The Stages of Awakening

In Buddhism, panna (Skt. prajna) refers to the wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, the Four Noble Truths and the three marks of existence. It is also listed as the sixth of the six paramitas in Mahayana. Panna is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about bodhi.

Bodhi, buddhi, and Buddha all come from the verbal root of buddh which literally means to be awake, become aware, to notice, to know or understand, etc. Buddhi refers to intelligence or the intellect, and bodhi is awakening, knowing, or enlightenment. Bodhi is attained when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and all karma has reached cessation. According to Mahayana sutras, if a person does not aim for bodhi, one lives one’s life like a preoccupied child playing with toys in a house that is burning to the ground. With bodhi, one may realize Nirvana.

In order to “wake up”, we have to stay mindful. It is with this mindfulness that we keep the mind grounded in the present moment for the purpose of awakening. The desire for awakening is not such a bad thing, because it is a desire which brings about the cessation of dukkha (stress, suffering, etc). Awakening is the destination, the “other shore”, and mindfulness keeps our focused attention on the path towards awakening – rather than being distracted from it.

The development of mindfulness is fourfold as it involves contemplation of the body, contemplation of feelings, contemplation of the mind, and contemplation of mental qualities/mind phenomena. This leads to investigation and eventually a sharp analytical knowledge of the Dharma, which will bring about the mental qualities or properties of energy or persevering effort and happiness/joy/rapture. Of course, this leads to the calm and tranquility of the body and mind. With this, one develops a concentrated mind which sees things as they really are, resulting in equanimity. This equanimity is neutrality, or a mental equilibrium rather than indifference.

There are basically eight levels of awakening, corresponding to the four pairs of noble disciples:
1. The path of stream-enterer (Sotapanna)
2. The fruition of stream-entry
3. The path of once-returner (Sakadagami)
4. The fruition of once-returning
5. The path of non-returner (Anagami)
6. The fruition of non-returning
7. The path of arahantship (Arahatta)
8. The fruition of arhahantship

The first stage of Sotapanna literally means “one who enters the stream”, with the “stream” referring to the Noble Eightfold path. The sottapanna will realize arahantship within seven lifetimes, as they have “opened the eye of Dharma” (dhammacakkhu) and will never be reborn as anything lower than a human. There have been various accounts, as a result of present kusala kamma (wholesome actions), of many lay disciples (upasaka and upasika) realizing stream-entry. Lay Buddhists can also be very serious practitioners and teachers of the Dharma. It just isn’t as easy of a path as those who practice as a renunciate monk or nun. Ordaining as a monk or nun simply means placing oneself in the best environment and circumstance for practice and awakening.

The Sakadagami is one who will only be reborn as a human one more time. Both the Sotapanna and the Sakadagami have abandoned the first three fetters of identity view, doubt, and ritual attachment; however, the Sakadagami has weakened lust, hatred and delusion to a greater degree. Thus the once-returner has fewer than seven rebirths, but only one more of which is human before rebirth in higher planes.

The third stage is the Anagami, literally “one who does not come”. Having overcome the five lower fetters – including ill will and sensuality, the Anagami does not return to the human world – or any lower world, for that matter. Instead, they are reborn in the highest realms of Rupadhatu called “Saddhavasa” or “Pure Abodes”. It is here that the Anagami attains arahantship and Nirvana. An Arahant is a fully enlightened being who has abandoned all ten fetters (including lust for material rebirth, lust for immaterial rebirth, conceit, restlessness and delusive ignorance) which binds all beings to cyclic existence. Therefore, they will never be reborn in any plane or world since they have completely escaped Samsara.

The monks and nuns who aspire for arahantship are called Bhikkhus (or Bhiskus) and Bhikkhunis (or Bhiksuni), respectively. These almsmen and almswomen are dedicated practitioners and teachers of the Dharma. They stand for alms, but do not ask for alms. They don’t even handle money. However, lay disciples of the Buddha are called Upasaka and Upasika, or householders. Lay Buddhists still very much live within the sensual world, and are therefore subject to rebirth in the rounds of Samsara (cyclic existence). Therefore householders are not expected to follow the Vinaya (code of monastic discipline) and practice as renunciate Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

There have been lay Anagamis and Arahants listed in the Suttas. However, there are far more monks and nuns mentioned that have realized full awakening. This is because the life of the monastic is more conducive to the practice and discipline required for the realization of full awakening.


About bodhipunk

Just another anarcho-commie dhamma punk.

Posted on 04/26/2012, in anatta, dharma, egolessness, enlightenment, four noble truths, karma, nirvana, not-self, samsara, suttas, three seals and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Reblogged this on FierceBuddhist and commented:
    Buddhist stages of awakening.

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