Kinds of Noble Persons and their numbers.
Posted on June 4th, 2016

By Ven. K. Ariyarathana

“Those eight individuals praised by the virtuous, [(or) Those individuals numbering one hundred and eight praised by the wise] those couples are four (in number); those disciples of the Enlightened One are worthy of offerings;” ……….. (SN, 11.1)

Noble Individuals are categorised in different ways in different contexts. Most frequently, we see four kinds of Noble Persons, each one is a pair (caŧŧāri purisa yugāni). And then as eight individuals (attha purisa puggalā) or one hundred and eight individuals (attha saŧanpasaŧŧha).

These are the four couples.

(i) The Stream-enterer,

(ii) The Once-returner,

(iii) The Non-returner,

(iv) The Full Enlightened One.

They become eight persons when considered as individuals as each of the four noble persons is divided into pairs: one person realising (i) the Path of Stream-entry, (ii) the Fruition of Stream-entry, (iii) the Path of Once-return, (iv) the Fruition of Once-return, (v) the Path of Non-return (vi) the Fruition of Non-return, (vii) the Path of Full Enlightenment, (viii) the Fruition of Full Enlightenment.

Now let us see how they become one hundred and eight individuals.

  1. a) Stream-Enterers

They become free from these three fetters: (i) personality belief, (ii) sceptical doubt, and (iii) clinging to mere rules and rituals.

They are threefold according to their future existence: (i) One who is born only once more (ēkabīji), (ii) one who is passing from one noble family to another [within two to six births](kōlaṁkola), (iii) one who is born again with seven births at the utmost (saŧŧakkhaŧŧuparama). [Stream-enterers are born again only in the human world or in the heavens and are never born in the hells.]

They are fourfold according to their progress: One who is of: (i) pleasant progress with slow comprehension, (ii) pleasant progress with quick comprehension, (iii) painful progress with slow comprehension, (iv) painful progress with quick comprehension.

They are twofold according to their practice (đūra): (i) one whose practice is based on confidence (saddhā đūra)and (ii) one whose practice is based on Insight (paññā đūra).

Fourfold persons according to their progress are multiplied by twofold practice so that there are twelve Stream-enterers altogether.

  1. b) Once-Returners

They become nearly free from [weaken] these two fetters: (iv) sensual craving and (v) Ill-will. They are born again only once in the human world.

They are threefold according to their births in the spheres: (i) Persons who enter once return in the sensual sphere (kāma bhavesu ađhigaŧaphalā), (ii) persons who enter once return in the fine material sphere (rūpa bhavesu ađhigaŧaphalā),(iii) persons who enter once return in the immaterial spheres (arūpa bhavesu ađhigaŧaphalā).

They are also fourfold according to their progress and twofold according to their practice as in the stream entry. In this way, there are twelve Once-returners altogether.

  1. c) Non-Returners

They do not come back to sensual sphere but are born in the pure abodes (suđđhavāsa) and attain Enlightenment from there.

They are completely free from all the five fetters mentioned above, including the two which the Once-returner could only weaken. They are freed from five lower fetters (ōrambhāgiya saṁyōjana)

They are fivefold according to their attainment: One who (i) reaches Enlightenment early in his next life(anŧarā parinibbāyi) [without having gone beyond the half lifetime], (ii) reaches Enlightenment in the second half  of his next life(upahacca parinibbāyi) [having gone beyond  half of the lifetime],(iii) reaches Enlightenment with exertion or prompting [pađhāna] (sasankhāra parinibbāyi),(iv) reaches Enlightenment without exertion or prompting(asankhāra parinibbāyi), (v) passes upstream bound for the highest deities(uđđhansoŧa akańitthagāmī).

There are these five individuals in each in the first four pure abodes and they all are named deities not falling away (avihā), untroubled deities (aŧappā), beautiful deities (suđassā) and clear-sighted deities (suđassī). In the fifth pure abode (akańitthakā) there are only four individuals because there is no one who passes upstream to the highest deities.

There are twenty in the first four abodes and four in the fifth. In this away altogether there are twenty-four Non-returners.

  1. d) Fully Enlightened Ones

They are free from the higher fetters (uđđhaṁbhāgiya saṁyōjana), i.e. (vi) craving for fine material existence, (vii) craving for immaterial existence, (viii) conceit, (ix) restlessness, (x) ignorance.

They are never born again. They live with the full extinction of defilements (sōpađisēsa nibbāna).When they pass away, that is the end of life and full extinction of the five aggregates [groups of existence](anupađisēsa nibbāna).

They are twofold according to their way of Enlightenment [vehicles]: (i) one who has bare Insight as Vehicle (suđđha vipassanā yānika) [without having attained any of the eight absorptions], (ii) one who has Concentration as Vehicle (samaŧha yānika). In this way there are two kinds of Fully Enlightened Ones altogether.

They are also fourfold according to their progress and twofold according to their practice, as in Stream-entry.

In this way there are twelve individuals in Stream Entry and Once Return. There are twenty four individuals in Non- Return. And there are two individuals in Fully Enlightenment. Then they are altogether fifty individuals of the noble ones. We need to add four individuals of the paths so that there are fifty four in number. Now we need to multiply all of them by their twofold practice. So the number becomes one hundred and eight.

By Ven. K. Ariyarathana.


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