An old question about Buddhahood in Theravada Buddhism, and Arhatship

It is said that the Buddha attained Buddhahood after much hard work, with much Meditation. My first thought upon hearing this, about it, a long time ago, was that His, the Buddha’s, Natural Means was to Teach this experience to all other people and beings.

In the Wonderful Theravada Tradition we mostly seek Arhatship. But how about seeking to become an Arhat who is a Buddha? I know there are some Suttas about how Buddhas can’t appear in the same Space as each other. But there are Supernatural ways around that, like Emanating from different Universes or Higher Realms.

The Lotus Sutra in the Ekayana Doctrine (that multiple Vehicles all lead to the same Path, and are Expounded as two or three only for the purpose of Expedient Means) talks of the predictions of many, many of Buddha’s Disciples as eventually becoming Buddhas. However the Span of when, is an extremely long time, kalpas and such. This may follow the Theravada Doctrine of the fact that it takes extremely long to achieve Buddhahood for most that do, and that the Span of the Tathagatas is spread out.

How does Theravada Buddhism answer this question? I am interested.

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Is that the question you were trying to ask when you said “How does Theravada Buddhism answer this question? I am interested.”?

For me, I can’t find any sutta in the Pali canon which discussed about the training/method/way to become a Buddha. Nobody even asked the Buddha such question in the Pali canon and the Buddha didn’t even mention that goal for us.

Well, so for me, the answer is: The Buddha didn’t say so we don’t know, this knowledge is among the the siṁsapā forest mentioned in SN56.31. If anyone finds out any sutta in the Pali canon about such matters then I will be proven wrong.

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as far as i know, there’s no way by definition to learn to become a buddha in theravada buddhism. being an arahat is being someone who attain enlightenment following the teachings of a buddha. being a buddha is someone who:

  • attain enlightenment by itself
  • is able to teach how others can become enlightened.

so, there is no “higher state” to be attain. if you were born in a time where you have access to the buddha’s teachings, you automatically cannot become a buddha. it is possible to become a praccecabuddha: it is an enlightenment that accomplish only one of the conditions above: it’s an enlightenment attained by itself. but, this being cannot teach how others can become enlightened too.

in mahayana, being an arahat is an “inferior” state than being a buddha. it is one step on the path, contrary to theravada, where being an arahat is the end of the journey.

this is what i read. if I’m wrong, i hope someone with a good heart points the mistake :slight_smile:

DN30 can be seen as such. He has a career of doing only good.

To me it seems that this career of becoming a Buddha is not only about escaping samsara, maybe mostly not. It is about goodness. Having a very pure, sincere and good/warm heart. Not doing any harm, only good, always sincere, never be corrupt, not being egocentric and not only have an eye for ones own welfare.

Always doing good, in whatever way, also just wordly ways. Those wordly ways are for the Bodhisattva no inferior ways of doing good. One does what needs to be done and is appropriate.
The career of becoming a Buddha is not only about spiritual guidance, assistence, teaching. It is about doing good in whatever kind of way.

This goodness is the real wish fulfilling jewel. It is really beautiful.
This is what appeals to me as most beautiful, most far-reaching and an example to life by. I find it beautiful and inspiring.

I feel the career of becoming a Buddha is also not about consciously and strategically accumulating merit to become a Buddha or seeing this as some kind of investment. It is about following ones heart. Doing good. Making a connection with ones purity and goodness. Honouring goodness.

Goodness is not the same as sila. Goodness is different, because goodness, as purity, is not different from the noble Path.
One cannot really practise goodness. Goodness must be felt. It is hard to explain. For example, intentionally doing friendly is not goodness. That is not pure.

@Bodhisattva, maybe DN30 reveals something?

Sorry but I have to disagree with you here. To me, DN30 is similar to the case of a chef introducing his dish to other people. He can tell which rare, special, good ingredient that he used to make his dish. However, the actual way/method/training of making that dish is not shown. The difference here is very important, because we can get the information which ingredients he used but we don’t know how to start, what else is required, what else we must avoid, what is the sequence, which comes first, which comes last. DN30 is very interesting sutta but it is still very very far from considering it as a training/method/way to become a Buddha.

