Philosophy of language in the Five Nikayas

by K.T.S. Sarao | 2013 | 141,449 words

This page relates ‘The Four Planes of Liberation (The Four Noble Persons)’ of the study of the Philosophy of language in the Five Nikayas, from the perspective of linguistics. The Five Nikayas, in Theravada Buddhism, refers to the five books of the Sutta Pitaka (“Basket of Sutra”), which itself is the second division of the Pali Tipitaka of the Buddhist Canon (literature).

6.5. The Four Planes of Liberation (The Four Noble Persons)

[Full title: Distinctive Issues of the Five Nikāyas and some Important Buddhist Terms Relating the Study; (5): The Four Planes of Liberation (The Four Noble Persons)]

Buddhist discourses in the Five Nikāyas ascribe importance to the four noble persons in general scheme of things proposed to attain cessation. In Buddhism, the term ‘noble person’ (ariya-puggala) is used to indicate one who happens to be at any stage of the Noble Path (ariya-magga). There are two distinct stages of the practice of the Noble Path. These are mundane (lokiya) or preparatory stage, and supramundane (lokuttara) or consummate stage. When the disciple takes on the gradual training (anupubbasikkhā) in virtue (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā), he is said to be developing the mundane path. When he reaches the highest state in the practice of insight meditation, his faculties become mature, on that occasion the supramundane path is opened for him. The Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 7.7 describes eight types of individuals grouped into four pairs of persons; each pair consists of two subsidiary phases that are the path (magga) and its fruit (phala). The function of the path stage is to remove a certain number of defilements of mind which attaches human beings to the endless cycle of the saṃsāra. Depending upon the completed degree at each path, the disciple realizes corresponding fruit with that particular path. Each stage of the supramundane path, thus, includes two kinds of persons: the one who has entered upon the way to realization of the fruit and the one who has attained the fruit (see Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi 2009: 41-2).

These four pairs are described as follows:

(a) i. The one realizing the path of Stream-entering (sotāpattimagga).
ii. The one realizing the fruition of Stream-entering (sotāpattiphala).

(b) i. The one realizing the path of Once-return (sakadāgāmimagga).
ii. The one realizing the fruition of Once-return (sakadāgāmiphala).

(c) i. The one realizing the path of Non-return (anāgāmimagga).
ii. The one realizing the fruition of Non-return (anāgāmiphala).

(d) i. The one realizing the path of Arahantship (Arahantta-magga).
ii. The one realizing the fruition of Arahantship (Arahantta-phala).

Thus, according to the above four pairs of persons, there are in all four kinds of individuals called the Noble Persons.

1. The Stream-Enterer (Sotāpanna)

In the Suttas, for examples, Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 6.11-13; 22.42-45, and so on, the Buddha highlights the specific characteristics of each supramundane stage into two ways: by mentioning the defilements that are abandoned on each plane and the consequences its attainment bears on the process of rebirth. He handles the elimination of the defilements by classifying these into a tenfold group called the ten fetters (saṃyojana). There are two classes of individuals who can approach the path of stream-entry, either the Dhamma-followers (dhammānusārin) or the Faith-followers (saddhānusārin). The Dhammafollowers are disciples in whom the faculty of wisdom (paññindriya) is predominant and they develop the noble path with wisdom in the lead, when they attain the fruit they are called ‘attained-to-view’ (diṭṭhipatta). The Faith-followers, on the other hand, are disciples in whom the faculty of faith (saddhindriya) is predominant and who develop the noble path with faith in the lead, when they attain the fruit they are called ‘liberated-by-faith’ (saddhāvimutta) (see Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 22.45-6; 70.20-1).

In order to complete the path of the stream-entry, a disciple must cut off the first three lower fetters binding to saṃsāra namely:

(i) ‘personality view’ (sakkāyadiṭṭhi) that is the view of a self among the five aggregates;

(ii) doubt in the Buddha and his teaching; and

(iii) adherence to rules and observances, either ritualistic or ascetic, in the belief that they can bring purification.

When these works of the path is completed, he becomes a stream-enterer, no longer subject to perdition, and is only maximum seven births in the human world or in the heavenly realms (see Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 34.9, 48.15; 68.13).

