Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

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Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Guy » Mon Jul 13, 2009 12:58 pm

Hello all,

I was wondering why it is that some people skip straight from being ordinary beings to Arahants without going through the stages of Stream-Winner, Once-Returner and Non-Returner? Also is it possible to skip 1 or 2 stages (eg. from Stream-Winner to Non-Returner)? What are the reasons for this?

Thanks,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Jul 13, 2009 1:55 pm

Guy wrote:I was wondering why it is that some people skip straight from being ordinary beings to Arahants without going through the stages of Stream-Winner, Once-Returner and Non-Returner? Also is it possible to skip 1 or 2 stages (eg. from Stream-Winner to Non-Returner)? What are the reasons for this?

Technically, one cannot skip stages. That is because the stages represents points on a spectrum. It would be like saying I walked from mile 1 to mile 3 without passing through mile 2. Sotapanna is the elimination of the first three fetters; arahant is the elimination of all ten fetters. In both cases the first three fetters are eliminated. I assume you are asking why one person might attain sotapanna one day but not attain arahant for many days or years later, meanwhile another person goes from putthujana to arahant in a quick moment? I would guess it's like any other development of a skill - some people develop quickly and some slowly.
- Peter

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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Guy » Mon Jul 13, 2009 2:17 pm

Hi Peter,

Peter wrote:In both cases the first three fetters are eliminated.


Makes sense, thanks for the reply.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Individual » Mon Jul 13, 2009 2:43 pm

Guy wrote:Hello all,

I was wondering why it is that some people skip straight from being ordinary beings to Arahants without going through the stages of Stream-Winner, Once-Returner and Non-Returner? Also is it possible to skip 1 or 2 stages (eg. from Stream-Winner to Non-Returner)? What are the reasons for this?

Thanks,

Guy

I think the stages are meant to provide a structural basis to practice, while not to be misunderstood as being fixed constraints upon reality. They can be useful to follow as a guide, but they aren't meant to invalidate a particular observation or practice.

In the suttas, it's not difficult to find examples which fall outside such restrictions. As two examples, Angulimala went from being a mass-murderer to an Arahant, upon meeting the Buddha. Also, there is Vakkali who was a deluded person obsessed with the Buddha's physical appearance and who went from being an "ordinary, unenlightened person" (puthujjana) to an Arahant, obtaining final release, in the act of committing suicide. Now, a person might claim that Angulimala and Vakkali both technically went through all the stages, but they just went through them very, very quickly, but in experience, if it's possible for such progress to happen so suddenly, instantaneously, and spontaneously, there's really no reason to just say, "Yes, it's possible to skip ahead through the stages". However, cases like these are rare, typically due to the presence and influence of a sammasambuddha it seems, and do not reflect the norm of gradual progress over many lifetimes.

As a similar point, I was reading through Bhikkhu Bodhi's Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma recently and found the stages of insight meditation rather out-of-order: Purification of virtue precedes purification of mind and purification of view. But one might ask, "Doesn't one need purification of mind and of view, for there to even be purification of virtue in the first place?" The suttas themselves even say that, of all the aspects of the eightfold path, right view is the forerunner. The suttas make many classifications, you have to start somewhere, all language is circular by nature, and it can be useful for different people to start in different places.

Anyway, evidence that traditional Theravadins take such categorizations far too seriously is the overabundance of commentary and the creation of verbose lists where a simple explanation can be more concise and effective. The Buddha himself did not view the categorizations he made so dogmatically or over-seriously. As an example, there is the Bahuvedaniya Sutta. In the sutta, a monk and a layperson argue over whether the Buddha taught two kinds of feeling or three kinds of feeling. The Buddha comes along and claims he taught both, and also many different classifications of feeling. This argument here would seem to be of the same spirit as the argument in that sutta. Saying "stages can be skipped," is not to be misunderstood as meaning dhamma is like magic or luck, that progress comes without diligence or causal foundation, and "stages cannot be skipped," is not to be misunderstood as meaning there are fixed limits to progress, that purification is deterministic.

