The 4 Stages Of Enlightenment

There are many rewards along the spiritual path. Among them, enlightenment represents the very pinnacle. Let's explore the 4 stages of enlightenment according to Theravada Buddhism, the type of Buddhism found in Southeast Asia.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of spiritual practice, here is a post called The Fruits Of Spiritual Practice.

The word enlightenment itself is quite misleading, since it could make you think that an enlightened person radiates visible light, which is not the case.

In Theravada Buddhism, a noble person refers to someone who has attained one of the 4 stages of enlightenment. We're not talking about a Buddha's enlightenment here. Buddhahood, of which there are several types, is in a league of its own. The process of attaining Buddhahood is immensely more difficult than becoming a noble person, which is possible for all of us.

This post is written off hand. In other words, only the most important information is included. I share what I have learned while practicing meditation in Buddhist monasteries round Southeast Asia.

The First Stage Of Enlightenment (Sotapanna)

Sotapanna is a Pali word, which is an ancient Indian language used in Theravada Buddhism. It is believed that Sotapannas have a maximum of seven lifetimes ahead of them before they can attain Nibhana, also called Nirvana.

The future lifetimes are needed to purify the mind to a high degree and to realize supramundane wisdom. Further, Nibhana is the final goal of Buddhist meditation practice.

In short, one could say that Nibhana is a mental state that is characterized by true contentment. Another way, would be to describe it as the end of every form of discomfort, unhappiness and suffering.

Three dramatically life-changing insights occur at this stage of enlightenment, which fundamentally alters the individual's perception of herself and the external world.

The first one is the realization that there is no self. In its place, there is just a mental element and a physical element. A so called normal person creates the self by attaching to this psycho-physical complex. You could call it the ultimate delusion.

The second realization has to do with language and thinking. As a result, doubt about the spiritual path is totally eradicated. Remember that doubt is the result of thinking. What is more, Sotapannas clearly perceive the limitations of language, such as English and French.

The third realization is an insight into habits or cultural conditioning. A Sotapanna clearly sees or perceives her own conditioning, which is based on her unique upbringing. So called normal people, identify with their cultural conditioning to the extent that it affects every thought and perception.

In addition to gaining access to supramundane wisdom, a Sotapanna also embodies high morals and mindfulness. Keep in mind though, that this is merely the first stage of enlightenment. The purification of the mind has not yet been completed. Put in plain English, a Sotapanna can both get angry and sexually aroused.

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The Second Stage Of Enlightenment (Sakadagami)

Sakadagamis are believed to have only one lifetime ahead of them before they can attain Nibhana, the state of refined contentment.

Two main transformations take place at this stage. The first one has to do with anger or hatred, while the second one is related to desire. As a result, anger and desires are almost completely eradicated.

The Third Stage Of Enlightenment (Anagami)

Anagamis are believed to be fully prepared to attain Nibhana. In other words, they have already purified the mind to a high degree and realized the necessary supramundane wisdom.

At the higher stages of enlightenment, the transformations become increasingly subtle. Here, the remaining traces of anger and desire are totally uprooted.

The Fourth Stage Of Enlightenment (Arahant)

Arahants are also believed to be fully prepared to attain Nibhana. Several transformations manifest at this stage, one of them is the complete eradication of conceit.

It's most common to attain the 4 stages of enlightenment step by step, but it's possible to go straight from being a so called normal person to Arahantship. Moreover, Nibhana is attained when the physical body dies.

As you can see, there are many insights ahead. Practice well and you will know for yourself...

Best of luck!

Related:   More On Enlightenment   Spiritual Seekers   Thai Forest Tradition

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