The Four Stages of Attainment

Excerpted from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_enlightenment

The four stages of attainment

The Sangha of the Tathagata’s disciples (Ariya Sangha) can be described as including four or eight kinds of individuals. There are four {groups of noble disciples} when path and fruit are taken as pairs, and eight groups of individuals, when each path and fruit are taken separately:

 

    (1) the path to stream-entry; (2) the fruition of stream-entry;

    (3) the path to once-returning; (4) the fruition of once-returning;

    (5) the path to non-returning; (6) the fruition of non-returning;

    (7) the path to arahantship; (8) the fruition of arahantship.

 

Stream-enterer

The first stage is that of Sotāpanna (Pali; Sanskrit: Srotāpanna), literally meaning “one who enters (āpadyate) the stream (sotas),” with the stream being the supermundane Noble Eightfold Path regarded as the highest Dharma. The stream-enterer is also said to have “opened the eye of the Dharma” (dhammacakkhu, Sanskrit: dharmacakṣus).

A stream-enterer reaches arahantship within seven rebirths upon opening the eye of the Dharma.

Because the stream-enterer has attained an intuitive grasp of Buddhist doctrine (samyagdṛṣṭi or sammādiṭṭhi, “right view”) and has complete confidence or Saddha in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and has removed the sankharas that force rebirth in lower planes, that individual will not be reborn in any plane lower than the human (animal, preta, or in hell).

Once-returner

The second stage is that of the Sakadāgāmī (Sanskrit: Sakṛdāgāmin), literally meaning “one who once (sakṛt) comes (āgacchati)”. The once-returner will at most return to the realm of the senses (the lowest being human and the highest being the devas wielding power over the creations of others) one more time. Both the stream-enterer and the once-returner have abandoned the first three fetters. The stream-enterer and once-returner are distinguished by the fact that the once-returner has weakened lust, hate, and delusion to a greater degree. The once-returner therefore has fewer than seven rebirths. Once-returners do not have only one more rebirth, as the name suggests, for that may not even be said with certainty about the non-returner who can take multiple rebirths in the five “Pure Abodes”. They do, however, only have one more rebirth in the realm of the senses, excluding, of course, the planes of hell, animals and hungry ghosts.

Non-returner

The third stage is that of the Anāgāmī (Sanskrit: Anāgāmin), literally meaning “one who does not (an-) come (āgacchati)”. The non-returner, having overcome sensuality, does not return to the human world, or any unfortunate world lower than that, after death. Instead, non-returners are reborn in one of the five special worlds in Rūpadhātu called the Śuddhāvāsa worlds, or “Pure Abodes”, and there attain Nirvāṇa; Pāli: Nibbana; some of them are reborn a second time in a higher world of the Pure Abodes.

An Anāgāmī has abandoned the five lower fetters, out of ten total fetters, that bind beings to the cycle of rebirth. An Anāgāmī is well-advanced.

Arahant

The fourth stage is that of Arahant (Sanskrit: Arhat), a fully awakened person. They have abandoned all ten fetters and, upon death (Sanskrit: Parinirvāṇa, Pāli: Parinibbāna) will never be reborn in any plane or world, having wholly escaped saṃsāra. An Arahant has attained awakening by following the path given by the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism the term Buddha is reserved for ones who “self-enlighten” such as Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who discovered the path by himself.