EDIT:

typo fix
Last edited by Individual on Mon Jul 13, 2009 6:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Individual » Mon Jul 13, 2009 3:06 pm

Peter wrote:
Guy wrote:I was wondering why it is that some people skip straight from being ordinary beings to Arahants without going through the stages of Stream-Winner, Once-Returner and Non-Returner? Also is it possible to skip 1 or 2 stages (eg. from Stream-Winner to Non-Returner)? What are the reasons for this?

Technically, one cannot skip stages. That is because the stages represents points on a spectrum. It would be like saying I walked from mile 1 to mile 3 without passing through mile 2.

In the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha used his powers to completely vanish from one side of the Ganges and re-appear on the other side. After he appeared on the other side, he saw people on the previous bank looking for a boat or trying to make one to cross the same river, and he uttered the stanza:

"When they want to cross the sea, the lake or pond,
People make a bridge or raft -- the wise have crossed already".


A Zen story, on this point (if I may):
Two brothers were novices at a monastery. The Zen master summoned the brothers to his chamber and said to the elder brother "Go cross the bridge over the deep valley to the west and present yourself to the master of the monastery there, as a sign of respect."

So the elder brother went to the edge of the valley and found that the bridge had collapsed. He returned to the monastery, saying, "Master, the bridge is gone and the valley is far too wide to circumvent. I cannot complete my task."

The master summoned the younger brother and told him "Go finish the task that I gave to your elder brother."

The younger brother set out on his task. He returned to the monastery the next day, and told the master "The master of the monastery across the valley sends his greetings."

Stunned, the elder brother said, "This is impossible! How was he able to cross the valley?"

The master said, "It does not matter."
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Ben » Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:33 pm

Hi Guy
As Peter indicated, all people who become arahants go through the stages of sotapatta, sakadagamita and anagamita. In the suttas, you will find instances of disciples who appear to become arahants almost instantaneously. Almost instantaneously, but not instantaneously.
With these notable noble ones, their journey through the stages occurs incredibly rapidly and is due to the accumulation of paramis over many hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. For inspiration, you might like to have a look at Great Disciples of the Buddha, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
Metta

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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Guy » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:54 am

Thanks Ben and Individual, I will check out those references.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby appicchato » Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:02 pm

Individual wrote:The suttas themselves even say that, of all the aspects of the eightfold path, right view is the forerunner.


Hi Alex,

Slightly off-topic, but definitely not nitpicking, I'd be interested to see where the Suttas say that...I, personally, have come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as not being 'linear', but more 'circular', if I can use those terms...more like an eight-spoked wheel than a sequentially (in order of importance) numbered list...one could (conceivably/arguably) say that 'Right Intention' (or 'Right Concentration') may precede (and be requisite for) 'Right View'...'Effort' and 'Mindfulness' may slide in there as well...anyway, I could very well be blowing smoke here if you've got a reference... :reading:

Be well... :smile:

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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:06 pm

Greetings bhante,

See here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dham ... index.html

The gist, as I understand it, is that if the View/Understanding is not Right, then how can any other component of the path be "Right".

Metta,
Retro. :)
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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby appicchato » Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:26 pm

"And how is right view the forerunner?...

— MN 117


Well, that didn't take long...thanks Paul...

Back to the :reading: ...
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Re: Skipping Stages of Enlightenment

Postby Individual » Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:20 pm

appicchato wrote:
Individual wrote:The suttas themselves even say that, of all the aspects of the eightfold path, right view is the forerunner.


Hi Alex,

Slightly off-topic, but definitely not nitpicking, I'd be interested to see where the Suttas say that...I, personally, have come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as not being 'linear', but more 'circular', if I can use those terms...more like an eight-spoked wheel than a sequentially (in order of importance) numbered list...one could (conceivably/arguably) say that 'Right Intention' (or 'Right Concentration') may precede (and be requisite for) 'Right View'...'Effort' and 'Mindfulness' may slide in there as well...anyway, I could very well be blowing smoke here if you've got a reference... :reading:

You're right that it is circular. I'd bet that somewhere in the suttas there are other categorizations, or ways of saying that right view is based on something else. But typically right view is considered "first", right?

MN 117
"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view...

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view."
The best things in life aren't things.

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