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Gautama Buddha teaching his first five disciples, all of whom became arhats.

arhat (P. arahant; T. dgra bcom pa དགྲ་བཅོམ་པ་; C. aluohan/yinggong 阿羅漢/應供). One who has overcome all afflictions (kleshas) and is no longer bound by craving (tanha). Thus, the arhat is freed from cyclic existence (samsara) and no longer subject to rebirth. Thus, the arhat is one who has attained liberation (nirvana).

The arhat is also described as one who has extinguished all the contaminants (āsrava).

In terms of the Buddhist path, the realization of the arhat is the final stage of the four stages of the supramundane path. At this stage, one has completely eliminated the ten fetters that bind one to cyclic existence.

An arhat is distinguished from a fully-awakened buddha (samyaksambuddha) as follows: an arhat has achieved liberation through listening to and relying on the teachings of a fully-awakened buddha, whereas a fully-awakened buddha has achieved liberation through his or her own striving, without the aid of a more realized being.

The Mahayana teachings of the Sanskrit tradition assert that, in addition to the distinction stated above, the fully-awakened buddha also has greater realization than an arhat.

The term "arhat" is sometimes used as an epithet of Gautama Buddha, but it is more commonly applied to his disciples who have reached the level of arhatship.

Difference between an arhat and a fully-awakened buddha

Note that the term buddha is typically used to refer to a fully awakened buddha (samyaksambuddha).

Distinctions within the Pali tradition

In the Pali tradition:

  • a fully awakened buddha (samyaksambuddha) is one who has achieved liberation (nirvana) through their individual striving, without the immediate aid of a more realized being
  • an arhat is one who has achieved liberation as a result of listening to the teachings of a buddha, and relying on these teachings

Rupert Gethin states:

Both Gautama and those who come to realization by following his teachings—the arhats—may be referred to as ‘buddhas’ since both, by the rooting out of greed, hatred, and delusion, have come to understand suffering and the path to its cessation. And yet, as the tradition acknowledges, some difference between Gautama and the arhats must remain. Gautama, the Buddha, has found the path by his individual striving without the immediate help of an already awakened being and then gone on to show others the way. His followers on the other hand may have come to precisely the same understanding and realization as Gautama but they have done so with the assistance of his unequalled abilities as teacher.
We have then here two kinds of buddha: ‘the perfectly, fully awakened one’ (samyaksambuddha) like Gautama, and the arhat or ‘one who has awakened as a disciple’ (sravakabuddha).[1]

In this context the lesser-known term sravakabuddha has the same meaning as "arhat."

Distinctions within the Sanskrit tradition

According to the Mahayana teachings of the Sanskrit tradition, there is a great difference between the realization of an arhat and that of a fully-awakened buddha (samyaksambuddha).

In this tradition, it is said that the arhat has only overcome one of the "two types of obscuration" (āvaraṇa) which prevent one from full awakening. The arhats have overcome the "emotional obscurations" (kleśā-varaṇa), but they have not overcome the "cognitive obscurations" (jñeyā-varaṇa).

Thus, according to this tradition, only the fully-awakened buddhas have overcome the two types of obscuration and thus attained perfect and complete enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi).

Difference between path of the arhat vs. the path of the bodhisattva

Early Buddhism

Bhikkhu Bodhi explains the difference between arhats and buddhas, as understood in Early Buddhism, as follows:

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 nirvāṇa, he teaches for the sake of nirvāṇa (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 liberation.
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 (sattānaṃ nānādhimuttikataṃ yathābhūtaṃ ñāṇaṃ) and the knowledge of the degree of maturity of the faculties of other beings (parasattānaṃ parapuggalānaṃ indriyaparopariyattaṃ yathābhūtaṃ ñāṇaṃ). 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."[2]

Pali tradition

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Theravāda tradition "recognizes the validity of both arahantship and Buddhahood as objects of aspiration."[2]


Sanskrit tradition

The Sanskrit Mahayana tradition presents the path in terms of the three vehicles (Skt. triyāna); these are:

In this context, the "shravaka vehicle" is the least among of the three vehicles and the realization of the arhat is lesser than that of the pratyekabuddha and samyaksambuddha. The realization of the pratyekabuddha is considered to be slightly higher than that of the arhat. And the realization of the samyaksambuddha (which is inconceivable) is much greater than that of both the arhat and pratyekabuddha.

However, while the Mahayana tradition views arhatship as a lesser accomplishment than complete buddhahood, it still accords due respect to arhats for their respective achievements. Far from being completely disregarded, the accomplishments of arhats are viewed as impressive, essentially because they have transcended the mundane world.[3] For example, "buddha fields" (buddhakṣetra) such as Sukhavati are depicted as populated by both bodhisattvas and arhats.

The sixteen arhats

Painting of the sixteen arhats. East Asia. Circa 1870's.

In the Sanskrit tradition, the sixteen arhats are a group of sixteen arhat disciples whom Gautama Buddha asked to remain in this world to protect the his teachings until the arrival of the future Buddha Maitreya.[4] When Maitreya arrives, the group of arhats will gather together and build one last stupa for Gautama Buddha before passing into parinirvana.[4]

This group of arhats appears frequently in East Asian monastic art.[4] An expanded group of eighteen arhats is also listed in East Asian Buddhism.[4]


Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

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 nirvāṇa, and the goal in human terms is arahantship, the state of a person who has attained nirvāṇa in this present life. The Buddha's enlightenment is significant because it marked the first realization of nirvāṇa 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.[2]

According to Whitney (1885), the Sanskrit word arhat is a present participle coming from the verbal root √arh "to deserve",[5] cf. arha "meriting, deserving"; arhaṇa "having a claim, being entitled".[6] The word is used in the Ṛgveda with this sense of "deserving".[7][8]


The term arhat was transliterated into some East Asian languages phonetically, for example, the Chinese āluóhàn (Ch. 阿羅漢), often shortened to simply luóhàn (Ch. 羅漢). This may appear in English as luohan or lohan. In Japanese the pronunciation of the same Chinese characters is rakan (Ja. 羅漢) or arakan (Ja. 阿羅漢).[9][10][11]

The Tibetan term for arhat was translated by meaning from Sanskrit. This translation, dgra bcom pa, means "one who has destroyed the foes of afflictions".[12] Thus the Tibetan translators also understood the meaning of arhat to be ari-hanta.

The term arhat is often rendered in English as arahat.

See also


  1. Gethin 1998, s.v. Chatper 1, Section: The nature of a buddha.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Access to insight icon 50px.png Bhikkhu Bodhi (2013), Arahants, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas, Access to Insight
  3. Powers 2008, p. 36.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. ṣoḍaśasthavirā.
  5. Whitney 1885.
  6. Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary
  7. Gombrich 2009, pp. 57–58.
  8. RV 1.4.47, 2.5.51
  9. "羅漢 - English translation – Linguee". Retrieved 2019-08-11. 
  10. Visser, Marinus Willem de (1923). The Arhats in China and Japan. Oesterheld & Company. 
  11. "Sixteen Arhats at Shengyin Temple-- the 15th: Ajita Arhat | Guanxiu". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2019-08-12. 
  12. Cozort, Daniel. Unique Tenets of the Middle Way Consequence School. Snow Lion Publications. 1998. p. 259.


External links