The Four Stages (stream-entry, once-return, non-return and arahant) as described in the Pali Canon are reflective teachings aimed at getting perspective on our own experience. They are not positions. It isn’t a question of thinking in terms of becoming a stream-enterer or becoming an arahant, or wondering, ‘Have I attained stream-entry yet? Am I a non-returner? Will I ever become an arahant?’ This is the worldly mind grasping the concepts. Sometimes you hear people say, ‘This monk ― he’s a stream-enterer!’ and everyone goes ‘Ohhh! a stream-enterer!’ ‘And that one’s an arahant.’ ‘Wow, an arahant!’ (that’s like superman). But the Pali Canon refers to these Four Stages in connection with the Ten Fetters, these Ten Fetters which I have found to be a very valuable reference point in relation to the Four Stages. The point is, it is easy to conceptualize stream-entry as some kind of attainment. The ego grasps the concept and the Western ego in particular tends to want to become what it grasps, looking upon such things as kind of achievements or goals. If you have invested many years as a monk practising meditation, you want something to prove it has been worth it, you know! ‘Give me a title. After all these years I don’t know whether I’m a stream-enterer, or not!’ It is by investigating and recognizing the first three of the Ten Fetters, however, that you come to recognize stream-entry, and stream-entry is the path.
From Don’t Take Your Life Personally, a new book in which Ajahn Sumedho urges us to trust in awareness and find out for ourselves what it is to experience genuine liberation from mental anguish and suffering, just as the Buddha himself did two and a half thousand years ago.
Paperback, 420pp. ISBN 9780946672318
Buddhist Publishing Group
Other posts by Ajahn Sumedho