The concepts of path (magga) and fruition (phala) and the EBTs

Hey there all. So I’ve been wondering about path and fruition for the four stages for a while now. After reading that these terms are considered to be simply mind moments in the Abhidhamma, I looked to see what the suttas say of them. So they designate eight types of persons, understood. Only the final one, arahattaphala is asekha, beyond training, understood. Even the distinction between magga and phala in each level of awakening I understand. One who is practicing for the fruit of Stream-Entry is not the same as a Stream-Enterer. But I don’t understand the difference between say a Stream-Enterer and one practicing for the fruit of Once-Return. Basically my question is: what’s the difference between the fruit of one level and the path of the next? Why are they distinct persons? The four levels of attainment made a lot of sense until I heard that really it’s eight types of Noble Persons. So if anyone has anything to say on this it would be greatly appreciated. It could be from the suttas, it could be what you’ve read or heard, or it could be your own input.

I had an idea that maybe the difference is that one who’s attained the fruits of a certain level just stops practicing and is content with their attainment until the next life, and one practicing for the next level is one who’s not content with their attainment and wishes to be closer to nibbana? Also one practicing for Stream-Entry isn’t a Stream-Enterer yet, but they’re a Noble One? Are they said to possess the path as a sotapanno does? I’m confused, and any clarification would be awesome and I’d be grateful!


If i get on the A9 High way and have enough gas in my tank i know i am going to end up in Jaffna. But i also know along the way i am going to pass ‘Dambulla’ , ‘Anuradhapura’ and ‘vavuniya’ .

So my personal feeling is all eight Ariyas are on the Eight fold path.

Perhaps one practicing for Sotapanna can still be led astray. While a Sotapanna is guaranteed of reaching Nibbana.

So does the one practicing for the Stream-Entry still have the three lower fetters? Would this imply that all of us meditating intent on the first level of awakening are Noble Ones? Do we possess the path? I understand these are a lot of doubts but I feel that it is important.

I would certainly not call my self a noble one seeing the crazy things i am liable to do if i dont watch out. :smile:

May be practicing-sotapanna knows exactly what they are doing i certainly dont .

Hahaha, exactly. I have noticed significant changes in myself but none to the point of calling myself a Noble One. Who knows.

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Maybe SN 25.1 will be of help.

At Sāvatthī. “Mendicants, the eye is impermanent, perishing, and changing. The ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind are impermanent, perishing, and changing. Someone who has faith and confidence in these principles is called a follower by faith. They’ve arrived at inevitability regarding the right path, they’ve arrived at the level of the good person, and they’ve transcended the level of the bad person. They can’t do any deed which would make them be reborn in hell, the animal realm, or the ghost realm. They can’t die without realizing the fruit of stream-entry.

Someone who accepts these principles after considering them with a degree of wisdom is called a follower of the teachings. They’ve arrived at inevitability regarding the right path, they’ve arrived at the level of the good person, and they’ve transcended the level of the bad person. They can’t do any deed which would make them be reborn in hell, the animal realm, or the ghost realm. They can’t die without realizing the fruit of stream-entry. Someone who understands and sees these principles is called a stream-enterer, not liable to be reborn in the underworld, bound for awakening.”

There’s also MN 34:

Just like the baby calf who had just been born, but, urged on by its mother’s lowing, still managed to cross the Ganges to safety are the mendicants who are followers of principles, followers by faith. They too, having breasted Māra’s stream, will safely cross over to the far shore.


Don’t know much about what the suttas say, but this is my understanding.

Imagine a set of really big steps. Each step being say 6 foot tall and six foot wide so you have to jump off the step and then walk to the next step edge.

Walking around looking for the edge of the first step is ordinary person practicing. Jumping off the first step until you land is practicing for stream entry (you will get to stream entry regardless of what you do, so you are already noble). Hiting the bottom of the first step is stream entry. Then you can walk around as a stream enterer until you find the next edge. Once you find it you jump off. Between the jump and the land you are practicing for the fruit of once-returner, when you land you are a once returner, etc …

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There are different descriptions in the suttas of the stages between the path of stream-entry and the fruit of arahantship, not only the 8-step model that you describe, which is the most widely known I think.

This is another model:

SN 48.24: Someone who has completed and fulfilled the 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. (See AN 9.12 and AN 7.55 for a more detailed description of the different stages.)

And this one:

Mendicants, these seven people are found in the world. What seven? One freed both ways, one freed by wisdom, a direct witness, one attained to view, one freed by faith, a follower of the teachings, and a follower by faith. (See MN 70 for detailed description.)

