Study Guide on the First Stage of Awakening

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Study Guide on the First Stage of Awakening

Excerpt: PART ONE

The Way to Stream Entry

The Pali Canon recognizes four levels of Awakening, the first of which is called stream entry. This gains its name from the fact that a person who has attained this level has entered the “stream” flowing inevitably to nibbana. He/she is guaranteed to achieve full awakening within seven lifetimes at most, and in the interim will not be reborn in any of the lower realms.

This study guide on stream entry is divided into two parts. The first deals with the practices leading to stream entry; the second, with the experience of stream entry and its results. The practices leading to stream entry are encapsulated in four factors:

Association with people of integrity is a factor for stream entry.

Listening to the true Dhamma is a factor for stream entry.

Appropriate attention is a factor for stream entry.

Practice in accordance with the Dhamma is a factor for stream entry.

SN 55:5

These factors form the framework for the first part of this study guide.

The Canon’s treatment of these factors touches on questions of interest to all meditators, regardless of whether their practice aims all the way to Awakening: How can you recognize a trustworthy teacher? How can you tell the true Dhamma from counterfeit Dhamma? What are the rewards that come from listening to the Dhamma? Which questions should you ask yourself in the course of the practice? What kind of practice qualifies as being in accordance with the Dhamma? What kind of qualities do you need to develop to benefit most from your practice?

For your practice to lead to Awakening, you must develop reliable standards for answering these questions. The Buddha offers some preliminary guidance on developing these standards in his instructions to the brahman teenager, Kapadika Bharadvaja.

Kapadika Bharadvaja: “To what extent is there an awakening to the truth? To what extent does one awaken to the truth? We ask Master Gotama about awakening to the truth.”

The Buddha: “There is the case, Bharadvaja, where a monk lives in dependence on a certain village or town. Then a householder or householder’s son goes to him and observes him with regard to three mental qualities—qualities based on greed, qualities based on aversion, qualities based on delusion: ‘Are there in this venerable one any such qualities based on greed that, with his mind overcome by these qualities, he might say, “I know,” while not knowing, or say, “I see,” while not seeing; or that he might urge another to act in a way that was for his/her long-term harm & pain?’ As he observes him, he comes to know, ‘There are in this venerable one no such qualities based on greed…. His bodily behavior & verbal behavior are those of one not greedy. And the Dhamma he teaches is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. This Dhamma can’t easily be taught by a person who’s greedy.

“When, on observing that the monk is purified with regard to qualities based on greed, he next observes him with regard to qualities based on aversion… based on delusion: ‘Are there in this venerable one any such qualities based on delusion that, with his mind overcome by these qualities, he might say, “I know,” while not knowing, or say, “I see,” while not seeing; or that he might urge another to act in a way that was for his/her long-term harm & pain?’ As he observes him, he comes to know, ‘There are in this venerable one no such qualities based on delusion…. His bodily behavior & verbal behavior are those of one not deluded.

And the Dhamma he teaches is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. This Dhamma can’t easily be taught by a person who’s deluded.

“When, on observing that the monk is purified with regard to qualities based on delusion, he places conviction in him. With the arising of conviction, he visits him & grows close to him. Growing close to him, he lends ear. Lending ear, he hears the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates [lit: “weighs,” “compares”]. Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.

“To this extent, Bharadvaja, there is an awakening to the truth. To this extent one awakens to the truth. I describe this as an awakening to the truth. But it is not yet the final attainment of the truth.”

Kapadika Bharadvaja: “Yes, Master Gotama, to this extent there is an awakening to the truth. To this extent one awakens to the truth. We regard this as an awakening to the truth. But to what extent is there the final attainment of the truth? To what extent does one finally attain the truth? We ask Master Gotama about the final attainment of the truth.”

The Buddha: “The cultivation, development, & pursuit of those very same qualities: to this extent, Bharadvaja, there is the final attainment of the truth. To this extent one finally attains the truth. I describe this as the final attainment of the truth.”

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