As you said yourselves, “it’s hard to explain” and I am sorry but I don’t understand you either. Sorry but can you try again, what you really want to say?

Just a personal side note: the 8FNP, by definition, is the way to escape Saṃsāra. So, we can conclude that if we still have to stuck in Saṃsāra for a super duper long time to become the next Buddha, then, it should not be the 8FNP. Furthermore, 8FNP started with Right View, any path which is not the 8FNP will be very hard to understand why it can also starts with Right View, rather a simpler explanation: it does not.

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I believe that DN30 describes that to become a Buddha is by the path of the bodhisattva, which is many many lives full of goodness, not harming, being sincere, not killing, taking etc etc. In all possible ways a live full of goodness, caring etc etc. You know what this goodness is, i think.

Goodness is no business. It is not like…i do this because then i will have this and that return…
That is ethics as business. Then one lives as a businessman, leads a mundane live.

For me, the end of defilement is a means to give room to goodness and be myself. To live in a pure way. I have recognised goodness as being totally authentic, not reactive, not fettered by anusaya, desires, views, not slave of habits and patterns.

For me there is no real difference between the supra mundane path and goodness.

Based on what my teacher says, Siddharth Gautama had to take births as human for 150000 Asankheya times in order to attain supreme enlightenment as Samyak Sambuddha. 1 Asankheya = mind boggling period which literally cannot be measured. This period started after Lord Dipamkara gave his prophesy of buddhahood for the first time. This number is the time for which he took birth as human to fulfill perfections. As ascetic named ‘Sumedha’ during Lord Dipamkara Buddha’s time, Dipamkara buddha said to him that he has fulfilled required perfections and hence can attain liberation at this very moment and attain perfect happiness of nibbana but Sumedha actually renounced arhatship because he had greater desire to be like Lord himself and take innumerable beings to other shore of nibbana along with himself. This was his great sacrifice, he renounced that. (My teacher literally had tears in his eyes when he told me this part of renunciation of arhatship by Sumedha in front of Lord Dipamkara)

So to become a buddha one has to firstly eligible to be arhat like ascetic Sumedha and then to renounce and not accept the fruit of arhatship. Because once one becomes sotapanna(stream-enterer) one has ended ignorance directly so there is literally no need of buddhahood and all because one has truthfully followed teachings of lord buddha.

Now why does he do that. Bodhisattva the one who is going to be buddha is the most selfish being in the existence because he wants to eradicate suffering and wishes that only permanent happiness remains in samsara. Now don’t misunderstand plz. What I mean to say is that. Buddha is the highest point of evolution a life/being can attain and any life/being which is working towards it is called Bodhisattva.

My teacher said that, there are 3 distinct vehicles towards nibbana. Bodhisattva vehicle/mahayana is hardest of them…why because prerequisite is that one has to experience all the sufferings of samsara because then only one knows what is perfect long lasting happiness of nibbana without the abandonment of samsara because for him there is no suffering anywhere. Nibbana is ultimate happiness, nobody can or should deny that, difference between arhat and buddha is that for arhat all kind of suffering has ended but omniscience is not attained moreover he/she doesn’t even need that. Where arhat is, there is no need of doing anything because he is literally nowhere still there is no death for him.

Everybody can desire like that. There is no monopoly in state of buddhahood, problem is that it is hardest task and one has to bear every kind of suffering, this is a fact. This fact is not denied even in Mahayana. When Bodhisattva is in last life of flesh(decaying matter), after living that last flesh body of his, he will enter into undying dharma body(Dharmakaya) and that means he became buddha. Now there is no suffering in samsara that this being who attained Dharmakaya of Buddha hasn’t experienced. That is the reason buddha is called blessed one, because for him there is no negative karma, only positive karma. For this Dharmakaya buddha there is absence of suffering and his store of good merits is infinite it never ends as for him it has become spontaneous and continuous to help others attain nibbana…merit of this deed results in unlimited source of merit…so continuous source of positive/wholesome karma and no negative karma as he has experienced all of the sufferings so he cannot do any negative or wrong deeds, he knows perfectly well everything as he is omniscient.

