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?

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    This is a great question with great answers.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 18:24

12 Answers 12


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:

  1. The meditator undertakes the practice of morality, specifically guarding the mind from unwholesomeness (sīlavisuddhi)
  2. Guarding the mind, the meditator cultivates focus, gaining clarity of mind based on the objects of experience (cittavisuddhi)
  3. Having a clear mind, the meditator cultivates an understanding of the nature of experience as composed of impersonal physical and mental constituents (diṭṭhivisuddhi)
  4. Observing the physical and mental phenomena, the meditator cultivates an understanding of the causal interactions between the physical and mental phenomena (kaṅkhāvitaraṇavisuddhi)
  5. Through the understanding of positive and negative causal relationships, the meditator cultivates an understanding of what is an what is not the path (maggāmaggañāṅadassanavisuddhi)
  6. Through an understanding of the path, the meditator cultivates the right path (paṭipadāñāṅadassanavisuddhi)
  7. 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.

  1. Wrong view is eradicated because one can never believe that anything could be permanent, satisfying or controllable, having seen them all cease without remainder.

  2. Attachment to wrong practice is eradicated because one can never be confused about the practice that leads to nibbāna after seeing nibbāna for oneself.

  3. 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, [673] 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)

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    Are there also relevant quotes from the suttas (rather than the commentaries)? Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 13:20

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 :)

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    Thanks. Very well explained. Is it possible to fall back due to discontinuing meditation? Anagami to sagdagami. Sagdagami to sotpanna and so on. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:13
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    For both logical as well as didactic reasons I have to say, yes, it is possible to regress. Not necessarily due to discontinuing formal sitting meditation (because there are advanced practitioners whose awareness grew so much that they effectively meditate-in-action) but mostly because of careless misdirected attention, which can lead to experiences which (when applied on top of residual ignorance) can gradually accumulate as new unhealthy samskaras. Can't fall back further than srotapanna though, that's for sure.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 16:12
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    @kevin, during the 2nd council held 100 years after Buddha's Parinirvana, Sthavira (so-called elders, of which Theravada is a remote offshoot) separated from Maha-sangha (majority, which eventually developed into Mahayana). Most of the latter believed that stages up to anagami were fallible (due to residual ignorance), and some even held that arahants were fallible too (google "five points of Mahadeva"). Unfortunately most of the information about early extinct schools exist only in form of references in later texts. If you google for "arhats fallible" you should find plenty of citations.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 22:42
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    What is made of the mind can be unmade by the mind. "Happiness and enlightenment are living things and they can grow. It is possible to feed them every day. If you don’t feed your enlightenment, your enlightenment will die. If you don’t feed your happiness, your happiness will die. If you don’t feed your love, your love will die. If you continue to feed your anger, your hatred, your fear, they will grow. The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. That applies to enlightenment, to happiness, to sorrow, to suffering." lionsroar.com/in-engaged-buddhism-peace-begins-with-you
    – Buddho
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 7:02
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    Eating healthy, exercising regularly, sleeping well, and so on I remain fit and healthy. Sometimes my body can compensate for minor lapses, other times it is less able. Enlightenment is a living thing like my body, though relatively unaffected by old age and sickness, if abused, it also regresses. Sometimes it has the ability to bounce back from abuse, other times it needs lots of care and attention to heal back to good health. Nirvana isn't a goal to attain and rest easy, even though the first moment of attainment is special, it is a state of mind that is continuously attained.
    – Buddho
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 7:20

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.)

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    Why the downvote? What is wrong or what needs improvement? Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 18:15
  • First paragraph: That is exactly how the Bhante Vimalaramsi teaches it. Plus, of course, there is the two-fold attaining: of the path and then, after that, of the fruit knowledge.
    – Mirco
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 12:25
  • First parapgraph: Is there an English-speaking source available, where the Venerable Ñanadhaja explains this?
    – Mirco
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 12:31

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.


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    Welcome! I hope you might add something to answer the specific question-as-asked which was something like, "Is stream entry sudden, or is it gradual?" or maybe it was about what is cause versus what is effect: "Do the fetters drop because of glimpse, or is the glimpse because of fetters dropping?" Perhaps you can edit your answer, either to include some extra information directly, or to identify any specific page/text within the web site you referenced, which might help to answer this question.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 18:06
  • Hello and welcome to Buddhism.SE! We've put together some information to help you here started here.
    – Robin111
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 21:51
  • 3
    This answer reads like an advertisement.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 9:15
  • @ruben2020 Well technically it is an advertisement, but the product is great, and absolutely free. I have worked with two guides from LU and both were extremely patient, helpful and knowledgeable. Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 17:22

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;

  • feelings
  • forms
  • perception
  • knowing
  • intentions


  • 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;

  1. One working towards realization of the 1st path fruition
  2. ... of the 2nd path fruition
  3. ... of the 3nd path fruition
  4. ... of the 4th path fruition
  5. One who has realized the 1st path fruition
  6. ...the 2nd path fruition
  7. ...the 3rd path fruition
  8. ...the 4th path fruition

The followers are however not included in the 5-fold classification of Noble Disciples, namely;

  1. One attained to view
  2. One liberated by faith
  3. One liberated by wisdom
  4. One liberated in both ways
  5. 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

  • i'm no expert, but wouldn't the fact that this experience involved specific perceptions and feelings—make the experience not a glimpse of nibbana, and therefore stream entry did not occur?
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 20:58
  • @qweilun These are the moments immediately proceeding stream entry and the effects after stream entry. The moment between death and rebirth was nirvana.
    – user70
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 20:40

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.

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