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One cannot attain enlightenment without having cultivated the right conditions. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahā-vagga, Book XI, Kindred Sayings on Streamwinning, chapter I, paragraph 5, Sāriputta) about four conditions for becoming a sotāpanna (streamwinner). The sutta states:
Now the venerable Sāriputta went to see the Exalted One, and on coming to him saluted him and sat down at one side. To the venerable Sāriputta so seated the Exalted One said this:“ ‘A limb of stream-winning! A limb of stream-winning!’ is the saying, Sāriputta. Tell me, Sāriputta, of what sort is a limb of stream-winning.”“Lord, association with the upright is a limb of stream-winning. Hearing the good Dhamma is a limb of stream-winning. Applying the mind is a limb of stream-winning. Conforming to the Dhamma is a limb of stream-winning.”“Well said, Sāriputta! Well said, Sāriputta! Indeed these are limbs of stream-winning.Now again, Sāriputta, they say: ‘The stream! The stream!’ Of what sort is the stream, Sāriputta?”“The stream, lord, is just this ariyan eightfold way, to wit: Right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”“Well said, Sāriputta! Well said, Sāriputta! The stream is just this ariyan eightfold way.Now again, Sāriputta, they say, ‘Streamwinner! Streamwinner!’ Of what sort is a streamwinner, Sāriputta?”“Whosoever, lord, is blessed with this ariyan eightfold way - such an one of such a name, of such and such a clan, is called‘Streamwinner’.”
The first condition, association with the righteous person, is most important. It would not be possible to find the right path by oneself. Only Buddhas have accumulated such wisdom that they can find the Path by themselves, without the help of a teacher. Other people, however, need the teachings of a Buddha in order to find the right path, because ignorance has been accumulated for an endlessly long time. We need association with the right person, the good friend in Dhamma, who can point out to us the right path, because our defilements prevent us from finding the right path. Our friend in Dhamma can encourage us to develop right understanding of nāma and rūpa.
The question may arise what one should do if one is not able to find the right friend in Dhamma. Is reading the scriptures not a condition to find the path leading to enlightenment? It is true that reading the scriptures is also very helpful since they can encourage us to be mindful of nāma and rūpa in daily life. We might, however, interpret the teachings in the wrong way. It depends on conditions whether we come into contact with the right person who can help us to understand the teachings as well as the practice in accordance with the teachings. Accumulated kusala kamma can be the condition for us to meet the right person.
When we have heard the Dhamma from the right person, we should “apply the mind”; this is the third condition. We should not blindly follow the person who teaches us Dhamma, but we should investigate the scriptures ourselves, ponder over the Dhamma, and consider it carefully, in order to test the truth.
The real test of the truth is the practice itself. Therefore, the fourth condition is “conforming to the Dhamma”, which is the development of the eightfold Path. By being mindful of the phenomena appearing through the six doors we can find out ourselves whether it is true that these phenomena are only nāma and rūpa, arising because of conditions. We can investigate ourselves whether they are impermanent or permanent, whether they are dukkha or happiness, whether they are non-self, anattā, or “self”. We can find out through the practice itself whether we really understand the teachings. If we practise in the wrong way we may eventually find out that this does not lead to right understanding of the realities of our daily life. Through the development of the eightfold Path we will have more confidence (saddhā) in the Buddha’s teachings. We will have more confidence when we experience that through right understanding of nāma and rūpa in daily life there will be less clinging to “self”.
Lokuttara cittas cannot arise without the cultivation of the right conditions. Some people wish for an end to dukkha but they do not develop understanding in daily life. They hope that one day lokuttara cittas will arise. The Buddha pointed out that the realization of the four noble Truths is difficult, and he said this, not in order to discourage people, but in order to remind them not to be heedless.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahā-vagga, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, chapter V, paragraph 5, The keyhole) that, when the Buddha was staying at Vesālī in Great Grove, Ānanda went into Vesālī on his rounds for almsfood. In Vesālī he saw the Licchavi youths practising archery. He then went to see the Buddha and said:
“Here, lord, robing myself in the forenoon and taking bowl and outer robe I set out for Vesālī on my begging rounds. Then, lord, I saw a number of Licchavi youths in the gymnasium making practice at archery, shooting even from a distance through a very small keyhole, and splitting an arrow, shot after shot, with never a miss. And I said to myself, lord: ‘Practised shots are these Licchavi youths! Well practised shots indeed are these Licchavi youths, to be able even at a distance to splinter an arrow through a very small keyhole, shot after shot, with never a miss!’ ”“Now what think you, Ānanda? Which is the harder, which is the harder task to compass: To shoot like that or to pierce one strand of hair, seven times divided, with another strand?”“Why, lord, of course to split a hair in such a way is the harder, much the harder task.”“Just so, Ānanda, they who penetrate the meaning of: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha, this is the ceasing of dukkha, this is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha, pierce through something much harder to pierce.Wherefore, Ānanda, you must make an effort to realize: This is dukkha. This is the arising of dukkha. This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha.”
