Sotapatti - hugh, what is it good for?

I wonder what the categories of sotapanna, once- and non-returner are actually for. Arahantship is clear, it signifies enlightenment. But what is the practical value of the others?

We often discussed “who is an arahant?” “how can we know?” etc. and often came to the problem that monastics are not allowed to tell. Ok. But we also concluded that nothing prevents lay people from realizing sotapatti. Just, where are all the posts and stories that say “Hey guys, yesterday I realized sotapatti, yippie!! And that’s how I did it, and that’s what happened”?

Maybe it’s so subtle that it’s hard to tell. But then the category is not much worth, isn’t it? It would go back to an arahant with the divine eye to verify any sotapanna - which means there would be nothing self-evident about the experience and I would rather have to trust the mind-reading abilities of a guru.

But maybe I’m wrong and there are many lay-sotapatti-awakening-stories out there. Please point me to them. Until then allow me to believe that these categories serve as carrots on a stick to make me feel great about being a Buddhist because my “faith is unshakable and therefore I might die as a stream-enterer, I just have to hang on”


Self-view (sakkaya ditti) is eradicated, for the stream entrant! Everyone else wavers in doubt (the 3rd fetter). That should be quite a clear indicator -not the eradication of self-view on its own makes a stream entrant.

We are at the end days of the sasana, so its a given there aren’t many stream entrants, arahanths, non-returners etc.

with metta,

Can you imagine the hordes of people trying to persuade you that whatever you experienced isn’t the real deal if you told them that you just reached sotapanna? :wink:

Anyway, you can check dharma overground forum, they have a whole section dedicated to enlightenment claims. Some even claim arahantship.


Cool, I didn’t know this resource! Claims to Attainments is indeed interesting, pretty much what I was looking for (in a way)!

See SN 22.122

And the factors of stream entry are:
Confirmed confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha + the virtues dear to the noble ones.

The last one would be by itself a good reason, as far as the OP question is concerned.

If one becomes a sotapanna as a layperson, i guess one realises that the world as it is don’t need a free being, so it’s wise to be quiet about any special state like that, or maybe be inclined to start teaching if possible …

And given the number on disrobing one can pick a lucky shot at how many possible stream enterers amongst those choosing becoming a monastic and actually reach the first stage

Only problem with this reasoning is that the Jedi religion, scientology and Osho might have produced thousands of sotapannas as well.

So again my question is, why to make such an important doctrinal point out of something (sotapanna) that people are not likely to talk about anyway?

Typical cryptic saying by the “finger on the mouth” kind of people.

I have already talked about what the Jains said overtly on the matter.
There are gods (high & low), there are demons, and there are humans. The formers are born with the power of telepathy and the power to act upon matter.
Humans can be initiated (stupefied-moha, ) to these by the lower gods of the kama loka, or the demons.
In any case, only the humans can escape the kama loka. Not the formers.
What to expect?

Silence is the prerogative of the wrongly “initiated” - kept silenced.

And I am not sure that your remark, that seems to imply some achievement that would make sotapannas wanting to remain silent, holds any truth whatsoever.

Buddha never said that a sotapanna should keep silent.
Buddha kept nothing secret, He said. He put everything on the table. Up to us to understand what He said.
Up to us to be initiated through his Teaching, and right yogic practice.


You might want to check out the last 20 minutes or so of a podcast between Dan Harris and Steve Armstrong on the progress of insight. They talk about stream entry, nibbana, and why it’s taboo to talk about it. Here’s the video:


The usual “you don’t have to judge your experience” buncombe; that never appears in the suttas.
Neo-vipassana, where you don’t even have to experience the citta in the 2nd jhana, or the 9th+ steps in anapanasati.
Just let mano, getting it all in.
Kama loka to its fullest; isn’t it ? .

What is it ?
Does that mean: “Hey, you live in ignorance (avijja), which is the cause of the khandhas and their impermanent nature; and which are not “yours” - but just get acquainted to them, so you can be 10% happier.”

"Just remain ignorant, but “aware”.
Stay stupefied (moha_ted_) - don’t even try to get out.
Smoke that weed dude, and you’ll see the “fast moments” (a bit slower). And you might even make it as far as “def”, as a 20% happier anchorman.

Robert Sharf has a pretty good paper on “bare attention” in the Burmese vipassana (shortcuts) movement of the 50’s.

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Why is in some parts of the world the cynical view is the default? :grinning:

with metta

I just posted the video to show that there are some people who do think they’ve attained some of these classical stages of awakening but that they also are reticent to discuss them.

I don’t practice Burmese vipassana nor do I care to engage in a critique of it or western lay practitioners thereof.

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Consolation prizes?


I don’t see why they are reticent.
As Armstrong says, nothing prevents anyone to say it; unless that person is trying to deceive people.
This kind of prudery is somewhat disturbing.

