When a person becomes a stream enterer/Sotapanna, I understand they no longer have the first 3 fetters of belief in a self, doubts about the Buddha, his teachings or the noble sangha, or attachments to rites and rituals. But what's not clear to me is the mechanics of it. Does a person have a glimpse of Nibbana in a moment of true mindfulness and the three fetters drop away? Or does a person work at eradicating the first 3 fetters and if successful have a taste of Nibbana? Or can it happen either way?
Does a person have a glimpse of Nibbana in a moment of true mindfulness and the three fetters drop away?
Yes, this is the correct explanation. The path of purification is as follows:
- The meditator undertakes the practice of morality, specifically guarding the mind from unwholesomeness (sīlavisuddhi)
- Guarding the mind, the meditator cultivates focus, gaining clarity of mind based on the objects of experience (cittavisuddhi)
- Having a clear mind, the meditator cultivates an understanding of the nature of experience as composed of impersonal physical and mental constituents (diṭṭhivisuddhi)
- Observing the physical and mental phenomena, the meditator cultivates an understanding of the causal interactions between the physical and mental phenomena (kaṅkhāvitaraṇavisuddhi)
- Through the understanding of positive and negative causal relationships, the meditator cultivates an understanding of what is an what is not the path (maggāmaggañāṅadassanavisuddhi)
- Through an understanding of the path, the meditator cultivates the right path (paṭipadāñāṅadassanavisuddhi)
- Through cultivating the right path, one attains knowledge and vision of the noble path and fruition (ñāṅadassanavisuddhi)
Sotāpanna occurs upon attainment of the seventh stage. The right path (#6) is the gradual understanding that all formations are impermanent, suffering, and non-self. Once this realization becomes all-encompassing, the meditator attains an absolute certainty of one or another of the three characteristics and this leads to a release based either on knowledge of signlessness (based on impermanence - that there is no telling what will happen in advance), desirelessness (based on suffering - that there is no benefit to clinging to any formation), or emptiness (based on non-self - that all formations are void of self and there is no relationship of ownership or control in regards to all formations).
This release leads to an experience of cessation, where there is no arising of sense experience (including mental sense experience). This is the realization of nibbāna, and this is what leads to the eradication of the first three fetters.
Wrong view is eradicated because one can never believe that anything could be permanent, satisfying or controllable, having seen them all cease without remainder.
Attachment to wrong practice is eradicated because one can never be confused about the practice that leads to nibbāna after seeing nibbāna for oneself.
Doubt about the Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha can never arise, because one knows what the Buddha taught to be true with complete certainty, and the results that one attains having followed said teachings.
Here are some source quotes from the Visuddhimagga:
Then, while every sign and occurrence appears to him as an impediment,when conformity knowledge’s repetition has ended, change-of-lineage knowledge arises in him, which takes as its object the signless, non- occurrence, non-formation, cessation, Nibbāna,—which knowledge passes out of the lineage, the category, the plane, of the ordinary man and enters the lineage, the category, the plane, of the Noble Ones,—which, being the first adverting, the first concern, the first reaction, to Nibbāna as object, fulfils the state of a condition for the path in six ways, as proximity,  contiguity, repetition, decisive-support, absence, and disappearance conditions,—which is the culminating peak of insight,—which is irrevocable
The abandoning of the states beginning with the fetters by the noblepath knowledge in such a way that they never occur again, like a tree struck by a thunderbolt, is called abandoning by cutting off. With reference to this it is said: “Abandoning by cutting off comes about in one who develops the supramundane path that leads to the destruction [of defilements]” (Paṭis I 27).
(Both from Nyanamoli's translation of Vism XXII)
Stream-entry is very simple, there is nothing supernatural about it. Stream-entry is when the practitioner has fully understood the vision behind Buddha's teaching, has fully assembled the puzzle, and now has no doubts about what Buddha meant when he said certain things or why he said them. Having a clear vision of what Buddha was referring to includes clearly seeing the reality behind Three Marks of Existence and the actual mechanism behind the Four Noble Truths.
Because most of us are so dominated by our preconceptions about the world, and about Buddha-Dharma, stream-entry is difficult or virtually impossible to attain from mere theoretical study of sutras, or from one super-successful meditation session, when one gets a "glimpse of Nirvana". Instead, stream-entry requires an effort consistently applied over a long period of time, targeted at putting Sat-Dharma to practice in day-to-day life.
The reason it's called "stream"-entry, is not because one enters some magical stream, but because one finally sets foot on the unquestionably right road towards Nirvana, having really understood the whole thing.