One might feel discouraged when reading this sutta; it would seem that it is impossible to attain enlightenment. However, if one develops the right Path, not the wrong Path, one will realize the four noble Truths; one will attain enlightenment. The way to realize the four noble Truths is to be mindful of the realities which appear now: seeing, visible object, lobha, dosa or any other reality. We should not be discouraged when we do not seem to make rapid progress. Most people cling to a result and they become impatient when they do not notice an immediate result; clinging to a result, however, is not helpful for the development of wisdom, it is akusala.
Some people feel that the development of samatha can give a more immediate result. Samatha, when it has been developed in the right way, has tranquillity as its result. When jhāna is attained, lobha, dosa and moha are temporarily eliminated. However, the attainment of jhāna is extremely difficult and many conditions have to be cultivated. When one is developing samatha, the hindrances may still arise: there will be sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness, worry and doubt, until “access-concentration” or jhāna has been attained.
The aim of vipassanā is not tranquillity, but the eradication of wrong view and eventually of all defilements. This goal may seem far off, but each short moment of right awareness of nāma and rūpa is very fruitful; it will help to eliminate clinging to the concept of self. While one is mindful, there are no lobha, dosa or moha. Although tranquillity is not the aim of vipassanā, at the moment of right mindfulness there is kusala citta, and kusala citta is accompanied by calm.
Vipassanā or insight is the development of right understanding of all nāmas and rūpas which present themselves in daily life. Insight is developed in different stages and in the course of its development the characteristics of nāma and rūpa will be understood more clearly, and their arising and falling away will be known through direct experience. When insight has been developed stage by stage, the nāma and rūpa which present themselves through the six doors can be clearly seen as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, anattā. When paññā has been developed to the degree that enlightenment can be attained, the unconditioned reality, nibbāna, is directly experienced. The direct experience of nibbāna is different from thinking about nibbāna. Nibbāna is directly experienced during a mind-door process of cittas. Nibbāna cannot be experienced through any of the five senses, it can be experienced only through the mind-door.
In the process during which enlightenment is attained, the manodvārāvajjana-citta (the mind-door-adverting-consciousness) takes as its object one of the three characteristics of reality: impermanence, dukkha or anattā. This means that the reality presenting itself at that moment is seen either as impermanent, or as dukkha or as anattā. Anicca, dukkha and anattā are three aspects of the truth of conditioned realities. Thus, if one sees one aspect, one also sees the other aspects. However, the three characteristics cannot be experienced at the same time, since citta can experience only one object at a time. It depends on one’s accumulations which of the three characteristics is realized in the process of cittas during which enlightenment is attained: one person views the reality appearing at that moment as impermanent, another as dukkha, and another again as non-self, anattā. The mano-dvārāvajjana-citta, mind-door-adverting-consciousness, of that process adverts to one of these three characteristics and is then succeeded by three or four cittas which are not yet lokuttara cittas, but mahā-kusala cittas (kusala cittas of the sense-sphere) accompanied by paññā (110). The first mahā-kusala citta, which is called parikamma or preparatory consciousness, still has the same object as the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta. Whichever of the three characteristics of conditioned realities the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta adverted to, the parikamma realizes that characteristic. The parikamma is succeeded by the upacāra or proximity consciousness which still has the same object as the mano-dvārāvajjana citta. This citta, the second mahā-kusala citta in that process, is nearer to the moment the lokuttara cittas will arise. The upacāra is succeeded by the anuloma, which means conformity or adaptation. This citta still has the same object as the mano-dvārāvajjana-citta. Anuloma is succeeded by gotrabhū which is sometimes translated as change of lineage. This citta is the last kāmāvacara citta in that process. Gotrabhū is the last kāmāvacara