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The function of sotapatti

When one has reached stream-entry in the present life, does one build upon one’s progress in subsequent lives, advancing towards arahantship?

If so, what’s the difference between that and the bodhisattva ideal?
If not, why would seven more lives be the most one would be reborn?

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Good question, and if not, does it mean that one re-experienced the stream-entry ‘event’ in each subsequent lifetime?

Also a good question. Why seven? And how come arahantship is then guaranteed? By which process?

All good questions to which there is no answers in the EBTs as far as I know…

There are probably some answers to these questions in the later commentaries, but I’m not aware of them. Maybe someone more knowledgeable could provide some answers.

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Until stream-entry, convention and identity drive for continued existence guided by craving. That unrestrained craving results in endless rebirth.

With stream-entry, the Noble Truths are understood as true, and the perspective on identity view changes. Identity view is now something to relinquish rather than develop.

MN64:6.1: But an educated noble disciple has seen the noble ones, and is skilled and trained in the teaching of the noble ones. They’ve seen good persons, and are skilled and trained in the teaching of the good persons. Their heart is not overcome and mired in identity view, and they truly understand the escape from identity view that has arisen.

In other words, “build upon one’s progress” doesn’t quite characterize stream-entry. Instead, there is increased contentment with the beautiful sufficiency of “enough”. Indeed, here we have Ghaṭikāra from MN81, a non-returner, well beyond stream entry:

MN81:18.13: He takes what has crumbled off by a riverbank or been dug up by mice, and brings it back in a carrier. When he has made a pot, he says, “Anyone may leave bagged sesame, mung beans, or chickpeas here and take what they wish.”

The story told that a bodhisatta nobly delays their enlightenment for the sake of others feels a bit awkward to me personally in that it smacks a bit of martyrdom and self-mortification. Looking again at MN81, we see that Ghaṭikāra does not go forth. Instead, he rather enthusiastically and firmly latches onto the student Jotipāla’s hair and insists that Jotipāla see Kassapa Buddha. In this Ghaṭikāra is behaving somewhat like a “bodhisattva”. But his reason for doing so isn’t to accumulate an all-time high score of Buddhist converts. Ghaṭikāra’s reason for not going forth is humble and simple.

MN81:11.3: ‘Don’t you know, dear Jotipāla, that I look after my blind old parents?’

That was Ghaṭikāra’s last life. He did not return. Jotipāla went on to become Gautama Buddha.

Regarding the number seven, I wouldn’t get caught up in specific numbers. For me it sufficed to see that in the day-to-day nobody asks for seven more desserts when one or two are enough. The opportunity to practice the Path as a human is very rare. Many, oh so many, are born in circumstances not conducive to the practice. And if we are truly appreciative of the gift of this very human life, why would one be so greedy as to want seven more? Perhaps one might instead be somewhat embarrassed at monopolizing the gift of a body that offered the opportunity for another to use on their own journey forward? How many lives is enough? For Ghaṭikāra, one was.

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Yes, the forward momentum has been established. The first three lower fetters are personality view, clinging to rites and rituals, and doubt.

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

"[Or] he is one going from good family to good family [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.

"[Or] he is one with one seed. Having arisen only once more in the human realm, he will put an end to stress.— AN 3.86

The sotapanna is followed by three more stages of reduction of the ten fetters, meaning there are seven fetters remaining.

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Some ways I try to visualise stream-entry. (Hopefully useful)

A drug addict obtaining insight in to his condition as the way to disaster and checking himself in to rehab.

Like seeing the answer to a riddle in a flash of understanding destroying confusion. (probably absurdly simple, like most riddles are when you see the answer)

A man stumbling in the dark through the mountains, due to a flash of lightning in the sky, seeing the right path to right destination and the wrong path to the abyss.

A man enamoured by a puppet show seeing it for what it is.

Like understanding the truth about that treacherous friend(upadana khanda).

I think the function of Sotapatti is to see the truth and that is the sure way to actualize the truth.

I have heard the Stream-enterer likened to a Bodhi tree in the leaf shedding season. It has the nature of just shedding and shedding until nothing is left.

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