"Meditation" (bhavana) means cultivating the Noble Eightfold Path.
Eight Worthy Persons
The Buddha said, "These eight persons are worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings, and reverential salutations. They are the unsurpassed field of merit for the world. What eight?
- the stream-enterer [first stage of enlightenment]
- one practicing for the realization of the fruit of stream-entry
- the once-returner
- one practicing for the realization of the fruit of once-returning
- the non-returner
- one practicing for the realization of the fruit of non-returning
- the arhat
- one practicing for the realization of the fruit of arhatship" (AN 8:59; IV 292).
- Association with superior persons is a factor for stream-entry.
- Hearing the true Dharma...
- Careful attention...
- Practice in accordance with the Dharma is a factor for stream-entry."
"Good, Sariputra, good! It is just as you say. And it is said, 'The stream, the stream.' What now is the stream?"
- "Venerable Sir, this Noble Eightfold Path is the stream: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration."
"Good, Sariputra, good! It is just as you say. And it is said, 'A stream-enterer, a stream-enterer.' What now is a stream-enterer?"
- "Venerable Sir, one who possesses ["knows and sees"] this Noble Eightfold Path is called a stream-enterer -- this venerable person of such a name and extended-family."
"Good, Sariputra, good! One who possesses this Noble Eightfold Path is a stream-enterer -- this venerable person of such a name and extended-family" (SN 55:5; V 410-411).
"Stream-entering" means entering the Noble Eightfold Path.
Entering the Fixed Course of Rightness
"Meditators, the eye is impermanent, changing, constantly undergoing alteration. The ear... nose... tongue... body... The mind is impermanent, changing, constantly undergoing alteration.
"One who places confidence [saddha or faith, conviction, trust] in these teachings and resolves on them thus is called a faith-follower, one who has entered the 'fixed course of rightness' [in other words, sammattaniyama, the supramundane Noble Eightfold Path], entered the plane of superior persons, transcended the plane of ordinary [uninstructed] worldlings.
"One is incapable of doing any deed by reason of which one might be reborn in hell, in the animal realm, or in the domain of afflicted spirits.
"One is incapable of passing away without having realized the fruit of stream-entry.*
The "light of wisdom," according to Pa Auk Sayadaw, is not merely metaphorical.
"One for whom these teachings are accepted thus after being pondered to a sufficient degree with wisdom is called a Dharma-follower, one who has entered the fixed course of rightness, entered the plane of superior persons, transcended the plane of ordinary worldlings....
"One who knows and sees these teachings thus is called a stream-enterer, no longer bound to the lower world, fixed in destiny, destined for enlightenment"** (SN 25:1; III 225).
*Contrary to the commentaries, which hold that the path-attainer realizes the fruit immediately after attaining the path, the original texts say merely that one who reaches the stage of Dharma-follower or faith-follower (corresponding to the commentarial notion of path-attainer) will realize the fruit within this same life -- but not necessarily in the next mind-moment.
The two positions might be reconciled if we see the path of the Dharma-follower and the faith-follower as extended in time but reaching its climax in an instantaneous breakthrough that is immediately followed by realization of the fruit.
**This statement makes it clear how the stream-enterer differs from those on the path to stream-entry.
- The faith-follower accepts the teaching on trust (with a limited degree of understanding).
- The Dharma-follower accepts the teaching through investigation (with a greater degree of understanding).
- But the stream-enterer has directly known and seen the teaching.