The Final Stage - Arahant.
Here is one passage which could be describing the final stage. The Pali term
"loka" can be translated as "world" or "cosmos".
"... Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos. ..." [AN 4.45, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.] http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
In the context of Dependent Origination there are two discourses which are
of interest because they speak of the arising of the "world" instead of
"suffering". The first is SN 12.49 and the second is SN 12.44 - The World.
"Rather, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple has knowledge about this
that is independent of others:'When this does not exist, that does not come
to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases. [When there is no ignorance,
volitional formations do not come to be. When there are no volitional
formations, consciousness does not come to be.] When there is no consciousness,
name-and-form does not come to be. .... When there is no birth, aging-and-death
do not come to be.' He understands thus: 'In such a way the world ceases.'
[ Part of SN 12.49, Connected Discourses, Bhikkhu Bodhi, page 585.]
So in SN 12.49 the cessation of all twelve links is the cessation of the
world. [Although this discourse is only explaining the noble disciple's
understanding of this possibility.]
In contrast SN 12.44 explains things in a different way:
"And what is the ending of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. Now, from the remainderless cessation & fading away of that very craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering. This is the ending of the world." [Part of SN 12.44 - Loka Sutta.] http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Here, the cessation of craving (and the following items) is said to
be: "the ending of the world". But is it possible for craving to cease while
the preceding links remain? This is a difficult question which I cannot pursue
here - I mention it only to note a problem.
One possibility is that "world" is being used to mean both the cosmos as a
whole and also any of the three realms. So the realm of sense-pleasure
(kama-dhatu) can also be called a "world". We see this in some of the stock
passages about the non-returner, for example:
"Again, a monk who has abandoned the five lower fetters arises spontaneously
and, without returning from that world, gains enlightenment."
[ Long Discouses, Walshe 1987, DN 6.13]
Another discourse (SN 35.68) explains "The world" in this way:
"Where there is the eye, Samiddhi, where there are forms, eye-consciousness,
things to be cognized by eye-consciousness, there the world exists or the
description of the world."
"Where there is no eye, .... there the world does not exist ......."
And AN 9.38 says:
"These five strings of sensuality are, in the discipline of the noble ones, called the cosmos. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing; sounds cognizable via the ear ..." [and so forth.] http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
So the term "loka" can, in different contexts mean any of the following:
1. The cosmos as a whole.
2. Any of the three realms.
3. The six spheres.
4. The five strands of sensuality.
5. And possibly others.
Does it ever mean the external visible world, in our modern sense?