Lay Arahants. Why not?


Lay Arahats. Why not?
There are some Suttas (one with a list) that mention lay people having completed the task and thus were Arahats. No Suttas indicate that they had to become monastics or they will die as per a silly statement made several centuries after the Buddha.
What one’s may want is to estinguish the fire (Nibanna) and continue to function as a “normal” human being providing they maintain their Sila … or do they have to do anything special in fear of losing their Arahat status in the same way a monastic Arahat could loose his/her?

A great advantage of being a lay Arahat is that they have a better chance to approach/teach (with skillful means of course) people who are not already Buddhists as the Monastics are mainly limited to do.


nibbana is irreversible, once birth is ended, it’s ended for good

and also an arahant is by definition free of any fears and anxieties which may motivate them to act a certain way


Sorry to disappoint, but this is an often-repeated mistake. The list in question occurs at AN 6.129–AN 6.139. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s note on this says:

It is often claimed that this series of suttas testifies to a large number of lay arahants during the Buddha’s time. This, however, is a misunderstanding. For 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). We also find Ugga of Vesālī, who is said (at AN 5:44) to have been reborn among the mind-made deities, and Hatthaka, who is said (at AN 3:127) to have been reborn in the Aviha heaven of the pure abodes. The terms used to describe these lay followers are descriptive of all noble ones from stream-enterers on up. They all have unwavering confidence (aveccappasāda) in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, have “reached certainty about the Tathāgata” (tathāgate niṭṭhaṅgata), and are seers of nibbāna, the deathless (amataddasa). See AN 10:63, where certainty about the Buddha is ascribed to disciples at levels lower than arahantship. The statement that these people have noble liberation (ariyena vimuttiyā) is unusual, but Mp glosses it “by the liberation of the fruit of trainees” (sekhaphalavimuttiyā). Quite a different formula is used to describe an arahant. In the Nikāyas there are no recorded cases of laypeople who attained arahantship and then continued to lead the lay life. Those who do attain it entered upon the homeless life soon after their attainment, like Yasa at Vin I 17,1–3.


As in science, one single proven occurence proves the whole case. So can we say there never were a single lay Arahat? Can we say/prove that lay Arahats today are not possible? With the limited space offered by Monasteries and the errants monastics not a possibility in the western world, development of lay Arahats should be encouraged.


Well I don’t think it’s impossible for a man to become lay arahat but depends on the factor.

IF He lives in a place where everybody will look after him as in: Giving him Food and shelters

Abide to PancaSila, he’ll just need to meditate for the whole weeks long, without having any distraction in worldly stuff.

he’ll become an arahat without robe


i would start with lay stream enterers and arahants will take care of themselves

Is there any arahant known nowadays?

Dear Alaber,

It seems to be possible to attain arahantship while still a lay person, as in the case of Yasa in the Mahāvagga of the Vinaya Pitaka. He then becomes a monk pretty much straightaway, and this seems to be the pattern throughout the suttas. The point of this is that once you become an arahant you have destroyed the fetter of householdership, see MN71. So once you become an arahant you are mentally no longer capable of living as a householder. This, I think, is also behind the idea of an arahant being incapable of storing up goods as he/she previously did in lay life, see AN9.7.

The idea that a lay person who becomes an arahant either ordains or dies is not as strange as it might first appear. The point is that the best time to attain anything on the spiritual path, including arahantship, is often on one’s deathbed. In the light of this it is not so strange that one should die after the attainment. I think it is wrong to understand this as “ordain or else …” :slightly_smiling:


From my admittedly limited understanding of early Buddhist texts, it seems that laypeople are generally viewed as living enmeshed in desire almost by definition. In the context of the Sangha, they usually have a supporting role (i.e. supporting the monastics). It is notable, though, that the Buddha does not seem to direct most of the critical teachings to them, or entrust them with maintaining those teachings.

I understand the wish to view early Buddhism as treating everyone equally, but I think the worldview of early Buddhism was very conservative about lifestyle and discipline. In the view of the early Sangha, the monastic life was the proper one for all serious practitioners seeking liberation. The authors of the early Buddhist texts did not seem to anticipate laypeople being very dedicated in their study and practice while remaining in the laity.

In Mahayana Buddhism, this distinction was not nearly so important, and in the sutras, many high-level bodhisattvas are laypeople who expound the Dharma. The most well-known is Vimalakirti, but there are many others including young laywomen who give teachings to senior monastics.

In history as well, many laymen in East Asia read and studied Mahayana sutras, and engaged in the same sort of practices that monks did. In some cases, monastics looked to laypeople as their teachers. I don’t think this would be normal or acceptable in Theravada countries, though. If I understand the situation correctly, in these countries, monasticism is more fundamental.


