In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to reach enlightenment, a state of pure wisdom, compassion, and freedom from suffering. One path towards this goal is through the attainment of Arhatship, a state of spiritual perfection achieved by the most advanced practitioners of Buddhism.
The Arhat is a revered figure in Buddhist philosophy, and their attainment is considered a rare and remarkable achievement. To become an Arhat is to gain a deep understanding of the nature of reality, to overcome all defilements, and to achieve complete liberation from the cycle of Samsara.
In this article, we will explore the meaning and significance of the Arhat in Buddhism, their characteristics, and the practices required to attain this exalted state.
Meaning of Arhat in Buddhism
Arhat or Arahant is a term used in Buddhism to refer to a person who has attained enlightenment or Nirvana, and has therefore become free from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. An Arhat is considered to be a perfected being who has achieved the highest spiritual goal in Buddhism. The term is commonly translated as “worthy one,” “perfected one,” or “enlightened one.”
Characteristics of Arhat
In Buddhism, an Arhat is considered to be a perfected being who has attained enlightenment and achieved the highest spiritual goal. The characteristics of an Arhat include:
- Freedom from all mental defilements: An Arhat is free from all mental defilements such as greed, anger, and ignorance, which are the root causes of suffering.
- Perfect wisdom: An Arhat has a deep and clear understanding of the nature of reality, including the Four Noble Truths and the Three Universal Truths.
- Compassion: An Arhat has a deep sense of compassion for all beings and works to alleviate their suffering.
- Unshakeable calm: An Arhat has a peaceful and unshakeable calm mind that is free from all disturbances.
- Non-attachment: An Arhat has non-attachment to anything, including their own existence.
- No more rebirth: An Arhat has achieved Nirvana, which means they will not be reborn again after death.
Overall, an Arhat is someone who has transcended the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and has achieved the ultimate spiritual goal of Buddhism.
How to become an Arhat
In Buddhism, becoming an Arhat is the highest spiritual goal and can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the path to enlightenment. Here are some steps that can be taken to become an Arhat:
- Develop Right View: This involves understanding the Four Noble Truths and the Three Universal Truths. It is essential to understand that suffering exists, and it can be overcome by following the Noble Eightfold Path.
- Develop Right Intention: This involves having the right motivation and commitment to following the path to enlightenment. The intention should be to let go of all defilements, develop compassion, and seek spiritual liberation.
- Develop Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood: This involves following ethical conduct, refraining from harming others, and earning a living in an ethical way.
- Develop Right Effort: This involves cultivating a strong determination to overcome all negative mental states and develop positive ones.
- Develop Right Mindfulness: This involves developing awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, and observing them without judgment.
- Develop Right Concentration: This involves developing deep concentration through meditation, which can lead to the attainment of the Four Jhanas.
By following the Noble Eightfold Path and practicing meditation, one can gradually overcome all defilements, attain deep wisdom, and ultimately become an Arhat. However, becoming an Arhat is a challenging task that requires a great deal of effort, determination, and discipline. It is important to note that not everyone may be able to achieve Arhatship in their lifetime, but the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path can still lead to significant spiritual progress and greater peace and happiness in life.
The Four stages of awakening are criteria that help a person evaluate their own spiritual progress:
- Sotapatti: Sotapatti is called Stream-Entry, achieved by eliminating the three fetters: belief in a permanent self, doubt in the Buddha’s teachings, and attachment to rules and rituals. The Stream-Enterer is still subject to rebirth.
- Sakadagami: Sakadagami is called Once-Returner, achieved by further weakening the fetters of sensual desire and ill will. The Once-Returner is still subject to rebirth.
- Anagami: The person who achieves Anagami is called Non-Returner, having eliminated the five lower fetters. The Non-Returner will not be reborn in the human realm or lower, but will be reborn in the Pure Abodes to continue their practice.
