Lay Arahants. Why not?

It’s funny how we all perceive differently, and all based on our experiences and our perceptions of them. As giving as he is, and really I think his whole life is a gift, I will always see Ajahn Brahm as a meditation monk.


Meditation can be used as a tool to be more fully engaged in the world, rather than excuse to escape the world. All my favorite meditators use meditation for this reason.

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I agree.

Isn’t escape the ultimate point of the Buddha-Dhamma?

I suggest therefore that it’s both.

Going back to Ajahn Brahm, when I consider what it is he gives so much for, I come back to: so others can begin to have an idea of the wonderful, joyful, peaceful escapes/escape he might have experienced himself.

Some monks/nuns just aren’t cut out for being with people lots. Out of compassion to them, I let them be. That is my gift to them. I let them meditate. Out of compassion to the world, I let them be, let them create peaceful vibes around them, intentionally and unintentionally sending this out into the world, like pure air, diluting the grosser stuff. Such people, such hermits, good of heart, but quiet of way, also will always effect those around them and thus give to the world in this way too. They’re role models too.


The realization of this Truth, i.e., to see things as they are without illusion or
ignorance is the extinction of craving ‘thirst’ and the cessation (Nirodha) of dukkha,
which is Nirvana. It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahayana view
of Nirvana as not being different from Samsara. The same thing is Samsara or
Nirvana according to the way you look at it - subjectively or objectively. This
Mahayana view was probably developed out of the ideas found in the original
Theravada Pali texts, to which we have just referred in our brief discussion.

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Ahhh…I see :slight_smile: That’s totally fine.

But you see, for me Nibbana means “to put out a flame”, to “extinguish” something. This is, I believe, the literal English translation of Nibbana.

(Interestingly, in the Singhalese language, “ni-va-n-na” also means to extinguish something or to put it out, or to cool it down completely. The Singhalese word for Nibbana is Ni-ver-na, which is phonetically very close to ni-va-n-na.)

Regardless, it is clear to me that a kind hearted person, who has no people skills whatsoever and for whatever reason…I mean they might be mute or completely deaf…who is a skilled meditator/is intent on becoming a skilled meditator, ought to be supported out of compassion for ourselves and for what they do in fact give to the world in their own way; as I’ve already touched upon.


This way of looking at Nibbana, I got from listening to Ajahn Brahm speak. He made the point that the Buddha wouldn’t have used difficult, complex language when speaking to his audiences. He would’ve used local language that they could easily understand. (Indeed in the EBTs there are references to this, and the Sangha is told to use the local language when teaching the Dhamma. In practice, this means using the local idioms, the local slang even. Whatever makes it easier for people to “get it”.)

The Buddha moved within an agrarian society, going from village to village, with no electricity, but with the use of oil lamps, perhaps candles, and fires. As Ajahn Brahm says, the people would understand easily when they were told about “putting it out” or “extinguishment” or “cooling completely”.


Ven. Walpola Rahula is awesome sauce.

I would like to revisit the case of AN 6.119-AN 6.139, even though it might seem like Bhikkhu Bodhi cleared up the ‘misunderstanding’ of lay Arahants (as quoted in post #3). The Sutta says:

[(1) confidence in Buddha, (2) Dhamma, (3) Saṅgha, (4) noble ethics, (5) noble knowledge, (6) noble freedom.] Having these six qualities the householder Tapussa is certain about the Realized One, sees the deathless, and lives having realized the deathless (amata).

While confidence in the Buddha often refers to sotapannas, amata is a clear synonym of nibbana. At least I am not aware of a Sutta that refers to amata as a lower attainment.

The arguments of Bh. Bodhi are only valid if we assume one author of the Suttas and rely on the Theravada commentaries. I’ll go through the arguments one by one:

  • “we find on this list Anāthapiṇḍika, Pūraṇa (or Purāṇa), and Isidatta, all of whom were reborn in the Tusita heaven (see AN 6:44 and MN 143.16, III 262,1)” - If the EBT were consistent within themselves, then yes. But often they are not, and I don’t see why where shouldn’t be a minority transmission line where Anāthapiṇḍika was an Arahant as well.
  • “The terms used to describe these lay followers are descriptive of all noble ones from stream-enterers on up. They all have (1) unwavering confidence … and are (2) seers of nibbāna, the deathless (amataddasa).” Totally agree with (1) but would like to see Sutta arguments for (2). To my knowledge amata always refers to Nibbana. I haven’t seen yet Suttas where Sotapannas “have realized the Deathless”
  • “(1) The statement that these people have noble liberation (ariyena vimuttiyā) is unusual, (2) but Mp glosses it “by the liberation of the fruit of trainees” (sekhaphalavimuttiyā).” ‘Unusual’ is an understatement. ariya vimutti appears as clear synonyms for enlightenment in SN 48.46, AN 7.66, MN 111, DN 16. And less clearly in AN 4.1, AN 4.242, DN 8. But it never refers explicitly to lower-than-Arahants. (2) is just commentarial

Summing up I don’t see Bodhi’s arguments as sufficient and would hold AN 4.119-139 as the expression of a minority transmission voice in the EBT that allowed the existence of lay arahants.