The Suttas when describing Arahats are mainly talking about monks Arahats. Is MN 71 a “late Sutta” ? i.e. much after the Buddha. I found it not in the usual compassionate approach of the Buddha.
To me the status/lifestyle of lay Arahats is left to be rediscovered.

On a more practical note, I do not see any lifestyle connection with the destruction of the last five Fetters.


[quote=“alaber, post:9, topic:2696”]
On a more practical note, I do not see any lifestyle connection with the destruction of the last five Fetters.
[/quote] I couldn’t find the reference, but it’s been said that non-returners may still harbor thoughts of family, reputation and country. I suspect that these are related to the I-am conceit (Asmi-mana) i.e. it’s my reputation or avijja (lacking the divine eye and the recollection of past lives, one sees ones family and country as permanent). As a result, the destruction of the I-am conceit and/or avijja leads necessarily to the practice of itinerancy (leaving one’s relatives and native place), which is required by the vinaya (e.g. making a journey after rains residency). A good sramana lives like a bird and goes where conditions are helpful. So while a non-returner might keep 10 precepts at home and focus on helping out the family, an arahant would prefer seclusion and wandering, even if that does mean getting called a bald-pated recluse or having other people think that you are deaf-mute.

Seen through this lens, sramanic lifestyle is in fact the “making visible” of the destruction of both the higher and lower fetters. Sramanic life is a metaphysical (or anti-metaphysical?) statement- the answer to both “is there a permanent self?” and “does a sramana have a permanent home”? is N/A. To put it another way, as itinerants, sramanas live the realisation of impermanence and non-self. Which is why arahants can’t be laypeople (i.e. practitioners living at home) but non-returners can & why arahants have abandoned the “fetter of householdership” in MN71. The key difference is itinerancy .


i think it’s not so much the anticipation of the authors as the objective reality, as having to provide for themselves and their families by labor laypeople don’t have as much time and attention span for the practice as monastics or recluses do plus they’re being constantly seduced and distracted by temptations of sensual pleasures, and just the circumstances, the environment itself isn’t very conducive

‘Household life is crowded and dusty; life gone forth is wide open. It is not easy, while living in a home, to lead the holy life utterly perfect and pure as a polished shell. Suppose I shave off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and go forth from the home life into homelessness.’

Cūḷahatthi­padopama sutta (MN 27) in particular


Once you are done with raising a family, earning a living, i.e. being retired then you can spend as much time as you wish/can if your circumstances permit, to progress on the path (I suggest in particular long self-retreats at Jhana Grove).
The environment of lay life is not worse than the monastics for working with greed, hatred and delusion. In the contrario it allows you to monitor very carefully where you are all the time and work accordingly.
The monastic environment could be too much of a shelter for some leading to spiritual by-passing.
The destruction of the remaining of the I-concept does not imply to abandon duties and care for family and others. Instead it should allow true love without attachment.


IMHO, modern Arahant, if he is not satisfied with modern monasteries, may well lead a solitary life like a Paccekabuddha, since nowadays monasteries are too often just costumed performances.

Paccekabuddhas also attained Arahantship and just dwelled alone, for lack of suitable monastic communities.


There are a number of indications in the suttas that you cannot remain in lay life as an arahant. For example, in the chapter on the leading disciples of the Buddha in the Anguttara ones, all the lay people listed are non-returners or stream-enterers. Also noticeable is that the category for “great wisdom” is altogether missing for lay people.

At AN2.132 you find the following: “Bhikkhus, a male lay follower endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like Citta the householder and Hatthaka of Āḷavī!’ This is the standard and criterion for my male lay disciples, that is, Citta the householder and Hatthaka of Āḷavī. … Bhikkhus, a female lay follower endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like the female lay followers Khujjuttarā and Veḷukaṇṭakī Nandamātā!’ This is the standard and criterion for my female lay disciples, that is, the female lay followers Khujjuttarā and Veḷukaṇṭakī Nandamātā.” All of these are non-returners. For the monks and nuns the people to be emulated are arahants.

But I am not sure how useful this discussion is. Let’s all become arahants and then see what happens. If you find you still want to be a lay person, then so be it. Otherwise you will be very welcome to join the Sangha!

As for lifestyle changes upon abandoning the five fetters, this is what the non-returner Ugga has to say: “I had four young wives. I then went to them and said: ‘Sisters, I have undertaken the training rules with celibacy as the fifth. If you want, you can enjoy wealth right here and do merits, or go back to your own family circle, or inform me if you want me to give you over to another man.’ My eldest wife then said to me: ‘Young sir, give me to such and such a man.’ I sent for that man, and with my left hand I took my wife, with my right hand I took the ceremonial vase, and I gave her to that man. But even while giving away my young wife, I don’t recall that any alteration took place in my mind. This is the third astounding and amazing quality found in me.”


This reminds me of something the Dalai Lama once said. When he was asked if it was possible to have sex, tantra-style, while fully enlightened, he said, well, only if you can prove it by flying up on a pillar of fire afterwards!

