SuttaCentral

Stream winner and Jhanas, is there a path to stream entry without Jhanas?

From MN 27, SuttaCentral. One gets the impression that the 4 Jhanas are attained, supernatural powers of insight into past lives, etc are attained before stream winner, then arahanthood.

While it’s pretty certain that non-returners have easy access to the Jhanas, one thing which arises a bit of doubt in me was the following considerations. Oh wait, I just solved it. Anyway, I shall lay down my question and my thoughts on how it could be resolved.

  1. One who attains to Jhanas would be reborn in the Brahma realms next life if one is not an arahant. This is because Jhanas are heavy good kammas, which takes priority in rebirth determination. (I do realize that this assertion is from the Theravada tradition, I dunno if EBT supports this.)

  2. A stream winner has at most 7 more rebirth in the realms of humans and devas before arahanthood. A once returner has at most one more rebirth in the same realms.

  3. Say if we need Jhanas before stream entry, then immediate next life is already in Brahma realm. Does this mean that stream enterer has no need for Jhanas to attain to it?

My just thought of solution: It could be that after staying in Brahma realms for a long time, the stream winner if they had not practised while up there would at most on the exhaustion of the Brahma realm rebirth, comes back into the human/ deva world for 7 more times, even if it is another world cycle. Thus there’s no issue. The same for once returner for 1 more time.

I think an advice from Ajahn Brahmali who answered this in a sutta retreat I attended is good here: (paraphrased) Don’t try to decide which is first, just practise. Whichever comes first, also ok. (Implied that the practise doesn’t mean dry insight path then.)

Weirdly enough, I’ve just been contemplating MN 27 as well.
I don’t think it’s about stream entry. Knowledge of the destruction of the defilements is something associated with the Arahant stage elsewhere in the suttas. Ditto with the other “three knowledges.” I suppose it’s possible that MN 27 is highlighting some weird case where the attainment of stream entry and the Arahant stage happens at roughly the same time, but I see no reason to conclude that’s typical.

There is a stock formula that appears sometimes in the Nikayas, for example:

So, aiming at Suppabuddha the leper, he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., he proclaimed a talk on generosity, on virtue, on heaven; he declared the drawbacks, degradation, & corruption of sensuality, and the rewards of renunciation. Then when the Blessed One knew that Suppabuddha the leper’s mind was ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elevated, & clear, he then gave the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & path. And just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in the same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was sitting in that very seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arose within him, “Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”

The key thing is the mind is “ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elevated, and clear.” It seems to me that whether you want to label that “Jhana” or not probably isn’t important (which is consistent with Ajahn Brahmali’s advice, I think). Even if it is Jhana, it’s a “light” version where one can still listen to a Dhamma talk. FWIW, that Udana ends with Suppabuddha dying and going to the heaven of the 33 Gods, not a Brahma world. As far as I know, Stream Winners and Once-returners are never described as being reborn in the Brahma worlds, unless they became Anagamis on their deathbeds.

Is there a path to stream entry without jhanas ? Yes development of right view through appropriate attention:

“He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at precepts & practices.”—MN 2

Ven. Bodhi put forward a good argument as to how it could be possible to attain stream-entry without the Jhanas. Then again, you have to let go a lot less to get the Jhanas when compared with stream-entry. Personally I just focus on the gradual path and my kasina practice and let things flow naturally, to see what happens. Just keeping sense restraint can be difficult enough some days (music is my downfall).

And this is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s article on whether Sotapanna attainment need jhanas or not:

https://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha267.htm

2 Likes