11. Spiritual Path | Vaibhashika


11. Spiritual path

The study of the nature and function of spiritual paths is important to Abhidharma:

For the Vaibhāṣikas the spiritual path is a gradual process of abandoning the defilements; there is no "sudden enlightenment".

The analysis of the various spiritual paths, provided by the Vaibhāṣika Abhidharma, corresponds to the abandoning of various defilements.

The beginning of the path consists of preliminary practices:

- approaching "true persons", listening to the Dharma, contemplating the meaning and practicing the Dharma and what accords with the Dharma.

Preparatory practices also include the observance of the ethical precepts (śīlaṁ pālayati), giving, and studying the Abhidharma.

The Mahāvibhāṣa (MVŚ) contains the following succinct explanation of the stages leading up to stream entry:

At the beginning, because of his aspiration for the fruit of liberation, he diligently practices

(1) giving (dāna) and the pure precepts (śīla);

(2) the understanding derived from listening, the contemplation of the impure, mindfulness of breathing and the foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna);

(3) warmth, summits, receptivities and the supreme mundane dharmas;

and then he enters into (4) the 15 moments of the path of vision.

This is collectively said to be firmly on one’s feet.

Stages of the path

Vaibhāṣika developed an influential outline of the path to awakening,

one which was later adapted and modified by the scholars of the Mahāyāna tradition into the schema of the "5 paths" (pañcamārga):

The original Vaibhāṣika schema is divided into 7 stages of preparatory effort (prayoga) and 4 stages of spiritual fruits (phala):

The 7 prayogas:

A. Mokṣa-bhāgīya ("conducing to liberation") refers to meditations which are causes for liberation, mainly calm and insight. These are not completely separate and can exist together in the same thought. They are also said to constitute the wisdom (prajñā) derived from cultivation. These are outlined as follows:

1. Śamatha (calming meditation) practices,

mainly contemplation on the impure (aśubha-bhāvanā) and mindfulness of breathing (ānāpāna-smṛti), but also includes other meditations such as loving kindness (maitrī).

2. Vipaśyanā (insight meditation),

consisting of the 4-fold application of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthānas) practiced one at a time, contemplating how they are impure, unsatisfactory, impermanent and without a Self.

3. In a more advanced stage of Vipaśyanā, one meditates on the 4 smṛtyupasthānas at the same time.

B. Nirvedha-bhāgīya ("conducing to penetration") refers to the "4 skilful roots" (kuśala-mūla) of the arising of out-flow free knowledge:

It thus refers to that which leads stream entry, the first noble (ārya) stage of liberation. They are said to be the wisdom derived from reflection.

Each one serves as a cause for the next one:

4. Uṣmagata (warmth) is the initial arising of "the warmth of the noble knowledge capable of burning the fuels of defilements" (MVŚ).

This is a lengthy stage, where one gradually accumulates wisdom through study, contemplation and meditation on the Dharma, especially the 16 aspects of the 4 Noble Truths. At this point, one may still retrogress.

5. Mūrdhan (summits). One continues to contemplate the 16 modes of the 4 Noble Truths, but at the highest level of excellence, their "summit" or "peak". At this point, one may still retrogress.

6. Kṣānti (receptivities) is the stage of the highest level of receptivity or acceptance of the 4 Noble Truths. One is so receptive to them that one can no longer retrogress from accepting them. There are various receptivities covering the sense sphere as well as the upper spheres of existence.

7. Laukikāgra-dharma (supreme mundane dharmas).

These dharmas contemplate the unsatisfactoriness of the sphere of sensuality and refer to those dharmas that are a condition for the arising of the darśana-mārga (path of vision).

The 4 phala:

Each has 2 stages, the candidacy stage and the fruit stage.

1. Srotaāpatti (stream-enterer).

a) The candidate for the fruit of stream-entry (Srotaāpatti-phala-pratipannaka), also known as the darśana-mārga (path of vision).

b) The abider in the fruit of stream entry (Srotaāpatti-phala-stha).

At this point, one has entered the bhāvanā-mārga (path of cultivation), where one gradually eliminates all the remaining defilements.

2. Sakṛdāgāmin (once returner), both stages fall within the bhāvanā-mārga.

3. Anāgāmin (non-returner), both stages also fall within the bhāvanā-mārga.

4. Arhat. Its candidacy stage is part of the bhāvanā-mārga, but the phala stage is known as aśaikṣa-mārga (path of no more learning).