But on a more serious note, the question of whether a lay person can become an arahant is not, to my mind, an interesting one. “Arahant” is simply a word we use for someone who has let go of greed, hate, and delusion. The real question, how do we do this?


One thing just on my mind was that access to the Dharma was totally different 2500 years ago. In those days in India, learning sutras required memorizing them. Just having basic access to them would involve spending an enormous amount of time learning them from monastics. For learning the Dharma, there was basically no other route than being a monastic.

Many scholars have pointed out that the later Mahayana Buddhism probably only became possible with the widespread use of writing in India. At that point, it was possible for anyone to obtain a physical copy of a sutra. We know that historically some educated laypeople in East Asia did exactly that, and learned sutras primarily by reading them from books.

In the modern world, we are all literate, and we all have Sutta Central. This level of access to the Buddha Dharma is completely unprecedented in the history of Buddhism. If that sort of society existed in the Buddha’s own time, the early sutras would certainly take on some different perspectives. Ananda would have been uploading MP3’s.

Religious texts purport to teach universal truths, but their presentation and framing can never fully escape their own cultural contexts. Just like we are not illiterate villagers, we also should not expect that everything about the framing of early Buddhism is necessarily transferable to our exact circumstances in the modern world.


That’s the point of my other question on this forum. Shall we do it by using the framework that the Buddha-to-be used i.e. the three asavas. Or do we do it using the four Stages and the ten fetters framework?


Neither; you do it by following the Gradual Path, and nevermind about the stages or the asavas. You just get to work from where you are: have a careful look around and start walking.

In fact, AN 9.12 has the Buddha saying he almost didn’t teach the four stages to anyone because it can support laziness, iirc.



Dear Alaber,

Then why did the Buddha leave his lay life and became a mendicant? I think you should look more closely in and go back to why you asked your question. This is just my opinion but what you’re implying is completely going the other way where the Buddha is pointing to, which is renunciation.

Numerous times it’s mentioned in the suttas that lay life is crowded and one can’t practice and purify themselves as pure as ‘a polished shell’.

Numerous times it is mentioned that a disciples knowledge and wisdom is from the Buddha. So why deviate from his teachings when it is guaranteed that even if you don’t attain Nibbana in this lifetime, it is guaranteed you will enjoy a good rebirth when you follow and practiced the path in accordance with the Dhamma to the best of your abilities? The Buddha has left us the greatest teaching out of great compassion because he saw the truth of suffering.

I just can’t see an arahant going back to lay life. That being has let go of everything and the very purpose of her/his existence is to guide others to the same path s/he took to get there. It’s just mind boggling to me, why someone whose let go of all suffering, will go back into the midst of
suffering. It’s like being cured of poison, only to stupidly go back and drink poison again knowing that it is deadly and painful. Or pardon the grossness, it’s like stepping into really putrid excrement and washing off your feet really good only to go back and intentionally stepping again into even more putrid excrement? I have yet to taste even the first jhana, but the little stillness I get from my meditations and from observing my mind and seeing how indeed I am “afflicted” makes me yearn for what the suttas describe as “abiding in the here in now with the mind freed from the taints”! I can only imagine how that feels like. No more thinking, no more worries, no more bodily aches, no more underlying tendencies,and no more conflicts just to say a few! Must be really outta this world kind of feeling that no conventional words could ever describe!

Maybe I’m just slow, so please forgive.

May you one day, with the support of your practice and caga, be one who says "Free at last! Free at last! Free at last! I really wish you that with a sincerity. Because, the Buddha, who is our greatest kalyanamitta, gave us the greatest gift of all, the path to liberation and the deathless.

May your mind be free!

in mettā,



Dear Russell

  1. no idea how you came to the conclusion that the monastics should go back to the lay life. Please review the thread and you will find that nobody proposed such idea.

  2. the suttas mention lay Anagamis. If you are an Anagami you have gotten rid of greed and ill-will and diminished a lot delusion of a self (already as a stream-enterer). So what remains is mainly getting rid of the last traces of belief in an I. Having already done what I believe is the hardest (greed, ill-will, main delusion) a lay Anagami should be able to do the last step while still living a lay life.
    The discussion in this thread is about what happen after. Can he/she stay in the lay life while being an Arahat?

  3. New point: how many Arahats these days are we producing per say half centuries? During the 45 years of the Buddha teaching we could estimate there were several thousand Arahats, mainly monastics, some lay people.
    The conditions have changed. Very few people are living a monastic life and also not many monastics (see in Thailand) are really commited to become Awakaned. Also there are many brands of buddhism, many do not promote the idea to become Arahats.
    So the number of Arahats produced by the “buddhist systems” is not that big. This is very disapointing.
    What I’m saying is: let’s promote the production of lay Arahats.