Yes it is given in lotus sutra but even this doctrine of one vehicle as expedient means and be counter argued as expedient means only. There may be some beings who has the capacity… if given the conducive situations actually bear more suffering and fulfill more perfections if encouraged on mahayana path. Like one might say even after becoming arhat one has to become buddha afterwards so why not just try to walk Mahayana path! So
it can be said that to encourage such people doctrine of one vehicle is taught as an expedient means to push them on mahayana path.

Yes in lotus sutta it is said that even arhat disciples received prophesy but even this can be argued to be expedient means just as above. It can be said to be written with the purpose of encouraging some people to follow Mahayana. With due respect, I am not criticising lotus sutra sir, I am just presenting arguments.

I have read some part of prajnaparamita text by Nagarjuna even there he does not hint to arhat disciples becoming Buddhas in future. Although Nagarjjuna taught middle way, he is regarded as Mahayana teacher without doubt by all, still he didn’t hint to anything about arhat disciples becoming buddhas in future.

What I think of it is => there are innumerable universes and innumerable beings in the samsara so we cannot deny that there are innumerable beings named sariputta but still some of them in parallel universe may attain buddhahood and won’t be liberated as chief disciple of any buddha! Isn’t it a possibility? But this speculation itself is mind boggling and unnecessary and waste of energy. Just as Nagarjuna said, ultimate truth can’t be put into words it can only be experienced, cannot be understood with our mind nor can be put into words. It’s like, as Nagarjuna said, the ultimate truth is that, “there is no ultimate truth”. See how confusing it gets. That’s why we can conclude that it was expedient means employed by some Mahayana followers when they said that there is only one vehicle of buddhahood.

It is just my opinion ok I am not claiming anything, I can also be wrong.

That’s good wish, I agree.

But I am curious and want to know how can you be sure that in so many many lives, you won’t do bad but only good? What prevents you from straying away from the goal of being next Buddha (or maybe next 90th-100th Buddha in the long long future ahead)?

That “how” is the method/training/way I was talking about. How? Anybody can be so sure to tell if the Buddha himself didn’t tell us?

Exactly sir. Many of us are good because our parents gave us good upbringing, because we are born in a society and culture who values good qualities. But I don’t think most of us are innately good. There is a blurry line between us and animals, few things separate us but we have more similarities. They build their home, we build our home property and business; they reproduce and take care of their children and we also do the same. Those who don’t keep or atleast try to keep precepts are living their life like animal in the body of human being. We practice dhamma so that goodness becomes our very nature and we abandon evil. Its because dhamma(dispensation of Gautama Buddha) is there, that’s why we are capable of being good and increase our roots of goodness. In other words we are good only because society we are born in values good(whatever the religion maybe)…but we maybe are not innately good meaning goodness hasn’t yet become our nature. I don’t think it would have been the same case if teachings of Buddha were not available. Makes me realise how fortunate we are actually!

This is from the end of a book, entitled “The Teaching of Buddha” (freely available here in PDF format), an excerpt, and a Theravada Scripture herein:


(The Book of the Gradual Sayings)

Monks, there is one person whose birth into the world is for the wel-
fare of many, for the happiness of many: who is born out of compassion
for the world, for the profit, welfare and happiness of heavenly beings and
mankind. Who is that person? It is a Tathagata who is an Arahat, a fully
Enlightened One. This, monks, is that one person.

Monks, the manifestation of one person is hard to find in the world. Of
what person? Of a Tathagata who is an Arahat, a fully Enlightened One.
He is the one person.

Monks, hard to be found in the world is that one extraordinary person.
What person? A Tathagata who is an Arahat, a fully Enlightened One. He
is the one person.

Monks, the death of one person is to be regretted by all. Of what
person? Of a Tathagata who is an Arahat, a fully Enlightened One. He is
the one person.

Monks, there is one person born into the world who is incomparable
and unequalled. Who is that person? It is a Tathagata who is an Arahat, a
fully Enlightened One. He is the one person.

Monks, the manifestation of one person is the manifestation of a
mighty eye, a mighty light, a mighty radiance. Of what person? Of a
Tathagata who is an Arahat, a fully Enlightened One. He is the one
person. (Anguttara Nikaya I-13)

I like this poem a lot and it gives me hope that people understand that the goal of Buddhism is to create Buddhas.

