Monday, June 23, 2014

Who are the "Noble Ones"?

Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly; G.P. Malalasekera (Dictionary of Pali Terms)
Three noble ones pay homage to an image of the Noble One (Sasin Tipchai/Bugphai/flickr)
The noble ones or "noble persons" (ariya-puggala) does not refer to teaching and nonteaching buddhas but to anyone who attains the various stages of enlightenment and liberation. The Buddha may be called the Noble One, but his function was the production of noble ones, of establishing the Teaching, establishing the Monastic Order for intensive practice and the preservation of the Teaching long after his mission.  The grades or stages of enlightenment are not absolutes; there are different ways to distinguish attainments. But for simplicity four are repeatedly mentioned. (According to the Path of Freedom or Vimuttimagga there are more only because the first few are categorized together simply as stream-enterers). For example, one of the extraordinary characteristics of a stream-winner or stream-enterer (sotapanna) is that s/he faces at most seven rebirths and has therefore in this unimaginably long course of "continued wandering on" (= samsara), the Wheel of Rebirth, put a limit on suffering. The next stage, that of the once-returner, faces only one rebirth. Between these two stages, there are actually other stages, but they are all lumped together for simplicity. In fact, there were always at least eight noble ones, but only four are generally spoken of because the Commentary maintains that the difference between each pair is simply a thought-moment. This almost certainly cannot be the case, as indicated by the sutras and spelled out by Bhikkhu Bodhi in the explanatory notes to his famous sutta-pitaka (discourse-collection) translations.

Arch with an ancient Buddha image in Theravada Buddhist Phowintaung, Burma
The eight and nine NOBLE ONES are:

(A) The eight noble ones are those who have realized one of the eight stages of enlightenment, that is, the four supermundane paths (maggas) and the four supermundane fruitions (phalas) of these paths.

There are four pairs:
1. One realizing the path of stream-winning (sotāpatti-magga).
2. One realizing the fruition of stream-winning (sotāpatti-phala).
3. One realizing the path of once-returning (sakadāgāmi-magga).
4. One realizing the fruition of once-returning (sakadāgāmi-phala).
5. One realizing the path of non-returning (anāgāmi-magga).
6. One realizing the fruition of non-returning (anāgāmi-phala).
7. One realizing the path of full enlightenment (arahatta-magga).
8. One realizing the fruition of full enlightenment (arahatta-phala).

In sum, there are by this scheme four noble individuals (ariya-puggala): the stream-winner (sotāpanna), the once-returner (sakadāgāmi), the non-returner (anāgāmī), the fully-enlightened (arhat or arahat, arahant).

Here is where the sutras and the Path of Freedom, which is a commentarial work analogous to the more famous Path of Purification (one possibly being an earlier version of the other, both works of the most famous Buddhist commentator Ven. Buddhaghosa, but the earlier version credited to Ven. Upatissa (the original Upatissa being Ven. Sariputra, the Buddha's chief male monastic disciple "foremost in wisdom," analogous to his chief female monastic disciple "foremost in wisdom" Ven. Khema).

Change of Lineage
Sariputra, foremost in wisdom (SashWeer/flickr)
All of unenlightened beings are "ordinary worldings." Most of us are uninstructed ordinary worldlings. But in A.VIII.10 and A.IX.16 the gotrabhū is listed as the ninth noble individual. When one goes from "ordinary worldling" to "noble one," it is extraordinary. The Buddha referred to this liberation process as a "change of lineage." One is completely different now even while seeming to others (or even oneself) exactly the same. It is nearly impossible to tell who is a stream-enterer or fully-enlightened. There are ways for one to tell of oneself, but it is very easy to overestimate one's attainment. It is amazing talking to stream-enterers or reading their descriptions in the sutras and them not being sure. See, for example, the story of Queen Mallika's maid. They are only sure something happened, and they can hardly explain what or how. Logic dictates that ordinarily worldings would be able to tell, but experience proves otherwise. They can recognize each other but by prodding and testing a little, not by some magic intuition. Ajahn Jumnien tells the story of how he met California Vipassana (insight meditation) teacher Ruth Denison ( and knew but also how he did not know how far along she was until he tested her. One reason for this is that one retains many of the same characteristics as before the Truth liberated one. The most important thing one can bear in mind in this regard is that ENLIGHTENMENT PERFECTS PERSPECTIVE NOT PERSONALITY.

