Eight Noble Beings

Eight Noble Beings

This divi­sion is asso­ci­at­ed with the ten ‘fet­ters’ (saṁy­o­jana), which are aban­doned at dif­fer­ent lev­els of awak­en­ing, and with the devel­op­ment of the three­fold train­ing (sikkhā) of moral con­duct, con­cen­tra­tion and wis­dom. The ten fet­ters are those defile­ments that bind beings to suf­fer­ing in the round of rebirth, sim­i­lar to yokes that bind an ani­mal to a wagon:1

A. Five lower fetters (orambhāgiya-saṁyojana):

1. Sakkāya-diṭṭhi: self-view; the firm belief in a ‘self’; the inabil­i­ty to see that beings are sim­ply a col­lec­tion of assort­ed aggre­gates. This view cre­ates a coarse form of self­ish­ness, as well as con­flict and suffering.2

2. Vici­kic­chā: doubt; hes­i­ta­tion; dis­trust. Doubts, for exam­ple, regard­ing the Bud­dha, the Dham­ma, the Sang­ha, the train­ing, the direc­tion of one’s life, and Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion. This doubt gen­er­ates a lack of con­fi­dence, courage and dis­cern­ment in walk­ing the Noble Path.

3. Sīlab­ba­ta-parāmāsa: attach­ment to moral pre­cepts and reli­gious prac­tices. Attach­ment to form and cer­e­mo­ny. The mis­tak­en under­stand­ing that one will be puri­fied and lib­er­at­ed mere­ly by the act of keep­ing moral pre­cepts, rules, tra­di­tions, and prac­tices. The belief that these rules and prac­tices are sacred in them­selves. One fol­lows them with the desire for reward or acqui­si­tion. Miss­ing the true pur­pose of moral pre­cepts and reli­gious obser­vances, one ends up astray or in an extreme form of prac­tice (say of prac­tis­ing extreme asceti­cism—tapa), not on the Noble Path.3

4. Kāma-rāga: sen­su­al lust; desire for plea­sur­able sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tac­tile objects.

5. Paṭigha: ani­mos­i­ty; irri­ta­tion; indignation.

B. Five higher fetters (uddhambhāgiya-saṁyojana):

6. Rūpa-rāga: attach­ment to fine-mate­r­i­al form, e.g., attach­ment to the four ‘jhā­nas’ of the fine-mate­r­i­al sphere; delight­ing in the bliss and peace of these jhā­nas; desir­ing the fine-mate­r­i­al sphere (rūpa-bha­va).

7. Arū­pa-rāga: attach­ment to imma­te­ri­al­i­ty, e.g., attach­ment to the four imma­te­r­i­al jhā­nas; desire for the form­less sphere (arū­pa-bha­va).

8. Māna: con­ceit; the view of one­self as supe­ri­or, equal or infe­ri­or to others.

9. Uddhac­ca: rest­less­ness; men­tal dis­tur­bance; agitation.

10. Avi­jjā: igno­rance; not know­ing the truth; not know­ing the law of cause and effect; not know­ing the Four Noble Truths.

The eight dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala or ariya-pug­gala can be clas­si­fied into four types or stages, which are relat­ed to the fet­ters in the fol­low­ing way:4

A. Sekha (‘learners’) or sa-upādisesa-puggala (‘those who still have grasping’):

1. Sotā­pan­na: ‘stream-enter­ers’; those who walk the noble path tru­ly and correctly.5 They have per­fect moral con­duct and an ade­quate lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion and wis­dom. They have aban­doned the first three fet­ters of sakkāya-diṭṭhi, vici­kic­chā and sīlab­ba­ta-parāmāsa.6

2. Sakadāgāmī: ‘once-return­ers’; those who will return to this world one more time and elim­i­nate all suf­fer­ing. They have per­fect moral con­duct and an ade­quate lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion and wis­dom. Apart from aban­don­ing the first three fet­ters, they have atten­u­at­ed greed, hatred and delu­sion to a greater degree than stream-enterers.7

3. Anāgāmī: ‘non-return­ers’; they reach final enlight­en­ment from the realm where they appear after death—they do not return to this world. They have per­fect moral con­duct and con­cen­tra­tion, and an ade­quate lev­el of wis­dom. They have aban­doned two more fet­ters, of kāma-rāga and paṭigha, thus aban­don­ing the first five fetters.

