What is the classical understanding of why people in the Buddha’s time were able to enlighten just by hearing a sutta when texts like the Visuddhimagga, and many suttas themselves describe a long process of meditation and development of jhanas and insight etc. to be needed to achieve similar stages?
Classically speaking from what I have heard several times in the Pa-auk world is that they had previously made a determination to follow the Buddha and attain enlightenment in his presence. In these cases you mention, specifically to do so very quickly.
They had attained saṅkhāraupekkhañāṇa many times and refrained from attainments.
It is similar to a Bodhisatta vow in terms of cooking time, but not nearly as long as a real sammaSamBuddho.
I’m not sure about the times, but it is a long long long time, if you make a determination like that.
You have to understand how special and rare it is to be born human during the time of a Buddha let alone be taught in His presence to fully appreciate this. These are not normal beings who just happened to be around during the time of the Buddha. It might be hard to digest, but think of the Buddha who did so in a single night, without listening to a dhammatalk, or stanza.
Even Ven Devadatta is special and his days roaming (or suffering) in saṃsāra are actually numbered. He might escape saṃsāra quicker than most Buddhist in the world today. Why? It was predicted at the time of his death that he would become a Paccekka Buddha. Therefore his time might be limited to 2 asankhaya. A very long time, but not long at all.
How interesting. Yes if they made an attidhana as such it certainly makes sense. I also heard (I think from thanissaro) that jhana was the leisure of people in India at the time so they’re minds were already well developed. Many of his listeners would “meditate” while listening to a sutta and become enlightened that way.
I always make aditthana saying that “By the power of such merits done now, let me attain Sotapannahood in this very lifetime. Let me fully abandon Sakkaya Ditthi, Vicikiccha and Silabbata paramasa.”
And I think it is a mental motivation too.
Whatever length of time it takes whoever attains does so by means of satipatthana leading to the stages of vipassana and onward to the experience of nibbana. Sariputta became a sotapanna during the time he listened to Assaji but he still went though each stage of vipassana for example.
The Way of Mindfulness: The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary (accesstoinsight.org)
O bhikkhus, should any person maintain the Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge (arahantship) here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning (the Third Stage of Supramundane Fulfillment).
"O bhikkhus, let alone seven years. Should a person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in this manner, for six years… for five years… four years… three years… two years… one year, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.
"O bhikkhus, let alone a year. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in the manner, for seven months, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.
"O bhikkhus, let alone seven months. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for six months… five months… four months… three months… two months… one month… half-a-month, then, by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.
"O bhikkhus, let alone half-a-month. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for a week, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.
and the Commentary
But concerning the person of keen intelligence it was stated as follows: Instructed in the morning, he will attain in the evening; instructed in the evening, he will attain in the morning
The Blessed One pointed out the teaching thus: “Bhikkhus, my Dispensation leads to Deliverance in this way,” closed the instruction that is crowned with arahantship in twenty-one places and uttered the following words: "This is the only way, o bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely the Four Arousings of Mindfulness."
Why then do people at this time struggle to develop?
As mentioned in this thread it depends on accumulations, pubbekatapunnata.
And even if one has some accumulations of merit if the way of satipatthana is not properly understood progress won`t be made.
Brilliant input! Yes it seems meditation/vipassana is really the only way to liberation. So the only logical explanation is they “meditated” while listening to the sutta as mentioned earlier. For those who made the wish, thier merit must have made it so they understood satipattana at the time of the sutta. In the same way merit guided some beings who lived in the Buddha’s time to encounter the Buddha and others not to.