I don’t understand one thing, if everybody has to experience ever suffering then what is the point of one person attaining supreme enlightenment? Fire example let’s say I am willing to try to tread the Mahayana path, atleast for me…my first motivation would be to make things easiers for every one around me! I wouldn’t want all of them to suffer like me!

I feel that if we say Goal of Buddhism is to create Buddha’s, this statement just contradicts the motivation of that great Bodhisattva who out of compassion experienced all sufferings for us…! I mean yes everybody can become buddha but not everybody has to!..when there is one buddha alive…there is no need of Bodhisattva… literally no need of anyone. One buddha alone is sufficient. Path of the Bodhisattva might be treaded by some advanced beings like Sumedha for example but I don’t think it is the ultimate goal for everybody.

One more thing, I would like to mention here. My teacher says, bodhisattva’s career starts only after one has reached pure abodes and chose to return from there out of great compassion. Till one reaches pure abodes using great vehicle, One is putthujana only because even if one is ‘wannabe Bodhisattva’ still one is putthujana who is not free from rebirth in lower realms.

I think the texts, such as DN30, describe this is possible. I do not know how but i like to believe that goodness is not the sum of all good habits but it is what we are in essence.

If water is purified from adventitious defilements, the essence of water reveals itself naturally. I believe it is the same with mind. If mind is purified from tanha, anusaya, kilesa, asava, then the essence of mind reveals itself naturally as empty, uninclined (it is without any tendency), signless, desireless, peaceful, unburdend, pure. I believe the sutta’s teach that this is in fact the ground of all true goodness and qualities (big parts of SN45 are about this).

That the noble Path and things like the 5 powers etc. have the deathless as their ground, means, for me, that they do not have disposition as their ground, not inclination, but the uninclined, the deathless.

I believe this is explained by the Buddha as the real ground for goodness and also as the noble Path which must always be distinguished from the mundane path he also teaches (MN117).
It is not like the Buddha teaches that making good habits strong will lead to the escape of samsara or the end of ignorance. It will lead to merit and high rebirths.

I believe, somehow the career of a Buddha must be connected with an inner recognition that habitual behaviour it not authentic, not freeing, not me, mine, myself. He does not habitually do good, but out of pure hearthedness.

I believe nobody can loose this. One cannot loose the deathless, the uninclined, the ground for all goodness and qualities to manifest. Maybe the teachings can disappear but the deathless, the ground for all pure goodness, cannot.


So both you and I have agreed that the “how” is quite big a problem here.

Anyway, do you mind to explain about the belief about this goodness (not this goodness itself, but the belief about this goodness)? When you were an infant just born zero-day, have you (or anyone else) also got this same belief until now?

How can you be sure that such belief transfers to your future lives (leave alone about this goodness aside, just this belief only)? Without that belief, how can you continually to do the so called “purifying the water” for the “deathless ground”?

You believe now that “nobody can lose this deathless ground or authentic goodness” but how not to lose that belief as a zero-day born baby?

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Hi , an attempt to an answer,

This goodness is a ground and not a belief. Goodness is described differently in EBT in words like:

-“It’s hard to see what they call the ‘uninclined’, for the truth is not easy to see. For one who has penetrated craving, who knows and sees, there is nothing.” (Ud8.2)

The uninclined is a synonym for goodness.

SN45.161: … "What Noble Eightfold Path? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu develops right view … right concentration, which has the Deathless as its ground, the Deathless as its destination, the
Deathless as its final goal.". . .

The Noble Path has the Deathless as it ground. The noble path does not have inclinations/habits/desires/ passions/tendencies/urge as its ground but the uninclined.

Another way the sutta state this is:

"And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path so that he slants, slopes, and inclines towards Nibbana? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu develops right view, which is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. … He develops right concentration, etc (SN45.91)

I believe that we are never really seperated from dispassion, seclusion, cessation because that is, as it were, the interior, the sphere we live in. But like a fish in water also stops noticing the water, we have stopped noticing the uninclined, dispassion, seclusion, cessation, the stilling of all formations as the space we live in.

Maybe someone, a teachers, must make us aware of all this, to see it. Someone must awaken us.

