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04 04 2012 LESSON 571 FREE ONLINE eNālāndā Research And Practice UNIVERSITY Through THE BUDDHIST ONLINE GOOD NEWS LETTER-ABHIDHAMMARAKKHITA Dhammapada Verse 124 Kukkutamittanesada Vatthu Evil Results From Bad Intentions -Mission Delhi: Maya names candidates for LS polls
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04 04 2012 LESSON 571 FREE ONLINE eNālāndā Research And Practice UNIVERSITY Through

Dhammapada Verse 124 Kukkutamittanesada Vatthu Evil Results From Bad Intentions

Mission Delhi: Maya names candidates for LS polls

Lucknow: Bahujan
Samaj Party (BSP) has fast-tracked preparations for the general elections due
in 2014.

And keeping in line with the ‘prediction’ of party chief Mayawati that these
polls would be held sooner than scheduled, the BSP has finalized the names of
more than 35 Lok Sabha probables.

In the first phase, the party has named six candidates.

announcement was done by Mayawati confidant and Rajya Sabha MP Munqad Ali in

Exhorting the party cadres, workers and supporters to work for the Lok Sabha
battle “from now”, Munqad Ali said that ‘behenji’ - “almost
finalized the complete list” of all the 80 candidates in Uttar Pradesh.

He said the names would be announced in a phased manner “but very

“We have announced candidates for Nagina,
Amroha, Bijnor, Meerut, Moradabad and Sambhal and for the remaining seats we
have other names in mind,” he said.

According to him, the former UP chief minister has been brainstorming on the
list of probables ever since she came to New Delhi.

“A detailed analysis of the poll outcome has been done at the highest
level and the party is seriously mulling a major strategy to recapture its vote

BSP, which won a majority in the 403-member state Assembly in 2007,it more or
less retained its SC/ST and Sarvajan vote bank and finished as the main
opposition party, pushing national parties BJP and Congress far behind.

A confident Mayawati vowed to bounce back.

The BSP supremo has already dissolved all party wings and has been working
overtime to name new party coordinators.

Party chief is now relying more on old timers and trusted party workers.

The Sarvajan leader has already signalled that old party hands would be used
extensively for preparatory work in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

A team of young tech-savvy has been reportedly put in place to work on  to collect data on attacks against SC/STs and
the poor in the state since the SP took over.

BSP leader had also instructed its Muslim leaders to get back to the roots and
work on the Muslim vote bank..

Names of most Lok Sabha probables, either formally or informally, a source
said, are likely to be announced around April 14, the birth anniversary of Bhim
Rao Ambedkar, Mayawati’s ideal.

Team of young tech-savvy has been reportedly
put in place to work on to collect data on attacks against SC/STs and the poor
in the state since the SP took over. In addition they must also concentrate on
the following:

Mayawati will centainly become the Prime Minister of PraBuddha bharath,
provided all her contesting candidates demand for the source code of the EVMs
from the authorities concerned, as the advanced democracies did, as there is no
security in the Electronic Voting system.

on Chief Election Commission, Black money, manuvadi, mafia, all the Multimedia

1.     such as INDIA NEVER, hindustanbadtimes, THE BADTIMES OF INDIA, OUR MONEY SITE,, Thehalka, NBIDead,TwoSquares VTDN,LASTPOST



and so on which never
traditionally tolerate Sarvajan leader Ms Mayawati becoming the Prime Minister,
spending 65000 crores to defeat her.

 The following biased Multimedia Missionaries will never publish adverse comments

The Times of India







124. Evil Results From Bad Intentions

If in the hand’s no wound
poison one may bear.
A woundless one is poisoned not,
non-doers have no evil.

Explanation: If a person has no wound in his palm, that person
can carry poison in his hand. In the same way, to a person who has not
committed an evil action, there is no fear of evil consequences.

Verse 124
Kukkutamittanesada Vatthu

Panimhi ce vano nassa
hareyya panina visam
nibbanam visamanveti
natthi papam akubbato.

Verse 124: If there is no wound on the hand, one may handle
poison; poison does not affect one who has no wound; there can be no evil for
one who has no evil intention.

The Story of Kukkutamitta

While residing at the Veluvana monastery, the Buddha uttered
Verse (124) of this book, with reference to the hunter Kukkutamitta and his

At Rajagaha there was once a rich man’s daughter who had
attained Sotapatti Fruition as a young girl. One day, Kukkutamitta, a hunter,
came into town in a cart to sell venison. Seeing Kukkutamitta the hunter, the
rich young lady fell in love with him immediately; she followed him, married
him and lived with him in a small village. As a result of that marriage, seven
sons were born to them and in course of time, all the sons got married. One
day, the Buddha surveyed the world early in the morning with his supernormal
power and found that the hunter, his seven sons and their wives were due for
attainment of Sotapatti Fruition. So, the Buddha went to the place where the
hunter had set his trap in the forest. He put his footprint close to the trap
and seated himself under the shade of a bush, not far from the trap.

When the hunter came, he saw no animal in the trap; he saw the
footprint and surmised that someone must have come before him and let cut the
animal. So, when he saw the Buddha under the shade of the bush, he took him for
the man who had freed the animal from his trap and flew into a rage. He took
out his bow and arrow to shoot at the Buddha, but as he drew his bow, he became
immobilized and remained fixed in that position like a statue. His sons
followed and found their father; they also saw the Buddha at some distance and
thought he must be the enemy of their father. All of them took out their bows
and arrows to shoot at the Buddha, but they also became immobilized and
remained fixed in their respective postures. When the hunter and his sons
failed to return, the hunter’s wife followed them into the forest, with her
seven daughters-in-law. Seeing her husband and all her sons with their arrows
aimed at the Buddha, she raised both her hands and shout: “Do not kill my

When her husband heard her words, he thought, “This must be
my father-in-law”, and her sons thought, “This must be our
grandfather”; and thoughts of loving-kindness came into them. Then the
lady said to them, ‘’Put away your bows and arrows and pay obeisance to my
father”. The Buddha realized that, by this time, the minds of the hunter
and his son; had softened and so he willed that they should be able to move and
to put away their bows and arrows. After putting away their bows and arrows,
they paid obeisance to the Buddha and the Buddha expounded the Dhamma to them.
In the end, the hunter, his seven sons and seven daughters-in-law, all fifteen
of them, attained Sotapatti Fruition.

Then the Buddha returned to the monastery and told Thera Ananda
and other bhikkhus about the hunter Kukkutamitta and his family attaining
Sotapatti Fruition in the early part of the morning. The bhikkhus then asked
the Buddha, “Venerable Sir, is the wife of the hunter who is a sotapanna,
also not guilty of taking life, if she has been getting things like nets, bows
and arrows for her husband when he goes out hunting?” To this question the
Buddha answered, “Bhikkhus, the sotapannas do not kill, they do not
wish others to get killed. The wife of the hunter was only obeying her husband
in getting things for him. Just as the hand that has no wound is not affected
by poison, so also, because she has no intention to do evil she is not doing
any evil.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

124: If there is no wound on the hand, one may handle poison; poison does not
affect one who has no wound; there can be no evil for one who has no evil


03 04 2012 LESSON 570 WISDOM and PRACTICE











For the term
Arihant or Arhat in Jainism, 

Arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत arhat;
Pali: arahant), in Buddhism, signifies a spiritual practitioner who has realized
certain high stages of attainment. The implications of the term vary based on
the respective schools and traditions.


From The
Dhamma Encyclopedia

Arahant comes from the Pali word arahati meaning
‘worthy’ or ‘noble’ and is a title given to someone who has attained awakenment as a result of listening to and practising the teachings of a
Buddha. Like a Buddha, an arahant has
perfected wisdom and compassion and is no longer subject to rebirth. The
Buddha describes the arahant
as having transcended ‘the round of birth and death, they have destroyed the
taints, lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden,
reached the ultimate goal, destroyed the fetters and become completely free,
liberated through final knowledge
’ (Majjhima Nikaya 1. 141).

Attaining to the level of full awakenment is not to be
taken lightly or as something easily attainable. It can take several decades of
devoted practice and will more likely take several lifetimes to perfect the
Paramitas, the Jhanas, and other advanced
states. There are however, several other partially awakened noble levels

Buddhism is unique among the major world religions in that
followers can attain to the same level as the founder. For example, in Judaism,
Abraham and Moses are considered the founders who made the covenant with God
and provided the Law (Torah) and there cannot be another one to do so. In
Christianity, there can only be one Christ. In Islam, Muhammad is considered
the seal or final prophet. Whereas, in Buddhism, anyone can attain
enlightenment and reach the same wisdom and title as the Buddha, an enlightened

of an Arahant

living in the state of liberation an Arahant still continues to perform the necessary
functions of life. He sleeps, wakes up in the morning, eats, talks, performs
various duties etc. Though he has to go through his daily life he has
completely uprooted defilements; greed, hatred and ignorance. In his
psycho-physical organism there is no more craving, which sustains the process
of becoming leading to future existences. From the effective side of human
experience, the state of Nibbana is a state of complete happiness, freedom from
sorrow, worry and fear. The Arahant feels bodily pains, but it does not disturb
his mind. It does not cause him annoyance or sorrow. Arahant is also in a state
of complete fearlessness. All fear comes from the notion of self or ego. When
we are frightened, what we are afraid of is a threat to the security of the
self, to “my self” or those things I believe belong to me. But for an
Arahant who had completely uprooted the notion of self, there comes liberation
from all fear.

the abandoning of all forms of attachments the Arahant is free of agitation,
restlessness and worry. Again an Arahant is in a state of complete equanimity,
with perfect balance of mind. He is not shaken by the eight worldly winds: gain
and loss, fame and dishonour, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Arahant’s
state of equanimity is not a state of indifference. The Arahant’s mind is
pervaded with immeasurable loving kindness and boundless compassion. This is
the state of Nibbana in terms of feeling and emotion.

having completely eliminated ignorance, an Arahant acquires no kamma . His
willed actions do not have the potency of producing future rebirth. He still
performs volitional actions but they are mere activities. They do not leave a
trace on the mind, just as the flight of birds flying across the sky leaves no
footprints. The Arahant still reaps the results of the kammas performed by him
before awakenment, but these do not disturb his mind.

has complete knowledge and understanding. He is fully awakened. He sees things
as they truly are. He is no longer misled by the distortions, projections,
perversions born of ignorance.

Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas


Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

© 2010–2012

I. Competing Buddhist

The arahant ideal and the bodhisattva ideal are often considered
the respective guiding ideals of Theravāda Buddhism and Mahāyāna Buddhism. This
assumption is not entirely correct, for the Theravāda tradition has absorbed
the bodhisattva ideal into its framework and thus recognizes the validity of
both arahantship and Buddhahood as objects of aspiration. It would therefore be
more accurate to say that the arahant ideal and the bodhisattva ideal are the
respective guiding ideals of Early Buddhism and Mahāyāna Buddhism. By
“Early Buddhism” I do not mean the same thing as Theravāda Buddhism
that exists in the countries of southern Asia. I mean the type of Buddhism
embodied in the archaic Nikāyas of Theravāda Buddhism and in the corresponding
texts of other schools of Indian Buddhism that did not survive the general
destruction of Buddhism in India.

