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Wikipedia currently describes the 4 stages of enlightenment thusly:

A Stream-enterer (Sotāpanna) is free from:

  1. Identity view (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi), the belief that there is an unchanging self or soul in the five impermanent skandhas
  2. Attachment to rites and rituals
  3. Doubt about the teachings

A Once-returner (Sakadāgāmin) has greatly attenuated:

  1. Sensual desire
  2. Ill will A Non-returner

(Anāgāmi) is free from:

  1. Sensual desire
  2. Ill will

An Arahant is free from all of the five lower fetters and the five higher fetters, which are:

  1. Attachment to the four meditative absorptions, which have form (rupa jhana)
  2. Attachment to the four formless absorptions (ārupa jhana)
  3. Conceit
  4. Restlessness
  5. Ignorance

I find this to be very confusing because, from personal experience, I believe that it is possible to

  1. liberate oneself from "conceit" and
  2. liberate oneself from "ignorance" and yet
  3. for the compulsions to "ill will" to still arise very strongly.

It seems that I am missing something big and perhaps obvious to others who have a superior understanding of the 4 stages?

To aid in clarity of communication, I will precisely define the terms I am using:

By the extinguishment of "conceit", I mean
training the mind to detect the arising of conceit and
to reflexively respond forcefully to never allow it to arise again and give rise to suffering.
And for that decision to be backed by a solid understanding of exactly why this is skillful to the point where there is zero internal conflict on the matter.

By the extinguishment of "ignorance", I mean
training the mind to recognize the arising of the compulsion to avoidance and
to reflexively respond forcefully to turn towards the discomfort in search of understanding instead.
And for that decision to be backed by a solid understanding of exactly why this is skillful to the point where there is zero internal conflict on the matter.

By the "compulsion to ill will to arise very strongly", I mean
recognizing the arising of "ill will",
recognizing that it originates in clinging to a desire for a particular sensory experience,
but allowing it to arise and be transformed into a form of skillful aversion that is more appropriate for the circumstance.

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The four stages are not related to "reflexively respond forcefully to never allow it to arise again and give rise to suffering". To volitionally not allow defilements to arise is called 'mindfulness & clear comprehension' and also 'sense restraint', as follows:

Thus associating with good persons, becoming full, fills up hearing the good Dhamma. Hearing the good Dhamma, becoming full, fills up faith. Faith, becoming full, fills up careful attention. Careful attention, becoming full, fills up mindfulness & clear comprehension (satisampajañña). Mindfulness & clear comprehension, becoming full, fill up restraint of the sense faculties (indriyasaṃvara). Restraint of the sense faculties, becoming full, fills up the three kinds of good conduct. The three kinds of good conduct, becoming full, fill up the four establishments of mindfulness. The four establishments of mindfulness, becoming full, fill up the seven factors of enlightenment. The seven factors of enlightenment, becoming full, fill up true knowledge and liberation (vijjāvimutti). Thus there is nutriment for true knowledge and liberation and in this way they become full.

AN 10.61

The four stages occur due to direct insight or "true knowledge (vijjā) leading to liberation (vimutti)".

Other Pali terms for "direct knowledge", of which there are many, include:

  1. Vipassanā

  2. Yathābhūtañāṇadassana

  3. Sammāñāṇa

"Vipassana" means the mind constantly experiences the impermanence of sense phenomena. When constant impermanence of sense phenomena is experienced, the mind becomes "disenchanted" ("nibbidā") with sense phenomena because it sees nothing (except non-attachment/Nibbana) can provide stable happiness & security. The mind also ends ignorance because it sees the truth of impermanence (aniccam), the truth of lack of happiness (dukkham) and the truth of not-self (anatta). This disenchantment plus its associated "dispassion" ("viraga") and direct seeing of not-self causes craving and conceit to end via direct seeing.

Compare the above, for example, to constantly seeing images of the consequences of war, such as destroyed buildings; dead, burned, injured, raped, thin, sick and homeless people; etc. Merely seeing these images results in a lack of desire towards war. No forceful effort is required to give up enthusiasm for war because the mind sees directly the horrors of war. Vipassana is the same. The mind directly sees the horror of impermanent not-self conditioned sense phenomena and loses desire & identification towards these phenomena.

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  • Thank you for this helpful answer. Am I understanding correctly that you are describing the difference between “conscious competence” and “unconscious competence” wherein the new habit no longer requires any cognitive effort and is effortlessly executed? – Alex Ryan Mar 3 at 23:14
  • No. I am referring to vipassana, when the mind constantly experiences the impermanence of sense phenomena. When constant impermanence is experienced, the mind becomes "disenchanted" with sense phenomena because it sees nothing can provide stable happiness & security. The mind also ends ignorance because it sees the truth of impermanence, the truth of lack of happiness and the truth of not-self. This disenchantment and direct seeing of not-self causes craving & conceit to end. – Dhammadhatu Mar 4 at 2:32
  • Forgive me but the “nibbana” you are describing sounds like one of layers of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to pursue its attainment? – Alex Ryan Mar 4 at 3:16
  • Nibbana is the unconditioned peace of non-attachment. It is not the inferno of conditioned phenomena. – Dhammadhatu Mar 4 at 3:18
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    No no no friend. You misunderstand. Nibbana is the most perfect peace. To reach the level of directly seeing the constant impermanence of conditioned phenomena, the mind must have developed samadhi, which is pure, calm, serene & blissful. The Dhamma is benign. The Dhamma won't let you see Dante's Inferno until the mind is ready. Do not doubt. To conclude, you asked a question and i kindly answered it. Regards – Dhammadhatu Mar 4 at 5:47
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It appears you have confused the self-view (Sakkaya Ditthi) from self-identification (Asmi mana) This quite a common misconception. I learn this from our Kalyanamitta Santa some few years back.

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