In the prayoga stages, the contemplation of the 4 Noble Truths was done with knowledge that are with-outflow (śrava).

Immediately after the last prayoga stage, one is able to access outflow-free knowledges (anāsrava-jñāna), and must apply these to the Noble Truths:

This is known as direct realization (abhisamaya), direct spiritual insight into the intrinsic and common characteristics of the 4 Truths. This takes 16 thought moments.

Insight into the Truths is achieved in 2 moments called "paths".

In the 1st moment, called the unhindered path (ānantarya-mārga), the outflow-free understanding that arises is called receptivity (kṣānti) to knowledge, and with this, the defilements abandonable by vision into the particular truth are abandoned.

In the 2nd moment, called the path of liberation (vimukti-mārga), knowledge proper arises through the induction of which the acquisition (prāpti) of the cessation through deliberation (prati-saṁkhyā-nirodha) of the defilements arises.

In this way, for the whole contemplative process covering the sphere of sensuality followed by the 2 upper spheres, there arise 8 receptivities and 8 knowledges, all being prajñā in their intrinsic nature.

From the 1st moment of insight, which is the 1st moment of receptivity, one is said to be an Ārya, a noble being:

This is because the outflow free path has arisen in them and thus they are no longer an ordinary worldling (pṛthag-janatva).

Also, according to this system, when one has entered into stream entry, there is no no-going back, no retrogression.

Regarding Arhatship, some Arhats can retrogress, mainly those who, due to their weak faculties, entered the path as a "pursuer through faith" (śraddhā-anusārin).

Those who have sharp faculties and have studied and understood the teachings (dharma-anusārins) are not retrogressible, they are ones liberated through wisdom (prajñā-vimukta).

The 3 vehicles and noble beings

The Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins are known to have employed schema of the 3 Vehicles, which can be seen in the Mahāvibhāṣa:

1. Śrāvakayāna – The vehicle of the disciples, who reach the attainment of an Arhat.

2. Pratyekabuddhayāna – The vehicle of the "Solitary Buddhas".

3. Bodhisattvayāna – The vehicle of the beings who are training to become a fully enlightened Buddha (Samyaksaṁbuddha).

The Vaibhāṣikas held that though Arhats have been fully liberated through the removal of all defilements, their wisdom (prajñā) is not fully perfected and thus inferior to a Buddha's wisdom.

Also, Arhats have subtle traces (vāsanā) that the defilements have left behind after they have been abandoned.

Thus, for Vaibhāṣikas, Arhats are said to have a certain non-defiled ignorance (akliṣṭājñāna), which Buddhas lack.

Furthermore, a Buddha has both omniscience (sarvajñā) and ‘wisdom of all modes’ (sarva-ākāra‑jñāna), i.e. knowledge of all the spiritual paths.

The inferiority of the Arhat attainment can be seen in texts such as the Sarvāstivāda Nāgadatta Sūtra, which critiques the Mahīśāsaka view of women in a narrative about a Bhikṣuṇī named Nāgadatta:

Here, the demon Māra takes the form of her father, and tries to convince her to work toward the lower stage of an Arhat.

Nāgadatta rejects this, saying, "A Buddha's wisdom is like empty space of the 10-quarters, which can enlighten innumerable people. But an Arhat's wisdom is inferior."

However, against the docetic view of the Mahāsāṁghikas, the Sarvāstivādins viewed the Buddha's physical body (Skt. rūpakāya) as being impure and improper for taking refuge in,

and they instead regarded taking refuge in the Buddha as taking refuge in Bodhi itself (awakening) and also in the Dharmakāya (body of the teaching).

The Sarvāstivādins also admitted the path of a Bodhisattva as a valid one:

References to the Bodhisattva path and the practice of the 6 Pāramitās are commonly found in Sarvāstivāda works.

The Mahāvibhāṣa of the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins includes a schema of 4 Pāramitās:

1. Generosity (dāna),
2. Discipline (śīla),
3. Energy (vīrya),
4. Wisdom (prajñā),

and it says that the 4 Pāramitās and 6 Pāramitās are essentially equivalent (seeing patience as a kind of discipline and meditation as a kind of intuitive wisdom)