It is important to recognize that these ideals, in the
forms that they have come down to us, originate from different bodies of
literature stemming from different periods in the historical development of
Buddhism. If we don’t take this fact into account and simply compare these two
ideals as described in Buddhist canonical texts, we might assume that the two
were originally expounded by the historical Buddha himself, and we might then
suppose that the Buddha — living and teaching in the Ganges plain in the 5th
century B.C. — offered his followers a choice between them, as if to say:
“This is the arahant ideal, which has such and such features; and that is
the bodhisattva ideal, which has such and such features. Choose whichever one
you like.”[1]

The Mahāyāna sūtras, such as the Mahāprajñā-pāramitā Sūtra and the Saddharmapu
ṇḍarīka Sūtra (the Lotus Sūtra), give the impression that the Buddha did
teach both ideals. Such sūtras, however, certainly are not archaic. To the
contrary, they are relatively late attempts to schematize the different types
of Buddhist practice that had evolved over a period of roughly four hundred
years after the Buddha’s parinirvā

The most archaic Buddhist texts — the Pali Nikāyas and
their counterparts from other early schools (some of which have been preserved
in the Chinese Āgamas and the Tibetan Kanjur) — depict the ideal for the
Buddhist disciple as the arahant. The Mahāyāna sūtras, composed a few centuries
later in a Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, depict the ideal for the Mahāyāna follower
as the bodhisattva. Now some people argue that because the arahant is the ideal
of Early Buddhism, while the bodhisattva is the ideal of later Mahāyāna
Buddhism, the Mahāyāna must be a more advanced or highly developed type of
Buddhism, a more ultimate teaching compared to the simpler, more basic teaching
of the Nikāyas. That is indeed an attitude common among Mahāyānists, which I
will call “Mahāyāna elitism.” An opposing attitude common among
conservative advocates of the Nikāyas rejects all later developments in the
history of Buddhist thought as deviation and distortion, a fall away from the
“pristine purity” of the ancient teaching. I call this attitude
“Nikāya purism.” Taking the arahant ideal alone as valid, Nikāya
purists reject the bodhisattva ideal, sometimes forcefully and even

I have been seeking a point of view that can do justice to
both perspectives, that of the Nikāyas and the early Mahāyāna sūtras, a point
of view that can accommodate their respective strengths without falling into a
soft and easy syncretism, without blotting out conceptual dissonances between
them, without abandoning faithfulness to the historical records – yet one which
also recognizes that these records are by no means crystal clear and are
unlikely to be free of bias. This task has by no means been easy. It is much
simpler to adopt either a standpoint of “Nikāya purism” or one of
“Mahāyāna elitism” and hold to it without flinching. The problem with
these two standpoints, however, is that both are obliged to neglect facts that
are discomforting to their respective points of view.

Although I am ordained as a Theravāda Buddhist monk, in
this paper I am not going to be defending the opinions of any particular school
of Buddhism or trying to uphold a sectarian point of view. For six years, I
have lived in Chinese Mahāyāna monasteries, and my understanding of Buddhism
has been particularly enriched by my contact with the teachings of the Chinese
scholar-monk Master Yinshun (1906-2005) and his most senior living pupil,
Master Renjun, the founder of Bodhi Monastery in New Jersey. My first purpose
is to draw out from the texts what the texts say explicitly, and also what
they imply
, about these two competing ideals of the Buddhist life. At the
end, when I draw my conclusions, I will clearly state them as such, and they
will be entirely my own. Sometimes I will not draw conclusions but instead
raise questions, pointing to problems in the history of Buddhism that I am
acutely aware of but unfortunately cannot resolve. It is quite possible that
what I consider a nuanced and balanced point of view will draw fire from
partisan advocates on both sides of the divide. However, from the standpoint of
my present understanding, I have no choice but to take this risk.

II. Looking to the Buddha
as the ideal

I want to start by making what I think is an extremely
important but seldom made observation, namely, that both types of texts — the
Nikāyas and Āgamas on the one hand, and the Mahāyāna sūtras on the other — are
in a sense looking to the Buddha himself as the ideal. That is, it is
not the case that Early Buddhism overlooks the Buddha and instead takes his
disciples as the ideal, while Mahāyāna Buddhism comes to the rescue and
recovers what the “Hīnayānists” had missed, namely, the inspirational
impetus imparted by the Buddha himself. Rather, I want to maintain that
followers of both forms of Buddhism — and the authoritative texts from which
both forms of Buddhism develop — are looking upon the Buddha as the exemplary
figure that a true follower of the Dharma should emulate.

The two differ primarily in so far as they view the Buddha
from two different perspectives. I’ll use an analogy to illustrate this and
then provide a fuller explanation. The Buddha Hall here at our monastery has
two entrances situated on either side of the Buddha image. If one looks at the
image after entering the hall by the west entrance, the Buddha appears in one
way; the angle highlights certain characteristics of the face. If one looks at
the image after entering the hall by the east entrance, the Buddha appears in a
different way; the angle highlights other characteristics of the face. I see
this as a fitting simile for the way the two traditions view the Buddha and his
enlightenment. I see both the early suttas of the Nikāyas and Āgamas, and the
Mahāyāna sūtras, to be giving us different perspectives on the Buddha and his enlightenment
and thus as offering different understandings of what it means to be a true
follower of the Buddha.

To briefly characterize these perspectives, I would say
that the Nikāyas and Āgamas give us a “historical-realistic
perspective” on the Buddha, while the Mahāyāna sūtras give us a
“cosmic-metaphysical perspective.” By using these terms, I’m not
intending to use the Nikāyas to trump the Mahāyāna sūtras — though naturally I
hold they are more likely to be closer to the Buddha’s own verbal teachings. Rather,
I’m just trying to characterize the standpoints that they use to look at the
Buddha and interpret his significance for the world. These two perspectives
then define what the Buddha accomplished through his enlightenment. When we
take the historical-realistic perspective, the Buddha became an arahant.
However, though being an arahant, he was what we might call “an arahant
with differences”; he was, moreover not simply an arahant with a few
incidental differences, but an arahant whose differences eventually elevated
him to a distinct level, the Bhagavā, a world teacher, one who towered
above all the other arahants. These differences opened the door, so to speak,
to the “cosmic-metaphysical perspective” on the Buddha as a way to
understand what accounted for these differences. Once this door was opened up,
the Buddha was viewed as the one who brought to consummation the long
bodhisattva career extending over countless eons, in which he sacrificed
himself in various ways, many times, for the good of others: this is the cosmic
aspect of that perspective. Again, he was viewed as the one who arrived at
ultimate truth, the Tathāgata who has come from Suchness (tathā + āgata)
and gone to Suchness (tathā + gata), and yet who abides nowhere: this is
the metaphysical aspect of that perspective. This cosmic-metaphysical
perspective then became characteristic of the Mahāyāna.

III. The perspective of
the Nikāyas

As I indicated above, there is a sense in which both the
Nikāyas and the Mahāyāna sūtras alike take it as their project to demonstrate
what is required of one who wants “to follow in the footsteps of the
Master.” But they take up this project from these two different
standpoints. I will explain first the standpoint of the Nikāyas and then the
standpoint of the Mahāyāna sūtras.

The Nikāyas begin with our common human condition and
depict the Buddha as starting from within this same human condition.
That is, for the Nikāyas, the Buddha starts off as a human being sharing fully
in our humanity. He takes birth among us as a man subject to the limitations of
human life. As he grows up, he is confronted with inevitable old age, sickness,
and death, which reveal to him the deep misery that perpetually lies hidden
behind youth, health, and life, mocking our brightest joys. Like many other
thoughtful Indians of his time, he seeks a way to liberation from life’s
afflictions — and as he tells it, he seeks liberation primarily for himself,
not with some grand thought in mind of saving the world. He goes forth, becomes
an ascetic, and engages in a relentless struggle for deliverance. Finally, he
finds the correct path and attains the bliss of nirvā
a. After his attainment, he considers whether he should make the path
available to others, and his first impulse is to remain silent.
Note that he almost follows the route of a paccekabuddha. It is only
when the deity Brahmā Sahampati entreats him that he takes up the task of
teaching this path to others. His major achievement is to have attained nirvā
a, the state free from all bondage and suffering. This is the great
goal, the final end of all spiritual striving, the peace beyond all the anxiety
and unrest of the ordinary human condition. By teaching the path, he makes this
goal available to others, and those who follow the path reach the same goal
that he himself attained.

The Buddha is the first of the arahants, while those who
reach the goal by following his path also become arahants. In the verse of
homage to the Buddha, it is said: “Iti pi so Bhagavā Araha
… — The Blessed One is an arahant…” Shortly after his
enlightenment, while walking to Benares to meet the five monks, a wanderer
stopped the Buddha and asked who he was. The Buddha replied: “I am the
arahant in the world, I am the supreme teacher” (MN 26/I 171). So the
Buddha first of all declares himself to be an arahant. The defining mark of an
arahant is the attainment of nirvā
a in this present life. The word
“arahant” was not coined by the Buddha but was current even before he
appeared on the Indian religious scene. The word is derived from a verb arahati,
meaning “to be worthy,” and thus means a person who is truly worthy
of veneration and offerings. Among Indian spiritual seekers in the Buddha’s
time, the word was used to denote a person who had attained the ultimate goal,
for this is what made one worthy of veneration and offerings. From the
perspective of the Nikāyas, the ultimate goal — the goal in strict doctrinal
terms — is nirvā
a, and the goal in human terms is
arahantship, the state of a person who has attained nirvā
a in this present life. The Buddha’s enlightenment is significant
because it marked the first realization of nirvā
a within this historical epoch. We
might say that the Buddha rises above the horizon of history as an arahant; in
his historical manifestation he dawns upon human consciousness as an arahant.

After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha makes the path
to enlightenment available to many others. Enlightenment is valued because it
is the gateway to the ultimate freedom of nirvā
a. In the Nikāyas, we find several
descriptions of the process by which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and
there are corresponding texts that describe the disciples’ enlightenment in the
same terms. In MN 26, the Buddha says that “being myself subject to birth,
aging, sickness, and death, I attained the unborn, ageless, sickness-free,
deathless, supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna” (MN I 167) A few months
later, when he taught the Dhamma to his first five disciples, he says of them:
“When those monks were instructed and guided by me, being subject to
birth, aging, sickness, and death, they attained the unborn, ageless,
sickness-free, deathless, supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna” (MN I
173). Thus the attainment of these monks is described in exactly the same terms
that the Buddha uses to describe his own attainment. Again, in several suttas —
MN 4, MN 19, MN 36 — the Buddha describes his attainment of enlightenment as
involving two main stages. First comes the attainment of the four jhānas.
Second, during the three parts of the night, he realized three higher
knowledges: the recollection of past lives, the knowledge of the passing away
and rebirth of beings according to their karma, and the knowledge of the
destruction of the āsavas, the primordial defilements that sustain the
round of rebirths. Now several suttas in the same collection, the Majjhima
Nikāya, describe the enlightenment of the disciple in just this way: attainment
of the four jhānas and realization of the three higher knowledges; see e.g. MN
27, MN 51, MN 53. While it is true that not all disciples attained the jhānas
and most probably didn’t attain the first two higher knowledges, these seemed
to mark a certain ideal standard within the early Sangha — a standard that the
Buddha and the great arahants shared in common.

At SN 22:58, the Buddha says that both the Tathāgata and
the arahant disciple are alike in being liberated from the five aggregates:
form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness. So, what
is the difference between them? The answer the Buddha gives points to temporal
priority as the distinction: the Tathāgata is the originator of the path, the
producer of the path, the one who declares the path. He is the knower of the
path, the discoverer of the path, the expounder of the path. His disciples
dwell following the path and become possessed of it afterwards. But they both
walk the same path and attain the same final goal.

Thus the Buddha is distinguished from the arahant
disciples, not by some categorical difference in their respective attainments,
but by his role: he is the first one in this historical epoch to attain
liberation, and he serves as the incomparable guide in making known the way to
liberation. He has skills in teaching that even the most capable of his
disciples cannot match, but with regard to their world-transcending
attainments, both the Buddha and the arahants are `buddho’,
“enlightened,” in that they have comprehended the truths that should
be comprehended. They are both `nibbuto’, in that they have extinguished
the defilements and thereby attained the peace of nirvā
a. They are both `suvimutto‘, fully liberated. They have fully
understood the truth of suffering; they have abandoned craving, the origin of
suffering; they have realized nirvā
a, the cessation of suffering; and
they have completed the practice of the noble eightfold path, the way leading
to the cessation of suffering.

