The Four Stages of Enlightenment

The Four Stages of Enlightenment

In Theravada Buddhism, the goal of the Dharma practice is to achieve enlightenment as an Arahant. The Four Stages of Enlightenment are Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami, and Arahant.

People who are at one of these four stages as known as the noble people (ariya-puggala) by the Buddha.


#1 – Sotapanna (Stream-enterer)

The first stage is Sotapanna which means “one who enters the stream.” Known to have “opened the eye of the Dharma,” a stream-enterer will reaches arahantship within seven rebirths upon opening the eye of the Dharma.

A stream-enterer has attained an intuitive grasp of the Buddha’s teachings and absolute faith in the Triple Gem, he or she will not be reborn in any plane lower than the human (Hell, Hungry Spirit, Animal)


#2 – Sakadagami (Once-Returner)

The second stage is Sakadagami which means “one who once comes”. The once-returner will at most return to the realm of the senses (the lowest being human and the highest being the devas) one more time.

The once-returner has fewer than seven rebirths, not one more rebirth as the name suggests, because a non-retuner can take multiple rebirths in the five “Pure Abodes”. However, they will have one more rebirth in the realm of the senses, excluding the planes of Hell, Hungry Spirit, and Animal.


#3 – Anagami (Non-Returner)

The third stage is Anagami, which means “one who does not come”. The non-returner, having overcome sensuality, does not return to the human world, or any unfortunate world lower than that, after death.

Instead, non-returners are reborn in one of the five special worlds in Rūpadhātu called the  “Pure Abodes” and attain Nirvāṇa over there.


#4 – Arahant

The fourth stage is that of Arahant, a fully awakened person. Having abandoned all Ten Fetters*, they will never be reborn in any plane or world upon death as they have completed escaped samsara.


* Ten Fetters:

  1. Identity view
  2. Attachment to rites and rituals
  3. Doubt about the teachings
  4. Sensual desire
  5. Ill will
  6. Sensual desire
  7. Ill will
  8. Attachment to the four Material Absorption (Rupa jhana)
  9. Attachment to the four iMaterial Absorption (aRupa jhana)
  10. Conceit
  11. Restlessness
  12. Ignorance



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