn24.4: ‘I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine’?” sn24.4: “Our teachings are rooted in the Buddha. …” sn24.4: “When form exists, because of grasping form and insisting on form, the view arises: sn24.4: ‘It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine.’ sn24.4: When feeling … sn24.4: perception … sn24.4: choices … sn24.4: consciousness exists, because of grasping consciousness and insisting on consciousness, the view arises: sn24.4: ‘It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine.’ sn24.4: What do you think, mendicants? sn24.4: Is form permanent or impermanent?” sn24.4: “Impermanent, sir.” … sn24.4: “Is feeling … sn24.4: perception … sn24.4: choices … sn24.4: consciousness permanent or impermanent?” sn24.4: “Impermanent, sir.” … sn24.4: “That which is seen, heard, thought, known, sought, and explored by the mind: is that permanent or impermanent?” sn24.4: “Impermanent, sir.” … sn24.4: “But by not grasping what’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, would such a view arise?” sn24.4: “No, sir.” sn24.4: “When a noble disciple has given up doubt in these six cases, and has given up doubt in suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation, sn24.4: they’re called a noble disciple who is a stream-enterer, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening.”
Another way to say this is that it’s as effective to deeply examine one’s doubts as it is to deeply study the suttas to ascertain their true meaning.
This conforms to the associated phenomena in other traditions - whether people are meditators or not, they have experienced awakening through Advaita satsang, or from Tibetan teachers pointing out the nature of mind. And in many cases even spontaneously by themselves! Though it seems to be far more common in connection to a teacher.
I’ll also say that while many long terms meditators have never had this experience, it does seem that meditation often gives a good foundation. Having a deeper level of concentration seems to help the surface of the mind calm down, and allow you to become more attuned to the master. And that tuning in, is essential.
This makes sense. Firstly because it seems to me that stream entry is an ‘insight’. A dawning of wisdom. While concentration can aid the dawning of wisdom, they do not have to go in that sequence. But the mind must be able to be collected enough and able to be present to what is going on. And mindfulness of the body is a great way to train in that. Preparing to be aware of the dawning of stream entry, or you could say, the dawning of non-distortion, even if only temporarily.
If I continue with the speculation that stream entry is an ‘experience’, akin to Self-ealisation of Advaita and realisation of the nature of mind in Tibetan Buddhism, then I may propose that the imporance of mindfulness of the triple gem, virtues, and deities, may all be connected to the deliberate generation of positive emotional affects. This happens obviously when we bring to mind good qualities such as mettā and karunā, which are themselves positive emotional affects. But then also devotion, towards the triple gem, is important. And this is used very much in Tibetan Buddhism - devotion and compassion are two essential affects in the Tibetan Buddhist path.
And what these affects do, is make you more open. And they still your thoughts - when you are overridden with negative affects, you will often generate a lot of thought. And you will be more withdrawn, increasing the magnification of the delusion of separate-self-ness. So these positive affects do the opposite. And devotion particularly so, which is why it is so useful in aiding the process of pointing out instructions. Similarly this plays an essential role also in satsang. And makes it far easier for the two minds to harmonise, which seems to be a key way this works, since the mind of the master is resting in the realisation of the nature of mind him or herself, while this process is taking place.
I’ll also say that I questioned Adyashanti, whom I have not really talked about yet, about meditation. He’s a Buddhist teacher, though his actual teaching style is quite similar to the satsang layout. Anyway, he awakened through intensive meditation practice, but he doesn’t emphasise meditation very much. And, yes, many of his students have experienced stream entry even if not meditators. But I asked him about the difference between his meditator students and non-meditator students regarding the path after this initial awakening. And, as I expected, he said reported the apparent advantage the hardcore meditators seemed to have in this regard. They are better equipped to take it further. A lot of people even quit the path pretty much soon after an awakening.
I know of so many Advaita people who are in that boat. There are quite a few Advaita teachers I’ve heard of (one very famous on in particular, dead now), who had great skill in helping people to stream entry but basically no clue how to properly help after that. Some students even become bitter, because they see for a brief time, their delusion gone, but then crash back down to delusion and can’t get back to that again, and so their spiritual trip is pretty ruined, because they finally got what they wanted, so they know how different that was from their now back-to-delusion state, but they can’t get back! And I know one famous teacher would would tell such students that it was ‘their fault’, because of ‘their sins’! How terrible!
It must be very hard to be in such a situation with a limited teacher who is blaming it all on you. And you have no way and no-one to help you. So, many have suffered. And many have given up along the way. And many have even become teachers and so leading the blind up blind alleys. But, while it is sad that some groups will be stuck at stream entry, and perhaps neutral that some will have the opportunity to go further but decline, it is good to know that good meditation training definitely helps prepare for the path beyond stream entry.