As the first to accomplish all these worthy achievements,
the Buddha fulfills two functions. First, he serves as an example, the supreme
example; almost every aspect of his life is exemplary, but above all, his very
person demonstrates the possibility of attaining perfect freedom from all the
fetters of the mind, complete release from suffering, release from the pitfalls
of birth and death. Second, as aforesaid, he serves as the guide, the one who
knows the path and can teach it in its most intricate details. As the guide, he
constantly exhorts his disciples to make a dedicated effort to attain the
ultimate goal, nirvā
a. He admonishes them to strive as
diligently as a man whose turban was on fire would strive to put out the fire.
The fires of the human heart are greed, hatred, and delusion; their extinction
is nirvā
a. Those who extinguish greed,
hatred, and delusion are arahants.

IV. How the Buddha is
distinguished from other arahants

Nevertheless, it would hardly be correct to say that
temporal priority is the only thing that distinguishes the Buddha from
the arahants. To bring out the difference, I want to take two stock formulas
that occur many times in the texts, one for the Buddha and one for the
arahants. I already quoted the opening of the Buddha formula; now let me take
it in full: “The Blessed One is an arahant, a perfectly enlightened one,
possessed of true knowledge and conduct, an exalted one, a knower of the world,
unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans,
enlightened, the Blessed One.”

There are nine epithets here. Of these nine, four are also
used for arahant disciples: arahant, possessed of true knowledge and conduct,
an exalted one, enlightened; five are used exclusively for the Buddha:
perfectly enlightened one, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons
to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Blessed One. Note that of these
five, two (unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and
humans) explicitly refer to the Buddha’s significance for others, while, as I
understand it, this aspect is also implied by the word “Bhagavā.”
Even the epithets signifying knowledge are intended to show that he is a
reliable authority; that is, by reason of his wisdom or knowledge, he is
someone whom others can trust as a source of guidance. So when the Buddha is
designated a sammā sambuddha, “a perfectly enlightened one,”
this highlights not only the fullness of his enlightenment, but his authority
and reliability as a spiritual teacher.

The formula for the arahant reads thus: “Here a monk
is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, who has lived the spiritual
life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal,
utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, one completely liberated through
final knowledge.” Now all these epithets are true for the Buddha as well,
but the Buddha is not described in this way; for these terms emphasize the
attainment of one’s own liberation, and the Buddha is extolled, not primarily
as the one who has attained his own liberation, but as the one who opens the
doors of liberation for others. That is, even in the archaic suttas of the
Nikāyas, an “other-regarding” significance is already being subtly
ascribed to the Buddha’s status that is not ascribed to the arahant.

While the content of the Buddha’s enlightenment, according
to the Nikāya suttas, does not qualitatively differ from that of other
arahants, it plays a different role in what we might call the grand cosmic
scheme of salvation. The Buddha’s enlightenment has an essentially
“other-directed” component built into it from the start. By virtue of
attaining enlightenment, the Buddha serves as the great teacher who “opens
the doors to the Deathless.” AN I, xiii,1 says he is the one person who
arises in the world for the welfare of the world, out of compassion for the
world, for the good of devas and human beings. MN 19 compares him to a kind man
who leads a herd of deer (signifying sentient beings) from a place of danger to
a place of safety; MN 34 compares him to a wise cowherd who leads his cows
(i.e., the noble disciples) safely across the river. According to MN 35, the
Buddha is honored by other arahants because he is one who, having attained
enlightenment himself, teaches the Dhamma for the sake of enlightenment; having
attained peace, he teaches for the sake of peace; having attained nirvā
a, he teaches for the sake of nirvāa (MN I 235). He is perfect in all
respects, and the most important of his perfections is his ability to teach the
Dharma in ways that are best suited to the capacities of those who come to him
for guidance. His teaching is always exactly suited to the capacities of those
who seek his help, and when they follow his instructions, they receive
favorable results, whether it be merely the gain of faith or the attainment of

Other arahants can certainly teach, and many do teach
groups of disciples. Nevertheless, as teachers they do not compare with the
Buddha. This is so in at least two respects: First, the Dhamma they teach
others is one that comes from the Buddha, and thus ultimately the Buddha is the
source of their wisdom; and second, their skills in teaching never match in all
respects the skills of the Buddha, who is the only one who knows the path in
its entirety. The Buddha can function so effectively as a teacher because his
attainment of enlightenment — the knowledge of the four noble truths, which
brings the destruction of the defilements — brings along the acquisition of
several other types of knowledge that are considered special assets of a
Buddha. Chief among these, according to the oldest sources, are the ten
Tathāgata powers (see MN I 70-71), which include the knowledge of the diverse
inclinations of beings (sattāna
nānādhimuttikata yathābhūta ñāa) and the knowledge of the degree
of maturity of the faculties of other beings (parasattāna
parapuggalāna indriyaparopariyatta yathābhūta ñāa). Such types of knowledge enable
the Buddha to understand the mental proclivities and capacities of any person
who comes to him for guidance, and to teach that person in the particular way
that will prove most beneficial, taking full account of his or her character
and personal circumstances. He is thus “the unsurpassed trainer of persons
to be tamed.” Whereas arahant disciples are limited in their communicative
skills, the Buddha can communicate effectively with beings in many other realms
of existence, as well as with people from many different walks of life. This
skill singles him out as “the teacher of devas and humans.”

Thus we can see the respects in which the Buddha and
disciple arahants share certain qualities in common, above all their liberation
from all defilements and from all bonds connecting them to the round of
rebirths. And we also see how the Buddha is distinguished from his disciples,
namely: (1) by the priority of his attainment, (2) by his function as teacher
and guide, and (3) by his acquisition of certain qualities and modes of
knowledge that enable him to function as teacher and guide. He also has a
physical body endowed with thirty-two excellent characteristics and with other
marks of physical beauty. These inspire confidence in those who rely on beauty
of form.

V. The bodhisattva

I said above that each extreme attitude — “Nikāya
purism” and “Mahāyāna elitism” —   neglects facts that are
discomforting to their respective points of view. “Mahāyāna elitism”
neglects the fact that in his historical manifestation, so far as we can
ascertain through the early records of his teachings, the Buddha did not teach
the bodhisattva path, which emerges only in documents that start to appear at
least a century after his passing. What the Buddha consistently taught,
according to the early records, is the attainment of nirvā
a by reaching arahantship. The problem besetting “Nikāya
purism” is the figure of the Buddha himself; for in the Buddha we meet a
person who, while an arahant, did not attain arahantship as the disciple of a
Buddha but as a Buddha. In the Nikāyas themselves, he is depicted not
merely as the first of the arahants, but as one member of a class of beings —
the Tathāgatas — who possess unique characteristics that set them apart from
all other beings including their arahant disciples. The Nikāyas, moreover, regard
the Tathāgatas as supreme in the entire order of sentient beings: “To
whatever extent, monks, there are beings, whether footless or with two feet,
four feet, or many feet, whether having form or formless, whether percipient or
nonpercipient, or neither percipient nor nonpercipient, the Tathāgata, the
Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One is declared the best among them”
(AN 4:34).

Now since the Buddha is distinguished from his liberated
disciples in the ways sketched above, it seems almost self-evident that in his
past lives he must have followed a preparatory course sufficient to issue in
such an exalted state, namely, the course of a bodhisattva. This conclusion is,
in fact, a point of agreement common to all Buddhist schools, both those
derived from Early Buddhism and those belonging to the Mahāyāna; it also seems
to me to be a conclusion required by reflection. According to all Buddhist
traditions, to attain the supreme enlightenment of a Buddha requires the
forming of a deliberate resolution and the fulfillment of the spiritual
perfections, the pāramis or pāramitās; and it is a bodhisattva
who consummates the practice of these perfections. However, the Nikāyas and
Āgamas, the most ancient texts, are strangely silent about this very issue.[2]

In the Nikāyas, the Buddha does refer to himself as a bodhisatta in the
period prior to his enlightenment: in his immediately preceding life, when he
dwelled in the Tusita heaven, and during the period of his final life, as
Gotama of the Sakyan clan, before his enlightenment.[3]
But he says nothing to suggest that he had been consciously following a
deliberate course of conduct aimed at the attainment of Buddhahood. Moreover,
soon after his enlightenment, when the Buddha considered whether or not to
teach the Dhamma, he says that he first inclined to “dwell at ease” (appossukkatāya 
  namati MN 26/ I 168; Vin I 5), that is, not to teach, which suggests
that even after his enlightenment he might not have fulfilled the function of a
sammā sambuddha, but could have become a paccekabuddha.

There are, however, other passages strewn across the
Nikāyas that prevent us from drawing the definitive conclusion that the Buddha
somehow stumbled upon Buddhahood merely by chance or that his hesitation
implied a genuine possibility of choice. These passages suggest, to the contrary,
that his attainment of Buddhahood was already prepared for in his previous
births. Though they do not say that in his past lives he was deliberately
following a bodhisattva path to attain Buddhahood, the Nikāyas do depict him as
dwelling in the Tusita heaven in his immediately past existence (as I noted
just above), destined to become a fully enlightened Buddha in his next life as
Gotama of the Sakyan clan, and this implies that in his past lives he must have
fulfilled the most demanding prerequisites to take on such an exalted role, to
become the loftiest and most highly venerated being in all the world. When he
descends into his mother’s womb, a great measureless light appears in the world
surpassing the light of the devas; and such a light appears again at his birth.
When he is born, he is first received by deities, and streams of water pour
forth from the sky to wash him and his mother. Immediately upon his birth, he
takes seven steps and declares himself the best in the world (MN 123/ III
120-23). The gods sing songs of delight, declaring that the bodhisattva has
arisen for the welfare and happiness of the human world (Sn 686). Such
passages, of course, could be seen as later additions to the Nikāyas,
indicative of a stage when the “Buddha legend” was already making
inroads upon the most ancient texts. Nevertheless, given the law of cause and
result as operating in the spiritual dimensions of the human domain, it seems
virtually impossible that anyone could have attained the extraordinary stature
of a Buddha without having made a deliberate effort over many lives to reach
such a supreme attainment. 

Despite such considerations, in the Nikāyas the Buddha is
never seen teaching others to enter a bodhisattva path. Whenever he urges his
monastic disciples to strive for any goal, it is to strive for arahantship, for
liberation, for nirvā
a. Whenever monastic disciples come
to the Buddha, they ask for guidance in following the path to arahantship. The
monks that the Buddha praises in the midst of the Sangha are those who have
attained arahantship. Lay disciples often attain the three lower stages of
liberation, from stream-entry to non-returning; those who lack the potential
for world-transcending attainments aim at a heavenly rebirth or for a fortunate
rebirth back into the human realm. No mention is ever made, however, of a lay
disciple treading the bodhisattva path, much less of a dichotomy between
monastic arahants and lay bodhisattvas.

We need not, however, simply take the Nikāyas at face
value but can raise questions. Why is it that in the Nikāyas we never find any
instance of a disciple coming to the Buddha to ask for guidance in following a
bodhisattva path to Buddhahood? And why is the Buddha never seen exhorting his
followers to take up the bodhisattva path? The questions themselves seem
perfectly legitimate, and I’ve tried working out several explanations, though
without complete success. One explanation is that there were instances when
this happened, but they were filtered out by the compilers of the texts because
such teachings were not consistent with the teachings aimed at arahantship.
This hypothesis seems unlikely because, if discourses on the path to Buddhahood
had the imprint of genuine teachings of the Buddha, it is improbable that the
monks compiling the texts would have omitted them. Another explanation is that
in the earliest phase of Buddhism, the pre-textual phase, the Buddha was
simply the first arahant who taught the path to arahantship and did not differ
significantly from those among his arahant disciples who possessed the three
higher types of knowledge and the iddhis, the supernormal powers.
According to this account, the Nikāyas are the product of several generations
of monastic elaboration and thus already show traces of the apotheosis of the
Buddha, his elevation to an exalted (but not yet superhuman) status. On this
hypothesis, if we could take a time-machine back to the Buddha’s own time, we
would find that the Buddha differed from the other arahants mainly in the
priority of his attainment and in certain skills he possessed as a teacher, but
these differences would not be as great as even the old Nikāyas make them out
to be. However, this position seems to strip away from the Buddha that which is
most distinctive about him: his uncanny ability to reach deep into the hearts
of those who came to him for guidance and teach them in the unique way suitable
for their characters and situations. This ability betokens a depth of
compassion, a spirit of selfless service, that harmonizes better with the later
concept of the bodhisattva than with the canonical concept of the arahant as we
see it portrayed, for example, in many of the poems of the Theragāthā or the muni
poems of the Sutta-nipāta.

