Topic 4: Arahant


Arahant means one who has attained nibbāna. How does he attain nibbāna? By annihilating all his desires and cravings, he attains nibbāna. In other words, when he is free from all desires, he attains nibbāna. When he attains this state, he is not subject to rebirth.

For annihilating desires and cravings, he has to walk on the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of sīla (moral precepts), samādhi (concentration) and paññā (insight wisdom). Without observing moral precepts, one cannot get rid of the defilements which do not let one’s mind concentrate because they keep on agitating and troubling him. A virtuous man can easily control his mind and with his concentrated mind, he can see reality as it is. When he begins to see reality as it is, he discovers that the objects, he longs for in this world and to which he is attached are not permanent. When he realizes this at the experiential level, he develops wisdom, becomes free from ignorance and is not attached to the objects of the world.

In this way, he achieves a very high state in life—a state free from attachments. A qualitative change takes place in him. The more he walks on the Noble Eightfold Path and develops wisdom (paññā), the more he sees reality as it is and becomes free from attachments that bind him to the cycle of birth and death.

Why is he called an arahant? Because he kills his mental enemies—rāga (craving), dosa (aversion) and moha (ignorance)—by observing moral precepts. As he does not kill, does not steal, does not commit adultery, so he becomes free from craving and aversion. As he does not tell lies, so he becomes free from fear and greed which prompt him to do so. In this way, the word arahant becomes meaningful in so far as he kills the enemies of craving, aversion and ignorance.

Also, because he destroys the spokes (ara—spoke of a wheel) of the wheel of birth and death, so he is called an arahant. The spokes of the wheel of birth and death are created by various defilements of the mind. One who has abandoned all kilesas (defilements) such as greed (lobho), hate (doso), delusion (moha), conceit (māna), speculative views (micchā diṭṭhi), doubt (vicikicchā), mental torpor (thīna), restlessness (uddhacca), shamelessness (ahirika), lack of moral dread (anotappa), and cut all ganṭhas (kāya ganṭha—the bodily tie) of covetousness (abhijjhā), ill-will (vyāpāda), clinging to rites and rituals (sīlabbataparāmāsa) and dogmatical fanaticism (idaṃ saccābhinivesa) is an arahant. In other words, one who is free from all āsavas (taints), is an arahant. Āsavas are four, namely kāmāsava (taint of sense-desire), bhavāsava (taint of desiring eternal existence), avijjāsava (taint of ignorance) and diṭṭhāsava (taint of wrong views).

Simply put, one who is no longer subject to rebirth and death is an arahant.

An arahant is an ariya-puggala (noble one) because he has now entered the lineage of the noble ones. Even if one has realized nibbāna for a short moment, he has entered the stream that flows towards arahantship. He is no longer a puthujjana (worldling).

Why is he called an ariya-puggala? Because his consciousness is not like that of a worldling (puthujjana) but it changes to that of a matured one, that of a noble one. And it changes very quickly when he enters the lineage of the noble ones. This change is called gotrabhū (change of lineage).

Ariya-puggalas are eight in number considered from the path and fruit points of view. The first is called sotāpanna. A sotāpanna is one who has got rid of three fetters, namely sakkāyadiṭṭhi (belief in a permanent self or belief in a permanent soul), vicikicchā (doubt in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha) and sīlabbataparāmāsa (belief in the efficacy of rites and rituals for one’s purification).

There are two stages of every ariya-puggala. For example, in the case of a sotāpanna, the first stage is when he is realizing the path of stream-winning (sotāpatti-magga) and the second stage is when he is realizing the fruition of stream-winning (sotāpatti-phala). In the case of a sakadāgāmī, the first stage is when he is realizing the path of once-return (sakadāgām-magga) and the second stage is when he is realizing the fruition of once-return (sakadāgāmī-phala). In the case of an anāgāmī, the first stage is when he is realizing the path of non-return (anāgāmī-magga) and the second stage is when he is realizing the fruition of non-return (anāgāmī-phala). In the case of an arahant, the first stage is when he is realizing the path of holiness (arahatta-magga) and the second is when he is realizing the fruition of holiness (arahatta-phala).

One who becomes sotāpanna can be born in this world for seven times at the most. He will not be born for the eighth time. There are three kinds of sotāpannas. They are known as sattakhattuparama (one with seven rebirths at the most), kolaṅkola (one who passes from one noble family to another) and ekabījī (one who is to be born only once). A sotāpanna is not subject to rebirth in lower worlds like hell (niraya), animal realm (tiracchāna), the ghost plane (petayoni) and the demon world (asura). He is firmly established in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha and is destined to attain full enlightenment.