citta in a process before a citta of another plane of consciousness arises. The other plane of consciousness may be rūpāvacara, arūpāvacara or lokuttara. In samatha, gotrabhū is the last kāmāvacara citta before the rūpa-jhānacitta or the arūpa-jhānacitta arises. In vipassanā, gotrabhū is the last kāmāvacara citta of the non-ariyan before the lokuttara citta arises and he becomes an ariyan. The object of the gotrabhū arising before the lokuttara cittas is different from the object of gotrabhū in samatha; the gotrabhū preceding the lokuttara cittas experiences nibbāna. It is the first citta in that process which experiences nibbāna, but it is not lokuttara citta. At the moment of gotrabhū the person who is about to attain enlightenment is still a non-ariyan. Gotrabhū does not eradicate defilements. Gotrabhū is succeeded by the magga-citta which eradicates the defilements that are to be eradicated at the stage of the sotāpanna. The magga-citta is the first lokuttara citta in that process of cittas. When it has fallen away it is succeeded by two (or three) phala-cittas (fruition-consciousness) which are the result of the magga-citta and which still have nibbāna as the object. As we have seen, the magga-citta is succeeded immediately by its result, in the same process of citta (111). The magga-citta cannot produce vipāka in the form of rebirth, such as the kusala citta of the other planes of consciousness. The phala-cittas are succeeded by bhavanga-cittas (112).
Some people do not need the moment of parikamma (preparatory consciousness) and in that case three moments of phala-citta arise instead of two moments.
Summarising the cittas in the process during which enlightenment is attained, they are the following:
- parikamma (preparatory consciousness; for some people not necessary)
- upacāra (proximity consciousness)
- anuloma (conformity or adaptation)
- gotrabhū (change of lineage)
- phala-citta (two or three moments, depending on the individual)
Nibbāna can be the object of kāmāvacara cittas which arise after the lokuttara cittas have fallen away. Before someone becomes an ariyan there can only be speculation about nibbāna. For the ariyan, however, it is different. Since he has directly experienced nibbāna, he can review his experience afterwards. We read in the Visuddhimagga (XXII, 19) that the person who attained enlightenment reviews, after the lokuttara cittas have fallen away, the path, the fruition, the defilements which have been abandoned, the defilements which are still remaining and nibbāna. He reviews these things in different mind-door processes of citta.
Some people think that enlightenment could not occur in daily life, they believe that it is necessary to be in a solitary place in order to attain nibbāna. The development of vipassanā is the development of right understanding of all realities occurring in daily life. When paññā has been developed to the degree that enlightenment can be attained, enlightenment can occur in the middle of one’s daily activities. As we have seen, the attainment of enlightenment is only a few moments of citta which arise and fall away within split seconds.
We read in the Discourse to Dīghanakha (Middle Length Sayings II, no. 74) that the Buddha taught Dhamma to the wanderer Dīghanaka on Vulture’s Peak near Rājagaha. He taught him about the getting rid of wrong views and about the impermanence of conditioned realities. Sāriputta, who was an ariyan but had not yet attained arahatship, was also present at the time of that discourse. We read:
Now at that time the venerable Sāriputta was standing behind the Lord, fanning the Lord. Then it occurred to the venerable Sāriputta:“The Lord speaks to us of getting rid of these things and those by means of super-knowledge, the Well-farer speaks to us of casting out these things and those by means of superknowledge”. While the venerable Sāriputta was reflecting on this, his mind was freed from the cankers without clinging. But to the wanderer Dīghanakha there arose the stainless, spotless vision of dhamma, that whatever is of the nature to arise all that is of the nature to stop...
Sāriputta attained arahatship, but he did not go into solitude in order to attain it; he was fanning the Buddha. Dīghanakha listened to the Buddha and then became a sotāpanna.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandhā-vagga, Middle Fifty, chapter 4, paragraph 89, Khema) that Khemaka, who was an anāgāmī, attained arahatship while he was preaching and monks who were listening attained arahatship as well. We read:
Now when this teaching was thus expounded the hearts of as many as sixty monks were utterly set free from the āsavas, and so was it also with the heart of the venerable Khemaka...
