Theravdan Buddhist texts break down enlightenment into four distinct stages, the first of which is called Stream Entry.
As taught by Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma, this first taste of stream-entry to enlightenment requires purification and strong concentration leading to an experience of cessation that begins to uproot greed, hatred and delusion.
In the Mahasi Vipassana system, you sit and walk for months in the retreat context and continuously note the arising of breath, thought, feelings and sensations over and over until the mindfulness is so refined there is nothing but instantaneous arising and passing. You pass through stages of luminosity, joy, fear and the dissolution of all you took to be solid. The mind becomes unmoving, resting in a place of stillness and equanimity, transparent to all experience, thoughts and fears, longings and love. Out of this there comes a dropping away of identity with anything in this world, an opening to the unconditioned beyond mind and body (Quote from Jack Kornfield's Enlightenments)
The actual experience before and after Stream Entry may vary greatly from person to person, however here are some common experiences that can arise on the path:
It usually takes a pretty dedicated practitioner, committed retreat practices, of usually several months. A rare few may go through Stream Entry much faster.
Before the attainment of Stream Entry, the mind stabilises in a stage called High Equanimity. The experience of High Equanimity usually involves:
- Sense of the body becomes extremely refined or sometimes disappears completely
- The meditator may be able to sit for several hours without moving and little to no mental or physical discomfort.
- The Seven Factors of Awakening begin to manifest in the mind at full-strength, these are: Mindfulness, Investigation, Energy, Joy, Tranquility, Concentration, and Equanimity.
- The sense of Self may become very weak or disappear completely, in meditation this can feel like everything is happening on its own, there is no longer a meditator doing anything - the process is naturally occurring.
- Senses may become very sharp - this can involve visual perceptual changes which can be similar to some strong Psychedelic trips.
At some point from High Equanimity, the Path and Fruit of Stream Entry occur. It is hard to describe this experience, however it involves a complete cessation of the Mind-Body and senses for a short amount of time, also known as Nirvana.
After Stream-Entry, the meditator may find the mind functioning in different ways than it was before, this is why Stream Entry is said to be the first permanent state-shift that occurs in practice.
May anyone who is curious and wishes to experience High Equanimity and Stream Entry, find the courage, dedication and persistence necessary and see it for themselves.