Did Buddha really ask the original 16 Arhats to take rebirth until the next Buddha is born? Didn't the Arhat achieve Nirvana? How can they take rebirth?

I always thought the Arhats have achieved Nirvana, doesn’t that mean you can no longer take rebirth? How come some people said that the 18 Arhats were instructed to take rebirth until the arrival of the next Buddha. If they do take rebirth, why would they?

Welcome to the forum!

You are correct. An arahant cannot be reborn again. That’s the definition.

Perhaps you have heard that from Mahayana sources? It’s certainly not found in the early Buddhist texts.


It’s not possible for arahants to take rebirth. Mahayana in general have a wrong view about the nature of parinibbāna and for those who believe in it, it blocks their attainment to even stream entry.

This is a part of the sad reality of split traditions in Buddhism. It’s not going to be possible to heal the split due to wrong views as it’s unthinkable to mass convert the Mahayana into Theravada. And even within Theravada, there can be similar wrong views.

Do you have a source for your statement? 16 is a strange number.

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The uprooting of anusaya, tanha, asava, i believe, means that the mind looses its instinctive drive to become attached , fettered, and starts to think, speak, act more or less compulsive, unfree, responsive, more or less like a programmed machine does.
But does this really mean that the mind also looses all its ability to become, for example, emotional?

A Buddha is said to be able to prolong his life, if wished for. Or travel to others realms, and why would he, as he wished, not be able to take rebirth again? Not due to inner forces, drifts, in a way that is normal for defiled minds, but voluntairy?

I know this is no issue in the sutta’s but still i do not know exactly what is the obstacle.

Without the necessary conditions, rebirth cannot happen. The arahant does not have those conditions.

The number 16 points to the Nandimitrāvadāna version of the story:


The original story had only 4 and eventually grew to eighteen:

But it’s important to note that in this “Avadana” the Arahants seem to be magically extending their lives, not taking rebirths. The Mahayana doctrine that the liberated can “choose” to be reborn was a later (Lotus Sutra?) innovation, which significantly post-dates this strata of text.

(Happy to be corrected on any of the above by any real Mahayana scholars, of course.)


That’s also how I have heard it.

I am by no means a Mahayana scholar. The things I remember on this topic are what I have heard from Tibetan teachers years ago, in very unsystematic ways. I’ve understood that there are Arahants who extend their lives over millennia, and the ones who choose to take rebirth are Bodhisattvas.

In that logic, Bodhisattvas are higher beings than Arahants, as Arahants have just liberated themselves, while Bodhisattvas make the resolution to remain in Samsara until everybody else has been liberated from it. So I sometimes thought, at some point the remaining Bodhisattvas will just compete over who will be the one to leave last … :person_facepalming:


Now that I think about it, there is a legend that Arahant Maha Kassapa’s body remains undecayed inside of a mountain and will be revealed in the time of Maitri Buddha.

I’ve actually been to that mountain. It’s a great, little visited pilgrimage spot. Easy to imagine Arahant Kassapa coming down to the flatland for his almsround.

But the legend is just about his body. Not him continuing to live.


It think the sutta’s do not teach this, or, i do not think this is perse what they teach.

I feel, they teach that normally, under influence of avijja, emotions, tendencies, thinking , conceiving, rebirth happens in a unvoluntairy way. By forces of habit. Avijja is the main cause of a compulsive not wished for development of mind. Programmed. Determined by forces of habit. Not free.

But does this mean a Buddha cannot conceive, think, imagine, form views, i do not think so. All this is now freed from being compulsively arising. But not gone.

I believe it might be the same for rebirth. I do not see why an arahant cannot, if he/she would wish, deliberately give rise to an intention, plan, inclination to be reborn again, for example, because one really wants to guide more beings to stream-entree and set them on the Path. That plan, desire, wish, inclinations can become support for vinnana to establish after death.

Why would this be impossible?

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As I said, because they have removed the conditions for rebirth. It’s not that complicated. Like a palm tree cut off and all that. Just can’t happen. It has nothing to do with how they can live their life until they die.


Because the whole meaning and existence of birth, death and rebirth as notions and phenomena depends on the presence of avijja - on the presence of either false or absent knowledge and understanding of what these things really are. An arahat, or even a sotopanna, would have to force oneself into false views, into lies, into delusion, in order to have even a wish for birth.


I do not think so. The condition for rebirth are plans, intentions, tendencies. Based upon that a vinnana can establish. But why would one not be able to consciously deliberately give rise to them?

I do not see why. Why can an arahant not have a heartfelt wish to help others in a next life, knowing that all pain is bearable, all sickness ends, etc.

Thank you very much. This really helped clearing up the question!

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Yes, I think you are onto something. It likely comes from the idea of being reborn in brahmaloka, tsusita etc. Primary reference is sukhavati. It is pre-Mahayana, and developed in vivicolour in very early Mahayana sutras, where it is a buddhakṣetra. Objective: space-time bubble of a Buddha’s blissful mind and subsequent rebirth as individuated Awakened super being, ready and able to help. It seems that something like a Buddhist version of deity visualization yoga developed quite early on to make creative use of Indian rebirth beliefs.

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Dependent origination, paṭiccasamuppāda.

It doesn’t really matter what good wishes an arahant has (although according to the Buddha the wish to be reborn is never ultimately a good wish). If they don’t have the conditions for rebirth (which by definition they do not) they can’t be reborn.


No, i do not believe this is described by PS. PS describes a determined proces, determined by avijja.
It describes how the mind due to force of habits become caught. Unvoluntairy fettering, unvoluntairy development. It does not describe voluntairy or a free development.

Such ideas that a wish to be reborn cannot be good…how to judge such things? Why?
What can possibly be wrong with taking deliberately rebirth after awakening and guide more beings to sotapanna stage? How can that be seen as not good? It is very good in my opinion. It shows great care for others.

If an awakend one would *deliberately *develop the intention to be reborn, do they not have the condition for rebirth? See cetana sutta’s: SN12.38


If you don’t intend or plan or have underlying tendencies, this doesn’t become a support for the continuation of consciousness.

Arahants no longer have the underlying tendencies.

Arahants can’t be reborn.

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Yes, no anusaya, but why can they not deliberately give rise to plans and intentions to be reborn?
The volition in plans and intentions are also conditions for a vinnana to establish after death.

Nope. No new karma for them. Just old karma playing out until parinibbana.

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