As I understand, what he subsequently called stream-entry (attaining a clear understanding of Three Marks of Existence and Four Noble Truths -- and therefore cutting all doubts) was attained by Buddha at time of his Bodhi, but because he had already liberated his mind from most of the other asavas by then, he effectively achieved full Nirvana at once. But in case of Buddha's students (and ourselves), because we do have the advantage of teaching available to us, we can assemble the puzzle while still having residual mental/emotional obscurations. Hence the need to have a separate name for this stage, distinct from "bodhi".
As for how exactly stream-entry occurs. It occurs through exhausting samsara. In order to exhaust samsara you must exhaust ego. In order to exhaust ego you must explore all corners where Enlightenment might hide, until you know you couldn't have possibly missed it. Then it finds you :)
For stream entry to happen you have to go beyond the realm of mind and matter (Nirvana). Momentarily your faculties stop working you enter into Nirodha Samapatti / Phala Samapthi. When going in to this stake you see the links of Dependent Origination in the forward direction and when you come out of it you see it in the reverse direction. Depending on the intensity of your experience you enter into some stage of sainthood. If it the weakest it is stream entry.
Before you enter into Niroda you have to extinguish all Sankara leading you to births in the lower realm through Vipassana. Once you experience Nirvana your mind is at the sate that you cannot do any Karma giving birth in the lower realms (falling away of the 3 fetters) and you have eliminated all your store of Sankara which leads to birth in the lower reams hence you cannot be born in any of the lower realms.
(This is as per interpretation in the Ledi Sayadaw linage.)
I believe there are probably a few ways to enter the stream.
I have entered the stream (as a lay person) Having no parents has really helped me to connect more deeply with the true nature of the way things are. I have had little conditioning, no preconceptions. As an autodidact, things have been revealed to me intuitively over many years.
For the last 20 years I have been going on walks (walking meditation) in the local forests asking questions. Nature has been my mother and father, my teacher. My eye has always been open on these walks. I realized that whatever arises would cease and it was heartwarming.
For me, being a stream winner is like this: When you have to overcome extreme trauma and appalling loss and you don't become cruel and you can forgive and you can let it go, you stop the cycle. You have done what you came here for and you transform. That and maybe 20 years of walking in woods...lol. I doubt I could do another 20! Be Well.
Factors for Stream Entry.
Then the Venerable Sāriputta approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One then said to him: “Sāriputta, this is said: ‘A factor for stream entry, a factor for stream-entry.’ What now, Sāriputta, is a factor for stream-entry?” (1) ‘Association with superior persons, venerable sir, is a factor for stream-entry. (2) Hearing the true Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry. (3) Careful attention is a factor for stream entry. (4) Practice in accordance with the Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry.’ “Good, good, Sāriputta! Association with superior persons, Sāriputta, is a factor for stream-entry. Hearing the true Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry. Careful attention is a factor for stream-entry. Practice in accordance with the Dhamma is a factor for stream entry.” - SN 55.5
Here is a book free for downloading (no breaking 2nd precept here :-)
Buddha gave 50+ definitions (40+ in this book) of what stream enterer is and what not. Also how to get there. one thing certain, buddha allowed only him and yourself to predict if you have reached the state.
and as for Nirvana, nibbana. it is not a place where 5 skandha is ..
vijñāna (consciousness) since it is not permanent (dukkha) ,thus, cannot take root or manifest in Nirvana. the 3rd of 4 noble truths does not describe nirvana but cessation of desires. That is something vijñāna (conscious) can take place.
With great respect, if stream entry is sought for, I can recommend 'Liberation Unleashed'.
This is a group run entirely free and by volunteers (of which I am one) who have also realised the emptiness of self, and are willing to guide others to the same realisation. Simply request a guide in the forum - Alternatively, visit us on Facebook and request a guide there.
Does a person have a glimpse of Nibbana in a moment of true mindfulness and the three fetters drop away?
Yes. In a moment of true mindfulness and equanimity, nibbana can happen and when it does, the fetters drop away. That is why attainment of path is referred to as "clear knowing and release" in the suttas.
Or does a person work at eradicating the first 3 fetters and if successful have a taste of Nibbana? Or can it happen either way?
No, Nibbana happens first and that results in eradication of fetters. The behavioral changes might take a while to come into effect though, after the review cycles. Post stream entry, mind starts cycling through various insight stages, which result in changes in external behaviour.
First of all one becomes faith-follower by gaining conviction in regards the nature of these phenomena;
- not belonging to a self
- not constituting a self
- not being apart from a self
- not being in a self
This is called safeguarding the truth having placed conviction, one does not yet come to a definite conclusion.
