Lay Arahants. Why not?

This is because people who have experienced some progress in the path following the Buddha’s word develop faith in him. Others are just commenting from the sidelines.

The Buddha said accept what is beneficial to us and others, that leads to reduction in craving, aversion and delusion (AN3.65) kalama sutta. This has got garbled into accept when you can know for yourself, which in many cases will be impossible when compared to the Buddha’s abilities. It is worthwhile exploring this difference, in my opinion.

with metta

I can’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be a contemplative model amongst his disciples, after all it is extremely conducive to attaining nibbana. However as far as the mechanics of the path he only needs the 5 precepts, ability to attain jhana (occasional retreat?) and insight to attain nibbana, considering his substantial spiritual abilities. These can be done as a lay person, with some practical support. The only issue is his ability to teach will be very restricted if he is working (in a job that doesn’t require craving, aversion and delusion of course). The Buddha is more than just enlightened- he is out to teach a generation and time is a premium in lay life. In any case many people ordain later in life! This would give him life experience (not that he needs it) on both lay and ordained settings. I recall reading once Ven Ananda waiting until he accesses his special ability to know deeply, in a state of samadhi, unlike when talking from learning in his own lifetime, as in matters about the N8FP where he does talk very fluently, as mentioned in one sutta. Maybe if he has experience both as a lay person and an ordained monk he would be able to guide people in both types of right livelihood much more fluently, when it comes to matters of livelihood. These are all my speculations of course.

with metta

I know that faith is important but it cannot be blind faith. Faith and understanding must go together. Theory and practice go together. The Dhamma has many interrelated aspects.

We develop faith through imbibing the teachings. We then practice the teachings. If all goes well, we gain a living understanding through practice. This understanding confirms and nurtures our faith. This process is completely different from just believing things because they are written in a Sutta.

We can still enjoy Buddhist stories, anecdotes etc. without having to believe them - take them as literally true. Its not a good idea to confuse what we understand with what we believe. As obvious as this is, it is surprising how often it happens.

The Buddha did not want us to take his teachings for granted. He wanted us to practice and find out for ourselves. He did not encourage blind acceptance of anything he said - because that is dangerous on many levels.

The act of just believing in things contributed to the fragmentation of Buddhism. The early Sangha started believing in various teachings without an actual and clear understanding of what the Buddha taught.

If the early Sangha had followed the Buddha’s teachings - his guidelines for testing and then accepting the Dhamma - there would not have been any schisms?

Therefore, if a teaching is untestable then why accept it at all? What is the value of that kind of faith? It may just reinforce blind conformity. How many blind conformists do you think have woken up?

We can confirm the noble truths through practice. There have been empirical studies of ‘near death experiences’ and rebirth. We can gain some understanding of near death experiences through the ‘Nimitta’ and ‘Samadhi’. We may gain insight into rebirth through remembering past lives and through verification.

How would we go about testing the theory of ‘Buddha’s who lived in previous aeons’ - and then use those findings as evidence for the impossibility of a lay Buddha? :slightly_smiling_face:

How would you consider paccekabuddha an lay arahant or monastic arahant ? There weren’t any Buddha or vinaya around .

They leave the life in family, they are contemplative ones and manifest vinaya without needing it to be formally received. Right?

We are looking at things in buddhism context , however all the Buddha disciples were from other ascetics, jains , yogis and samanas and brahmana. Some householders some renunciates. We can’t rule out possibility of existence of lay arahant .

Was Upasika Kee a lay person? Was Yai Damrongthammasan a lay person?

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@Kensho, @apeiron, let’s agree on some things here.
The topic of this thread is whether or not a lay individual, id est a householder, could attain to arahantship.

As the thread progressed people more or less split in two possible understandings:
a) yes and nothing in the individual’s livelihood would change and
b) yes but EBTs or early commentaries suggest that with arahantship a shift of livelihood must take place, not for external reasons but for internal consistency of the heart now awakened.

Later on, people brought up whether the fruition of a samma sambuddha, an arahant whose awakening marks the bringing back of the Dhamma-Vinaya to the world, could be attained by a lay person not following a livelihood aligned with the basic elements of a contemplative life.

We explored EBTs once again and found out that at least the account by the latest Samma SamBuddha (Gotama) on how the previous six ancient Samma SamBuddhas lived and taught indicate that it such beings attain to perfection in a context of living and teaching a contemplative livelihood.

Now we are exploring whether there can be lay paccekabuddhas. I am pretty confident that once we explore EBTs we will find that in such texts such beings, similarly to the Samma SamBuddhas, do reach the end of suffering through the same context of contemplative livelihood.

We are not talking here about one necessarily having to wear robes and live in a vihara/monastery in Thailand, Sri Lanka or Myanmar. What we are talking about here is one living a simple and recluse life, free from the bondages of family, sense pleasures and possessions. At least, one manifests and conforms with what the eight or ten precepts frame.

Last but not least, mind that the awakening of pacekkabuddhas seem to be a phenomenon restricted to the period between the disappearance of the Dhamma-Vinaya and the re-emergence of it, through the appearing of a new Samma SamBuddha in the world.

Paccekabuddhas do bring to an end their suffering but lack the skill or ability to formulate a Dhamma-Vinaya around it and lead others to the same end. In MN26 Buddha Gotama tells us how he almost became a paccekabuddha himself!

“It is hard to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.
If I were to teach the Dhamma, others would not understand me, and that would be wearying and troublesome for me.’
Thereupon there came to me spontaneously these stanzas never heard before:
‘Enough with teaching the Dhamma
That even I found hard to reach;
For it will never be perceived
By those who live in lust and hate.
Those dyed in lust, wrapped in darkness
Will never discern this abstruse Dhamma
Which goes against the worldly stream,
Subtle, deep, and difficult to see.’
Considering thus, my mind inclined to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.”

