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Here is the Pali from the Nakhasikhā Sutta, which is about the "breakthrough" of three fetters, for a disciple of the noble ones who is consummate in view, an individual who has broken through [to stream-entry]:

Evaṃ me sutaṃ—​ ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anātha­piṇḍi­kassa ārāme. Atha kho bhagavā parittaṃ nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsuṃ āropetvā bhikkhū āmantesi: “taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, katamaṃ nu kho bahutaraṃ, yo vāyaṃ mayā paritto nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsu āropito, ayaṃ vā mahāpathavī”ti?

“Etadeva, bhante, bahutaraṃ, yadidaṃ mahāpathavī. Appamattako bhagavatā paritto nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsu āropito. Neva satimaṃ kalaṃ upeti na sahassimaṃ kalaṃ upeti na satasahassimaṃ kalaṃ upeti mahāpathaviṃ upanidhāya bhagavatā paritto nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsu āropito”ti. “Evameva kho, bhikkhave, ariyasāvakassa diṭṭhi­sam­pannassa puggalassa abhisametāvino etadeva bahutaraṃ dukkhaṃ yadidaṃ parikkhīṇaṃ pariyādiṇṇaṃ; appamattakaṃ avasiṭṭhaṃ. Neva satimaṃ kalaṃ upeti na sahassimaṃ kalaṃ upeti na satasahassimaṃ kalaṃ upeti purimaṃ duk­khak­khan­dhaṃ parikkhīṇaṃ pariyādiṇṇaṃ upanidhāya yadidaṃ sattak­khat­tuṃ­paramatā. Evaṃ mahatthiyomaha kho, bhikkhave, dhammā­bhisa­mayo; evaṃ mahatthiyo dhamma­cak­khu­paṭi­lābho” ti.

sattakkhattuṃ: seven times. + paramatā: (in cpds.) the highest quality; at the most.

Where is the word "lives" or "lifetimes" found here?

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    This might be a rhetorical question and unanswerable in its current form. It might be better to ask "why is this understood to mean 'seven lifetimes'?" or to ask "Since when has it been understood this way?" or "Are there other ways to interpret this phrase?" or something like that. – ChrisW May 26 '17 at 5:03
  • @ChrisW Why might it be unanswerable? Peoples comfort level and actual Dhamma truth are two different things. – Lowbrow Jun 9 '17 at 12:31
  • I get the feeling that this community can just trump the Dhamma any time it wants to react with a "vote". Dhamma is not a democracy and it certainly has nothing to do with the idea of "political correctness". – Lowbrow Jun 9 '17 at 12:37
  • Sattakkhattuṃparamatā means - කෙත් වතු 7 ක් පමණයි පසු කර ගත යුත්තේ. This word has a rhetorical, metaphorical and symbolic meaning - to mean… “One has to cross only seven more fields of (fenced or unfenced) cultivated land. This is what is meant by Sattakkhattuṃparamatā – Saptha Visuddhi Jun 10 '17 at 14:04
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    @UUU I tried to answer your question, here. – ChrisW Jun 12 '17 at 20:45
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Focusing on pali might not clarify the meaning since it is semantics. Perhaps other sutta to support and confirm the 7 rebirths (at most) might help you find the answer you are looking for. From saupadisesa sutta, Buddha classified stream enterer into three categories ,their destinations ,and number of lifetimes;

  • Ekbiji . single sprout. Ekamyeva manusakam bhava nibbattetva (born into human one time and reach nirvana
  • kolankolo. Two or three times birth. dve vā tīṇi vā kulāni sandhāvitvā. Born in clans (human) and/or heaven 2 or 3 times.
  • sattak­khat­tu­paramo. sattak­khat­tu­paramaṃ deve ca manusse ca sandhāvitvā saṃsaritvā. Born in heaven or human world 7 times at the most.

Did you notice Buddha used sattakkhattu in both sutta? Tho he didn't explicitly explain 7 lives in Nakhasikhā Sutta, he did so in saupadisesa sutta. This leaves very little room about the answer to your question for interpretation. Buddha had names for three types of stream enterer, explained their destinations and number of times.

sattakkhattuṃ most likely means seven lifetimes not seven fetters.

