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Four Characteristics of the Streamwinner[1]

From Digha Nikaya 33: Sangiti Suttanta: 4s #14



Here friends
the hearer of the aristocrats
has got complete confidence in the Buddha
along such lines as:
'This Lucky Man is the Arahant Number One Self-Awakened One,
perfected in conduct and vision,
The Welcome One,
a knower of the world,
unsurpassable trainer of trainable men,
teacher of gods and man,
The Buddha,
The Lucky Man.'

He has complete confidence in the Dhamma
along such lines as:
'The Dhamma is well said by the Lucky Man,
visible for one's self here,
not a thing of Time,
a 'come'n-see' thing,
a thing that guides the intelligent
in understanding for themselves.'

He has complete confidence in the Saṅgha[2]
along such lines as:
'The Bhagava's order of hearers
is undertaking the good,
The Bhagava's order of hearers
is undertaking the straight,
The Bhagava's order of hearers
is undertaking the method,
The Bhagava's order of hearers
is undertaking the highest.

The four pairs of men,
the eight individual men —
this is the Bhagava's order of hearers
that is worthy of offerings,
that are worthy guests,
worthy of the gifts

Closed-Palms Salute

of those wishing to make good kamma,
worthy of the gesture
of putting together the fingers of both hands
and stretching them forth to the sky
and bringing them to the forehead,
a site unsurpassed in the world
for sewing merit.

He comes to be one
who goes after getting that intact,
un rent,
un bruised,
un warped,
praised by the wise,
ethical culture
that evolves into the serene high-getting
that is enjoyed by the Aristocrats.[3]




On the Path to Stream-Winning

M: The First group of the "Four Pairs of Great Men" are those on the Paths to Stream-entry and the Streamwinners. But are not all of us (except those of higher achievements) striving for Stream-entry? Then what is the difference between those on the Path to Stream-entry and those striving for Stream-entry?

Your question points out a confusion in the texts. The set of "Pairs" is defined two ways: the first is as you say, "one who is on the path and one who has achieved the path", the other is, "one who has achieved the path and one who is enjoying the fruits of the path."

I think that it would probably be helpful to keep in mind that what is being described is not something that has clear boarders: (i.e., "Once you cross this line you are a Streamwinner.") Progress is a process, and we can see that it has gray areas even up to and including the definition of Arahant or achieving Nibbāna (i.e., with or without attachment, final Nibbāna, etc).

I am thinking of the way economic classes are defined in the U.S. as a reasonable simile: We can see that there are those who are not on their way to becoming Middle Class, although everyone could be said to have at their heart the desire to become wealthier and enjoy more luxury. At what point does one become Middle Class? Some see the situation where there are those who are clearly on track to becoming Middle Class but have not yet achieved that status in any clearly definable form while others are clearly there. Another sees those who are close to being middle class and those who are there as one group and those that have been there for a while and are comfortable with it and are enjoying it without making great effort to reach the next class.

I don't think, in the end, it is too helpful to get wound up in this sort of thing.




M: I have a strong feeling that I have practiced Buddhism in my previous lifetimes. I say this because of my general attitude towards life, having few wants, ease in understanding Dhamma etc. What I would like to know is how does the process of purification continue over lifetimes? Is there any way to know if I would have achieved the Burnings "jhanas" etc? If yes then how could I use those achievements to my benefit in the current lifetime?

I think you have largely answered the latter two questions in your statements about your attitudes in the beginning of the question. You find it curious that certain things come easy. You can know if you have achieved the burnings and other things, such as magic powers and residence in various realms when you establish the burnings in this life. As to how the process of objective detachment[4] continues over lifetimes: this is the process described in Downbound Confounded Rebounding Conjuration.[5] Very briefly it comes down to the fact that beings do what they remember. Faced with a sense stimulus, the desire to recreate that stimulus arises, based on that an effort is made to find a way to do it, that makes use of the memory of ways the sensation has been created in the past. Then it is acted upon.




M: One other question that has always intrigued me is: According to the books, a Streamwinner has a maximum of seven further lives during which he will achieve the final goal. What I would like to know is how does that individual know that he is a Streamwinner? Because in actual practice, he would be born with no remembrance of Dhamma from his previous lifetime and at some point in his current life he would be "introduced" to Dhamma all over again. (Please do not misunderstand me for asking this question, I know that I have not abandoned the lower three fetters and thus cannot be a Streamwinner; as said above this question just intrigues me).