We have discussed examples where this initial awakening occurs in a disciple while listening to the Buddha talk. Please explain why you consider that not ‘akin’ to exactly the same sequence of events which, happening in within another school, you may designate ‘direct transmission’. Apart from the label, all other factors are apparently the same, are they not?
Yes that is indeed a bizarre idea. Where did you get it from? I have never heard this idea before.
I agree. To assume that anything was common, when it has absolutely no mention, seems most unscientific to me. This is why I mentioned about monks flying on carpets to Hawaii. Since it is not mentioned in the EBTs, I will refrain from assuming it was common!
That makes sense. Because you can promise someone anything about their next life, and they will never know you’re lying! Because they’ll be dead before they find out.
But if you lie about them attaining something in this life (steam entry), then they will actually find out if it’s a lie or not.
And, you can’t really guarantee anyone a way to attain stream entry. It’s not possible to just follow a set of practical steps. It’s not predictable. You can only lay the circumstances in which it is likely to unfold.
And I would say those circumstances would be
On your own side: train in morality, which is the roughest spiritual training to get you in shape (and not annoy everyone around you). And study some basic teachings. But mainly ethics, mindfulness, and then setting your mind at sources of insight, like impermanence.
On the other side: hang out with ariyas.
In Tibetan practice, … I haven’t read meditation manuals as I was taught orally, but I was told that the meditation manuals are almost all about the work to do after stream entry (they do not use this term by the way), and give little attention to before stream entry. This could be seen as simply because most of the work lies ahead of steam entry. But thinking about it now, perhaps also since you can only write so much about the path before that. If you write more or study more, it doesn’t necessarily help. Because attaining stream entry doesn’t come about through accumulating knowledge, and you can never get to ‘know’ how to attain stream entry. It’s not something you can know how to do and then just do. Whereas, it is possible to write more followable instructions of what to do after that - how to bring that awakened state back more, and how to stabilise it more. Those things can be spoken about - they are languageable. But how to actually awaken, is not languaguable in terms of language you can simply follow. Your mind has to go beyond all that. If I can give a metaphor, like being teleported to the destination, so that even when teleported back, you now have certainty and clarity regarding the destination, and then can apply the various teachings regarding the rest of the journey, whereas prior to that you don’t really have any grasp of what this destination is that they’re talking about!
We apply different hermeneutics here. My general assumption is that central concepts were taught by the historical Buddha in a consistent way over different situations. For example, we have four noble truths, they are central and always the same (granting some normal variations in wording). The same with the five khandhas. The dhatus as another example are not always the same, they are mostly four, but also six (or different sets of dhatus altogether).
From this I gather that in spite of the historical problems of transmission the four truths and the five khandhas were taught consistently. We don’t have to rely on one single sutta and hope that this is the ‘authentic one’ that the historical Buddha taught. Also, even if many suttas were historically authentic it’s good that we don’t have to scratch our heads over different truths or khandhas.
But not so with sotapatti. Here, either he taught different people different things about it, or transmitters were divided and transmitted roughly four of five different views on sotapatti. Either way, I at least find it problematic to pick one sutta, e.g. SN 24.4 and say “This is the checklist”. If this is ‘the’ checklist, why do we find it in one sutta only? We know from scroll findings that not everyone knew all suttas back then - it’s also improbable for other reasons. Thus, important content (and sotapatti certainly is) would be found in very similar ways in many different places. Only then we would have some historical probability that this is not an artifact but a systematically repeated teaching.
Another approach is of course to say “The sutta pitaka is sacred, as every sutta there is spoken by the Buddha, or by equally fully enlightened and capable teachers. Therefore, I can pick any sutta and will find full spiritual truth there. Differences cannot be due to corruptions. Every sutta is fully trustworthy”.
Both approaches are exclusive. I can logically understand the faith-approach, but I can’t meaningfully relate to it. Not sure though, if you imply it.
Oh. I’m not saying that is the checklist. I was just puzzled at why SN24.4 should be seen as vastly different than AN10.64. Certainly followers by faith would be happy with AN10.64 (check one and done). But it seems like SN24.4 is aimed at mendicants familiar with other schools of thought (e.g., Jainism) that share common perspectives. It’s exhaustive simply because there were so many contending schools of thought.
Perhaps that’s why I’m thinking that the difference may depend more on one’s own doubts than on the suttas themselves. Given Goedels Incompleteness Theorem, searching for absolute certainty in written proof seems impossible. Some degree of faith is required at some point. And perhaps that leap of faith, be it large or small, is actually the sotapanna spark.
