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In early Buddhist scriptures, the word arahant refers to an enlightened being. The exact interpretation and etymology of words such as Arahatto (Pali) and Arhat (Sanskrit) remains disputed. Research gathered together circa 1915 and published in the PTS dictionary interpret the word as meaning "the worthy one" in Theravada tradition.[1] This has been challenged by more recent research, resulting from the etymological comparison of Pali and early Jain Prakrit forms (arihanta and arahanta).[2] The latter challenges the assumption that the root of the word is Pali araha (cf. Sk. arha); Richard Gombrich has proposed an etymology of ari + hanta, bringing the root meaning closer to Jina (an epithet commonly used of both the the leaders of the Jain religion and Buddha).[3]


Arahant in the early scriptures

In Theravada, it means anyone who has reached the total Awakening and attained Nibbana, including the Buddha. Arahant is a person who has destroyed greed, hatred and delusion, the unwholesome roots which underlie all fetters. Who upon decease will not be reborn in any world, having wholly cut off all fetters that bind a person to the samsara. In the Pali Canon, the word is sometimes used as a synonym for tathagata.[4]

After attainment of Nibbana, the five aggregates (physical forms, feelings/sensations, perception, mental formations and consciousness) will continue to function, sustained by physical bodily vitality. This attainment is termed the nibbana element with a residue remaining. But once the Arahant pass-away and with the disintegration of the physical body, the five aggregates will cease to function, hence ending all traces of existence in the phenomenal world and thus total release from the misery of samsara. It would then be termed the nibbana element without residue remaining.[5] Parinibbana occurs at the death of an Arahant.

These three awakened beings are classified as Arahant:

  1. Sammasambuddha, usually just called Buddha, who discovers the truth by himself and teaches the path to awakening to others.
  2. Paccekabuddha, who discovers the truth by himself but lacks the skill to teach others.
  3. Savakabuddha, who receive the truth directly or indirectly from a Sammasambuddha.

In well known verses in the Pali Canon, the Buddha describes himself as an arahant soon after his enlightenment: [6]


all-knowing am I, with regard to all things, unadhering. All-abandoning, released in the ending of craving: having fully known on my own, to whom should I point as my teacher?

I have no teacher, and one like me can't be found. In the world with its devas, I have no counterpart.

For I am an arahant in the world; I, the unexcelled teacher. I, alone, am rightly self-awakened. Cooled am I, unbound.

To set rolling the wheel of Dhamma I go to the city of Kasi. In a world become blind, I beat the drum of the Deathless.'

— Ariyapariyesana Sutta

In the Pali Canon, Gotama Buddha is described as thus: [7]

A monk called Gotama…a son of the Sakyans who went forth from a Sakyan clan...Now a good report of Master Gotama has been spread to this effect: 'That Blessed One is such since he is arahant and Fully Enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable teacher of men to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed...He teaches a Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end...' Now it is good to see such arahants.
—Saleyyaka Sutta

In the Pali Canon, Arahant qualities is describe as thus: [8]

When a monk is an arahant, his fermentations ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis, he is dedicated to six things: renunciation, seclusion, non-afflictiveness, the ending of craving, the ending of clinging/sustenance, & non-deludedness.
—Sona Sutta

In the Pali Canon, Arahant qualities are described as thus: [9]

…those monks who are arahants — whose mental effluents are ended, who have reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who are released through right gnosis — no (future) cycle for manifestation…
—Alagaddupama Sutta

In the Pali Canon, attainment of arahantship is described as thus: [10]

…dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, and resolute — he in no long time reached and remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing and realizing it for himself in the here and now. He knew: ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.’ And thus Ven. Ratthapala became another one of the arahants.
—Ratthapala Sutta

For those that have destroyed greed and hatred (in the sensory context) with some residue of delusion, are called anagami (non-returner). Anagamis will not be reborn into the human world after death, but into the heaven of the Pure Abodes, where only anagamis live. There, they will attain full enlightenment.

Arhat in Mahayana thought

In Mahayana, it usually means anyone who has destroyed greed and hatred, but is still subject to delusion. According to most, but not all, Mahayana authorities, an Arhat must go on to become a Bodhisattva. If they fail to do so in the lifetime in which they reach the attainment, they will go to some sort of dormant state, thence to be roused and taught the Bodhisattva path, presumably when ready.


  1. ^ An authoritative Pali-to-English translation of "arahant" can be found in Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), p. 77.[1]
  2. ^ Richard Gombrich, 2009, What the Buddha Taught, Equinox: London, p. 57-8.
  3. ^ Richard Gombrich, 2009, What the Buddha Taught, Equinox: London, p. 57.
  4. ^ Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, page 227.
  5. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi. "Transcendental Dependent Arising". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  6. ^ "Ariyapariyesana sutta". 
  7. ^ "Saleyyaka Sutta". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  8. ^ "Sona Sutta". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  9. ^ "Alagaddupama Sutta". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  10. ^ "Ratthapala Sutta". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 

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