In the final analysis, I have to confess my inability to
provide a perfectly cogent solution to this problem. In view of the fact that
in later times so many Buddhists, in Theravāda lands as well as in the Mahāyāna
world, have been inspired by the bodhisattva ideal, it is perplexing that no
teachings about a bodhisattva path or bodhisattva practices are included in the
discourses regarded as coming down from the most archaic period of Buddhist
literary history. This remains a puzzle – for me personally, and also, I
believe, a puzzle for Buddhist historiography. In any case, the texts that we
inherit do not show as steep a difference between the Buddha’s
“other-regarding” functions and the so-called
“self-enlightenment” of the arahants as later tradition makes them
out to be. The Nikāyas show sufficient emphasis on altruistic activity aimed at
sharing the Dhamma with others; admittedly, though, most of this emphasis comes
from the Buddha himself in the form of injunctions to his disciples. Thus,
several texts distinguish people into four types: those concerned only with
self-good, those concerned only with others’ good, those concerned with the
good of neither, and those concerned with the good of both; these texts praise
as best those who are devoted to the good of both. And what is meant by being
devoted to the good of both is practicing the noble eightfold path and teaching
others to practice it; observing the five precepts and encouraging others to
observe them; working to eliminate greed, aversion, and delusion and
encouraging others to eliminate them (AN 4:96-99). In other suttas the Buddha
urges all those who know the four foundations of mindfulness to teach their
relatives and friends about them; and the same is said about the four factors
of stream-entry and the four noble truths (SN 47:48, 55:16-17, 56:26). In the
beginning of his ministry, he exhorts his disciples to go forth and preach the
Dharma “out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and
happiness of devas and human beings” (Vin I 21). Among the important
qualities of an outstanding monk are abundant learning and skill in expounding
the Dharma, two qualities that are directly relevant to the benefit of others.
Also, we must remember that the Buddha established a monastic order bound by
rules and regulations designed to make it function as a harmonious community,
and these rules often demand the renouncing of self-interest for the sake of
the larger whole. Regarding the lay followers, the Buddha praises those who
practice for their own good, for the good of others, and for the good of the
whole world. Many prominent lay followers converted their colleagues and
neighbors to the Dharma and guided them in right practice.

Thus, we can see that while Early Buddhism emphasizes that
each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own destiny, holding that
no one can purify another or rescue another from the miseries of sa
sāra, it includes an altruistic dimension that distinguished it from
most of the other religious systems that flourished alongside it in northern
India. This altruistic dimension might be seen as the “seed” from
which the bodhisattva doctrine developed. It might thus also be considered one
of the elements in ancient Buddhism that contributed to the emergence of the

VI. The transition
towards the full-fledged bodhisattva concept

Perhaps for a full-fledged bodhisattva doctrine to emerge
in Buddhism, something more was needed than the conception of the Buddha that
we find in the ancient texts of the Nikāyas. Thus the common project of
comparing the arahant of the Nikāyas with the bodhisattva figure of the
Mahāyāna sūtras may be somewhat misguided. As I see it, one of the factors that
underlies the emergence of the full-fledged bodhisattva doctrine was the
transformation of the archaic Buddha concept of the Nikāya sūtras into the
Buddha figure of Buddhist religious faith and legend. This took place mainly in
the age of Sectarian Buddhism, that is, between the phase of Early Buddhism
represented by the Nikāyas and the rise of early Mahāyāna Buddhism. During this
period, two significant developments of the Buddha concept occurred. First, the
number of Buddhas was multiplied; and second, the Buddhas came to be endowed
with increasingly more exalted qualities. These developments occurred somewhat
differently in the different Buddhist schools, but certain common features
united them.

The Nikāyas already mention six Buddhas preceding Gotama
and one to follow him, Metteyya (Skt: Maitreya). Now, since cosmic time is
without any discernible beginning or conceivable end, the inference was drawn
that there must have been even earlier Buddhas, and thus the number of past
Buddhas was increased; stories about some of these entered into circulation and
brought them to life. Since space was likewise unbounded, with world systems
like our own spread out in “the ten directions,” some schools posited
the present existence of Buddhas in other world systems beyond our own —
Buddhas still alive whom one might worship and, by means of meditative power,
actually see with contemplative vision.

The texts of Sectarian Buddhism increased a Buddha’s
faculties of knowledge until they eventually ascribed to him nothing short of
omniscience. He came to possess numerous miraculous powers. Eighteen special
“Buddha-dharmas,” not mentioned in the old suttas, were added.
Legends and stories entered into circulation describing the wonderful ways he
taught and transformed others. Some of these stories are already found in the
suttas: the stories of his encounters with the serial killer Angulimāla, the
fierce demon Ā
avaka, the poor leper Suppabuddha,
the angry brahmin Bhāradvāja. These stories increased exponentially, painting a
picture of the Buddha as the incredibly resourceful teacher who redeems from
misery and delusion people of every type. He breaks the pride of haughty
brahmins; he brings consolation to distraught mothers and wretched widows; he
dispels the complacency of proud warriors and beautiful courtesans; he outdoes
clever scholars in debates and rival ascetics in feats of supernormal powers;
he teaches avaricious millionaires the wonders of generosity; he inspires
diligence in heedless monks; he wins the reverence of kings and princes. As
Buddhist devotees looked back on their deceased Master and pondered the
question of what accounted for his extraordinary greatness, in no long time
they realized that what was most outstanding about him was his boundless
compassion. Not content with confining his compassionate concern for others to
a single life, they saw it as spread out over innumerable lives in the chain of
samsaric existence. Their creative imaginations thus gave birth to a vast
treasury of stories about births, namely, about the Buddha’s previous births.
These stories — the Jātakas or Birth Tales — told of how he had prepared
himself for his mission as a Buddha by treading the path of a bodhisattva for
unimaginable eons.

The keynote of the most memorable of these stories is
service and self-sacrifice. It was by serving others and sacrificing himself
for their good that the bodhisattva earned the merits and acquired the virtues
that entitled him to attain Buddhahood. Thus, in Buddhist thought clear across
the schools of Early Buddhism, the altruistic dimension of the Buddha’s
enlightenment came to the forefront, literally carved in stone — in pillars and
monuments stretching from India to Indonesia — and memorialized in stories and
poetry. From this perspective, the Buddha’s enlightenment was significant, not
merely because it opened the path to nirvā
a for many others, but because it
consummated an eons-long career that began with an altruistic motivation and
endured across many eons sustained by an altruistic resolve. During this
career, it was held, the bodhisattva qualified himself for Buddhahood by
fulfilling certain supreme virtues, the pāramīs or pāramitās,
which now took the place that the factors of the noble eightfold path held in
Early Buddhism. This understanding of the Buddha, I must stress, was common to all
the schools of Sectarian Buddhism, including the Theravāda.

During the age of Sectarian Buddhism, the Early Buddhist
schools came to admit three “vehicles” to enlightenment: the vehicle
of the disciple arahant, the śrāvaka-yāna, to be taken by the greatest
number of disciples; the vehicle of the “solitary enlightened one”
who attains realization without a teacher but does not teach, the pratyekabuddha-yāna,
which is still more difficult; and the vehicle of the aspirant to Buddhahood,
the bodhisattva-yāna. Once it became widespread in mainstream Indian
Buddhism, the idea of the three vehicles was not only taken up by the Mahāyāna
but was eventually also absorbed into conservative Theravāda Buddhism. Thus we
read in the later Theravāda commentaries, such as those by Ācariya Dhammapāla
and others, of the same three yānas or of the three kinds of bodhi:
the enlightenment of disciples, of paccekabuddhas, and of sammā

VII. The emergence of the
Mahāyāna as the bodhisattva-vehicle

Now at some point during this period, the altruistic
interpretation of the Buddha’s enlightenment that culminated in the conception
of the bodhisattva path flowed back upon the Buddhist community and, for some
members at least, took on a prescriptive force. As they reflected
deeply on what it meant to be an ideal follower of the Buddha, such Buddhist
disciples concluded that to follow in the Buddha’s footsteps in the highest
sense, it was no longer sufficient simply to follow the noble eightfold path aimed
at the attainment of nirvā
a. This was still seen as a valid
option, an option that culminated in liberation for oneself and those one might
immediately influence by teaching and example; but, they held, the Buddha
himself had aimed at a state that would enable him to promote the welfare and
happiness of the hosts of devas and humans. Thus, these thinkers felt, the
superior choice, the higher way to follow the Buddha, was to set out on the
same quest that the Buddha had set for himself: by taking the vows of a
bodhisattva and following the bodhisattva course. This would have marked the
emergence of the bodhisattva-yāna as a conception of the ideal
Buddhist way of life, the way binding upon the true follower of the Enlightened

This ideal emerged from a different starting point than
Early Buddhism, a different visionary background. Whereas Early Buddhism takes
(as we saw above) the common human condition as its starting point, and even
views the Buddha as beginning as a human being subject to human frailties,
early-period Mahāyāna Buddhism takes as its starting point the long-range
cosmic background to a Buddha’s attainment of Buddhahood. It looks back to his
first conception of the bodhicitta, his original vows, and his practice
of the pāramitās over countless lives, and treats these as the paradigm
for practice. That is, it sees this process, not merely as a description
of the path that a Buddha follows, but as a recommendation of the path
that his true disciples should follow; some later versions of Mahāyāna
see this as the actualization of a potential for Buddhahood, the tathāgatagarbha
or “embryo of the Thus-Come One,” already embedded deep within us.

We can imagine a period when the bodhisattva-yāna
had been consciously adopted by a growing number of Buddhists, probably first
within small circles of monks, who sought to guide themselves by the sūtras of
the Nikāyas or Āgamas and the Jātaka stories dealing with the Buddha’s past
lives. They were still members of early Buddhist communities and probably had
not yet even become conscious of themselves as branching off to form a new
tradition. They would not have thought of themselves as “Mahāyāna
Buddhists,” as we understand the term today, but simply as communities of
Buddhists pledged to follow the bodhisattva-yāna, which they might have
designated the mahāyāna simply in the sense that it constituted a
“great course” to enlightenment. However, while for some time they
may have tried to remain within the fold of mainstream Buddhism, once they
began to openly propagate the bodhisattva ideal, they would have found
themselves in open confrontation with those who adhered more strictly to the
ideas and ideals of the older, well-established sūtras. This confrontation
would have heightened their sense of distinctness and thus led to their
conscious amalgamation into communities revolving around a new vision of the
Buddhist path and goal.

 At this point they might have found that the
teachings of the Nikāya-Āgama sūtras, which describe the practices needed to
attain personal liberation from the round of birth and death, no longer met
their needs. They would, of course, still have accepted these teachings as
authoritative, since they stemmed directly from the Buddha, but they would also
felt the need for scriptures rooted in the same authority that provide detailed
teachings about the practices and stages of the bodhisattva path, which aimed
at nothing less than perfect Buddhahood. It was to fill this need, presumably,
that the Mahāyāna sūtras began to appear on the Indian Buddhist scene. Exactly
how these sūtras were first composed and made their appearance is a matter
about which contemporary scholarship is still largely in the dark;[5]

for all we have at our disposal are Mahāyāna sūtras that are fairly well
developed and represent Mahāyāna Buddhism at what we might call “stage
two” or even “stage three” of its development. Unfortunately, we
cannot use them to peer back into the very earliest stage of the Mahāyāna, when
these sūtras were first starting to take shape, or even past that period, when
Mahāyānist ideas were still in the stage of gestation, seeking articulation
without yet having come to expression in any literary documents.