Well, there is one text in the vinaya I can think of that suggests stream-enterers have realized the deathless:

Then Ven. Assaji gave this Dhamma exposition to Sariputta the Wanderer:

Whatever phenomena arise from cause:
their cause
& their cessation.
Such is the teaching of the Tathagata,
the Great Contemplative.
Then to Sariputta the wanderer, as he heard this Dhamma exposition, there arose the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: “Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”

Even if just this is the Dhamma,
you have penetrated
to the Sorrowless (asoka) State
unseen, overlooked (by us)
for many myriads of aeons.
Then Sariputta the wanderer went to Moggallana the wanderer. Moggallana the wanderer saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, “Bright are your faculties, my friend; pure your complexion, and clear. Could it be that you have attained the Deathless?”

"Yes, my friend, I have attained the Deathless. " - Upatissa-pasine

The dhamma-eye is generally agreed upon to stand for stream-entry and we have Sariputta attaining the deathless. However, this text seems late to me due to the following verse:

Even if just this is the Dhamma,
you have penetrated
to the Sorrowless (asoka) State
unseen, overlooked (by us)
for many myriads of aeons.

The mention of myriads of aeons feels late to me and is made stranger by the fact that in the beginning of this text it is mentioned that Sariputta was a student of Sanjaya the skeptic whose position on rebirth goes like this:

‘If you ask me if there exists another world [after death], if I thought that there exists another world, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not. If you asked me if there isn’t another world… both is and isn’t… neither is nor isn’t… if there are beings who transmigrate… if there aren’t… both are and aren’t… neither are nor aren’t… if the Tathagata exists after death… doesn’t… both… neither exists nor exists after death, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’[3] - Sanjaya Belatthiputta

So it seems odd that Sariputta would be referring to aeons when he comes from a skeptical background. Of course, I suppose those who think that stream-entry comes with knowledge of rebirth might state that at the moment of the arising of the dhamma-eye Sariputta also realized that he had been wandering on from birth to birth since beginningless time.

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Thanks for the reference! I don’t study the Vinaya narratives much because I generally take them to be later - which is maybe a mistake. At least this one with Sariputta is not verbatim in the Sutta Pitaka.

Maybe there are more references like this in the Suttas?

There is only one other reference I can think of that shares a decent family resemblance:

“Reverend Narada, apart from faith, personal preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration, do you know for yourself that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment?” “Reverend Saviṭṭha, apart from faith, personal preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration, I know and see that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.”

“Then Venerable Nārada is a perfected one, with defilements ended.” “I have truly seen clearly with right wisdom that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment. Yet I am not a perfected one. Suppose there was a well on a desert road that had neither rope nor bucket. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. They’d know that there was water, but they couldn’t physically touch it. in the same way, I have truly seen clearly with right wisdom that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment. Yet I am not a perfected one.”

When he said this, Venerable Ānanda said to Venerable Saviṭṭha: “Reverend Saviṭṭha, what do you have to say to Venerable Nārada when he speaks like this?” “Reverend Ānanda, I have nothing to say to Venerable Nārada when he speaks like this, except what is good and wholesome.” - SN 12.68

Looking at Venerable Thanissaro’s footnote:

In other words, he has attained one of the preliminary levels of awakening (stream-entry, once-returning, or non-returning), but not full arahantship. As Mv.I.23.5 shows, even the level of stream-entry affords a vision of the Deathless. - Footnote to SN 12.68

Perhaps Ven. Thanissaro is also only aware of these two suttas suggesting that a non-arahant has glimpsed nibbana proper, because if there were suttas in the 4 main nikayas suggesting as much I think those would surely be preferable references to his footnote.


That’s an interesting passage. It doesn’t mention amata though. Yet it gives us a hierarchy of terms: khīṇāsava (defilements-ended) is higher than bhavanirodha (cessation of cntd-existence). The former therefore being a proper synonym of nibbana.

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just trowing out random suggestions here …, please scroll past … :anjal:

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There is no question that there is something weird about AN 6.119-139. Either it’s the lone of example in the nikayas of laypeople being described as Arhats (with no indication they ordained soon after) or it’s the lone example in the four nikayas of non-Arhats being described as “realizing the deathless.” My vote is for the latter, simply because, as Bhikkhu Bodhi points out, some of these people are clearly described as non-Arhats elsewhere. I’d rather a solution with one irregularity (that is, why are non Arhats described as “realizing the deathless” here and nowhere else?) rather than two (that is, why are there lay arhats AND why are some of these “Arhats” described as non-Arhats elsewhere?).

I’m also just skimming through AN 6. It looks like, starting around AN 6.65 through the rest of the chapter, the Suttas become increasingly brief and context-less. Just short lists without explanation. I dunno, somehow this whole section reeks of carelessness/neglect to me, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find some oddity here.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like there are any Agama parallels to help shed more light on this problem.


The point of ordination, going forth, is to expedite progress on the path. A lay person starting early in life could quite well attain impressive levels of development in his/her latter years, particularly during retirement.


The issue is that there is no timeline in the Nikayas, so you don’t know if the suttas that report someone as at a certain stage are before or after the suttas that report them at another stage.
Another issue is possibility of the same name for different people.

I would not say “expedite” but could possibly create an environment more suitable for some. The same environment may not work for others, instead lay life may be more suitable to them.

Sir, I think a lay Arahat would die in around a week unless he or she robed up. So I have heard.

I don’t think there’s any positive evidence of that.

With metta

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Ajahn brahm told us. I know that it isn’t about food. There is just no reason to live if you aren’t a monastic. Action that leads to the destruction of action, that’s the only kamma an Arahat can do. See Mn57