pṛthagjana (P. puthujjana; T. so so skye bo སོ་སོ་སྐྱེ་བོ་; C. fanfu 凡夫), or "ordinary being," is a sentient being who is still bound by the ten fetters (saṃyojana) and thus has not attained the status of a noble person (arya pudgala).
Ordinary beings (pṛthagjana) have not yet gained a direct realization of emptiness (sunyata); hence ordinary beings accumulate karma that propels new rebirth in cyclic existence (samsara). When an ordinary being (pṛthagjana) has a direct realization of emptiness, they enter the supramundane path, and become a noble being (arya pudgala). Noble beings have had a direct realization of emptiness and have severed at least the first three of the ten fetters.
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:
- It is said, for example, that the four noble truths (catvāry āryasatyāni) are called “noble” because they are true for noble persons, not for ordinary beings. Elsewhere, it is said that the suffering (duḥkha) associated with conditionality itself (saṃskāraduḥkhatā) is like a wisp of wool in the palm of the hand for an ordinary person, in the sense that it is easily unnoticed; for the noble person, however, it is like a wisp of wool in the eye: It is utterly impossible not to notice it, and immediate effort is made to remove it.
Bhikkhu Bodhi states:
- 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.
- Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. pṛthagjana
- Dalai Lama; Thubten Chodron (2018b), Saṃsāra, Nirvāṇa, and Buddha Nature, The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, Volume 3, Wisdom Publications, Chapter 10 (p. 236)
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1992) The Nobility of the Truths, Buddhist Publication Society
- so so skye bo, Christian-Steinert Dictionary