The Fab-Four

Chapter Eight: The Four Dependables

(Mark L. Blum translation):

The Buddha said:

Good man, within this Subtle Sutra of the Great Nirvana there are four kinds of people who capably protect the true-dharma, promote the true-dharma, and keep the true-dharma in their thoughts. They bring much in the way of blessings and mercy to the world, for they are supports for the world, [sources of] tranquil bliss for humans and gods alike.

This passage is describing the four well-known types of Noble Persons, āryapudgala:

Stream-enterer (SROTAĀPANNA)

Once-returner (SAKṚDĀGĀMIN),

Nonreturner (ANĀGĀMIN),

Worthy one (ARHAT).

SROTAĀPANNA:

The term srotaāpanna appears very often in the Buddhist sūtras, with members of the Buddha’s audience said to have attained this stage immediately upon hearing him preach the dharma. The stage of stream-enterer begins with the initial vision of the reality of NIRVĀṆA, at which point one “enters the stream” leading to liberation.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Kindle Edition.

SAKṚDĀGĀMIN:

The sakṛdāgāmin is one who has completely put aside the first three of ten fetters (SAṂYOJANA) that bind one to the cycle of rebirth; namely, (1) belief in the existence of a self in relation to the body (SATKĀYADṚṢṬI), (2) doubt about the efficacy of the path (VICIKITSĀ), (3) belief in the efficacy of rites and rituals (ŚĪLAVRATAPARĀMARŚA); and in addition, he has made progress in substantially overcoming the fourth and fifth fetters, namely, (4) sensual craving (KĀMARĀGA), and (5) malice (VYĀPĀDA). Having put aside the first three fetters completely and mitigated the fourth and fifth fetters, the sakṛdāgāmin is destined to be reborn in the sensuous realm (KĀMADHĀTU) at most one more time, although he may be reborn in the realm of subtle materiality (RŪPADHĀTU) or the immaterial realm (ĀRŪPYADHĀTU) before attaining NIRVĀṆA.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Kindle Edition.

ANĀGĀMIN:

The anāgāmin is one who has completely put aside the first five of ten fetters (SAṂYOJANA) that bind one to the cycle of rebirth: (1) belief in the existence of a perduring self (SATKĀYADṚṢṬI), (2) belief in the efficacy of rites and rituals (ŚĪLAVRATAPARĀMARŚA), (3) skeptical doubt about the efficacy of the path (VICIKITSĀ), (4) sensual craving (KĀMARĀGA), and (5) malice (VYĀPĀDA). The anāgāmin has also weakened considerably the last five of the ten fetters (including such affective fetters as pride, restlessness, and ignorance), thus enervating the power of SAṂSĀRA. Having completely eradicated the first five fetters, which are associated with the sensuous realm (KĀMADHĀTU), and weakened the latter five, the anāgāmin is a “nonreturner” in the sense that he will never be reborn in the kāmadhātu again; instead, he will either complete the path and become an arhat in the present lifetime or he will be reborn in the “pure abodes,” or ŚUDDHĀVĀSA (corresponding to the five highest heavens in the subtle-materiality realm, or RŪPADHĀTU); and specifically, in the AKANIṢṬHA heaven, the fifth and highest of the pure abodes, which often serves as a way station for anāgāmins before they achieve arhatship.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Kindle Edition.

ARHAT:

In Sanskrit, “worthy one”; one who has destroyed the afflictions (KLEŚA) and all causes for future REBIRTH and who thus will enter NIRVĀṆA at death; the arhat is the highest of the four grades of Buddhist saint or “noble person”.

Also described as one who has achieved the extinction of the contaminants (ĀSRAVAKṢAYA), the arhat is one who has attained nirvāṇa in this life, and at death attains final liberation (PARINIRVĀṆA) and will never again be subject to rebirth.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Kindle Edition.

The most striking attribute concerning the āryapudgala is the following passage:

When these four individuals of whom I speak appear, they succeed in bringing much in the way of blessings and mercy to the world, for they are supports for the world, [sources of] serene bliss for humans and gods alike. They are the most respected, the most excellent among gods and humans, and are thus something like tathāgatas themselves. I call them “the best among people,” for they are the foundations of refuge.

Imagine that! They even bring comfort and refuge to the gods themselves; in this sense they are more fully attuned with the Buddhadharma than are the best echelon of the gods, in effect, spiritually superior to them.

Kāśyapa wonders that since they are human and hence subject to all manner of vexations, how then, could they possibly be placed in a category with the Blessed Tathagatas themselves?

The Blessed One responds:

People who are śrāvakas, even when they have divine vision, [because of their predilections] I generally refer to them as “those with physical vision.” The students of the Mahāyāna, although they have [only] physical vision, I generally refer to them as “those with buddha vision.” Why is this? Because the Mahāyāna sutras are what I call the “buddha vehicle,” and this buddha vehicle is the best of the best.

The āryapudgala offer the very best of the “Buddha-vehicle”, in essence being of the same Tathatic-Spirit.

Good man, this is how it is with the four types of living beings who take a leadership role on behalf of this unsurpassed, great dharma. In all likelihood there will be one person among these four types of believers who will notice that there are a great many other bodhisattvas who, although they study Mahāyāna scriptures like this one, perhaps copying them themselves or getting others to copy them in order to seek personal gain, or fame, or knowledge of the dharma, or a spiritual grounding, or a means to explore other sutras, are nevertheless incapable of expounding the teachings in detail to others. This one person will respond by taking this subtle sutra and sending it to other lands with other bodhisattvas, enabling them to bring forth an unsurpassed aspiration to bodhi, [thereby] establishing themselves in Bodhi. And these bodhisattvas, having obtained this sutra, will then be able to expound it widely to others, enabling countless others to accept the flavor of a Mahāyāna dharma like this.

