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Through practice, (Theravadan) practitioners can achieve four stages of enlightenment:
- Stream-Enterers - Those who have destroyed the first three fetters (false view of Self, doubt, and clinging to rites and rituals) will be safe from falling into the states of misery (they will not be born as an animal, peta (ghost), or hell being). At most they will have to be reborn only seven more times before attaining Nirvana.
- Once-Returners - Those who have destroyed the first three fetters and have lessened the fetters of lust and hatred will attain Nirvana after being born once more in the world.
- Non-Returners - Those who have destroyed the five lower fetters, which bind beings to the world of the senses. Non-returners will never again return to the human world and after they die, they will be born in the high heavenly worlds, there to attain Nirvana. Attaining the state of non-returner is portrayed in the early texts as the ideal goal for laity.
- Arahants - Those who have reached Enlightenment, realized Nirvana, and have reached the quality of deathlessness are free from all the fermentations of defilement. Their ignorance, craving and attachments have ended. Attaining the state of arahant is portrayed in the early texts as the ideal goal for monastics.
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