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A lot of suttas mention the case of sudden enlightenment, during the time of the Buddha. Do these cases speak only of stream-enterers, or can they even be full arahants?

For me it's unbelievable, that either others or I must simply (!!) understand impermanence, in order to become an arahant.

Thanks

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The first five arahants are said to have attained that after hearing the Buddha's second sutta, which was the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic.

MN 26 however says,

And so I was able to convince them. I would teach two monks while three went for alms, and we six lived off what the three brought back from their alms round. Then I would teach three monks while two went for alms, and we six lived off what the two brought back from their alms round. Then the group of five monks — thus exhorted, thus instructed by me — being subject themselves to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth [etc...]

I don't know how to reconcile the timeline of that, with the Anatta-lakkhana sutta's being the second sutta.

This question is discussed on pages 43 through 44 (i.e pages 2 and 3 of the PDF file) of this document: Assaji Sutta (also known as "SD 42.8" of Piya Tan's Sutta Discovery series). The bit of that that's relevevant to your question is:

In other words, listening to the Dharma alone does not bring arhathood. Some stories of the great saints, such as Sāriputta and Bahiya Dāru,ciriya, give us the impression that they awaken merely by listening to the Buddha giving them a special teaching. However, it is imperative to remember the implicit fact that they are all good dhyana-attainers in the first place. It is their dhyana-purified minds that make them the perfect candidates for the attaining of arhathood. As such, it is not merely through listening that they become arhats (although, on the other hand, this “listening effect” may occur in the case of streamwinning).

  • I think, one can even go one more step back in the history: after the Buddha achieved "bodhi", the king-of-gods Sakko begged him to teach his new dharma, because "there might be some with little dust on their eyes" (see PC). From this we might easily conclude, that the 'sudden enlightment' by a couple of words is depending on how little dust one has on his/her eyes... (for whatever reasons: much ascetic/meditative experience (for instance Sariputta), dedication to "good ethics" - even in the cycles of rebirth (maybe Mahakassapa) and so on (some brahmanic priests or even "householders")). – Gottfried Helms May 25 '18 at 23:28
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Your question looks like the question "why the scientist can understand the relativity theory of Einstein, it is unbelievable!".

This is the reason why the theras told their story inside KN thera/therī-gāthā and KN thera-therī-apādāna at 1st saṅgāyanā of thera-vāda, because they want to let us know that they practiced themselves so long time ago more than you see their enlightened moment in sutta.

So, you and me, who have not enough practice-experience like those theras, still not enlighten after read many suttas.

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I was also amazed when I read the accounts of Zen monks attaining enlightenment over slightest of push from the Masters.

What I have understood is that, Enlightenment is not a causal phenomena, its an acausal happening. You cannot do something which leads to enlightenment. You just have to cultivate the ground for enlightenment. Once done, anything can lead to that final quantum leap. Remember its a quantum leap, its not a linear traverse.

So, yes and no, you might need simply the insight of impermenance or you might need the Zen stick of a master, but you have to cultivate the soil.

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Yes there were arahants who came to enlightenment just by hearing a 4 line sermon bhahiya daruciriya is such a one..Only for become maha arahant need a certain long period of time..For become arahant not need that much of time,but the time need for that decide on the karma he has earned throughout sansara..If someone's earned a good ability of understanding the dharma through his karma he cant become arhant just by listing to a short phrase of dhamma..Otherwise he need a ''Thrihethuka'' birth also,so that he can understand well

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