The word for seven is "satta." Satta means seven. But it also means 100, 1000, 10,000 and "a very large number." I think the real intent is that the Streamwinner has a finite number of lives ahead, not a specific number nor an unlimited number. Although Gotama was an educated man, and many of those of his followers were equally well educated, numbers were dealt with very carelessly in those days by all but specialists in the field. For the most part people counted to three and up past that (i.e., four cattari) meant "a whole bunch". The numbers above three all have very abstract meanings: cattari is really "a quartered sphere"; five is a hand; six is "man"; seven is as described; eight is unlimited; (I forget nine,); ten is a sphere or circle. [At a later point I came across suttas that make it clear that what is being spoken of is seven lifetimes at most.]

You are asking how an individual here now would know that he had been a Streamwinner in a previous existence. This is the same question, essentially as the one about having mastered the jhānas in an earlier existence. By developing the jhānas (specifically the fourth jhāna, but it can be done to an imperfect degree at less developed stages) recollection of past lives can be developed. In this case it is not necessary that an individual remember an entire lifetime. In The Pāḷi Line, The Gradual Course, Part II: Knowledge of Former Habitations, I describe the two methods of recollection of past lifetimes: chronological and via phenomena. It would be sufficient to recollect the event itself (via phenomena), probably at the time when one once again rose up past the worldly views that one would likely have been born into. [Edit: There are places along the way where you can see that you have got passed a yoke to rebirth (say, for example the belief that rights and rituals will bring one to the end of pain). At a later point it may be seen that actually one never in this life was disturbed by this yoke. It is fair at that point to assume that you have broken that yoke in a previous existance even though you may not have an actual recollection of the event.]


[1] Cattāri sotāpannassa aṅgāni.

sāvaka. PED says: "a hearer, disciple (never an Arahant)", but note the case here.

[2] Saṅgha. The wording for this "characteristic" reflects my understanding based on the idea: "It is not by wearing yellow robes that one is near to me (the Buddha)" (or is worthy to be called a Bhikkhu, or a member of the Saṅgha). It is by intent and conduct and attainment that one is worthy of such.
The description of the hand gesture in the Pāḷi is covered by the phrase "añjali-karaṇīyo;"
I didn't think it would hurt to have a full description for the benefit of those of us in the west who may be unfamiliar with this reverential form of greeting.
On this also see Bhikkhu Bodhi: from Going for Refuge on Access to Insight: "... the order of monks is not itself the Saṅgha which takes the position of the third refuge. The Saṅgha which serves as refuge is not an institutional body but an unchartered spiritual community comprising all those who have achieved penetration of the innermost meaning of the Buddha's teaching. The Saṅgha-refuge is the ariyan Saṅgha, the noble community, made up exclusively of ariyans, person of superior spiritual stature. Its membership is not bound together by formal ecclesiastical ties but by the invisible bond of a common inward realization. The one requirement for admission is the attainment of this realization, which in itself is sufficient to grant entrance."

[3] The way I read Rhys Davids, Walshe and most other translators is that the string of descriptive terms is to apply to the way the Streamwinner practices ethical culture. I have them describing the nature of the ethical culture he strives after attaining. I here put forward two arguments for my interpretation: 1. The string of terms includes two (viññūppasatthehi — praised by the wise — and samādhi-saṅvattanikehi — that evolves into highgetting) that seem to me not likely to apply to the practitioner but to the ethical culture itself, and 2. It is clear from numerous passages in the Suttas that the Streamwinner may not have fully developed such perfection in his behavior. The big advantage of becoming a Streamwinner that is put out there (and which one is able to see for one's self) is the fact that one will not backslide to such a degree that one will perform any act (thought, word, or deed) that will result in rebirth in Hell, as a Demon or as an Animal. There are passages that state that even one with no greater personal development than what we can assume is unreasoned (but steadfast) faith in the Buddha can be called a Streamwinner. Once again this is not being said here by me in any effort to weaken the importance of perfecting one's self in ethical culture, but to eliminate the discouragement of those who are doing their best and occasionally fall short ... suchas sucha one as suchas I.

[4] I say cultivating Objective Detachment rather than purification — the latter word in its original sense, had to do with things like taking the cream from milk, purifying butter, purifying water and so forth, but here in the US we have grown up thinking that everything that is not work is impure as a consequence of our "Puritan" heritage, and hence the word carries too much excess baggage.

[5] Paṭicca-samuppada or Nidāna paccay'ācara. See: The Tenth Question, The Destruction of the Asavas, and Glossology: paṭicca samuppāda.




For the qualities of the Streamwinner and the fruits of Streamwinning, see: The Good Example, n9
And also see: Appendixes, Sotapatti

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