If one is on the right Path, paññā can be developed, no matter what the circumstances are, even to the degree of enlightenment. People may wonder whether it would be possible to notice it when a person attains nibbāna. But can one see whether someone else is mindful or not mindful? Who knows the cittas of other people? We cannot know when someone else is mindful of nāma and rūpa or when he attains nibbāna.
The question may arise whether all four stages of enlightenment (the stages of the sotāpanna, the sakadāgāmī, the anāgāmī and the arahat) can be attained in the course of one life. We read in the suttas about disciples of the Buddha who attained the ariyan state but not yet arahatship and realized arahatship later on in life. Ānanda, for example, did not attain arahatship during the Buddha’s life, but he became an arahat after the Buddha had passed away, the evening before the first great council was to start (the “Illustrator of Ultimate meaning”, commentary to the “Mangala-sutta” or “Good Omen Discourse”, Minor Readings, Khuddaka Nikāya).
The arahat has eradicated all defilements and thus he has reached the end of the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death; he has realized the end of dukkha. The arahat will not be reborn, but he still has to die and therefore one may ask whether he really has attained the end of dukkha at the moment he realizes arahatship. Even the arahat is subject to death, since he was born. He can also experience unpleasant results of akusala kamma committed before he became an arahat. However, he has no more defilements and cannot accumulate any more kamma which might produce vipāka, he is really free from dukkha.
In As it was said (Itivuttaka, The Twos, chapter II, paragraph 7, Khuddaka Nikāya) two “conditions (113) of nibbāna” are explained. In this sutta Sa-upādi-sesa-nibbāna (114), one “condition” of nibbāna, pertains to the arahat who has eradicated all defilements but for whom the five khandhas are still remaining. For the arahat who has not finally passed away yet, there are still citta, cetasika and rūpa arising and falling away. An-upādi-sesa-nibbāna (115), the other “condition” of nibbāna, pertains to the arahat who has finally passed away; for him there are no khandhas remaining, there are no longer citta, cetasika and rūpa arising and falling away.
We read in the verse of this sutta, after the explanation:
These two nibbāna-states are shown by him
Who sees, who is such and unattached.
One state is that in this same life possessed
With base remaining, though becoming's stream
Be cut off. While the state without a base
Belongs to the future, wherein all
Becomings utterly do come to cease.
They who, by knowing this state uncompounded (116)
Have heart's release, by cutting off the stream,
They who have reached the core of dhamma, glad
To end, such have abandoned all becomings.
When someone has become an arahat there will be no more rebirth for him. When someone has attained enlightenment to the stage of the sotāpanna, he has become an ariyan, but he has not reached the end of rebirth. The sotāpanna will be reborn, but not more than seven times; thus, eventually there will be an end to rebirth for him. If we do not develop vipassanā, the number of rebirths will be endless. It was out of compassion that the Buddha spoke about the dangers of rebirth; he wanted to encourage people to develop right understanding. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahā-vagga, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, chapter V, paragraph 6, Gross darkness) that the Buddha said to the monks:
“Monks, there is a darkness of interstellar space, impenetrable gloom, such a murk of darkness as cannot enjoy the splendour of this moon and sun, though they be of such mighty magic power and majesty.”At these words a certain monk said to the Exalted One:“Lord, that must be a mighty darkness, a mighty darkness indeed! Pray, lord, is there any other darkness greater and more fearsome than that?”“There is indeed, monk, another darkness, greater and more fearsome. And what is that other darkness?Monk, whatsoever recluses or brahmins understand not, as it really is, the meaning of: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha, this is the ceasing of dukkha, this is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha, such take delight in the activities which conduce to rebirth. Thus taking delight they compose a compound of activities which conduce to rebirth. Thus composing a compound of activities they fall down into the darkness of rebirth, into the darkness of old age and death, of sorrow, grief, woe, lamentation and despair. They are not released from birth, old age and death, from sorrow, grief, woe, lamentation and despair. They are not released from dukkha, I declare.But, monk, those recluses or brahmins who do understand as it really is, the meaning of: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha, this is the ceasing of dukkha, this is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha, such take not delight in the activities which conduce to rebirth ...They are released from dukkha, I declare.Wherefore, monk, an effort must be made to realize: This is dukkha. This is the arising of dukkha. This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha.”