This is an interesting one. Supposing someone were to take it upon themselves to deeply consider the 4 Noble Truths. She may start with a conceptual understanding of them, perhaps a rigorous one, even capable of standing up in strong debate. But, this may be mere intellectual knowledge.
So, through contemplation, and imbued with some level of concentration, she may be able to come to a more unified appreciation of the truths. She had better let this framework penetrate her whole world-view-framework, and contemplation is perhaps the best or maybe only way of doing this.
And, it is possible that this might go further, to a deeply embodied realisation. You may view this is a variety of ways, such as perhaps a realisation which includes the whole of her affective side also.
This could result in the absolute absence of doubt in these truths.
However, I believe absolute doubt would also require the direct perception of all 4 truths, which includes the perception of the absence of dukkha.
Now, it may be that even through this contemplation exercise, one may push the mind so far that the causes of dukkha collapse, some might even language it as the causes being burned up by the ‘light’ of awareness. Anyway, if the mind is settled enough in this process, then that dissolution may leave in ints wake, the absence of dukkha, illuminated by the mind of the contemplator.
And now I will give a reverse example. That of someone listening to a master, and through that connection, their mind all of a sudden arising in the absence of dukkha - their causes of suffering having been dropped. Now, that experience, even if you were not considering the 4 Noble Truths, puts you directly in the realisation of the 4th noble truth. Regardless of whether you have even heard of this truth!
So this gives you direct insight. (Stream entry). And, as you, whether it be straight away, minutes later, or even days later (it varies person to person it seems), sink back into delusion, then if you are observant, you will get experiential insight into the causes of dukkha, as you see the contrast between the way your mind was operating with no dukkha, and its working in this old deluded state again.
So when you hear the 4 Noble Truths after that, they are describing your own direct experience. In which case there is no place for doubt, since you know.
So this explanation of steam entry that you have quoted, makes perfect sense in the light of the Tibetan tradition and my understanding of the Advaita phenomenon also.
I might also add that in regard to having unwavering confidence in the teacher regarding at least what he says about what you now know for yourself as a stream enterer, then also that quote made sense. It’s similar to the doctrine. You believed the doctrine and the teacher because they sounded like they knew what they were talking about, and the message sounded nice, and other people trusted them. But now, you actually know that what they were talking about is real, and also realise that their teaching for what to do next seems legit, and you can see how that makes sense now. So, your eyes are now open. You have confidence and not perplexity.
So do you see how these two quotes can be interpreted as being consistent?
Also, I have no idea how many people have directly seen the arising and cessation of dukkha in their minds. But, I think it is useful to acknowledge that directly seeing that is absolutely essential if we want to get anywhere with our Buddhist path. So if we have not achieved this even briefly, then we might be wise to put every effort into the perception of dukkha and its cessation.
This was said by the Lord…
“When referring to a bhikkhu who practises according to Dhamma, this is the proper way of defining ‘practice according to Dhamma.’ When speaking he speaks only Dhamma, not non-Dhamma. When thinking he thinks only thoughts of Dhamma, not thoughts of non-Dhamma. By avoiding these two he lives with equanimity, mindful and clearly comprehending.”
A bhikkhu enjoying the Dhamma
And delighting in the Dhamma,
Reflecting upon the Dhamma,
Does not fall from the true Dhamma.
Whether walking or standing,
Sitting or lying down,
With mind inwardly restrained,
He attains to lasting peace.
There is a general belief that in the case of a sotāpanna the vision of Nibbāna is like a glimpse of a distant lamp on a road with many bends and the sotāpanna has just negotiated the first bend.
But in accordance with the Dhamma it may be said that the norm of immediacy is applicable even to the knowledge of the first path. One who attains to the fruit of stream-winning may be a beggar, an illiterate person, or a seven year old child. It may be that he has heard the Dhamma for the first time. All the same, a long line of epithets is used with reference to him in the suttas as his qualifications: Diṭṭhadhammo pattadhammo viditadhammo pariyogāḷhadhammo tiṇṇavicikiccho vigatakathaṃkatho vesārajjappatto aparappaccayo satthusāsane.