Now there are two attitudes noticeable in the early
Mahāyāna sūtras regarding the older paradigm based on the arahant ideal. One is
to affirm it as valid for the typical Buddhist follower, while extolling the
bodhisattva path as the appropriate vehicle for the person of excellent
aspirations. This attitude treats the old arahant ideal, or the śrāvaka
paradigm, with respect and admiration, while lavishing the greatest praise on
the bodhisattva ideal. When this attitude is adopted, the two paths — together
with the path to the enlightenment of a pratekabuddha — become three
valid vehicles, the choice of which is left to the disciple. The other attitude
seen in the Mahāyāna sūtras is one of devaluation and denigration. It involves
not simply comparing the path to arahantship unfavorably with the bodhisattva
path (for all the Buddhist schools recognized the superiority of the
bodhisattva’s way to Buddhahood), but belittling and ridiculing the old ideal
of ancient Buddhism, sometimes treating it almost with contempt. The first
attitude is seen in such early Mahāyāna texts as the Ugraparip
cchā Sūtra.[6]
Over time, however, the second attitude became more prominent until we find
such texts as the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, which ridicules the great disciples of the
Buddha like Sāriputta, Upāli, and Pu
ṇṇa Mantāniputta; or the Aśokadattā
Sūtra, in which a young girl bodhisattva refuses to show respect to the great
arahant disciples; or the Saddharmapu
ṇḍarīka Sūtra, which compares the
a of the arahants to the wages of a hired laborer. In some sūtras, it
is even said that arahants feel shame and reproach themselves for attaining
arahantship, or that arahants are conceited and deluded. It is indisputable
that the Mahāyāna sūtras often have passages of great depth and beauty. I
believe, however, that a more conciliatory attitude towards the older form of
Buddhism would have made the task of achieving harmony among different Buddhist
schools today much easier than it is. Within the Theravāda school, the Mahāyāna
teachings on the bodhisattva ideal and the practice of the pāramitās
were incorporated into the later commentaries, but never in a way that involved
denigration of the older, more historical Buddhist goal of arahantship.

VIII. Breaking down old

In this part of my presentation I want to use this
historical analysis to break down old stereotypes and the prejudices that have
divided followers of the two main forms of Buddhism. From there we can work
towards a healthy rather than competitive integration of the two. The two main
stereotypes are as follows:

(1) Arahants, and Theravādin Buddhists, are concerned
exclusively with their own salvation as opposed to the benefit of others; they
have a narrow fixation on personal liberation because they are “fearful of
birth and death” and therefore have little compassion for others and don’t
undertake activities intended to benefit them.

(2) Followers of the bodhisattva ideal, and Mahāyāna
Buddhists, are so much involved in social projects aimed at benefiting others
that they don’t take up the practice that the Buddha assigned to his disciples,
namely, the taming of the mind and the development of insight. They have
overwhelmed themselves with social duties and forsaken meditation practice.

I’ll take the two stereotypes in order, and begin with the
ancient arahants. Although the Buddha was the pioneer in discovering the path
to liberation, this does not mean that his arahant disciples just selfishly
reaped the benefits of the path and did nothing for others. To the contrary, in
the suttas we can see that many of them became great teachers in their own
right who were capable of guiding others towards liberation. The best known
among them are Sāriputta, Mahākaccāna, Moggāllana, and Ānanda. There was the
monk Pu
ṇṇa who went to the barbarian
Sunāparanta country, risking his life to teach the Dhamma to the people there.
There were such nuns as Khemā and Dhammadinnā, who were outstanding preachers,
ācārā, who was a master of the discipline, and many others. For four
hundred years, the Buddhist texts were preserved orally, transmitted from
teachers to pupils, and obviously there had to be thousands of monks and nuns
who dedicated their lives to learning the texts and teaching them to pupils,
all for the purpose of preserving the good Dhamma and Vinaya in the world.

The example established by the Buddha’s great arahant
disciples has been the model for the followers of the arahant ideal throughout
history. While those who pursue this ideal do not make such lofty vows as do
followers of the bodhisattva ideal, they are inspired by the example of the
Buddha and his great disciples to work for the spiritual and moral uplift of
others to the best of their ability: by teaching, by example, and by direct
spiritual influence, inspired by the Buddha’s command to “wander forth for
the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude, out of
compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and
human beings.”

The life pattern of a follower of the arahant ideal
conforms in many respects to that of the Buddha. I take as an example those who
may not have actually achieved arahantship itself but are practicing within
this framework and have reached some higher stage of spiritual accomplishment.
In the early part of their lives, they may go to a forest monastery or to a meditation
center to train under a competent teacher. Then, after reaching a sufficient
level of maturity to practice on their own, they will go into solitude to
develop their practice for a period that might last five years or longer. Then,
at a certain point, their achievements will start to exert an influence on
others. They might start to teach on their own initiative, or their teacher
might ask them to begin teaching, or prospective students might realize they
have achieved some superior state and request guidance from them. From this
point on, they will begin to teach, and in time they might become well
respected spiritual teachers, with many disciples and many centers under their

In contrast to the image of “selfish personal
liberation” that Mahāyāna Buddhists ascribe to the arahants and those
following the śrāvaka-yāna, the most eminent masters of the Theravāda
tradition often teach thousands of disciples, monastic and laity. Some may work
ten or more hours a day. For example, in recent times, Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of
Burma established hundreds of meditation centers in Burma and presided over the
Sixth Buddhist Council; Ajahn Chah had a main monastery and many branch
monasteries in Thailand, one dedicated to foreign monks; Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw, U
Pandita, and Bhante Gunaratana — present-day Theravāda meditation teachers —
travel throughout the world conducting courses; Ajahn Maha Boowa, at age 93
reputed to be an arahant, supports sixty hospitals in Thailand, and regularly
visits them to console patients and distribute medicines. Those who are not
competent to function as meditation teachers might still become masters of
Buddhist texts and philosophy and devote themselves selflessly to guiding
others in understanding the Dhamma, whether by training monks and nuns, by
giving instructions to the laity, by teaching in Buddhist monastic schools, or
by preaching in Buddhist temples.

From the Theravāda perspective, while social work is
certainly praiseworthy, of all benefits that can be conferred on others, the
most precious benefit is the gift of the Dharma. Thus the quest for liberation
as an arahant is not a purely private, personal undertaking, but has a
far-reaching influence and can have an impact upon a whole society. In the
traditional Theravāda countries, before the corrupting influence of the West
set in, the whole life of the community revolved around the Dhamma. The monks
who meditated in the forests and mountains were the inspiration and model for
the society; those who preached and taught in the villages helped to transmit
the Dhamma to the people. The lay community, from the king down to the
villagers, saw their principal duty to be the support of the Sangha. So the
supreme goal of arahantship became the focal point for an entire social system
inspired and sustained by devotion to the Dhamma.

Those who seek the goal of nirvāa do not wait until they become arahants before they start helping
others. Within this system, giving is regarded as the foundation for all other
virtues; it is the first basis of merit and the first of the ten pāramis.
Thus the Pali scriptures, and monks in their preaching, encourage people to
give to the best of their ability. Lay people support the Sangha with their
simple material needs of food, robes, dwellings, and medicines. They also give
generously to the poor and disadvantaged. In Sri Lanka, for example, blood
donation campaigns are common on Buddhist holidays, and many people donate
their eyes to eye banks and their bodily organs for medical research after
their death. I learned recently that in Sri Lanka, more than 200 monks have
donated kidneys, without any thought of remuneration or any other personal
benefit, solely for the privilege of giving a bodily organ. Monks with
knowledge of the Dhamma and skill in speaking become preachers and teachers.
Those with managerial skills might become administrators of monasteries. The
few who are strongly motivated to make the effort to win liberation in this
very life dedicate their energy to meditation in forest hermitages. Accomplished
meditation teachers will devote their time to teaching meditation and will also
try to find time to develop their own practice. Sometimes they have to delay
their own practice in order to fulfill their teaching duties.

So much for misunderstandings concerning the arahant
ideal, and now for the bodhisattva ideal: I think it would be an
oversimplification to equate the pursuit of the bodhisattva ideal with
engagement in social service and to assume that a bodhisattva forgoes all
training on the path to liberation. In my understanding, the foundation of the
bodhisattva path is the arising of the bodhicitta (bodhicittotpāda),
the aspiration to supreme enlightenment. This usually arises only through
diligent training in meditation. According to the authoritative sources on
Mahāyāna Buddhist meditation, to generate the bodhicitta, one must
systematically train the mind to perceive all beings as one’s mothers and
fathers, sisters and brothers, and arouse towards them boundless
loving-kindness and great compassion, until such a perception becomes natural
and spontaneous. This is not at all easy. I read that the Dalai Lama has said
that he himself has experienced the real bodhicitta only a few times,
for a few moments each time, so this gives us some idea of how difficult such
an achievement must be. It can’t be won just by casually engaging in a little
social service and then convincing oneself that one has aroused the bodhicitta.

It is true that the bodhisattva vows to work for the
welfare of others in a broader way than the follower of the śrāvaka
vehicle, but all such efforts are superficial if they are not motivated and
supported by the true bodhicitta. Besides generating the aspirational bodhicitta,
the bodhisattva must apply the bodhicitta through the practice of the
six pāramitās and other great bodhisattva deeds of self-abnegation. The pāramitās
begin with dāna-pāramitā, the perfection of giving. Social engagement
can certainly be included under this category, as it involves giving others
material gifts and the gift of security. But these gifts, as worthy as they
are, do not equal in value the gift of the Dharma, for the gift of the Dharma
leads to the permanent extinction of suffering. To be qualified to give this
gift requires skills that go beyond social service.

The next spiritual perfection is sīla-pāramitā, the
perfection of morality, and social engagement can be included under the
morality of altruistic action, acts that benefit others. While engaged in
social service, a bodhisattva must also practice patience  —  
patience in enduring difficult conditions, patience in enduring disregard and
abuse from others; so he is fulfilling k
ānti-pāramitā, the perfection of patience. And the work of social service demands
energy. This helps to fulfill the vīrya-pāramitā, the perfection of
energy. Thus social engagement can contribute towards the fulfillment of four
of the six pāramitās.

But the bodhisattva must also fulfill the dhyāna-pāramitā
and the prajñā-pāramitā, the perfections of meditation and wisdom, and
these two perfections require the adoption of a contemplative life style. The
Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtras say that the prajñā-pāramitā guides and directs
the other five pāramitās, and the other five pāramitās become
“perfections” or transcendent virtues only when they are connected
with prajñā-pāramitā. But prajñā-pāramitā can only be attained
through contemplative practice, by seeking out a lifestyle similar to that of
one seeking arahantship.

The early Mahāyāna sūtras, such as the Ugraparipcchā
Sūtra, do not recommend that the novice monastic bodhisattva immerse himself in
social work; rather, they point him to the forest and instruct him to devote
his efforts to meditation. If we look at the history of Mahāyāna Buddhism,
whether in India, China, or Tibet, we would see that the great Mahāyāna masters
such as Nāgārjuna, Asanga, and Atīsha in India; Huineng, Zhiyi, and Xuancang
(Hsuan Tsang) in China; Longchen, Gampopa, and Tsongkhapa in Tibet, were not
renown for their engagement in social service, but for their accomplishments as
philosophers, scholars, and meditation masters. The Buddha himself achieved the
highest attainments in meditation. Since bodhisattvas aim to become Buddhas, it
is only natural that they should perfect the meditative skills that are
characteristic of a Buddha.

