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Teachings of the Buddha: The Planes of Realization

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
November 26, 2013
Tue, 11/26/2013 - 09:30 -- bbodhi

We have come to the final week in our Teachings of the Buddha series. The theme for this week is “The Planes of Realization.”—editor's note

The cultivation of wisdom, as we have seen, aims at the realization of Nibbāna. The Nikāyas stipulate a fixed series of stages through which a person passes on the way toward the attainment of Nibbāna. In passing through these stages one evolves from an “uninstructed worldling,” blind to the truths of the Dhamma, into an arahant, a liberated one, who has attained full comprehension of the Four Noble Truths and realized Nibbāna in this present life. I have already referred to several of these stages in the earlier chapters of this book. In the present chapter we will explore them in a more systematic manner.

On entering the irreversible path to the attainment of Nibbāna, one becomes a noble person (ariyapuggala), the word “noble” (ariya) here denoting spiritual nobility. There are four major types of noble persons. Each stage is divided into two phases: the path (magga) and its fruition (phala). In the path phase, one is said to be practicing for the attainment of a particular fruition, which one is bound to realize within that same life; in the resultant phase, one is said to be established in that fruition. Thus the four major types of noble persons actually comprise four pairs or eight types of noble individuals. As enumerated in Text X,1(1), these are: (1) one practicing for the realization of the fruit of stream-entry, (2) the stream-enterer, (3) one practicing for the realization of the fruit of once-returning, (4) the once-returner, (5) one practicing for the realization of the fruit of nonreturning, (6) the nonreturner, (7) one practicing for arahantship, (8) the arahant. Text X,1(2) grades these eight according to the relative strength of their spiritual faculties, so that those at each subsequent stage possess stronger faculties than those at the preceding stage. The first seven persons are collectively known as sekhas, trainees or disciples in the higher training; the arahant is called the asekha, the one beyond training.

The four main stages themselves are defined in two ways: (1) by way of the defilements eradicated by the path leading to the corresponding fruit; and (2) by way of the destiny after death that awaits one who has realized that particular fruit. Text X,1(3) gives standard definitions of the four types that mention both the defilements abandoned and their future destiny.

To continue reading the introduction to “The Planes of Realization,” click here.

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