Diṭṭhadhammo, he is one who has seen the Dhamma, the truth of Nibbāna. It is said in the Ratanasutta that along with the vision of the first path, three fetters are abandoned, namely sakkāyadiṭṭhi, the self-hood view, vicikicchā, sceptical doubt, and sīlabbataparāmāsa, attachment to holy vows and ascetic practices. Some might argue that only these fetters are abandoned at this stage, because it is a glimpse of Nibbāna from a distance. But then there is this second epithet, pattadhammo, which means that he has reached the Dhamma, that he has arrived at Nibbāna. Not only that, he is viditadhammo, he is one who has understood the Dhamma, which is Nibbāna. He is pariyogāḷhadhammo, he has plunged into the Dhamma, he has dived into the Dhamma, which is Nibbāna. He is tiṇṇavicikiccho, he has crossed over doubts. Vigatakathaṃkatho, his waverings are gone. Vesārajjappatto, he has attained to proficiency. Aparappaccayo satthusāsane, in regard to the dispensation of the teacher he is not dependent on others. And that is to say that he could attain to Nibbāna even without another’s help, though of course with the teacher’s help he would attain it sooner.
So this string of epithets testifies to the efficacy of the realization by the first path. It is not a mere glimpse of Nibbāna from a distance. It is a reaching, an arrival or a plunge into Nibbāna. For purposes of illustration we may bring in a legend connected with the history of Sri Lanka. It is said that when King Gajabāhu invaded India, one of his soldiers, Nīla, who had Herculean strength, parted the seawater with a huge iron bar in order to make way for the king and the army. Now when the supramundane path arises in the mind the power of thought is as mighty as the blow of Nīla with his iron bar. Even with the first blow the sea-water parted, so that one could see the bottom. Similarly the sweeping influxes are parted for a moment when the transcendental path arises in a mind, enabling one to see the very bottom - Nibbāna. In other words, all preparations (saṅkhāras) are stilled for a moment, enabling one to see the cessation of preparations.
We have just given a simile by way of illustration, but incidentally there is a Dhammapada verse which comes closer to it:
Chinda sotaṃ parakkamma,
kāme panuda brāhmaṇa,
saṅkhārānaṃ khayaṃ ñatvā,
"Strive forth and cut off the stream,
Discard, oh Brahmin, sense-desires,
Having known the destruction of preparations, oh Brahmin,
Become a knower of the un-made."
So this verse clearly indicates what the knowledge of the path does when it arises. Just as one leaps forward and cuts off a stream of water, so it cuts off, even for a moment, the preparations connected with craving. Thereby one realizes the destruction of preparations - saṅkhārānaṃ khayaṃ ñatvā.
Like the sea water parted by the blow of the iron bar, preparations part for a moment to reveal the very bottom which is ‘unprepared’, the asaṅkhata. Akata, or the un-made, is the same as asaṅkhata, the unprepared. So one has had a momentary vision of the sea bottom, which is free from preparations. Of course, after that experience, influxes flow in again. But one kind of influxes, namely diṭṭhāsavā, influxes of views, are gone for good and will never flow in again.
– Nibbāna Sermon 2, Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda
Hmmm. When I search the EBTs for Vesārajjappatto, I find it mostly used in conjunction with The Realized One, i.e., one who was finished the spiritual path. I’m not quite sure how Ven. Ñāṇananda inferred this might apply to stream-enterers?
an4.8: “Mendicants, a Realized One has four kinds of self-assurance. With these he claims the bull’s place, roars his lion’s roar in the assemblies, and turns the holy wheel.
… an4.8: Etamahaṃ, bhikkhave, nimittaṃ asamanupassanto khemappatto abhayappatto vesārajjappatto viharāmi. an4.8: Since I see no such reason, I live secure, fearless, and assured.
Meditation is probably usually needed but it doesn’t seem to happen in the suttas that someone just goes away meditates and becomes a stream-entrant. One of the factors for stream entry is practice in accordance with the Dhamma, which, I’d presume, includes practicing the eight-fold path encompassing meditation. In the Indriya Samyutta of the SN, there are several suttas, which list the various nobles disciples in terms of strength in the five faculties. The stream-enterer is supposed to have a minimum sufficient strength in all five faculties, which implies some ability in samma samadhi. Though samma samadhi does not necessarily have to be at jhana-level, I think. The Bhikkhu Bodhi article I link to early in the thread makes a good argument that jhana is not a prerequisite for stream entry.
Arguments that stream entry was originally just acceptance of a credo seem weak to me (rub up against too many suttas and sotapanna models). There’s a qualitative difference between strong faith or acceptance of teachings by intellectual reasoning and absolute/unwavering knowing or experiential confidence. A credo-based model seems to under-fulfill the various requirements.
On the other hand, while some kind of opening of the Dhamma eye (dhammacakkhu) experience ticks all the sotapanna boxes (seems to be how some people became stream enterers), it does seem to over-fulfill stream entry requirements.
In the SN, the term “breakthrough to the Dhamma” occurs more frequently in Bhikkhu Bodhi translations, which Bhante Sujato more usually translates as something like truly comprehending the four noble truths or the Dhamma. This seems to almost invariably occur when listening to a Dhamma teaching rather than in actual meditation.