Although the motivation and philosophical basis for
followers of the bodhisattva vehicle differ from that of followers of the śrāvaka
vehicle, the lifestyles of the two are not very different. The popular images
of the withdrawn, solitary arahant, and the gregarious, super-active
bodhisattva are fictions. In real life, the two resemble each other much more
than one would think. The arahants, and those who seek to attain arahantship,
often work assiduously for the spiritual and material improvement of their
fellow human beings. The bodhisattvas, and bodhisattva aspirants, often must
spend long periods in solitary meditation cultivating the meditative skills
that will be necessary for them to attain Buddhahood. They will also have to
study all the doctrines and the paths of the śrāvaka vehicle, yet
without actualizing those paths. The bodhisattvas will have to learn to enter
the meditative absorptions, practice them, and eventually master them. They
will have to contemplate the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering,
and non-self. They will have to acquire the insight-knowledges into the three
characteristics. They differ from śrāvakas in so far as a śrāvaka
aims to use the insight-knowledges to attain realization of nirvā
a. A bodhisattva will link his or her practice of the path with the bodhicitta
aspiration, the bodhisattva vows, and the spirit of great compassion. Sustained
by these supports, a bodhisattva will be able to contemplate the nature of
reality without attaining realization of nirvā
a until he or she has matured all
the qualities that come to perfection in Buddhahood. Among these is the
perfection of giving and the conferring of benefits on sentient beings. But the
greatest gift that one can give is the gift of the Dharma, and the kindest
benefit one can confer on sentient beings is teaching them the Dharma and
guiding them in the Dharma. Though a bodhisattva can certainly engage in social
service as an expression of his or her compassion, to reach the higher stages
of the bodhisattva path the aspirant will require a different range of skills
than is exercised in social engagement, skills that are closer to those
possessed by the arahant.

IX. Towards a healthy
integration of the vehicles

In my own view, both paths (or vehicles) — the arahant
path and the bodhisattva path — can be seen as valid expressions of the
Buddha’s teaching. However, they must both conform to certain formal criteria.
In matters of principle, they must conform to such teachings as the four noble
truths, the three characteristics, and dependent origination; and in matters of
practice, they must embody wholesome ethics and follow the scheme of the
threefold training in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Nevertheless, even
when these criteria are fulfilled, we must further avoid any type of syncretism
that leads to the denigration of the original teachings of the historical
Buddha, regarding them as mere expedients or adaptations to the Indian
religious climate of his age rendered irrelevant by teachings arisen at a later
period. The kind of tolerance that is needed is one that respects the
authenticity of Early Buddhism so far as we can determine its nature from the
oldest historical records, yet can also recognize the capacity of Buddhism to
undergo genuine historical transformations that bring to manifestation
hidden potentials of the ancient teaching, transformations not necessarily
preordained to arise from the early teaching but which nevertheless enrich the
tradition springing from the Buddha as its fountainhead.

When we adopt this approach, we can truly venerate those
practitioners who work diligently to realize the final goal of the Dhamma here
and now, to reach nibbāna, the extinction of suffering, by following the noble
eightfold path to its very end. We can venerate those who glorify the teaching
by showing that it truly leads to ultimate liberation, to the plunge into the
unborn and unconditioned state, the deathless element, which the Buddha so
often extolled, calling it the wonderful and marvelous, the peaceful purity,
the unsurpassed liberation. Again, by taking this approach, we can also
venerate those who vow to follow the compassionate route of the bodhisattva,
and who make this vow as an act of supererogation, not because it is a
necessary condition for their own true deliverance. We can revere and cherish
their loving-kindness, their great compassion, their lofty aspirations, and
their self-sacrificial service to the world. True Buddhism needs all three:
Buddhas, arahants, and bodhisattvas. It needs Buddhas to discover and teach the
path to liberation; it needs arahants to follow the path and confirm that the
Dharma does indeed lead to liberation, adorning the teaching with examples of
those who lead the purest holy life; it needs bodhisattvas to bring forth the
resolve to perfect those qualities that will enable them at some point in the
future, near or distant, to become Buddhas themselves and once again turn the
unsurpassed Wheel of the Dharma.



is also a third model of the Buddhist spiritual life, that of the paccekabuddha
or pratyekabuddha. The paccekabuddha is similar in many respects to the
disciple arahant, except that whereas the disciple arahant attains
enlightenment under the guidance of a Buddha, the paccekabuddha gains
enlightenment without any outside guidance. Otherwise, the combination of
qualities that constitute this type is essentially the same. In the literature
of the Buddhist systems, we often read of three types of enlightened ones —
Pali: sāvakas, paccekabuddhas, and sammā sambuddhas (=
Skt: śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and samyak sambuddhas) —
and of the three vehicles that lead to these attainments: the śrāvaka-yāna,
the pratyekabuddha-yāna, and the bodhisattva-yāna.


is at least one possible exception to this. MĀ 32, the Chinese Āgama parallel
to MN 123, states at T I 469c24: “The Blessed One at the time of Kassapa
Buddha made his initial vow for the Buddha path and practised the holy
世尊迦葉佛時, 始願佛道, 行梵行. (I am indebted
to Bhikkhu Anālayo for this reference.) The idea suggested at MĀ 32 seems to me
very improbable. For in MN 81 (with a parallel at MĀ 132), the potter
Ghañikāra, a lay disciple of Kassapa Buddha and a non-returner, is a friend of
the brahmin Jotipāla, the bodhisattva who is to become the Buddha Gotama.
During the reign of Gotama Buddha, Ghañikāra appears as an arahant dwelling in
one of the celestial Pure Abodes. The above statement would imply that in the
time that Ghañikāra advanced from the non-returner state to arahantship, the
bodhisattva had traversed the entire path to Buddhahood from the first
generation of the aspiration to the final fruit of Buddhahood with all its
extraordinary knowledges and powers.


in any Middle Indo-Aryan language, the word would be bodhisatta. This
was Sanskritized as bodhisattva, “enlightenment being,” and we
take this meaning for granted; but the Sanskritized form might be wrong. For
MIA bodhisatta could also represent Sanskrit bodhisakta, meaning
“one intent on enlightenment,” “one devoted to
enlightenment,” and this makes better sense than “an enlightenment


I do
not think the expressions, “three yānas” or “three bodhis,”
are used in the commentaries that can be reliably ascribed to Buddhaghosa,
though the idea is already implicit in the acknowledgement of three types of
enlightened persons who reach their goals through the accumulation of pāramīs.


see the symposium on Early Mahāyāna in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. 35
(2003), especially Paul Harrison,  “Mediums and Messages: Reflections
on the Production of Mahāyāna Sūtras,” pp. 115-151.


Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to The Inquiry
of Ugra
(Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003),  offers a
translation of this sutra along with an extremely illuminating introduction. Of
special relevance to the present paper are chapters 4, 7, and 8 of the


By U Silananda


Theravada Buddhism is known more widely than before nowadays, there are still
some misunderstandings concerning it. There are still people who believe and
say (or rather write) that Theravada is for Arahantship only. Before we talk
about this subject, we must understand the meaning of the word arahant. According
to Theravada Buddhist teachings, an arahant is a person who has reached the
fourth and highest stage of enlightenment. All those who have reached this
stage are called arahants, worthy ones. Worthy of what? Worthy of
accepting gifts from devotees, because gifts made to those persons bring
abundant results. According to this definition, all those who have reached this
stage, both disciples and Buddhas (and Pacceka-Buddhas also), are called arahants.
There are numerous places in the Pali Canon where the Buddha is referred to as arahant,
see for instance the formula of homage which Buddhists say everyday: “Namo
Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa!”; observe also the
statement in the Mahavagga of Vinaya Pitaka, “There are now six arahants
in the world”, i.e., the five first disciples and the Buddha. But arahant
is also used to refer to the disciples only, and it is in this sense that the
word arahant is used hereafter in this article.

to Theravada teachings, there are three kinds of beings who have reached the
fourth stage of enlightenment: Buddhas, Pacceka-Buddhas, and Arahants. Arahants
are also called Savakas or Disciples; they are subdivided into Aggasavaka (the
Best Disciples), Mahasavaka (the Great Disciples) and Pakatisavaka (the
Ordinary Disciples). All of these beings are enlightened persons, but their
quality of enlightenment differs from one another. The enlightenment of the
Buddhas is the best, that of Pacceka-Buddhas is inferior to the enlightenment
of the Buddhas, but is superior to the enlightenment of the Arahants, and the
enlightenment of the Arahants is the lowest of them all. Buddhas can ‘save’
many beings, or rather they can help many beings ‘save’ themselves by giving
them instructions, but Pacceka-Buddhas do not ‘save’ beings because they are
solitary Buddhas and do not teach as a rule. The Arahants can and do ‘save’beings,
but not as many beings as Buddhas do. And the time required for the maturity of
the qualities of these beings differ greatly. To become a Buddha, one has to
fulfill the Paramis (necessary qualities for becoming a Buddha) for four, eight
or sixteen Incalculables and 100,000 worlds cycles; but for a Pacceka-Buddha
the time is only two Incalculables and 100,000 world cycles. Among the
Disciples, for an Aggasavaka, the time required is one Incalculable and 100,000
world cycles, while for a Mahasavaka, it is only 100,000. But for the
Pakatisavaka, it may be just one life, or a hundred lives, or a thousand lives,
or more. It is important to note that once a person becomes an arahant,
he will not become a Buddha in that life; and since there is no more rebirth
for him, he will not become a Buddha in the future either.

Theravada Buddhism one is not forced to follow the path to Buddhahood only, but
is given a choice from among the paths mentioned above. So a Theravada Buddhist
can aspire for and eventually reach Buddhahood; indeed he must be determined to
fulfill the Paramis for the long, long time required for the fulfillment of
Buddhahood. Or if he so desires, he may aspire for Pacceka-Buddhahood, or one
of the states of Arahantship and suffer in the round of rebirths for the time
required for his particular choice of the path accumulating the necessary
Paramis and ‘save’ as many beings as they can. So a Theravada Buddhist is free
to choose what suits his willingness to go through the round of rebirths and

In brief, a Theravada Buddhist
can become a Buddha, or a Pacceka-Buddha, or an Arahant according to his
choice. So Theravada Buddhism is for all three paths and not for the path to
Arahantship only.

comes another question: If a Theravada Buddhist can choose any path, why is the
attainment of Arahantship so much talked about in Theravada Buddhism? It is
because only very few can become Buddhas. As you know (if you have read so far,
of course), an aspirant for Buddhahood has to undergo a lot of suffering for a
long, long time in the round of rebirths making sacrifices no other being even
dreams of; and there can be only one Buddha at a time in the whole world, so
that the appearance of a Buddha is very, very rare. Therefore, for every being
to aspire for Buddhahood is impractical; it would be like all native citizens
of the United States trying to become a President of the United States.
Moreover, the purpose of becoming a Buddha is to save’ beings or ‘help
beings save themselves.’ But if everybody were to become a Buddha, there would
be no beings for a Buddha to ‘save’–please note that Buddhas do not need any
instructions from anybody–and so the original purpose would not be served. On
the contrary, to become an Arahant is very practical, and millions of beings
attained Arahantship during the time of a Buddha. That is why, in Theravada Buddhism,
beings are encouraged to try to become Arahants which is practical rather than
to become Buddhas which is not so. But as stated before, beings are given
freedom to follow the path of their choice in their endeavor for attainment of
enlightenment. After all, what is important for all beings is to get free from
suffering in the round of rebirths no matter which path they choose.

another question: Are there Theravada Buddhists who aspire for Buddhahood? We
are glad to answer in the affirmative. But since not many of them are on
record, we cannot say how many. At least there was a king in Myanmar during the
Pagan Period who built a pagoda and dedicated it to the Dispensation of the
Buddha. In that pagoda he left an inscription where he clearly declared his
aspiration for Buddhahood; and almost all kings of ancient Myanmar considered
themselves to be aspirants for Buddhahood. There are also authors of religious
books, mostly monks, who mentioned their aspiration for Buddhahood at the end
of their books.

we can say that there are not a few Theravada Buddhists who aspire for

Arahat, Arahant

The word is derived from the root arh, to deserve, to be
worthy, to be fit, and is used to denote a person who has achieved the goal of
religious life (in Theravada Buddhism). See

In its usage in early Buddhism the term denotes a person
who had gained insight into the true nature of things (yathābhūtañana). In the
Buddhist movement the Buddha was the first arahant. He was regarded as an
arahant, along with other arahants, without any distinction. Thus, after the
conversion of the group of five monks (pañcavaggiya), the first converts to the
teachings of Gotama, it is stated that there were six arahants in the world at
the time (Vin.I.14), the Buddha being reckoned one of them. At the outset, once
an adherent realised the true nature of things, i.e., that whatever has arisen
(samudaya-dhamma) naturally has a ceasing-to-be (nirodhā-dhamma), he was called
an arahant, and with this realisation one is said to have put an end to repeated
existence. The Buddha is said to be equal to an arahant in point of attainment,
the only distinction being that the Buddha was the pioneer on the path to that
attainment, while arahants are those who attain the same state having followed
the path trodden by the Buddha.