The āryapudgala are the very best of role models, even for Bodhisattvas who may have become lax in their practice. What matters is that they HAVE firmly established themselves with [Bodhi] power and as such are in the supernal position of bringing the Light of the Mahayana to countless others, gods and humans alike.

The same goes for one who has made a firm bodhicitta resolution:

The Blessed One expounds,

Good man, those who can make bodhicitta resolutions before world-honored buddhas as numerous as the grains of sand in one Ganges River will thereupon be empowered in that later time when the world is corrupt to not repudiate this dharma but instead cherish [its unfolding in] this scripture, though they may not be able to analyze it and fully explain it to others. Good man, those livings beings who make bodhicitta resolutions before world-honored buddhas as numerous as the grains of sand in two Ganges Rivers will thereupon be empowered in that later time when the world is corrupt to not repudiate this dharma but instead appreciate it properly, believe in it, dedicate themselves to upholding and reciting it, though they may be unable to fully explain it to others. Those livings beings who make bodhicitta resolutions before world-honored buddhas as numerous as the grains of sand in three Ganges Rivers will thereupon be empowered in that later time when the world is corrupt to not repudiate this dharma but instead to uphold, read, recite, and copy fascicles of this sutra, despite the fact that in expounding it for others they will not have grasped its deepest meaning.

[they will explain] that the Tathāgata is permanently abiding (nitya), unchangeable (dhruva), eternal (śāśvata), and stately blissful (acala-sukha); they will preach extensively that all living beings have the buddha-nature and they will know the dharma-treasury of the Tathāgata well, and [indicate] that after presenting such offerings to the buddhas, [followers] are to elevate an unsurpassed true-dharma such as this one, maintain and preserve it.

Holding steadfastly to their Bodhisattvic Resolve, the [Light] of Bodhicitta then reigns freely within them—yea, these Advanced-Bodhi-Beings are then AS One with the Mindstream of the Tathagatas.

Bodhicitta is actually entering into the Mindstream of the Tathagatas, yea becoming enlightened with their own perfumed-essence. IT is therefore “Enlightened Consciousness itself”, or as our most recent blog series addressed, entering into vajrasamādhi—the adamantine union with Thusness. Hence, within this series one begins one’s spiritual career as a Bodhisatta, but will eventually culminate in Arhatship.

Kāśyapa argues that it needs to be stressed one does not really take refuge in the “person” of the āryapudgala, but rather in the Sacred Teachings which they uphold, highlighting this as relying on “the dharma of the four forms of spiritual support”:

As the Buddha has explained, bhikṣus should rely on the dharma of the four forms of spiritual support. What are those four reliances (*catuḥprati- saraṇa)?

Rely on the teaching (*dharma) rather than the person (*puruṣa). Rely on the meaning (*artha) rather than the language used to express it (*vyañjana). Rely on wisdom (*jñāna) rather than discursive knowledge (*vijñāna). Rely on the sutra that is definitive (*nītārthasūtra) rather than the sutra whose meaning is indeterminate (*neyārtha-sūtra).

Taking the dharma of these four as one’s refuge is what should be acknowledged, not the four types of people.

While Kāśyapa is technically correct, indeed this even helps to support Shimoda Masahiro’s thesis as not relying on worshipping the relics of the Buddha hidden in a stupa, but rather to depend on the teaching-vehicle of the sutra itself, the Buddha nonetheless fine-tunes what taking refuge in the Dharma essentially means, in light of being As One with the dharmatā itself:

Good man, the dharma to be taken as one’s refuge is none other than this mahāparinirvāṇa of the Tathāgata. As the dharma of all buddhas, it is the dharmatā, the nature of reality. And as the dharmatā, it is what the Tathāgata is. This is why the Tathāgata is a permanently abiding presence without change. If someone were to say that the Tathāgata is impermanent, that person would not understand, he has not seen the nature of reality. If someone does not know or see the nature of reality, they should not be regarded as someone upon whom to rely. As I said earlier, the four types of people active in the world who support this dharma must realize this to become a refuge for others. Why is this so? Because those people will have fully grasped the oracular and profound treasury that is the tathāgatagarbha, and therefore would understand that the Tathāgata is a constant presence and not subject to change. If someone were to say the Tathāgata is impermanent and subject to change, there would be no foundation for such a statement.

The four types of people [who have this understanding] can thus be called tathāgatas. Why? Because these people will be able to grasp the Tathāgata’s recondite language and even expound upon it.

The reality of dharmatā is a tathāgata.

Thus, at the conclusion of this chapter the Blessed One “seals” the proper significance behind the āryapudgala as being “linked-with the reality of dharmatā”:

I preach these four reliances for the living beings that see with their physical eyes; it is not the final teaching for those who have eyes of wisdom. This is why I have now expounded [this doctrine] of the four reliances, wherein dharma is none other than the reality of dharmatā, meaning is none other than the fact that the Tathāgata is permanent and unchanging, wisdom is being fully cognizant of the fact that all living beings possess buddha-nature, and definitive is comprehending all the Mahāyāna sutras.

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