B. Asekha (‘those who have finished training’) or anupādisesa-puggala (‘those with no grasping’):

4. Ara­hant: ‘wor­thy ones’; those wor­thy of offer­ings and respect; those who have bro­ken the spokes of the wheel of saṁsāra; those free from men­tal taints (āsa­va). They have per­fect moral con­duct, con­cen­tra­tion and wis­dom. They have aban­doned the remain­ing five fet­ters, thus aban­don­ing all ten fetters.

Sekha, trans­lat­ed as ‘learn­ers’ or ‘trainees,’ must apply them­selves to sev­er the fet­ters and real­ize the grad­ual stages up to ara­hantship. Asekha, the ara­hants, are adepts; they have gone beyond train­ing. They have fin­ished their spir­i­tu­al work and erad­i­cat­ed all defile­ments. They have reached the great­est good; there is no high­er spir­i­tu­al real­iza­tion for which to strive.

Sa-upādis­esa-pug­gala are equiv­a­lent to the first three dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala above. They still have upā­di (‘fuel’), that is, they still have upādā­na (‘grasping’)—they still have men­tal impu­ri­ties. Anupādis­esa-pug­gala, the ara­hants, are free from grasp­ing and impu­ri­ty. Note that upā­di here is trans­lat­ed as syn­ony­mous with upādā­na (‘grasping’).8 This dif­fers from the upā­di in sa-upādis­esa-nib­bā­na and anupādis­esa-nib­bā­na, which trans­lates as ‘that which is grasped,’ i.e., the five aggre­gates. The equat­ing of upā­di with upādā­na cor­re­sponds with the Buddha’s teach­ings on essen­tial spir­i­tu­al fac­tors, for exam­ple the Four Foun­da­tions of Mind­ful­ness (sati-paṭṭhā­na), the Four Ways of Suc­cess (iddhi-pāda), and the Five Fac­ul­ties (indriya), which often end with the encour­age­ment that one can expect one of two results from cul­ti­vat­ing these fac­tors: either ara­hantship in this very life, or if there is a residue of cling­ing, the state of non-returning.9 The term upā­di in these con­texts refers to upādā­na or gen­er­al­ly to men­tal defile­ment (kile­sa).

The eight noble beings are pre­cise­ly these four ariya-pug­gala described above, but each lev­el of awak­en­ing is sub­di­vid­ed as a pair:10

  1. Stream-enter­er (one who has real­ized the fruit of stream-entry).
  2. One prac­tis­ing to real­ize stream-entry.
  3. Once-return­er (one who has real­ized the fruit of once-returning).
  4. One prac­tis­ing to real­ize once-returning.
  5. Non-return­er (one who has real­ized the fruit of non-returning).
  6. One prac­tis­ing to real­ize non-returning.
  7. Ara­hant (one who has real­ized the fruit of arahantship).
  8. One prac­tis­ing to real­ize arahantship.11

These four pairs of noble beings are known as the sāva­ka-saṅgha, the dis­ci­ples of the Bud­dha who are con­sid­ered exem­plary human beings and com­prise one of the three ‘jew­els’ (ratana) in Bud­dhism. The chant in praise of the Sang­ha includes: ‘The four pairs, the eight kinds of noble beings; these are the Blessed One’s dis­ci­ples’ (yadi­daṁ cat­tāri purisayugāni aṭṭha puris­a­pug­galā esa bha­ga­va­to sāva­ka-saṅgho).12

In the scrip­tures, these dis­ci­ples of the Bud­dha are lat­er referred to as the ‘noble saṅgha’ (ariya-saṅgha). In the old­er texts, the term ariya-saṅgha is used only once as a syn­onym for sāva­ka-saṅgha, in a verse of the Aṅguttara-Nikāya.13 In the com­men­taries it is used fre­quent­ly, espe­cial­ly in the Visuddhimagga.14 When the term ariya-saṅgha gained pop­u­lar­i­ty over sāva­ka-saṅgha, the term sam­mati-saṅgha was used to refer to the bhikkhu-saṅgha. Sam­mati-saṅgha means the agreed-upon or autho­rized sang­ha, refer­ring to any gath­er­ing of more than three bhikkhus. These terms are often paired: sāva­ka-saṅgha with bhikkhu-saṅgha, and ariya-saṅgha with sam­mati-saṅgha. In any case the terms ariya-saṅgha and sam­mati-saṅgha do not con­tra­dict the old­er terms and offer a valu­able per­spec­tive on the mean­ing of the word ‘sang­ha.’