Was that some kind of promotion for a book (enrobed with mystery ?) - a good catch, like “you don’t know better” ?

Thanks for the video, it’s really a good showcase. In 59:30 it comes up, and he says “I’m not supposed to say”. It’s an interesting conversation on many levels and I like the moderator’s inquisitiveness.

Steve says something like “once you have the nibbana-(non-)experience, you’ll just know”. But that is not satisfying at all. People often have experiences and think ‘that’s the real deal’, not just in spirituality, also in extreme sports etc. For me at least the real criterion is if life afterwards has changed - and here is where I doubt Steve’s description when he admits something like “you’re still sometimes a jerk, still human” - an experience can be as dramatic as it likes, it doesn’t mean anything, like the LSD plethora of experiences in the end doesn’t mean much.

It comes back to the same point: We would need an absolute authority with the divine eye to verify it, otherwise I could be deceived by an arupa-state, a trance, a pure jhana to believe that it’s ‘the real deal’ - and how would I know? Jhana and arupa can be life changing too but are conceptually very different from sotapatti.


To me, it probably has to do with conceit (māna) being in the list of last fetters abandoned, at the threshold of full liberation.
I expect the insight of achievement to be more about what is still left to be done than what has been accomplished. :wink:

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How do you conceptualize them differently ?

Great question :slight_smile: I’ve spent quite a bit of time on it, and whilst acknowledging the limitations of my knowledge and experience (ie I may just fail to see reality), I’ve found it more of a hindrance than anything else.

I take my guide to be the N8fp. The labels on stages of attainment have resulted in comparative measurement of my own mind/acheivements etc. This has been negative in 2 ways. 1) it strengthens self identity and ego 2) it focuses on comparisons and judgements - but if one is still deluded then one can think one is a stream winner, and become complaisant with regards to practice.

On the other hand, I can find no positives associated with either investigating or taking on status of this kind.

What I find helpful is to monitor the degree to which suffering is decreased in daily life… to me this is the fruit of the path :smiley:
If suffering is decreasing, I acknowledge that the internal work is getting closer to right view, right action etc; If suffering is increasing the converse is true, which is also great because, then one can investigate how one is implementing the N8fp and bring things back on track.



I think the main reason people are reticent to discuss their personal stages of development - monks and lay practitioners alike - is because they have no way to be certain about what stages they have attained.

We have discussed this here before, and noted that the texts are often very ambiguous or even contradictory about the definitions of the stages. Even when they are not ambiguous or contradictory, the fundamental terms employed may be of mysterious or uncertain meaning. In some cases there may be no sharp and precise boundary between an earlier stage and more developed stage, but only a very gradual transition, like the transition from one layer of the atmosphere to another. And it is possible that even when one has definitely reached some well-defined stage, there is no easily verifiable internal criterion that indicates you have reached that stage. In the suttas, there is discussion about how difficult it is to know one has eradicated the conceit of a self, for example.

It seems to me that about all one can know for sure is that if one is still experiencing suffering of any kind, one has clearly not reached the end of suffering. So keep going and don’t worry about notching graduation stages on some inner report card.


Without long preparation I would say in the suttas arupas have the form of focusing on the ayatana and its object, and the function of indicating the progress of the meditator. At least we get hints of the experience.

Jhanas are the structural description of a mind progressing in coherence and subtlety. External objects are not of interest (contrary to the Vism and the ‘pamujja-series’), so we don’t know which meditations lead to which jhanas and what the experiential relationship to objects is. But also with the jhanas I could ask: Is it a map concrete enough for me as a meditator to tell me in practice if I’m in Jh2 or Jh3? Similar to @Viveka with sotapatti I found the speculation about jhanas in practice to be a hindrance.

Sotapatti I think from the suttas is purely structural and not experiential at all, nowhere I think do we get a description of ‘what it feels like’. It serves as an upgraded club membership (confidence in Buddha --> sotapatti), and thus refers to the us-them-dialectic: doubt in the Bu/Dh/Sangha 2.all the doubt in brahmin rituals and self-conception. So the price goes to Buddhist non-brahim, or so.

And indeed as @SCMatt suggests, as a consolation price for someone dedicated who has not made it: ‘It was not in vain, only 7 more lives, at least you won’t go to hell, have no doubt, stay with us, you’re almost there’.

So why do you guys think we have it so prominently in the suttas? Why no once-returner-Samyutta (a stage that is almost invisible anyway)? What is the ‘added value’ for the texts to refer to sotapatti?

sottapanna/-patti btw doesn’t appear at all in the SN Sagathavagga and Salayatanavagga. And not as often in the AN as one would think (2xAN2, 1xAN3, 3xAN4, 3xAN10, 4xAN5, 4xAN6, 1xAN7, 5xAN8, 5xAN9, 3xAN10) and 7xMN. Does it come from a specific influential transmission line then?