If memory does not fail me in EBTs paccekabuddhas are consistently depicted to carry on with a livelihood pretty similar to the one of wandering forest contemplatives. They will come to inhabited areas to collect alms and teach basic things on avoiding harm doing good.

Maybe, similar to the case of the ancient Buddhas, paccekabuddhas were an element of the folklore of ancient India. A faded memory spiritual individuals who made an impact to the world or at least impressed the generous alms givers when they would come for their villages to collect alms. There is a paccekabuddha named Tagarasikkhī who is found more than once in the Pali suttas.



Ah ! no sense pleasures yes.
But , nowadays living in recluse , no.
Free from bondages yes,
but not necessarily without family .

This means you probably place yourself in the group of those who believe that arahantship does not necessarily require a shift in one’s livelihood. Fair enough. While I disagree but have no interest in trying to convince you otherwise. I just note that it seems to be hard to find in EBTs support to that assumption.

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Have a look at A Study of the Concept of the Paccekabuddha in Pali Canonical and Commentarial Literature by Ria Kloppenborg. Start with page 46, maybe.


Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. It is interesting how often paccekabuddhas are found in the Jatakas. I also found interesting this bit:

With the pabbajjā, the Paccekabodhisatta takes a final step to dedicate the rest of his life to the attainment of enlightenment.
He enters upon religious life alone, both in the sense of being self-motivated and of being physically isolated: in this he is said to be solitary.
A Paccekabuddha lives upon almsfood, like any other ascetic.
He does not actually beg for alms; rather, in the same manner as ordained Buddhist monks, he walks silently among the houses with his alms bowl in his hands.
According to the texts, he collects alms not primarily to obtain means of subsistence, but to offer people an opportunity to gain merit by giving him alms.

Indeed! It’s almost inherent in the name itself…


(I’m willing to speculate that these folk have their origin in the earlier Indus Valley cultural experience, prior to Aryan wheels.)

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This reminded me of a passage from the Dàodéjīng:


The last line particularly struck me as being something of a universal (the nerve of me, an alleged ‘Buddhist’, to claim something as that!) piece of wisdom related to anchoritic or ascetic practice in general, in addition to seemingly relating to what I quoted from you. If this small piece of comparative enterprise can be forgiven.

If anyone is so further interested, for the sake of contextualization, and possibly self-effacement, here are some more ‘professional’ (i.e. ‘qualified’:smirk:) translators’ take on the passage:

DDJ II supplementary translations

All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; 'tis this that makes the power not cease to be.

(James Legge)

When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness. When all the world recognizes good as good, this in itself is evil. Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other. Difficult and easy complement each other. Long and short exhibit each other. High and low set measure to each other. Voice and sound harmonize each other. Back and front follow each other. Therefore, the sage manages his affairs without ado, and spreads his teaching without talking. He denies nothing to the teeming things. He rears them, but lays no claim to them. He does his work, but sets no store by it. He accomplishes his task, but does not dwell upon it. And yet it is just because he does not dwell on it that nobody can ever take it away from him.

(John C.H. Wu)

Everywhere it is obvious that if beauty makes a display of beauty, it is sheer ugliness. It is obvious that if goodness makes a display of goodness, it is sheer badness. For “to be and not to be are mutually conditioned. The difficult, the easy, are mutually definitioned. The long, the short, are mutually exhibitioned. Above, below, are mutually cognitioned. The sound, the voice, are mutually coalitioned. Before and after are mutually positioned.” Therefore the holy man abides by non-assertion in his affairs and conveys by silence his instruction. When the ten thousand things arise, verily, he refuses them not. He quickens but owns not. He acts but claims not. Merit he accomplishes, but he does not dwell on it. “Since he does not dwell on it It will never leave him.”

(D. T. Suzuki and Paul Carus)

When every one recognizes beauty to be only a masquerade, then it is simply ugliness. In the same way goodness, if it is not sincere, is not goodness. So existence and non-existence are incompatible. The difficult and easy are mutually opposites. Just as the long and the short, the high and the low, the loud and soft, the before and the behind, are all opposites and each reveals the other. Therefore the wise man is not conspicuous in his affairs or given to much talking. Though troubles arise he is not irritated. He produces but does not own; he acts but claims no merit; he builds but does not dwell therein; and because he does not dwell therein he never departs.

(Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel)

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Why do we even want to think about a lay sammasambuddha? What is the attraction, when we know Buddha’s are usually Bhikkhus?

With metta


I think you already knew the answer since you’re a psychiatrist. It’s typical human nature to seek the convenience and the lesser path of resistance (ref: )

As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it’s not easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?" ~~ MN 82 ~~

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The biggest problem I have with the idea that lay people can’t attain arahantship is that, in most Theravada countries, there is no ordination for women, which seems kind of sexist.

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I hear you - but that is changing in certain places.

Personally I think it would be great to be a lay stream winner - then eventually you will become an Arahant, so no worries!

Thanks for the recommendation @Gabriel_L. It was an inspirational read. I will recommend it!

I like reading autobiographies of other people on the path, it reminds me of how tough life can be, also how meaningless it often is, and how the Dhamma can be found through dukkha. One could argue that we get this from the news everyday but it’s not the same when it is written in the first person, it makes it much more… real.


Thank you very much for sharing that! :anjal: Had a look at it this afternoon and then ended up reading it in a single session. It’s a beautiful and moving little book!

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