āryapudgala (P. ariyapuggala; T. ’phags pa’i gang zag འཕགས་པའི་གང་ཟག་; C. xiansheng 賢聖) is translated as "noble person", "noble being", etc. It refers to disciples of the Buddha who have reached the highest stages of realization.
Traditionally, the term arya pudgala refers to those who have reached one of the four stages of the supramundane path. Collectively, the arya pudgala are referred to as the noble sangha (arya sangha).
Bhikkhu Bodhi states:
- The word “noble,” or ariya, is used by the Buddha to designate a particular type of person, the type of person which it is the aim of his teaching to create. In the discourses the Buddha classifies human beings into two broad categories. On one side there are the puthujjanas, the worldlings, those belonging to the multitude, whose eyes are still covered with the dust of defilements and delusion. On the other side there are the ariyans, the noble ones, the spiritual elite, who obtain this status not from birth, social station or ecclesiastical authority but from their inward nobility of character.
- These two general types are not separated from each other by an impassable chasm, each confined to a tightly sealed compartment. A series of gradations can be discerned rising up from the darkest level of the blind worldling trapped in the dungeon of egotism and self-assertion, through the stage of the virtuous worldling in whom the seeds of wisdom are beginning to sprout, and further through the intermediate stages of noble disciples to the perfected individual at the apex of the entire scale of human development. This is the Arahant, the liberated one, who has absorbed the purifying vision of truth so deeply that all his defilements have been extinguished, and with them, all liability to suffering.
- While the path from bondage to deliverance, from worldliness to spiritual nobility, is a graded path involving gradual practice and gradual progress, it is not a uniform continuum. Progress occurs in discrete steps, and at a certain point — the point separating the status of a worldling from that of a noble one — a break is reached which must be crossed, not by simply taking another step forward, but by making a leap, by jumping across from the near side to the further shore. This decisive event in the inner development of the practitioner, this radical leap that propels the disciple from the domain and lineage of the worldling to the domain and lineage of the noble ones, occurs precisely through the penetration of the Four Noble Truths. This discloses to us the critical reason why the four truths revealed by the Buddha are called noble truths. They are noble truths because when we have penetrated them through to the core, when we have grasped their real import and implications, we cast off the status of the worldling and acquire the status of a noble one, drawn out from the faceless crowd into the community of the Blessed One’s disciples united by a unique and unshakable vision.
Types of arya pudgala
Thus, there are said to be four or eight types of arya pudgala:
|(1) one who has entered the path to stream-entry
(2) one who abides in the fruition of stream-entry
|(3) one who has entered the path to once-returning
(4) one who abides in fruition of once-returning
|(5) one who has entered the path to non-returning
(6) one who abides in the fruition of non-returning
|(7) one who has entered the path to arahantship
(8) one who abides in the fruition of arahantship
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1992) The Nobility of the Truths, Buddhist Publication Society