I hope my answer helps. Saupadisesa sutta

  • Thanks. Your answer obviously does not help because it is superstition & contrary to sanditthiko. If I told you Jesus will give you eternal life would that help? AN 9.12 is illogical plus the language is way too complex to have clear meaning. It is illogical because many stream-enterers in the suttas (such as Kondanna & Sariputtta) attained arahantship. It seems illogical stream-enters would wander around for 7 lifetimes when many stream-enterers attained arahantship in 7 weeks. I would suggest AN 9.12 is a form of corrupted dhamma since it does not even mention arahants with residue left. – Dhammadhatu May 26 '17 at 8:47
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    SN 56.47, it's about the odds of being to be a human is rare (blind turtle..etc) in respect to both time and window of opportunity (yoke with hole). at the end of sutta, Buddha reminds monks that they have gotten this rare opportunity, therefore, use it to learn 4 noble truths (because it isnt going to be easy and will be a long time to have this chance again). – user5056 May 27 '17 at 22:37
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    AN 4.123 jahna sutta, message in this sutta, Buddha tells us that mental absorbtion is not exclusively for noble diciples. He goes on to explain that 2 types in 4 groups of people (one for each level of form Jhana), lay persons and noble diciples. Upon breaking up of this human form, both will reappear in brahma world. After that, lay persons will go to lower birth when noble diciples will reach nirvana. And this is the difference between lay persons and noble diciples with Jhana. – user5056 May 27 '17 at 22:55
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    I don't see SN 56.47 or AN 4.123 are in conflict with AN 9.12. If anything, They support it. Steam enterer gurantees at least this rare human birth, and at most, 7 times. – user5056 May 27 '17 at 22:56
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    From your comment "In SN 15.10, it states: "That person for seven at times at most makes an end of suffering by destroying all other fettters" ", I try to understand it from your point of view of seven at times as seven fetters and it doesn't make sense that the word "fetters" is used twice in the sentence like that. "That person for seven FETTERS at most makes an end of suffering by destroying all other fettters" . – user5056 May 27 '17 at 23:10
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Clear and short as needed Buddha said, not to take verbatim. Just to praise the benefit of sotapanna. Sometimes one universe metaphorically said like one palm tree, just like that, suffering in long samsara(long, long duration) just compared to seven lifetime(just like a wink of eye) at the most of sotapanna.

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The Nakhasikha Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, describes the unimaginably large amount of defilements (and thus future suffering and stress) a Sotapanna has removed compared to a normal human being. The Sutta has this to say:

Once the Buddha picked up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, and asked the bhikkhus, “What do you think, bhikkhus? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the soil in this great Earth?”.

Then the Buddha told the bhikkhus that the amount of defilements that a Sotapanna has removed can be compared to the soil in the whole Earth, while the amount that he/she has left to remove can be compared to the bit of dust on his fingernail.

This tells that the amount of suffering a Sotapanna has left to be endured within seven future bhava is insignificantly small. This is to say that a Sotapanna will never get to the four lowest realms, and s/he will have only seven future bhava left, and those in the human realm or the realms above it. This is so, if we take Sattakkhattuṃparamatā means - කෙත් වතු 7 ක් පමණයි පසු කර ගත යුත්තේ. This word has a rhetorical, metaphorical and symbolic meaning - to mean… “One has to cross only seven more fields of (fenced or unfenced) cultivated land. This is what is meant by Sattakkhattuṃparamatā means - කෙත් වතු 7 ක් පමණයි පසු කර ගත යුත්තේ. This word has a rhetorical, metaphorical and symbolic meaning - to mean… “One has to cross only seven more fields of (fenced or unfenced) cultivated land. This is what is meant by Sattakkhattuṃparamatā to mean seven bhava the most.

What is the correct meaning of Sattakkhattuṃparamatā. Give me a couple of months the most, and I will give you the deeper meaning of this term. For now let us understand what Sotapanna means, and how could one come to this.

Out of dasa akusala, only micca ditthi is completely removed at the Sotapanna stage. A Sotapanna would have reduced the “apayagami strength” of most of the other dasa akusala. This is the key to understand this level of attainment. In particular, to get to know that abhijja or lobha is reduced to raga level and vyapada or dosa is reduced to patigha level at this stage.

A Sotapanna is said to have achieved “dassanena pahatabba” or removal of defilements via correct vision, with the removal of micca ditthi, or attaining the first stage of Samma Ditthi. Now what is micca ditthi?. My belief as of now is that, if one firmly believes that there is no rebirth or there are no other living beings other than humans and animals, that firm belief is Niyata Micca Ditthi . In finding out the correct meaning of Sattakkhattuṃparamatā, may help in getting to know whether not believing in future bhava is Niyata Micca Ditthi (established wrong views) or not.

If one has a vessel that is leaking water, there is no point in trying to plug the smaller holes first. One should plug the biggest hole first, which in this case is getting rid of micca ditthi or false views (about this world).

One cannot pretend to believe in things that one truly does not believe in. To just say that “I do believe in rebirth” is one such. This is a sanna ( “perception”) that one has to be true to. Otherwise it will not work. We “acquire” most sanna through our families first, then through friends, schools, workplaces, etc.

Thus most of our “world views” or ditthis are acquired through our families. Those sannas are hard to change, depending on how forcefully and frequently they have been used. However, human mind is unique. When given enough solid evidence, one’s sanna about something or some concept can permanently change.

That kind of a “vision change” does not happen quickly, unless one has “sanna” about that from previous lives; that is why it is easier for some people to grasp these concepts.

  • Sotapanna is supramundane. Sotapanna does not even believe they have a present life let alone a past life. – Dhammadhatu Jun 9 '17 at 3:43
  • Rightly or wrongly, I have my own take on this. The day that this question is raised as an OP, I look forward to answering it. Till then... with metta.. – Saptha Visuddhi Jun 9 '17 at 14:56
  • Sattakkhattuṃparamatā means - කෙත් වතු 7 ක් පමණයි පසු කර ගත යුත්තේ. This word has a rhetorical, metaphorical and symbolic meaning - to mean… “One has to cross only seven more fields of (fenced or unfenced) cultivated land. This is what is meant by Sattakkhattuṃparamatā – Saptha Visuddhi Jun 10 '17 at 14:07

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