One will come out the other end with right view (samma ditthi) but will keep many of the same quirks, predilections, and predispositions after undergoing an utterly radical change in view about the things that matter (bodhipakkayadhamma). Wisdom itself does the uprooting of ignorance, not an act of will or self or thinking. And this is because full enlightenment does not mean omniscience. It means FULL penetration of only four things -- the Four Noble Truths. Perhaps it also means utter certainty about the Three Marks of Existence and the fact of Dependent Origination, the certainty that nothing comes into being without a cause or with only a single cause. When we ask, in accordance with the first noble truth, "How has this present suffering come into being?" we are investigating causes and conditions. There are at least 12, and of these the weakest -- the one we can do something about -- is craving. There are other deeper reasons, like ignorance (avijja, avidya), but these cannot be remedied directly. Craving can. Craving is not the root of all suffering, as many people say. Ignorance is. But the Buddha singled out craving (tanha, desire) because his insight into the causal links of Dependent Origination led him to realize that it was possible to break the chain at this link. Right view, knowing-and-seeing,
Path and Fruition
A permanent and radical change of heart
By "PATH" (magga) or "supermundane path," according to the "Higher Teaching" (Abhidhamma), is simply meant a designation of the moment of entering into one of the four stages of enlightenment -- [glimpsing] nirvana (Pali nibbāna) being the object -- produced by intuitive insight (vipassanā) into the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and impersonality of all existence, flashing forth and forever transforming one's life and nature.

By "FRUITION" (phala) is meant those moments of consciousness that follow immediately thereafter as the result of the path, which in certain circumstances may repeat innumerable times during the lifetime.

(I) Through the path of stream-winning one "becomes" free (whereas in realizing the fruition, one "is" free) from the first three fetters (samyojana) that bind ordinary beings to existence in the Sensual Sphere (the lowest of three "spheres" or lokas in a threefold classification of the 31 Planes of Existence in Buddhist cosmology encompassing to the lowest hells, the worlds of humans, animals, ghosts, titans, and lower devas, up to the highest of the six sensual "heavens"; the other two spheres are the Fine-Material or Subtle Sphere and the Immaterial Sphere):
  • (1) personality-belief (sakkāya-ditthi),
  • (2) skeptical doubt about the path (vicikicchā),
  • (3) belief that mere rules or rituals could ever lead one to enlightenment (sīlabbata-parāmāsa; see upādāna).
(II) Through the path of once-returning one becomes nearly free of the fourth and fifth fetters:
  • (4) sensuous craving (kāma-cchanda = kāma-rāga),
  • (5) ill-will (vyāpāda = dosa, see "roots," mūla).
(III) Through the path of non-returning (anāgāmi-magga) one becomes fully free of the first five or "lower" fetters.
(IV) Through the path of full-enlightenment one further becomes free of the five "higher" fetters as well:
  • (6) craving for fine-material existence (rūpa-rāga),
  • (7) craving for immaterial existence (arūpa-rāga),
  • (8) conceit (māna),
  • (9) restlessness (uddhacca),
  • (10) ignorance (avijjā).
Tibetan Vajrayana stained glass rainbow emanation (Samye Ling Centre and Monastery)
The stereotype sutra text runs as follows:

(I) "After the disappearance of the three fetters, the meditator has won the stream (that leads inevitably to nirvana) and is no longer subject to rebirth in lower worlds (subhuman planes of existence), is firmly established, destined for full enlightenment.

(II) "After the disappearance of the first three fetters and [a marked] reduction of greed, hatred, and delusion, one will return [at most] only once more [to this world]. And having once more returned to this world, one will put an end to suffering.

(III) "After the disappearance of the first five fetters one appears in a higher world [in superhuman planes of existence, i.e., the Pure Abodes], and there one reaches nirvana without ever returning from that world (to the Sensual Sphere).

(IV) "Through the extinction of all taints or cankers (āsava-kkhaya) one reaches in this very life that deliverance of mind, that deliverance through wisdom, which is freed of the cankers, and which one has directly understood and realized."
(B) The sevenfold grouping of the noble disciples runs as follows:
(1) the confidence (conviction, faith)-devotee (saddhānusārī),
(2) the confidence-liberated one (saddhāvimutta),
(3) the body-witness (kāya-sakkhī),
(4) the both-ways-liberated one (ubhato-bhāga-vimutta),
(5) the Dharma-devotee (dhammānusārī),
(6) the vision-attainer (ditthippatta),
(7) the wisdom-liberated one (paññā-vimutta).

This group of seven noble disciples is explained in the Path of Purification (Vis.M. XXI, 73):

(1) "One who is filled with resolution (adhimokkha) and, by [systematically] considering the formations as impermanent (anicca), gains the faculty of confidence, who at the moment of the path to stream-winning (A.1) is called a confidence-devotee (saddhānusārī);

(2) One is called a confidence-liberated one (saddhā-vimutta) at the seven higher stages (A. 2-8).

(3) One who is filled with tranquility and, by considering the formations as disappointing (dukkha), gains the faculty of concentration, who in every respect is considered a body-witness (kāya-sakkhī).

(4) One, however, who after reaching the absorptions of the immaterial sphere (Jhanas 5-8) has attained the highest fruition (of full enlightenment), who is a both-ways-liberated one (ubhato-bhāga-vimutta).

(5) One who is filled with wisdom and, by considering the formations as not-self (anattā), gains the faculty of wisdom, who is at the moment of stream-winning a Dharma-devotee (dhammānusārī).

(6) One who at the later stages (A. 2-7) is a vision-attainer (ditthippatta).

(7) One who is  a wisdom-liberated one (paññāvimutta) at the highest stage (A. 8)."

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