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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Sotapatti

A Pāli Buddhist term referring to the stage of “entering the stream” (Sanskrit: srotāpatti). One who has accomplished it is termed a sotapanna. This stage is the first of four steps in the Buddhist path to enlightenment. The idea is that the aspirant has left his or her ordinary world behind and begun a serious effort at study and meditation. Nowadays, the term is applied to one who has become a Buddhist noviate. A person who attains the second stage is termed in Pāli ekāgāmin (“once-returner”) or sakdāgamin (“immediate-returner”), i.e., suggesting that the aspirant will be reborn but one more time, probably very soon after the death of his or her present personality. A person who attains the third stage is an anāgāmin (“non-returner”), implying that he or she will attain nibbāna (Sanskrit: nirvāna) during that lifetime. And when that is attained, the person achieves the fourth stage, arhat (lit. “worthy”).

The esoteric tradition treats these stages profoundly. The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 206) terms the four steps “initiations,” a term also used for the stages by later theosophical writers, such as Charles W. Leadbeater (see, e.g., his The Masters and the Path, chaps. 7-10). The real significance of “entering the stream” is that one has shifted the focus of one’s personal identity from the physical body — identifying oneself with the body’s age, height, weight, gender, etc. — to one’s psyche, which is likened to a stream of consciousness. One metaphorically “enters” that “stream.” The stage of arhat, accordingly, is one in which the person need be reborn no more, although one can take a vow — called the bodhisattva vow — to continue, out of compassion, to work for the spiritual advancement of humanity, possibly even being reborn voluntarily.

R.W.B.

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