2. The Once-Returner (Sakadāgāmin)

The second supramundane path attenuates to a still greater degree the root defilements of lust, hate, and delusion, though without yet eradicating them. One realizing the fruit of this path the disciple becomes a once-returner (sakadāgāmin), who is due to return to this world only one more time and then make an end of suffering (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 6.12; 22.44).

3. The Non-Returner (Ānāgāmin)

The path of Non-return requires the destruction of the five lower fetters that are including the first three fetters and two other fetters of sensual desire and ill will. When the work of the path is completed, the disciple becomes a nonreturner (anāgāmin), who no more returns to this sense-sphere realm, but reappears spontaneously in a special religion of the Brahma-world called Pure Adodes and there attains final nibbāna, without ever returning from that world (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 6.13; 22.43).

4. The Arahant

The fourth and last supramundane path is the path of Arahantship. This path eradicates the five higher fetters: (i) desire for rebirth in the fine-material realm and (ii) the immaterial realm; (iii) conceit; (iv) restlessness; and (v) ignorance. When these five higher fetters are completely eradicated, the disciple becomes an Arahant, a fully librated one, who “here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints” (see Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi 2009:43). In the Mahāvacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha describes an Arahant as follows:

When a bhikkhu has abandoned craving, cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising, then that bhikkhu is an Arahant with taints destroyed, one who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the true goal, destroyed the fetters of beings, and is completely librated through final knowledge. (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 73.6)

In the Alagaddūpama Sutta, the Buddha makes use of a series of metaphorical epithets to illustrate the characteristics of an Arahant. As one whose shaft has been lifted, the Arahant has abandoned ignorance, has cut it off at the root; as one whose trench has been filled in, the Arahant has abandoned the round of births (saṃsāra) that brings renewed being; as one whose pillar has been uprooted, the Arahant has abandoned the craving, has cut it off at the root; as one who has no bar, the Arahant has abandoned the five lower fetters; As a noble one whose banner is lowered, whose burden is lowered, who is unfettered, the Arahant has abandoned the conceit ‘I am’, has cut it off at the root and made it such that cannot arise any more in future (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 22.30-5).

According to commentaries’ explanation, the Arahant is regarded to have achieved deliverance from the entire round of existence, even while he is alive here though untraceable as a being or individual (in the sense of an abiding self). It is impossible for the gods or anyone else to find the support for his insight-mind (vipassanācitta), path-mind (maggacitta), or fruition-mind (phalacitta). He enters upon and abides in nibbāna, his mind cannot be known by a worldling (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 22.36).

In several Suttas like Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 68.18-23; 73.9-22, the Buddha confirms that apart from bhikkhus and bhikkhunī, many others among his lay followers have accomplished in the Dhamma and attained the first three of the four supramundane stages. The household life, in fact, unavoidably tends to obstruct the single-hearted pursuit for deliverance by nurturing a large amount of worldly concerns and personal attachments. The fact that, in the Theravādin tradition, lay followers can also attain the fourth stage, the Arahantship, but having done so they immediately either seek the going forth; that is, going to become a bhikkhu or bhikkhunī) or entering upon the nibbāna without remainder (see Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi 2009: 35).

In general, an Arahant is described as an ideal figure in the Majjhima Nikāya in particular as well as in whole Sutta Piṭaka of the Pāli Canon. That is one who has reached the ultimate fruit of the path, who has achieved the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that is taintless with the destruction of taints. As the Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 35.26 points out, the Arahant possesses three unsurpassable qualities that are unsurpassable vision, unsurepassable practice of the way, and unsurpassable deliverance and ten factors of one beyond training which includes the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path and two other particular factors that are right knowledge and right deliverance (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 65.34; 78.14).

He also has to possess the four foundations of:

  1. wisdom,
  2. truth,
  3. relinquishment, and
  4. peace (Majjhima Nikāya, Sutta number 140.11).

In this sense, Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi (2009: 45) states that “And by the eradication of lust, hate, and delusion all Arahants have access to a unique meditative attainment called the fruition attainment of Arahantship, described as the unshakeable deliverance of mind, the immeasurable deliverance of mind, the void deliverance of mind, the deliverance of mind through nothingness, and the signless deliverance of mind.”

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