The arahants are described as buddhānubuddhā, i.e., those
who have attained enlightenment after the Fully Enlightened One (Thag. p.111).
This is brought out very clearly by a simile in the Nidāna Samyutta
(S.II.105-6). A man going about in the forest sees an old road used by the
people of yore and, going along it, he sees the remains of an old kingdom. He
comes back to the town and tells the people that in such and such a forest he
had seen the ruins of a magnificent city, and the people, too, following the
road-marks indicated by the man come to the ruined city and see it for
themselves. Even so the Buddha was the pioneer on the Noble Eightfold Path
(ariya-aţţhańgika-magga) and having followed this path he reached the city of
Nibbāna. Later, coming amidst the people he revealed this path to them, and
following this path they, too, attained the goal of Nibbāna. In this respect
the Buddha as well as his disciples follow the same path and reach the same
goal, and the distinction between the Buddha and the disciples who become
arahants is not with regard to the attainment, but with regard to the fact that
the Buddha rediscovered the age-old path (purānam añjasam) to the city of
Nibbāna, while the disciples come to the same city having followed the path
discovered by the Buddha. The Buddha is, therefore, called the revealer of the
path (maggassa akkhātā). He is the teacher (satthā) who teaches the disciples
to attain the same ideal as attained by him.

But, as time passed, the Buddha-concept developed and
special attributes were assigned to the Buddha. A Buddha possesses the six fold
super-knowledge (chalabhiññā); he has matured the thirty-seven limbs of
enlightenment (bodhipakkhika dhamma); in him compassion (karunā) and insight
(paññā) develop to their fullest; all the major and minor characteristics of a
great man (mahāpurisa) appear on his body; he is possessed of the ten powers
(dasa bala) and the four confidences (catu vesārajja); and he has had to
practise the ten perfections (pāramitā) during a long period of time in the

When speaking of arahants these attributes are never
mentioned together, though a particular arahant may have one, two or more of
the attributes discussed in connection with the Buddha (S.II.217, 222). In the
Nidāna Samyutta (S.II.120-6) a group of bhikkhus who proclaimed their
attainment of arahantship, when questioned by their colleagues about it, denied
that they had developed the five kinds of super-knowledge—namely, psychic power
(iddhi-vidhā), divine ear (dibba-sota), knowledge of others’ minds
(paracitta-vijānana), power to recall to mind past births (pubbenivāsānussati)
and knowledge regarding other peoples’ rebirths (cutū-papatti)—and declared
that they had attained arahantship by developing wisdom (paññā-vimutti).

An attempt is made in the Nikāyas as well as in later
works to define the content of the attainment of arahantship. The commonest and
one of the oldest definitions of an arahant is that he has in him the threefold
knowledge (tisso vijjā), namely, knowledge of his own previous births,
knowledge of the rebirths of others and knowledge regarding the utter cessation
of mental intoxicants (āsavakkhayañāna). Most of the poems in the Thera-,
Theri-gāthās end with the statement “The threefold knowledge have I
attained and I have done the bidding of the Buddha” (tisso vijjā anuppattā
katam buddhassa sāsanam : e.g., Thag. p. 9). Other definitions of arahantship
are: “Arahants are those in whom the mental intoxicants (āsava) are
utterly waned” (khīnāsavā arahanto: S.I.13); one becomes an arahant by the
utter waning of lust, hatred and ignorance (S.IV.252); arahants are those who
have cut off completely the ten fetters (samyojana) that bind a man to samsāra
(Vin. I, 183); an arahant is one in whom seven things, namely, belief in a soul
(sakkāya-ditthi), sceptical doubt (vicikicchā), belief in vows and ceremonies
(silabbataparamasa), greed, hatred, ignorance and pride are not found
(A.IV.145) ; he is one who has crossed the sea of samsāra (pāragū). The word
arahant is defined in a fanciful way in some places. For instance in the
Majjhima Nikāya (I.280) it is said that an arahant is so called because all
sinful evil things are remote (āraka) from him. The Vimanavatthu Atthakatha
(105-6) defines the term in the following words: “An arahant is so called
because he is remote (ārake) from sinful things; because he has destroyed the
spokes (ara) of the wheel of samsāra ; because he deserves to receive the
requisites: food, clothing, etc. (paccayānam arahattā), and because he does not
sin even in secret (rahābhāva).

The attainment of arahantship is expressed in several
formulas of which the commonest one says ‘destroyed is rebirth, lived is the
higher life, done is what had to be done, after this present life there is no
beyond’ (Vin.I.14, 35, 183; D.I.84). The declaration itself is called “the
declaration of knowledge” (aññā byākarana: M.III.29). The Buddha has
indicated a method of verifying the truth of a disciple’s statement when he
declares that he has attained arahantship. A few questions have to be posed to
him and if he answers them correctly then only should he be taken at his word.
The first question is with regard to the four conventions (cattāro vohārā). A
true arahant does not feel attracted to or repelled, by things seen (dittha),
heard (suta), sensed (muta), or cognised (viññāta) and he is independent, not
infatuated, and dwells with an open mind, and thus his mind is well freed with
regard to the four conventions. The next question is connected with the five
aggregates of grasping (upādānakkhandha). The true arahant understands their
nature as dependently originated, and he is detached from them, and all the
latent biases that arise through attachment to them are destroyed in him. The
third question is regarding the six elements (dhātu). A true arahant has no
notions of ‘I’ or ‘mine’ with regard to these elements and all biases that crop
up through attachment to them are completely eradicated in him. The fourth
question is connected with the internal and external sense spheres (ajjhattika,
bāhira-āyatana). The mind of a true arahant is free from attachment, desire
that is born of these sense spheres, the consciousness born thereof and the
things that are known through the medium of this consciousness. The fifth question
relates to the vision and insight through which all latent biases such as and
‘mine’ are completely cut off. A true arahant should be able to reveal how he
attained supreme knowledge that is that everything has an origin, a cause to
its origination, a cessation and a way that leads to its cessation, through
which his mind becomes free from thirst for sense pleasure, becoming and
ignorance (M.III.29-37).

The discipline of a Buddhist monk is aimed at the
attainment of arahantship. There are four distinct stages of attainment as one
pursues the discipline from the beginning, namely, the states of the
stream-entrant (sotāpanna), the once-returner (sakadāgāmī), the non-returner
(anāgāmī) and the arahant. A disciple by attaining the state of a
stream-entrant does away completely with the mental intoxicant (āsava) of false
views (ditthi) and the intoxicants of lust (kāma), becoming (bhava) and
ignorance (avijjā) which produce birth in low states (apāya). By attaining the
state of a once-returner he does away with mental intoxicants connected with
gross (olārika) sense pleasures and some more cankers of becoming and
ignorance. By attaining the state of a non-returner a disciple completely puts
an end to all mental intoxicants connected with sense pleasures and also
further alleviates the cankers of becoming and ignorance. By becoming an
arahant a disciple completely puts an end to all mental intoxicants connected
with becoming and ignorance (Ps.I.94).

In the Mahālī Sutta (D.6) a clearer and more precise
description of the four attainments is given. According to it one becomes a
stream-entrant by overcoming three fetters (samyojana), namely, belief in an
enduring entity (sakkāyaditthi), doubt regarding the Buddha; the Dhamma and the
Sangha, (vicikicchā) and belief in the efficacy of mere rule and ritual
(silabbataparamasa). One becomes a once-returner by diminishing lust, hatred
and illusion (raga-dosa-moha) in addition to overcoming the three earlier
fetters, and such a being returns to this world once only and puts an end to
the process of birth and death (samsāra). One becomes a non-returner by
overcoming the first five of the ten fetters which belong to the sphere of the
senses (pañca orambhāgiyāni samyojanāni), i.e., sensuous desire (kāmacchanda)
and ill-will (vyapada) in addition to the three fetters mentioned in connection
with the stream-entrant and the once-returner. One becomes an arahant by
completely doing away with all mental intoxicants (āsavānam khayā) having
attained the emancipation of heart (cetovimutti) and emancipation through
wisdom (paññāvimutti).

The disciple who undertakes to pursue the path to the
attainment of arahantship has to follow a graduated process. Arahantship is the
result of understanding the true nature of things (yathā-bhūtta) and one can
see the true nature of things only through a non-prejudiced mind. To develop a
non-prejudiced mind one has to develop concentration of the mind, and this is
possible only by a disciplined mind. So the process starts with the practice of
virtue (sila) which leads to concentration of the mind (samādhi) which
ultimately results in true wisdom (paññā). In the Devata Samyutta (S.I.13) a
deity asks the Buddha how a person disentangles the tangle of samsāra and the
Buddha replies that a wise man, established firmly on virtue, concentrates his
mind and develops true wisdom by which he disentangles the tangle of samsāra.

In several suttas we find detailed descriptions of how a
disciple initiates himself into the dispensation of the Buddha and gradually
follows up the path. A son of a noble family (kulaputta) listens to the Dhamma
preached by the Buddha and begets confidence in him and decides to follow his
teaching. He enters the Order of monks, thereby cutting himself away from all
family bonds and making himself free from all activities that keep a layman
occupied. He refrains from sinful activities such as harming life, stealing,
uttering falsehood, back-biting, slandering etc. and cultivates positive
virtues such as loving and pitying all beings, speaking gentle and kind words,
speaking the truth etc. He guards the doors of his senses so that his mind is
not distracted when objects of sensation come in contact with the sense
faculties. He is always alert and mindful with regard to all his activities. He
lives content with whatever he gets by way of food etc. When he has cultivated
these virtues his mind is ready to embark on concentration. He retires to a
lonely spot in the forest or near a mountain cave and sits in a befitting
posture to concentrate his mind. He now surveys his mind and cleanses it of all
shortcomings and sees to it that all five hindrances to mental cultivation
(nīvarana), namely, covetousness (abhijjhā), ill-will (vyāpāda), sloth and
torpor (thīnamiddha), worry and flurry (uddhacca-kukkucca) and doubt
(vicikicchā) are completely done away with.

When he sees himself completely freed of all these
hindrances, he becomes delighted (pamujja) and this in turn leads to joy (piti)
and this makes his body tranquil (passaddha) and he experiences happiness and
his mind becomes concentrated. Now he proceeds from the first ecstasy (jhāna)
gradually up to the fourth. When the mind is brought to a high state of
concentration in this manner, in it could be developed the sixfold knowledge
(see abhiññā), the sixth being the knowledge of the utter destruction of mental
intoxicants (āsavakkhaya-ñāna). When the disciple has developed the knowledge
of the utter destruction of these cankers he has completely understood the true
nature of things and for him there will be no more becoming—he is an arahant
(D.I.62-84). The arahant is also called
asekha because his training
is complete.

