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Who is an Arahatah

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Who is an Arahath ?

Rajah Kuruppu

Overcoming Fetters-

T he pinnacle of Buddhist practice and the ultimate goal in Buddhism is the realisation of Nibbana. An Arahat has overcome the ten fetters, which are unchanging personal- ity belief, doubts, clinging to valueless rites and rituals, craving for sense pleasures, ill will, attachment to form, attachment to formless phenomena, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. These fetters are eradicated in four stages of development beginning with sotapanna or stream enterer, when the first three fetters of unchanging personality belief, doubts about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and indulgence in valueless rites, rituals and ceremonies are overcome. Such a person would realize Nibbana within seven births at the most, none of which will be below the human plane. He would lead a perfectly moral life in speech and action and observe fully the five precepts. At this stage he also gains insight into the true nature of himself, and of his aggregates and will partially experience Nibbana.

Two more fetters of sense-desire and ill-will are weakened to attain the stage of sakadagami or once returner where if he fails to attain Arahatship in that life itself he will be born only once more. By destroying the weakened fetters of sense-desire and ill- will the third stage of sainthood, anagami, non-returner, is attained. When the craving for sense-pleasures is completely rooted out one cannot and will not be born in the realm of sense- pleasure (kama loka) which includes the human world, the lower heavenly planes and all states of woe. In this stage the fortunate one is able to have a clearer vision of Nibbana.

With further development of insight is attained the fourth and final stage of Arahat, the perfect one. At this stage the five remaining fetters of lust for form and the formless, conceit, rest- 35 lessness and ignorance are abandoned and the light of Nibbana is seen in its fullest.

There are instances when one goes through these four stages one after the other in quick succession. A case in Buddhist litera- ture is Ven. Ananda Thera, who attended on the Buddha. The day before the Maha Sangayana, where five hundred Arahats were due to meet and record the important discourses of the Buddha, Ven. Ananda Thera realized the Truth when he was in the process of reclining on a bed and went through all the four stages rapid- ly. Others would take a longer time and perhaps more than one birth to achieve the other stages after sotapanna.

It is incorrect to presume that Nibbana cannot be realised in this life itself. In Buddhist literature we have the example of Angulimala, who after killing 999 human beings was able to realise Nibbana in that life itself under the guidance of the Buddha himself. He was thus able to free himself from the unsat- isfactory results of unwholesome action which were due to mature in future lives since he would not be born again. All those past actions become ahosi kamma because of his realization of Nibbana and release from the unsatisfactory features of Samsara for all time.

Man consists of body and mind. It could be further elabo- rated into five aggregates where apart from the physical body, the mind is further divided to perception, consciousness, feeling and mental formations.

Experiencing Nibbana-

Nibbana could be experienced both with these five aggre- gates intact or without them. The Arahat who has realized Nibbana in this life itself experiences Nibbana with the five aggregates. He has completely eliminated the three root defile- ments of craving, hatred and delusion and could speak of Nibbana having real experience. However, he cannot explain to ordinary people, Puttujjanas, the real bliss of Nibbana. Some Puttujjanas 36 who have developed considerably along the noble eight fold path could understand the sufferings of life, the defilements of the mind and adverse consequences of craving for sense pleasures. Yet they cannot understand the significance of the total eradica- tion of the root defilements of craving, hatred and delusion, as they have not experienced it.

In this connection, there is in Buddhist literature the fable of the tortoise and the fish living in a lake. The tortoise told his friend the fish, that he had just returned to the lake after a walk on land. The fish said you mean you were swimming on land. The tortoise tried to explain to the fish that one cannot swim on land, that it was solid, and that one has to walk on land. But the fish would not accept that position thinking that land also must be liquid like the lake, with waves, and one could swim and dive there. The fish could not understand walking since he had not experienced it.

The cycle of births and deaths of an Arahat, who had real- ized Nibbana in this life itself, would end with the conclusion of this life. However, during this life, he is conditioned by the kammic activities of his infinite past. So he experiences pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings when his sense faculties come into contact with sense objects. But the distinctive feature is that he is unaffected by these feelings. He is neither depressed with unpleasant feelings nor delighted with the pleasant feelings. Realising to a perfect degree the impermanence of these feelings he maintains absolute equanimity or upekkha, the final item in the Seven Factors of Enlightment.

The extent of his equanimity is such that he is totally unmoved by the vicissitudes of life, namely, gain and loss, repute and ill-repute, praise and blame, and pleasure and pain. The Dhammapada, a collection of important sayings of the Buddha, refers to them as follows in verse 83

"Touched by success or failure,

The wise are neither elated nor depressed".

 Verse 81 of the Dhammapada refers to them as given below.

"Just as a compact, solid rock

Stands immobile in the hurricane,

Even so, amidst all praise and blame

The truly wise are shaken not"

Although one cannot fully grasp the experience of an Arahat, one could visualise the happiness of an Arahat with supreme equanimity towards the desirable and the undesirable or facing the vicissitudes of life with equanimity. It is said in the Dhamma that an Arahat who has realized Nibbana is the happiest of all beings and this could be appreciated by those who have pro- gressed considerably on the spiritual path.

On the other hand, an Arahat could experience Nibbana without the five aggregates when he passes away and is never born again. This is even more difficult to comprehend by the ordi- nary Puttujjana because it is more difficult to visualize. However, it is said that the experience of Nibbana is the same with or with- out the five aggregates.

Pacceka Buddhas-

There are also the Pacceka Buddhas who had realized Nibbana at times when neither a Buddha nor the Dhamma is available. It is a self realization when the Pacceka Buddhas by their own effort perceive the reality or the impermanence, unsat- isfactoriness and the absence of an unchanging self. However, they are unable to preach the Dhamma they have discovered by themselves to others. They also are Arahats.

 From a Buddhist standpoint, the best time to be born is when a Buddha is present and the next best when without a Buddha, the Dhamma is still available. It is said that there will be long periods when even the Dhamma is not available. Fortunately we belong to the second category and we should make every effort to use this opportunity to march forward towards the goal of Nibbana.

  An important characteristic of an Arahat is that he does not generate kamma, wholesome or unwholesome. The Buddha has declared that "It is cetana that I call kamma. Having willed one acts by thought, word or deed." The Arahats also have cetana or intensions. But there is no kammic generation for the reason that they have eradicated the three root defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. They had overcome the false view of a permanent unchanging self and all their thoughts and actions are selfless.

Who Realises Nibbana-

A question may be raised as to who achieves the supreme stage of Arahat if there is no self whatsoever in Buddhism. Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality but it is changing all the time. It is compared to a child grown to be an adult. The adult is not the same as the child but there is a definite connection between the two. There is the continuation of the changing being faring in samsara, the cycle of births and deaths, according to their past actions. There is continuity without an identity. If not it would contradict two important aspects of the Dhamma, the Law of Kamma and Samsara.

The Arahats, as stated earlier, have reached the ultimate in the path to liberation. They have eradicated all defilements of the mind including the three root defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. They have attained the highest level of equanimity and are in the position to face all vicissitudes with equal balance of mind. They have overcome the ten fetters. They have also ensured the complete calming and ceasing of all feelings. Thus, they are the happiest of all living beings.

Rajah Kuruppu

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