A sotāpanna has got four characteristic qualities: he has unshakable faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha and he observes all the four kinds of morality assiduously i.e., pātimokkha saṃvara sīla (restraint with regard to the Disciplinary code), indriyasaṃvara sīla (restraint of the senses), ājīvapārisuddhi sīla (purification of livelihood) and paccaya sannisita sīla (morality with regard to the four requisites of a bhikkhu).

When he commits any wrong, he cannot hide it. Other characteristics of a sotāpanna are that he cannot commit six heinous crimes i.e., he cannot kill his father, his mother, an arahant, cannot cause a schism in the Saṅgha, cannot wound a Buddha and cannot uphold wrong views i.e., he cannot go to a teacher other than a teacher who teaches Buddha’s teachings.

A sakadāgāmī becomes nearly free from two fetters namely kāmacchanda (sensuous craving) and vyāpāda (ill-will).

The third type of ariya-puggala is called anāgāmī (non-returner) because he is not going to be born in this world again. He will be born in some Brahma world and will attain nibbāna there. An anāgāmī (non-returner) is completely free from the five lower fetters mentioned in the cases of the first two ariya-puggalas.

The last kind of ariya-puggala is called an arahant who becomes free from the five higher fetters namely rūpa-rāga (craving for existence in fine material loka) and arūpa-rāga (craving for immaterial existence), māna (conceit), uddhacca (restlessness) and avijjā (ignorance).

The consciousness of an arahant is called kiriyā citta which means karmically inoperative consciousness. His consciousness is neither karmically wholesome nor unwholesome, nor is it result producing. His consciousness (citta) functions independently of karma. The actions performed by him are like fried seeds which do not germinate and produce results. He does not create any kamma saṅkhāra.

Not only monks and nuns who have renounced home can become arahant but also lay men and lay women can become arahant. But there is a condition. As soon as a lay man or a woman becomes an arahant, he or she has either to renounce home and become a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni or attain parinibbāna soon.

An arahant has completed his journey. In other words, he is not going to be born again i.e., he will not come into the cycle of birth and death. As he has annihilated his desires, there will be no suffering for him, no sorrow because he has rooted out the cause of suffering and sorrow. He has cut all the ten fetters that bind one to the wheel of birth and death.

As he is free from all kinds of desires, he does not accumulate anything. He does not even have the results of wholesome actions that he does. His consciousness is called kiriyā citta as mentioned above, which is like fried seeds incapable of germination. He always strives mindfully with all his sense organs under his full control. He has no trace of pride in him.

An arahant has been compared to an indakhīla (firm post) not shaken by different kinds of winds and gales of different philosophical views. Like the leaf of a lotus, he is not sullied by different kinds of worldly taints.

As an arahant is free from aversion and hatred, so he lives happily even among those who are hateful. It is, therefore, said that wherever arahants live, in a village, in a forest or on a hill, that place becomes delightful.

As he has attained the highest goal of life called nibbāna, he is a true Brāhmaṇa. As his three kinds of actions, physical, vocal and mental are pure and wholesome, as he does not cling to sensual pleasures like water on a lotus leaf or like a mustard seed on the point of a needle, as he knows the right path from the wrong one, as he practices four Brahmaviharas, as he is free from all kinds of stains and shines like the moon, he is called an arahant.


  1. Define arahant. Why is a person called an arahant? What are the enemies (ari—enemy) that an arahant kills?
  2. An arahant is called an ariya-puggala. Why? What is the meaning of ariya?
  3. What is the first stage of an ariya-puggala? Why is he called a sotāpanna?
  4. What does sota stand for in sotāpanna?
  5. Do you think that the word sota is very appropriate here? If yes, why? Explain.
  6. How many fetters (saṃyojanas) does a sotāpanna break and what are they?
  7. How many kinds of sotāpannas are there and what are their characteristics?
  8. Who is called a sakadāgāmī? What is the meaning of sakadāgāmī?
  9. How many fetters does a sakadāgāmī break and what are their names?
  10. Who is an anāgāmī? Why is a person called so? Write some of the characteristics of an anāgāmī.
  11. How many fetters does an anāgāmī break and what are they?
  12. Explain the fetters that an anāgāmī breaks.
  13. What are the characteristics of an arahant? Name the fetters that an arahant breaks.
  14. What is nibbāna? Explain in detail.

Last modified: Tuesday, 26 April 2022, 7:44 PM