 1 E.g.: S. V. 61; A. V. 17; Vbh. 377; DA. I. 312. In the Pali Canon the fourth and fifth fet­ters are kāma-chan­da and byāpā­da respec­tive­ly, except for A. I. 242, where one finds abhi­jjhā and byāpā­da. The famil­iar pair of kāma-rāga and paṭigha comes from sec­ondary texts and sub-com­men­taries, e.g.: Ps2. 94; Vism. 683; Comp.: Samuc­caya­paricche­do, Akusalasaṅgaho.

2 The stock def­i­n­i­tion is: One regards mate­r­i­al form as self, or self as pos­sessed of mate­r­i­al form, or mate­r­i­al form as in self, or self as in mate­r­i­al form. One regards feel­ing as self…. One regards per­cep­tion as self…. One regards voli­tion­al for­ma­tions as self…. One regards con­scious­ness as self … or self as in con­scious­ness. See: M. I. 300; S. IV. 287; Dhs. 182–3; Vbh. 364.

3 See Appen­dix 1 on sīlab­ba­ta-parāmāsa.

4 The two dakkhiṇeyya of sekha and asekha: A. I. 63, 231–2. The four dakkhiṇeyya or ariya-pug­gala (in some places referred to by oth­er names or by no name at all): e.g., D. I. 156; D. II. 251–2; D. III. 107, 132; M. III. 80–1; Pug. 63. At A. IV. 279–80 stream-enter­ers are divid­ed into three types and non-return­ers into five types; com­bined with once-return­ers, this makes nine types of sa-upādis­esa-pug­gala.

5 See S. V. 347–8.

6 A. III. 438 states that stream-enter­ers are also free from (acute) greed, hatred and delu­sion, which lead to states of woe (apāya).

7 Ps. II. 94–5 states that once-return­ers have aban­doned the fet­ters of coarse lust and ani­mos­i­ty, and that non-return­ers have aban­doned sub­tle lust and ani­mos­i­ty. The Visud­dhimag­ga states that once-return­ers have reduced lust and aver­sion (676–7). All of these inter­pre­ta­tions are complementary. 

8 This trans­la­tion fol­lows the com­men­tar­i­al inter­pre­ta­tion, e.g. AA. IV. 40, 174.

9 Diṭṭhe­va dhamme aññā sati vā upādis­ese anāgāmitā. D. II. 314; M. I. 62, 481; S. V. 129, 237, 285; A. III. 81–2, 143; A. V. 108; It. 39; Sn. 140, 148. Explained in the com­men­taries: e.g. ItA. I. 169; SnA. II. 503.

10 D. III. 255; A. IV. 292. The Abhid­ham­ma divides these eight into two groups: mag­ga-samaṅgī, com­plete in the Path, and pha­la-samaṅgī, com­plete in the fruits of the Path (Pug. 73).

11 These days one finds the trans­la­tion of these pairs as ‘fruition of stream-entry’ (sotā­pat­ti-pha­la), ‘path of stream-entry’ (sotā­pat­ti-mag­ga), ‘fruition of once-return­ing’ (sakadāgā­mi-pha­la), ‘path of once-return­ing’ (sakadāgā­mi-mag­ga), etc. This trans­la­tion fol­lows com­men­tar­i­al ter­mi­nol­o­gy: for mag­gaṭṭha & pha­laṭṭha see Nd1A. II. 254; Nd2A. 15; KhA. 183; DhA. I. 334; VinṬ.: Pārājikakaṇḍaṃ, Bhikkhu­pad­ab­hā­janīya-vaṇṇanā; DA. II. 515 = AA. IV. 3 = Pañ­cA. 191; MA. II. 120; UdA. 306. The terms sotā­pat­ti-mag­ga, sakadāgā­mi-mag­ga and anāgā­mi-mag­ga do not appear in the old­er texts of the Tip­iṭa­ka; they first appear in the Nid­de­sa, Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga and the Abhid­ham­ma. In the old­er texts, the term ara­hat­ta-mag­ga is only found in the pas­sages: arahā vā assasi ara­hat­ta­m­ag­gaṁ vā samā­pan­no and ara­han­to vā ara­hat­ta­m­ag­gaṁ vā samā­pan­nā: Vin. I. 32, 39; D. I. 144; S. I. 78; A. II. 42; A. III. 391; Ud. 7, 65. In lat­er texts, e.g., the Nid­de­sa, Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga and the Abhid­ham­ma, it is exten­sive­ly used.

12 E.g. M. I. 37; A. III. 286.

13 A. III. 373.

14 E.g. Vism. 218; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhā­go, Ganthārambhakathā-vaṇṇanā.