- Arahant: The person who achieves this level is called Arahant, having completely eliminated all ten fetters, including the five lower fetters mentioned above and the five higher fetters of attachment to sensual pleasures, attachment to existence, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. The Arahant is fully enlightened and liberated from the cycle of rebirth, attaining Parinibbana.
Where will Arhat go after they die?
According to Buddhist belief, when an Arhat dies, they will attain Parinirvana, which is the final state of liberation and release from the cycle of rebirth. Parinirvana is often described as the complete cessation of all mental and physical suffering, and it represents the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.
Unlike other forms of rebirth, which involve the continuation of karmic tendencies and the cycle of suffering, Parinirvana represents a complete and final release from all forms of suffering. It is believed that an Arhat who attains Parinirvana will not be reborn again, and their consciousness will merge with the ultimate reality or emptiness, which is beyond birth and death.
In short, an Arhat who attains Parinirvana will achieve the highest goal of Buddhist practice and will be free from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.
Difference between Buddha and Arhat
The main difference between Buddha and Arhat is that a Buddha has the ability to teach others the path to enlightenment and is considered to be a fully awakened being, whereas an Arhat is someone who has achieved spiritual liberation but may not have the same level of insight or ability to teach others.
Difference between Bodhisattva and Arhat
Bodhisattva and Arhat are both important concepts in Buddhism, but they represent different paths to enlightenment.
A Bodhisattva is a being who has taken a vow to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. A Bodhisattva is someone who has developed boundless compassion and wisdom and is committed to helping others on the path to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are motivated by the desire to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings and to lead them to spiritual liberation.
An Arhat, on the other hand, is someone who has achieved the state of liberation from the cycle of rebirth, also known as Nirvana. An Arhat is someone who has fully purified their mind of all defilements, achieved complete spiritual liberation, and is no longer subject to the cycle of birth and death.
The main difference between Bodhisattva and Arhat is that a Bodhisattva is motivated by the altruistic goal of helping all sentient beings achieve enlightenment, while an Arhat is primarily concerned with their own liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Bodhisattvas may delay their own enlightenment in order to help others, while Arhats are focused on achieving their own liberation as quickly as possible.
In summary, Bodhisattva and Arhat represent two different paths to enlightenment in Buddhism, with the Bodhisattva path emphasizing compassion and the goal of helping others, while the Arhat path emphasizes personal liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Theravada Buddhist view of Arhat
Theravada Buddhism regards the Arhats as individuals who have completed the path to enlightenment by surpassing the ordinary state of being (puthujjana) and achieving the stages of liberation and wisdom that are clearly outlined in the teachings of the Buddha. The Arhats represent the ideal and revered individuals who embody the highest ideals of this tradition.
In Theravada Buddhism, the term “Arhat” is used for anyone who has attained Nirvana, including the Buddha himself. The chant is used to begin ceremonies with reverence for those who have achieved enlightenment:
Namo tassa bhagavato, arahato, samma-sambuddhassa
Homage to the Blessed One, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One.
Arhats are those who have eliminated all impurities and mental defilements that keep a person bound in the cycle of rebirth, and upon death, they will no longer exist in this world. When an Arhat dies, the physical body disintegrates, the five aggregates cease to function, and thus, all traces of existence in the phenomenal world come to an end.
All good and bad karmas will cease to exist, with no resulting effects of karma. There will be no more happiness or sadness, no more joy or disappointment, and no satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
In Primitive Buddhism, this state is called “Parinibbana,” which is the state of Nirvana after death. In Pali scriptures, the term “Tathagata” is sometimes used synonymously with “Arahant,” although it was traditionally used to refer to the Buddha.
Mahayana Buddhist view of the Arhat
In Mahayana Buddhism, the view of the Arhat somewhat perspective from the Theravada. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the path of the Bodhisattva, which is the path of the altruistic vow to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
While Mahayana Buddhism recognizes the Arhat as someone who has achieved liberation from the cycle of rebirth, it does not view the Arhat as the highest goal of spiritual practice. Instead, the Mahayana Buddhist tradition recognizes the attainment of Buddhahood, or full and complete enlightenment, as the ultimate goal of spiritual practice.