Basically there are lots of intermediate steps before you reach arahantship, and the Buddha occasionally taught them in different ways, grouping several stages together, or splitting some stages up in more detail. There is not always a clear delineation between the different stages, such as between a stream-enterer and someone on the path to once-return, or between someone who goes from family to family and a one-seeder, etc. Outwardly, they have the same qualities and have abandoned the same fetters, one is just a little more advanced on the path than the other.


Thank you everyone for your replies! Greatly appreciated. I think in terms of practicality it’s best to just practice and not pay so much attention to the stages. If one gets there I’m sure there will be some sort of indicator. Nevertheless, it’s still best to examine and review the mind thoroughly afterwards. I read in Stillness Flowing by Ajahn Jayasaro that after Luang Por Chah saw the Dhamma for the first time he spent three years analyzing his mind, making sure it wasn’t a false awakening.


I think stream entry - dhamma eye (sotapatti magga) and stream entry - attained (sotapatti phala) occur at two widely separated points and ‘once returner - path’, occurs when the ‘stream entrant, attained’ starts practicing for higher attainments and reaches the higher path to the once returner state however this highly complex and decided by Buddhas post-mortem.

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I have wondered about such things before. Before I read many suttas, I think I picked up the general notion of magga and phala being mind moments, but there’s not much (any?) explicit support for that in the suttas. I tend to think the eight persons are distinct stages.

Another idea that’s IMO not unreasonable is that the dhamma-follower/faith-follower stages are synonymous with the path to stream-entry. There are suttas somewhat indicative of that, but nothing that “proves” it. There was a nice past thread by @Gabriel on the issue here:

Actually there are many more things to question about the topic. For example, where do we find an enumeration of the “lower fetters?” We have general lists of the fetters, but only in other contexts, etc.

IMO it’s important to see that the question is abhidhammic in nature. We read the suttas, try to make sense of them, it seems like there is a very specific logic behind them but it’s not given to us - the wish to have a solid system is probably the main motivation behind Abhidhamma. And then we end up with a system that is simply not supported by the suttas.

So for me it’s more important to see that there are those cracks in the logic rather than to try to fill them - just my opinion.


In defense of the original question, I personally think it’s important to have a map of the territory even before you set out on your journey, let alone to reference while you’re on the path. Of course we must be aware that our understanding of where we are and what those symbols-on-the-map mean will change as we go, but still we can only achieve what we intend to achieve. And since the path is real, and not imagined, and the dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One, it is not a hopeless project: neither to figure out the map nor to go the distance.

As far as the four pairs formulation goes: a steam winner may be satisfied with that attainment (for a time) and not yearn for a higher state. Many stream winners breath a sigh of relief, “ah! I’m safe!” and grow complacent (for perhaps even a few life-times). This is a stream winner not on the path to once-return. It is similar for the rest. Perhaps a once returner still has some attachment to bodies and isn’t willing to let go of sensual pleasures or the householder life (as is the case with Mahānāma the Sakyan in MN14). Even though he says he is working for removing greed and hatred (ie: anagami), he isn’t yet on the “anagami path” due to not abandoning that attachment. To put it another way: when the mind sees the danger in rebirth and accepts the alternative, it drops the desire-for-rebirth. This is truly entering the anagami path. When lust and hatred are finally overcome and gross passion is removed: this is the fruition of that.

Thank you @vimalanyani for the sutta quotations! SN48.24 is a new one for me! I assume it is listing the four stages in reverse order, with some sub-stages listed out? That is to say: there are two kinds of sotapana-maga (faith and wisdom), three kinds of stream winner (7-lives, family-to-family and once-seeding? I assume is a saktagami-maga??), and the five kinds of anagami (“heading upstream”, the “effortful,” the “effortless,” on-birth, and the on-death… which I think are enumerated elsewhere as well?) Is this how you understand it?

Anyway, hope that helps! :pray::innocent: [edit: and, of course, feel free to correct me on any of the above!]


Yes, that’s pretty much how I understand it, too.

The difference between a one-seeder and a once-returner is that a one-seeder is reborn once in a human body and a once-returner could also be reborn in a heaven realm of the kāma loka.

From AN 9.12:

Furthermore, there’s a person who has fulfilled ethics, but has limited immersion and wisdom. With the ending of three fetters, they’re a one-seeder. They will be reborn just one time in a human existence, then make an end of suffering.


Ah! Thank you for the clarification! :pray::heart:

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This cleared up a lot for me. As did everyone’s replies. Thank you so much everyone! May we all enter the fixed course of righteousness and extinguish the fires in our hearts! :pray:


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