Conceptions of awakening in ancient India?

In Ud 1.10, Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth thinks he is an arhant, until a deva appears and informs him that he is not an arhant. The deva suggests Bāhiya go to the Buddha for counsel.

This suggests that the notion of “arhantship” precedes the Buddha – i.e. the Buddha was not the first person to claim arhantship in ancient India. Can anyone explain what were the pre-existing conceptions of arhantship / awakening at the time of the Buddha?

And more specifically, I wonder whether non-Buddhist traditions had the same 4 stages of awakening (streamentry, once returner, non-returner, arhant) or did the Buddha create this schema?


We expect the highest similarities with Jainism. There we find many of the Buddhist superlatives: arihant, nirvana, buddha. Of course they are embedded in their own Jain frameworks with different meanings. But most probably these terms were not uniquely Buddhist but were part of a common samana spiritual vocabulary.

I have not come across the same four stages anywhere else. But I also wouldn’t expect it. According to some research (and here there will be disagreement) sotapanna and arahantship are the oldest stages, and sotapanna might go back to a Buddhist conversion formula. Meaning, the sotapatti could have originally been the convert who entered the stream of Buddha-Dharma, and thus would be rather exclusively Buddhist.

Joy Manné (1995). Case Histories from the Pāli Canon, II: Sotāpanna, Sakadāgāmin, Anāgāmin, Arahat–The Four Stages Case History or Spiritual Materialism and the Need for Tangible Results. Journal of the Pali Text Society, 21, 35-128

See also Sakadāgāmi, opapātika, anāgāmi. Are they late concepts i.e. not EBT?

The Brahmins had two end-goals: In the late Brahmanas and Upanisads it was realizing atman, and apart from that rebirth in the eternal brahmaloka.


I think this is difficult since the Jains and Buddhists are really the only samaṇa sects that survived and all the rest either totally disappeared or were chronicled by Hindus(often very critically) and that’s the only records that remain, like with the Ājīvikas(their actually dhamma is lost). The Pali canon & Jain scriptures provide some information but not much really. I haven’t read any Jain scriptures, but a large amount of Pali suttas and have read that the Jain’s have similar presentation of the other sects as the Pali, not much. Just the Buddha Gotama sect v. Mahavira sect interactions get details.

Arahant was a common title that was usually self-styled as a way for a mendicant to boost their status and to receive more danā, reverential salutations, disciples, etc. “Arahant” = “worthy one”

It is fairly reasonable to conclude that Gotama took the culturally common designations among the samaṇas and applied it to himself, because whom is more “worthy” than someone whose achieved sammasambodhi.

In MN26: Ariyapariyesanā Sutta, after Gotama’s englightement when he is on the road to meet with the group of five he encounters the Ājivaka wonder Upaka to whom he declares his sammasambodhi achievement to. Upaka he says he must be the Anantajina(Universal Victor) before shaking his head and walking away. Which Bhikkhu Bodhi has in his notes that “perhaps this was an Ājivajan epithet for the spiritually perfected individual.” So clearly the Ājivajan has an understanding of sammasambodhi and there was a potential conceptual overlap there.

He utilized words people knew and could understand to articulate his direct knowledges. As to whether these existed conceptually before Buddha Gotama’s dispensation, I highly doubt it, except Arahant. Sammasambodhi was likely at least somewhat conceptualized well before his birth, just not necessarily exactly how he presented it.


Thank you for a very insightful post. I have added “swift insight” to the SCV search terms. Although Ud1.10 is not currently supported by SuttaCentral Voice Assistant, Bāhiya does appear in other suttas. In particular, we have AN1.216 which implies that Bāhiya was actually almost almost there when he met the Buddha:

with swift insight is Bāhiya Dārucīriya.

1? 2? 3? :zap: :cow: :skull:

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