The most strange thing seems to be that we are much more familiar with the deathless, with the stilling of all formations, with dispassion, with the uninclined, than with defilements. But like everything that is so extreme familiar it does not get noticed anymore( such also with neutral feelings).

The things that are most common/familiar to us escape our attention. The most familiar to us is the uninclined, emptiness, stilling, peace, the truth, that what we do not see arising, ceasing and changing in the meantime.

I do not say we know it completely but we are not unfamiliar with the uninclined, the opposite.

I can imagine that there can be a time that no one awakenes us anymore, but i do not believe there can be a time that Truth is absent or that we can ever be separated from Truth, from Goodness, from the uninclined.

I assume also after the total cessation of the khandha’s.

I think you have misunderstood me. That’s why I have repeated many times in my previous message that I was putting question about the belief, not about “this goodness”.

In my previous message, I asked about “the belief in that goodness”, I have (temporarily) stopped asking about “that goodness”.

“X” and “Belief about X” are 2 different things, right?

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Those who have some actual feeling for the uninclined, dispassion, peace not as some future vision to realise and gain one day, but here and now, those people probably wil arrive, some day, in a Dhamma center, listening to Dhamma teachers. Their kamma will probably lead them to Dhamma teachers and Dhamma centers. They are told what they already know.

May I ask, these claims are your own thinking/theory/idea or are they from any book/teacher/religion? In other word, can you tell the references or claim these ideas as from you alone?

I think you can see, verify in this life, that there are people who are very intend on doing good. Very goodhearted people, warm, friendly, open, wise, in a very natural way. It is not that they need vows to controll their behaviour. That is for people who are not that warm-hearted and wise, like me.

The common explanation is that they are quite ripe, spiritually, as it were. I do not exclude that this does not get lost. That we are again and again born as a child does not mean that one must again and again start all over new and fresh.

Not really. I cannot see all this in detail but i believe that being born again does not mean one has to start all over again.

I understand what you are saying from your belief. That’s why my questions was about this belief itself.

Other people can have another explanation equally common is that “these people just won a lottery in the process of rebirth”. I still don’t understand how you can claim both “this does not get lost” and at the same time also claim “it is not a big problem”. Anyway, I better wait for your answer on my previous post:

Hi @Clarity

For me one of the most important teachings is that the goal is allready present. This i read in EBT and have heard or read of many teachers from all kind of buddhist traditions.
In the context that the goal is allready present, developing the Noble Path is not really about gaining, it is about letting go, relinquishing.

This does not mean that gaining cannot be meritorious but gaining is not like practising the Noble Path.
The things we gain, like insight, patience, good habits, that is only for the means to let go, relinquish.
It is not a goal in itself.

See for example, AN8.53. This sutta explains in short what can be recognised as the teachings of the Buddha: one thing is…it is not about accumulating, it is about non-accumulating.

Ajahn Pannavaddho says it like this:

*"Actually, the goal is not something we reach by striving to go higher and higher. It’s not like that. In truth, the goal is there all the time. What we must do is get rid of the things hiding it from view; not *
gain something, but relinquish everything. So we must get rid of all our wanting, all our attachments, all our wrong views and all our delusion. Developing the path factors eventually gets rid of all attachment to anything connected with the world. When we do that until we let go of everything, the goal—Nibbāna—is there. Then nothing is left for us to do. Therefore, Buddhism is not a path of gaining so much as a path of relinquishing". (Uncommon Wisdom, page 260)

I see this is also the message of EBT also, of mahayana, of tantra, of all buddhist schools.

I feel, it is very important to recognise that the goal is allready present. This is also the meaning of AN1.51, i feel.

Developing the Noble Path is based upon non-accumulation, based upon cessation, peace, the stilling of formations. Its ground is the deathless.

If one practices the Dhamma with the idea that you will possess wisdom, love, compassion, one day, then one is led astray. Because it cannot be possessed. One has to drop such longings and conceit to act wise, loving, compassionate.

The Dhamma teaches…there is no self… and not alone that… there is also no possession of a self.

Anything that is felt as being ones possession, wisdom, love, compassion, that is really only conceit and there is no end to suffering.

Maybe we can discuss this in a constructive manner and otherwise we better stop.

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