The arising of the Dhamma eye occurrence seems more akin to a Eureka or aha! moment. However, there are other places where the whole thing seems lower key. There are some occasions where some long-term disciple lists to the Buddha or the Buddha sees that they have unwavering faith in the triple and some other virtue (morality or generosity) and declares them a stream-enterer. There’s also the Mirror of the Dhamma, which crops up in several places (so is early I’d guess), for disciples to figure out if they are stream-enterers or not.
So maybe there isn’t always a single dramatic lightbulb switching-on moment where a disciple suddenly realizes: “wow, I’m a now stream-enterer”. Perhaps with practice over time and listening to and testing the teachings, one eventually gradually gets to the stage where one intuitively knows in one’s bones the truth of non-self, dependent origination, four noble truths etc. This seems more like a “dimmer switch” model where the intensity of the light slowly gets turned up (and at some point a threshold is passed and one knows the four noble truths are true) rather than a dramatic single flicking on of the switch.
The opening of the dhamma eye does seem to be a one-off experience sufficient for stream-entry (happening during a Dhamma teaching in the suttas rather than in formal meditation). However, it may not be a necessary experience. There may just not have to be a single big meditative experience. Maybe things sometimes just incrementally build up by long practice of the path and at some point retrospectively looking back (using some teaching like the “Mirror of Dhamma”), one might gauge that one is likely a stream-enterer at that point.
Venerable Anālayo will be writing a book next year on the experience of awakening in early Buddhism, which will focus on all the stages of awakening, including stream entry. It will likely be released in 2021.
Below quote from Sllekhasutta supports your idea of being an aryan to teach dhamma to others. To guide others, first one should attain Nibbāna, then he is qualified to teach others.
Truly, Cunda, if you’re sinking down in the mud you can’t pull out someone else who is also sinking down in the mud. So vata, cunda, attanā palipapalipanno paraṃ palipapalipannaṃ uddharissatīti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.
But if you’re not sinking down in the mud you can pull out someone else who is sinking down in the mud. So vata, cunda, attanā apalipapalipanno paraṃ palipapalipannaṃ uddharissatīti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati.
Truly, if you’re not tamed, trained, and extinguished you can’t tame, train, and extinguish someone else. So vata, cunda, attanā adanto avinīto aparinibbuto paraṃ damessati vinessati parinibbāpessatīti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.
But if you’re tamed, trained, and extinguished you can tame, train, and extinguish someone else. So vata, cunda, attanā danto vinīto parinibbuto paraṃ damessati vinessati parinibbāpessatīti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati.
On the other hand in a practical stuation this might not be possible. Commentaries suggest that this is an ideal situation which does not mean puthujjanā people cannot teach dhamma.
When a King sends a message to a farway village, he does not go by himself but sends a messenger. When the messenger reads the message, people take it as King’s words. Similarly regardless who ever the person delivers dhamma, the message should be the same. Potency of dhamma to make listeners attain stream entry or other fruits remains the same.
At the end of the sutta there is a passage that can be found in many other suttas.
Here are these roots of trees, and here are these empty huts. Practice absorption, Cunda! Don’t be negligent! Don’t regret it later! This is my instruction.
I do not make this point lightly. I feel that it’s important to recognize that stream-entry is a doable goal. That irreversible quality of well-being, that breakthrough to full psychological integration that cannot be completely fallen away from, is a reachable goal for most people if they have the faith to engage and practise meditation, and to really sit down and work on their mind, their life.
Bhikkhus, develop concentration. A bhikkhu who is concentrated understands things as they really are Samādhi Sutta
Mendicants, there are these five grasping aggregates. What five? That is, the grasping aggregates of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness. A noble disciple comes to truly understand these five grasping aggregates’ origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape. Such a noble disciple is called a stream-enterer, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening. Sotāpanna Sutta
Mendicants, there are these five grasping aggregates. What five? That is, the grasping aggregates of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness. A mendicant comes to be freed by not grasping after truly understanding these five grasping aggregates’ origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape. Such a mendicant is called a perfected one, with defilements ended, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own true goal, utterly ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly freed through enlightenment Arahanta Sutta
Actually, I’ve been studying MN8 all week and my understanding is a bit different in that I read that passage as saying that anyone can only pull up others to their own level, be that arahant or stream entrant. Although I acknowledge that deep teaching requires arahantship, a sotappana could teach others the value of the Triple Gem. In fact, I’d assert that most come to Buddhism by friends and family, not arahants specifically. What we have been taught and learned is that the Triple Gem is valuable.