The Path to Arahantship

The path to arahantship takes the fruition of non-returning as its basis. In other words, those who are to become arahants gather all eight factors of the noble path and bring them to bear as before on physical and mental phenomena, but now they deal with a level of these phenomena more subtle than before, converged into a single point. Once these people have gathered the factors of the path at the level of physical and mental phenomena, they make a focused examination, back and forth, using the discernment of liberating insight, bringing this subtler level of physical and mental phenomena into a single point as stress, the cause of stress, the path, and disbanding, all four noble truths gathered into one. They focus on seeing how stress is one with the cause of stress, how the cause of stress is one with the path, how the path is one with the disbanding of stress. Once they have seen things rightly in this way, they make an investigation in terms of the three characteristics:

nāma-rūpaṁ aniccaṁ,

nāma-rūpaṁ dukkhaṁ,

nāma-rūpaṁ anattā:

“Physical and mental phenomena are inconstant, physical and mental phenomena are stressful, physical and mental phenomena are not-self.” To investigate in this way is termed the path to arahantship.

Once clear insight arises right at the heart, physical and mental phenomena disband simultaneously with right view, and in that instant one reaches the ultimate quality—the Unconditioned—that knows no arising or passing away. The ten fetters are shattered without leaving a trace. Starting with the sixth fetter, these are:

6. Passion for form (rūpa-rāga): attachment to the sense of form; contentment, for example, with the objects that can act as the basis of rūpa jhāna.

7. Passion for formless phenomena (arūpa-rāga): attachment to non-physical phenomena: contentment, for example, with feelings and moods of pleasure and well-being that one has previously experienced.

8. Conceit (māna): construing oneself to be this or that. Arahants have put such assumptions aside. (They don’t assume themselves.)

9. Restlessness (uddhacca): obsessive, excessive thinking.

10. Unawareness (avijjā): delusion, dullness, ignorance, immersed in physical and mental phenomena.

All ten of these fetters have been dispersed from the heart of an arahant.

To make a focused investigation using the power of one’s discernment, seeing the disbanding and dissolution of physical and mental phenomena in the same terms as all fabricated things, i.e.,

sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā,

sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā,

sabbe dhammā anattā:

“All fabrications (physical and mental phenomena) are inconstant, all fabrications are stressful, all phenomena (physical and mental phenomena) are not-self;” to focus on these things as the basic danger in all three levels of becoming; to see the three levels of becoming as masses of burning embers, incinerating all those who are engrossed in them; to bring virtue, concentration, and discernment together to bear in this way exclusively on physical and mental phenomena: This is the path to arahantship. And at that very moment physical and mental phenomena disband along with the noble path—i.e., right view—and the ten fetters are shattered: This is the fruition of arahantship.

The tasks of virtue, concentration, and discernment are completed, the teachings of the Lord Buddha fulfilled. There is no longer any attachment to the paths or their fruitions, nor is there any attachment to the Unconditioned. All that remains is what is there on its own: disbanding. That is to say, mental states involved with the five aggregates have disbanded; mental states involved with virtue, concentration, and discernment have disbanded—because when virtue, concentration, and discernment converge on the level of physical and mental phenomena the first time, the first noble attainment is reached; the second time, the second attainment is reached; the third time, the third; and the fourth time, the fourth. When the qualities of virtue, concentration, and discernment are brought together in fully mature form, the mind is released from physical and mental phenomena through the power of discernment, in line with the teaching,

paññāya paribhāvitaṁ cittaṁ

sammadeva āsavehi vimuccati:

“When the mind has been matured through discernment, it gains complete release from all mental effluents.” The mind is able to let go of physical and mental phenomena. Physical and mental phenomena are not the mind; the mind isn’t physical and mental phenomena. The mind isn’t virtue, concentration, and discernment.

sabbe dhammā anattā:

The mind doesn’t identify any quality as itself, or itself as any of these qualities. It simply is—deathlessness. This is called disbanding because passion, aversion, and delusion have disbanded completely. There is no more becoming for the mind, no more birth, no more involvement with the elements, aggregates, and sense media, and—unlike ordinary run-of-the-mill people—no longer any intoxication with any of these things. As a passage in the Canon puts it:

mada-nimmadano—no longer intoxicated with the three levels of becoming;

pipāsa-vinayo—no longer thirsting for sensual pleasures;

ālaya-samugghāto—involvement with the aggregates has been uprooted, leaving the aggregates free to follow their own natural state;

vaṭṭupacchedo—the cycle through the three levels of becoming has been cut absolutely;

taṇhakkhayo—craving is done with;

virāgo—passion is done with;

nirodho—unawareness has disbanded without leaving a trace;

nibbāna—the mind is freed from its shackles and bonds.

The Deathless is reached. Birth, aging, illness, and death are eliminated. Ultimate, unchanging ease is attained. The aggregates disband without leaving a trace, in line with the synopsis of dependent origination: “Simply with the disbanding of this unawareness—with no trace of remaining passion—fabrications disband … consciousness (at the six senses) disbands… physical and mental phenomena disband… the six sense media disband… sensory contacts disband… the three kinds of feeling disband… the three kinds of craving disband… the four kinds of clinging disband… becoming disbands… birth disbands… aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair all disband and no longer appear as stress.”

The mind is Dhamma, released from effluents, because it has gained insight into all fabrications. It is totally released from all unawareness, craving, and clinging, and has cut all ten fetters. This is the fruition of arahantship. Those who have reached this level have completed the religion. They have no more defilements or cravings; no one has anything further to teach them. Even the Buddha himself doesn’t have it within his power to formulate any further instructions for them. This is why they are said to have completed the religion. If you were to describe their virtues, they would be infinite.

(What I have said here has some of my own views intermingled, so use your discernment to evaluate it.)

People who have reached the fruit of arahantship are classified into four groups:

1. Sukha-vipassako: those who have gained “dry” release through the power of insight, having developed the bare minimum of concentration before attaining the knowledge that does away with mental effluents (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa) and gaining release. They have no other powers or skills.

2. Tevijjo: those who have attained the three skills—

a. Pubbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa: the ability to remember their own past lives.

b. Cutūpapāta-ñāṇa: the ability to see living beings as they pass from death to rebirth.

c. Āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa: the knowledge that does away with the effluents of defilement.

3. Chaḷabhiñño: those who have attained the six intuitive powers—

a. Iddhividhi: the ability to display supernormal powers.

b. Dibba-sota: clairaudience.

c. Cetopariya-ñāṇa: the ability to know the thoughts of others.

d. Pubbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa: the ability to remember previous lives.

e. Dibba-cakkhu: clairvoyance.

f. Āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa: The ability to do away with mental effluents.

4. Paṭisambhidappatto: those who have mastered the four forms of acumen—

a. Attha-paṭisambhidā: acumen with regard to meaning.

b. Dhamma-paṭisambhidā: acumen with regard to mental qualities.

c. Nirutti-paṭisambhidā: acumen with regard to linguistic conventions.

d. Paṭibhāṇa-paṭisambhidā: acumen with regard to expression.

These are the different classes of arahants. It’s not the case that they are all alike. Those who have attained release through dry insight have developed insight meditation more than tranquility. Those who attain the three skills have developed tranquility and insight in equal measure. Those who attain the six intuitive powers have developed two parts tranquility to one part insight. Those who attain the four forms of acumen have developed three parts tranquility to one part insight. This is why they differ from one another. (Tranquility here refers to the eight levels of jhāna). If you want detailed discussions of these various attainments, see the discussions of the three skills, the eight skills, and the four forms of acumen given after the section on jhāna. The skills mentioned on this level, though, are all transcendent, and are completely apart from the corresponding mundane skills.