According to Mahayana Buddhism, the Arhat may have achieved liberation from suffering for themselves, but they have not yet fully developed the compassion and wisdom necessary to help all beings achieve enlightenment. In contrast, the Buddha and the Bodhisattva are seen as embodying both wisdom and compassion, and are therefore better equipped to lead beings to liberation.
Furthermore, some Mahayana Buddhist traditions view the attainment of Arhatship as a lesser goal than the attainment of Buddhahood. In these traditions, Arhats are seen as having achieved only partial enlightenment and are not to be fully liberated.
In summary, the Mahayana Buddhist view of the Arhat recognizes the achievement of liberation from suffering, but emphasizes the importance of compassion and wisdom in the attainment of full and complete enlightenment. The ultimate goal of spiritual practice in Mahayana Buddhism is the attainment of Buddhahood and becoming a Bodhisattva to help sentient beings, which is seen as a higher and more complete form of enlightenment than Arhatship.
18 popular Arhats in Buddhism
In Mahayana Buddhism, there are traditionally 18 Arhats, also known as “the Eighteen Lohans” or “the Eighteen Arhats”. These Arhats are believed to have attained enlightenment through following the teachings of the Buddha and are revered as important figures in Buddhist history. The 18 Arhats are:
- Pindola Bharadvaja: Also known as the “basket-wearing Arhat,” he was an expert in supernatural powers and is often depicted holding a fan made of peacock feathers.
- Kanaka Bharadvaja: Known for his generosity, he is often depicted holding a bowl or a vase, symbolizing his ability to offer and receive offerings.
- Kanakavatsa: Known for his ability to control the weather, he is often depicted holding a cloud or a dragon, symbolizing his power over the elements.
- Bhadra: Known for his compassion, he is often depicted holding a stupa or a begging bowl, symbolizing his desire to help and serve others.
- Kashyapa: Known for his wisdom, he is often depicted holding a staff or a scroll, symbolizing his knowledge of the Buddhist teachings.
- Gopaka: Known for his strength and protection, he is often depicted holding a club or a staff, symbolizing his ability to defend and safeguard.
- Abheda: Known for his fearlessness, he is often depicted holding a sword or a vajra, symbolizing his power and determination.
- Ajita: Known for his perseverance, he is often depicted holding a rosary or a sutra, symbolizing his dedication to the Buddhist path.
- Vanavasin: Known for his meditation practice, he is often depicted sitting cross-legged or holding a meditation cushion, symbolizing his focus and mindfulness.
- Upagupta: Known for his healing abilities, he is often depicted holding a medicine bowl or a staff, symbolizing his power to cure and alleviate suffering.
- Dharmatala: Known for his knowledge of the Dharma, he is often depicted holding a book or a sutra, symbolizing his understanding and application of Buddhist teachings.
- Kankhapa: Known for his intuition and insight, he is often depicted holding a crystal ball or a mirror, symbolizing his ability to see beyond appearances.
- Nanda: Known for his purity of heart, he is often depicted holding a lotus or a flower, symbolizing his gentle and loving nature.
- Kalika: Known for his ferocity and fierceness, he is often depicted holding a trident or a spear, symbolizing his power and strength.
- Matsyendra: Known for his miraculous powers, he is often depicted holding a fish or a conch shell, symbolizing his ability to transform and create.
- Angaja: Known for his healing and protective abilities, he is often depicted holding a serpent or a bow and arrow, symbolizing his ability to ward off evil.
- Chudapanthaka: Known for his simplicity and humility, he is often depicted holding a small bowl or a basket, symbolizing his contentment and modesty.
- Purna: Known for his knowledge and communication skills, he is often depicted holding a manuscript or a scroll, symbolizing his ability to share and transmit the teachings of the Buddha.
These 18 Arhats are revered by Buddhists around the world for their devotion to the Buddha and their attainment of enlightenment through his teachings.