It should be stated that this peak of mental culture
cannot be reached quickly. One has to cultivate virtues for a considerable
length of time in order to clean the mind of its latent biases. The various
methods adopted to purify the mind also vary according to the character of the
individual concerned. There are several types of characters discussed in this
respect, namely, the passion dominated man (raga-carita), the ill-will
dominated man (dosa-carita), the ignorance dominated man (moha-carita), the
faith dominated man (saddha-carita), the intelligence dominated man (buddhi-carita)
and the reflection dominated man (vitakka-carita). The details of the training
differ according to the character of the individual (Vim. p.82).

Though it is generally accepted that the path to the
attainment of arahantship is a graduated one, there are instances of people who
attained arahantship without following all the details, for instance,
Suddhodana, Khemā, Mahā Arittha and many others who attained arahantship even before they entered the
Order of monks. There is recognised a type of arahants called the
sukka-vipassaka and if we accept the view that sukka stands for Buddha (pure or
mere) the term then denotes those who attain perfection without ever having
attained any of the mental absorptions (jhāna). The
Visuddhimagga (ch.xviii, 503) calls such persons suddha-vipassanā-yānika as
distinguished from those with “tranquillity as vehicle”
(samatha-yānika). The
Milindapañha (trsl. 2, 254) discussing this problem says “there is no
realisation of arahantship in one single life without keeping of the vows. Only
on the utmost zeal and the most devoted practice of righteousness and with the
aid of a suitable teacher is the realisation of arahantship attained.” It
would thus not be incorrect to say that the Theravada view regarding
arahantship is that the practice of virtue is essential and that even those who
follow the suddha-vipassanā-yāna can do so because they have practised the
virtues in previous births.

Lay life and arahantship. Though there are many instances
of persons attaining spiritual development up to the third stage of
non-returner, instances are not many of individuals attaining arahantship while
yet being laymen.
Yasa attained arahantship
while being a layman, but he, too, entered the Order immediately afterwards
(Vin.I.15-20). Khemā, chief of the Buddha’s women disciples, attained
arahantship before she entered the Order, but she entered the Order with the
consent of her husband
Bimbisāra, probably on the
same day (ThigA.126f). Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha, attained
arahantship a little while before his death (DPPN. s.v.
Suddhodana). The Mahāvamsa (chap. xvi, 10-11)
records that fifty-five brothers headed by the chief minister
Mahā Arittha attained arahantship in the tonsure hall, while their heads were
being shaved prior to being admitted into the Order. In the
Kathavatthu (157-8) the question whether a layman can become an arahant is
discussed. The point maintained in it is that what matters is not the external
characteristics of a recluse or a layman, and that anybody who is free from the
mental fetters and lives a life of complete renunciation could attain
arahantship. King
Milinda, too, maintains this
view and quotes the following words of the Buddha: “I would magnify, o
brethren, the supreme attainment either in a layman or in a recluse. Whether he
be a layman, o brethren, or a recluse, the man who has reached the supreme
attainment shall overcome all the difficulties inherent therein, shall win his
way even to the excellent condition of arahantship” (Man. trsl., SBE.
vol.36, p.56), but so far this statement has not been traced in the Tipitaka.
In the Milindapañha (ibid. p.57) again, a question is posed as to why a person
should enter the Order if laymen, too, could attain arahantship. In reply it is
shown that facilities and opportunities for cultivating the mind are greater if
one enters the Order, since monks are not bound up with duties of laymen such
as earning to maintain oneself, wife and children and looking after the needs
of relatives. In the
Subha Sutra (M.II.197) the Buddha says that a person, whether he be a layman or a
recluse, who leads a virtuous life, ever striving to cleanse the mind of
impurities, would progress in the path to liberation.

There is a current belief among the Buddhists that when a
layman attains arahantship he should enter the Order the same day or else he
would die before the end of that day.
Nagasena, too, confirms this
view. It is difficult to trace from canonical sources any evidence to
substantiate this view.

Again, if we examine the connotation of the word anāgāmī
(non-returner to the material world) we obtain more evidence to support the
view that arahantship is attainable outside the Order of monks. If an anāgāmī
does not attain arahantship in that very existence, he will pass away and will
be reborn among the
Suddhāvāsā deities, where he
will put an end to reiterated existence (see


Women and arahantship: The Buddha placed women on a par with men in the capacity of
developing the mind to the highest level.. A few years after the inauguration
of the Order of monks, an Order of nuns, too, was set up with
Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s foster-mother, as the first recruit. The Vinaya Pitaka
contains a section of special rules laid down for the guidance of bhikkhunis.
As is obvious, the purpose of the religious life is to attain arahantship.
Women, like men, entered the Order in order to realise this state. Nowhere in
Buddhist literature do we come across statements denouncing the capacity of
women to develop their minds, and in this respect no distinction is shown
between men and women. The
Therīgāthā is full of instances
of therīs who had attained arahantship (e. g., Thig. pp. 126, 129, 131 etc.).
Mara once attempted to dissuade
Somā, a therī, from
attaining arahantship saying that she with little brains could not aspire to
attain a noble state attained by sages with high mental powers. Soma’s reply
was that if the mind is properly cultivated so as to develop true know-ledge by
which one understands the real state of things, womanhood is no barrier to the
attainment of arahantship (Thig. 129). Mrs. Rhys Davids in the Introduction (p.
xxiv) to her translation of the Therīgāthā states that the instances of therīs
declaring their attainment of arahantship are more in the Therīgāthā than of
monks doing so in the


Arahants and Society. When we study the life-history of the Buddha as well as those of his
chief disciples who were arahants, it becomes abundantly clear that the Buddha
did not expect his disciples to forsake society altogether, before or after the
attainment of arahantship. During a period of forty-five years the Buddha was
busy doing missionary work among the people. The better part of his day was
spent in going about and meeting people and teaching them how to lead better
lives. When he met people he did not always speak to them about the misery of
life. When he met ordinary people he admonished them to refrain from
anti-social activities and to do things which are for the benefit of the many
(D. III, 180-93). When he met kings and higher ministers he spoke to them of
ways and means of good government which would result in the happiness of all
concerned. When he came across people who were grieved by various misfortunes,
he spoke words of comfort to them (ThigA. 108-17). When he came across
criminals he preached to reform them for the benefit of the criminals as well
as for the benefit of society (ThagA. III, 54-64). He spoke of the duties of
children towards their parents and vice versa, of the duties of a wife towards
her husband and those of a husband towards his wife, and he also spoke of the
mutual duties of all people for the better and smoother running of society.
When he gathered round him his first group of disciples, sixty in number and
all of them arahants, he dispersed them in all directions asking them to preach
the Dhamma for the welfare of the many (Vin.I.21). Chief disciples like
Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Kaccayana and others, following the example of the
Buddha, spent all their lives in working for the spiritual upliftment of the
masses. The Buddha as well as his disciples lived in society, but they were not
of society. They lived lives of complete renunciation, though they depended on
the generosity of the public for their sustenance, and worked for their
spiritual upliftment. Theirs was a disinterested service. The life of a true
disciple of the Buddha is compared to a lotus in the pond (A.II.39; Sn. p.101).
The lotus bud grows in the mud in the pond, is nourished in it, but it grows
through the water, comes above the surface, blossoms out, and is untouched by
the water. Likewise the disciple develops into a fully-awakened man, while
being in society, but he is not bound by the fetters of social life. He is not
carried away by what takes place in it. In the
Mahamangala Sutta (Sn.46-7) it is said that if one can stand unmoved (cittam yassa na
kampati) when affected by the things of the world (phutthassa lokadhammehi) it
would be a great blessing.

Though such is the general attitude of a disciple towards
society, we see a parallel development in some texts admonishing the true sage
(muni=arahant) to steer clear of society and make a quick escape from samsāra.
Society is depicted as a very evil place, full of vicious people, the haunt of all
viles, and hence the muni should have nothing to do with it. He should wander
about all alone, far away from society, like the rhinoceros (Sn. pp.6-12).

The Mahayanists put forward the ideal of the bodhisattva -
a being dedicated to the services of humanity, probably as a protest against
this development.



The Mahayanists accuse the arahat of selfishness because
he strives only for his own liberation from sorrow instead of working for the
liberation and happiness of all beings. They exert themselves only for their
own complete Nirvana (ātma-parinirvana-hetoh: Sdmp. p.75). The sravakas
(arahat) think only of their own good (svartha: Mahayanasutralankara, 53.4).
The arahat saves no one but him-self. He is like one confined in a dungeon, who,
having found a way of escape, hastens to set him-self at liberty, while
callously leaving his fellow-prisoners in darkness and captivity.

The bodhisattva, on the other hand, is the embodiment of
supreme unselfishness. He solemnly dedicates himself to the service of all
beings who stand in need of succour, suffering the most atrocious tortures, if
necessary, if thereby he may save others from pain and sorrow.

It must be stated, however, that this charge of
selfishness made against the arahat, in contrast with the unselfishness of the
bodhisattva, is not in accordance with fact. In the first place, the concept of
the bodhisattva is not peculiar to Mahayana. In the second place, it would be
quite incorrect to say that the arahat, as depicted in Hinayana, is entirely
occupied with his own salvation and is callous of the salvation and sufferings
of others.

As has been stated earlier, the word arahat means ‘one who
is worthy’ and his worthiness is of a kind that cannot be reconciled with any
form of selfishness. “Even as a mother watches over her only begotten
child,” says the
Sutta Nipata, one of the oldest texts of the Theravada, “so let his heart and
mind be filled with boundless love for all creatures, great and small, let him
practise benevolence towards the whole world, above, below, across, without
exception, and let him set himself utterly free from all ill-will and
enmity.” And, another text, the
Itivuttaka (19), says “all the
means that can be used as bases for doing right are not worth one-sixteenth
part of the emancipation of the heart through love. That takes all those up
unto itself, outshining them in radiance and glory.”

No selfish being could, therefore, become an arahat.
Arahatship consists in a spiritual exaltation that transcends the limitations
of temporal individuality. No system which aims at the elimination of the
phenomenal ego can be accused of egoism or selfishness. Arahatship is the full
realisation of the transcendental self and such self-realisation is far removed
from selfishness and, indeed, involves self-sacrifice.

In charging the arahat, therefore, with being over-mindful
of his own development and salvation and with ignoring the moral and spiritual
well-being of his fellow-men, the Mahayanists were. hardly fair. The arahat, on
the other hand, is one who acts in accordance with the principle that each man
forms part of a spiritual whole of which all his fellow-men are also parts and
that to serve them is to enrich and ennoble his own higher self, while to
neglect them would be to impoverish it. Even at the lowest estimate, the arahat
is one who seeks and attains an enlightenment for himself so that he might
subtract at least himself from the vast burden of sorrow and pain that weighs
upon the world. Having done this, he continues the good life for the gain and
the welfare of the many, in benevolent activity, although it could add nothing
to the reward which he has already won.

After he has won Arahatship, up to the time of his death,
the arahat lives wishlessly, happy and con-tented, because his supreme
achievement leaves no room for wishes of any kind. According to the
Milindapañha (pp. 134 IT., 253) he is liable to suffer bodily pain, however,
because he cannot control his body. But such pain he bears with equanimity
which nothing can disturb.

According to the Theravadins, the acquisition of Nirvana is final and definite and can never again
be lost. The Sammitiyas, Vajjiputtiyas,
Sabbatthivadins and some Mahasanghikas, however, held that the arahat is liable to fall away. The
Saddharmapundarika (v, 59—83) speaks of the nirvana of the arahats as a
temporary repose and distinguishes it from the final Nirvana of the Buddha. The
Theravadins regard the arahat as being of almost god-like stature but the
Mahasanghikas maintained that he was human and he had many imperfections, e.g.,
that he could still be troubled by demons, have various doubts and be ignorant
of many things. The
Andhakas said that the arahat
could be surpassed in knowledge by others, in opposition to the Vibhajjavadins
in whose view the arahat has complete knowledge.

GP Malalsekara


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(Thai Female Arahant) MCK

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Life of The Buddha 1 The Birth of Prince Siddharta Gautama

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