Further having pondered the nature of these phenomena as such one comes to a point where the nature of these phenomena has been penetrated by modicum discernment.
This stage is called Dhamma-Follower, the second type of a Noble Disciple, also he safeguards the truth.
As i understand it, in the Theravada Tradition the two type of Followers are thus classified as people working towards the realization of the first fruition and would be included in the 1st category in the 8 fold delineation of the 4 pairs of Noble Disciples, namely;
- One working towards realization of the 1st path fruition
- ... of the 2nd path fruition
- ... of the 3nd path fruition
- ... of the 4th path fruition
- One who has realized the 1st path fruition
- ...the 2nd path fruition
- ...the 3rd path fruition
- ...the 4th path fruition
The followers are however not included in the 5-fold classification of Noble Disciples, namely;
- One attained to view
- One liberated by faith
- One liberated by wisdom
- One liberated in both ways
- A bodily witness
Therefore i assume that the list of 5 refers to types who have transcended the stage of Safeguarding the Truth because the one attained to view has seen with discernment and cut the three fetters and the other types are Arahants.
Therefore to transcend the stage of safeguarding the truth one needs to go beyond pondering and "see with discernment" as to come to know and see that the phenomena (feelings etc) are actually that way and only that is true and everything else is false;
the Dhamma being taught is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.
"To this extent, there is an awakening to the truth.
This implies a direct experience of discerning the escape from the made;
There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned. - Ud 8.3
After this "experience" one is a stream-enterer and has transcended the stage of safeguarding the truth and is one awakened to the truth.
What remains is further development of those same qualities for the final attainment of the truth and becoming one of the Arahants in the 5-fold classification of Noble Disciples.
Once one attain the enlightenment as stream entry, all four Noble Truths perceived at the same time eradicating the first three fetters. As a bhikkhu(not necessarily a monk), afraid of Sansara, working hard on meditation achieving sixteen stages of wisdom , come to reach the Phala and clearly know what is Nibbana with Magga nana getting rid of all doubts on Buddha teachings. Out of sixteen stages of wisdom, even at fourth stage one can have clear view of non-self, no wonder stream-entry have no single grain of the three fetters left. But how this detail is so subtle that if you wish to know , as one of Dhamma Characteristics, ready to take on, come and try to achieve it.
One of the strongest delusions we live with is the Self. We can't even begin to imagine being without it, and we even imagine it's somehow eternal and or immortal. But like everything else, it's impermanent, it's not a thing in and of itself (it's made up entirely of non-self elements), trusting in this delusion causes suffering, and breaking the delusion brings freedom. This is why we practice the way we do. When we experience seclusion, quiet, and calm, the obscuring and clouding effects of thoughts and experiences settle down. We return to who we essentially are, impermanent and self-less. Stream Entry is basically just returning from meditation to the every-day world and not losing the direct experience of that. Seeing the world in this way is why we become convinced. The mechanism is practical and makes plenty of sense. Of course this is an important first step, as old habits and lifestyles are still going to be in the way. Really not having any inclination towards the "delights" of samsara is much better.
"Sariputta, 'The stream, the stream': thus it is said. And what, Sariputta, is the stream?"
"This noble eightfold path, lord, is the stream: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
"Very good, Sariputta! Very good! This noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the stream."
— SN 55.5
I experienced what I would call stream entry without knowing anything about Buddhism other than a typical, ignorant, western perspective.
I was meditating and in my minds eye I saw a radiant white pearl with smaller discolored pearls floating around it (in many ways like a solar system). As I began to investigate the discolored pearls, I realized they were my wants and desires. I realized, "these are not me"; they began to fall away until all that was left was the white pearl. In that moment I realized that the "white pearl" is within us all.
Next I experienced a feeling of death overwhelming me. I knew I was dying; it was the most fear filled experience I have ever had. Then I felt reborn. In that moment I was only a body and a stream of consciousness. After that, all that was left was a feeling of love.
I can not say from experience but I believe that the same insight could come from persistent determination to remove the three fetters.
To clarify, this can be seen as reverting the 12 link chain, experiencing cessation and then being reborn
For me it was an instant. A moment of realization: that I "am" Nothing. As I looked at each layer that I thought was "me" I recognized that "this is not me". After peeling back every layer I realized there was nothing left, yet I was still here. How could that be? THat must mean I am "this". And it was in that instant that I realized my true nature. It didn't have any "mechanics" to it. It was just a realization. The only mechanics, if you could call it that was an intense desire to know what I am and doing everything possible to find that.