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As per the Wikipedia article "Arhat":

In Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat [...] is a "perfected person" who has attained nirvana.

And I saw somewhere that one is not allowed to say one is an Arhat. So my question is: how do you identify a person/monk who has achieved Arhatship?

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    just as a thought: Dunning-Kruger effect – Dawnkeeper Jun 25 '14 at 7:00
  • if you're not a monk, e.g. organising monastic duties, why would you need to? charisma, self confidence, and the qualities of the 8-fold path are fine attributes. but they're not the same as leadership qualities, and i struggle to think why a buddhist saint would need anyone's blessing, especially in the theravada tradition, i guess – user3293056 Feb 9 '17 at 5:47

12 Answers 12

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The Buddha gave some specific advice about this. In the Canki Sutta (MN 95):

How is truth discovered? Here a bhikkhu lives near some village or town. Then a householder or his son goes to him in order to test him in three kinds of ideas, in ideas provocative of greed, of hate, and of delusion, wondering, "Are there in this venerable one any such ideas, whereby his mind being obsessed he might not knowing, say 'I know,' unseeing, say 'I see,' or to get others to do likewise, which would be long for their harm and suffering?" While thus testing him he comes to find that there are no such ideas in him, and he finds that, "The bodily and verbal behavior of that venerable one are not those of one affected by lust or hate or delusion. But the True Idea that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and discover; yet it is the most peaceful and superior of all, out of reach of logical ratiocination, subtle, for the wise to experience; such a True Idea cannot be taught by one affected by lust or hate or delusion."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.095x.nymo.html

In the Vimamsaka Sutta (MN 47) he even provides means of testing a Buddha:

Bhikkhus, by the bhikkhu who could examine the thought processes of another the Thus Gone One should be examined on two things. On things cognisable by eye consciousness and ear consciousness. Are defiled things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness evident in the Thus Gone One or are they not? When examining he knows. These defiled things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness (*1) are not evident in the Thus Gone One. Then he should make a further examination: Are mixed things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness evident in the Thus Gone One or are they not? When examining he knows. These mixed things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness (*2) are not evident in the Thus Gone One. Then he should make a further examination: Are pure things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness evident in the Thus Gone One or are they not? When examining he knows. The pure things cognisable by eye and ear consciousness (*3) are evident in the Thus Gone One.

http://www.dhammaweb.net/Tipitaka/read.php?id=81

Finally, in the Thana Sutta (AN 4.192):

"It's through living together that a person's virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

"It's through dealing with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

"It's through adversity that a person's endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

"It's through discussion that a person's discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.192.than.html

There's a story Mahasi Sayadaw told about how when asked by his attendant whether he was enlightened, an arahant himself said, "It's difficult to know whether one is enlightened. Even a monk attending on an arahant wouldn't know it." Or something like that; it was an oblique means of telling his student that he was enlightened. Can't find the story, sorry.

The point is, it is difficult to tell whether someone else is enlightened. It is much easier to tell whether someone is unenlightened, because if they get angry, greedy or deluded, you can be sure they are not enlightened.

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I believe I've heard a number of stories (no reference sorry) whereby the person that cooks the rice in the Zen monastery is actually enlightened. I appreciate this is a different tradition from Theravada but it points to a similar thing, maybe. So on that basis one might be tempted to say no, you can't tell.

However Daniel Ingram openly states that he is an Arhat. So on that basis yes - if they tell you. Which again perhaps doesn't seem helpful - but raises the notion of why an admission of attainments such as these is seen as taboo - in my experience anyway.

On a personal note - I saw the Dalai Lama give a talk in Manchester (different tradition again sorry). Initially he came across as fairly unimpressive but myself and several others were completely lit up after the talk. It felt like quite a strange experience - so on that basis I would maybe say that you would definitely be aware of something about that person.

Not a straight forward answer but maybe give you a few thoughts and a reflection. Interested to hear others.

  • This could be improved by citation of source material. Best :) – Adamokkha Jun 19 '14 at 14:14
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    Ingram's claim is on his book, published several years ago. In some forum conversations he has explained that he was not fully convinced that saying it was the right thing to do, but one concern he had was to raise that very question you mention -- why is it taboo? In that sense it looks like he succeeded! But I'd soften your statement slightly to say "Daniel Ingram once stated he was an Arhat" -- I'm not sure he'd do the same thing today. In fact he's preparing a second edition of his book, and I'm not sure we'll see the claim repeated there. Shrug. – tkp Jun 21 '14 at 16:43
  • the ingram case is really odd. i think i get why he claimed it, something to do with having a very in depth analysis of the path etc., but i likely don't buy it having read about e.g. chinul's (i would call it) quite profound peity. i guess his conscience is clear when he says it, anyway – user3293056 Feb 9 '17 at 5:51
  • I'm not sure how unaware he is as to why making such an announcement over the internet really is meaningless. Its only one of his many claims of attainment, some of which are completely outside the teaching tradition he says he's a part of. It makes me feel that no matter what i do, he's already done it better. He comes off as an narcissist. I could be totally wrong, as i'm not a psychologist, but that certainly is the impression he makes on me. – brother eric Mar 30 at 22:35
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I would say that the most efficient way would be to follow the advice given in the early texts because in my experience the advice given there is morally irreprehensible.

For example, I would heed the advice given in:

Bear in mind, that this advice does not guarantee one finds an Arahat but are good indicators. There are more indicators in the texts but these seem to be the most direct.

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Sup,

I just want to give my two cents even though this question is old.

Long time ago (like during the time of the "Early Buddhist schools" old) there was a lot of debate as to the fallible nature of arahats. In the historical narrative a contemplative named Mahadeva compiles a list of five points speaking to some flaws an arahat can possess, you can find these via "mahadeva five points" on Google etc.

Some of these points were extremely ambiguous (in terms of interpretation) and the list seems to vary a lot. But they basically speak to the fact that arahats can have wet dreams, can be arahats and not know it etc.

Anyways my own opinion is that these ideas offended the sensibilities of some of the more conservative monastics, who decided to stick with the "word" of their teacher (the Buddha).

As time went on the conservatives became the modern Theravada school whilst the majority of the other early schools (who held the fallible nature of arahatship) died out.

This is probably why Theravada dogma specifically reflects the inability of arahats to perform certain actions and experience certain emotions (you can google the list of nine things an arahat cannot transgress), whilst the other schools recognized the ambiguous (and thus not "clear cut") nature of the attainment.

Anyways, the reason I say all this is because, yes:

Arahats will not agree with each other on everything (which may have resulted in the split), arahats can be ignorant, arahats can have strange habits (see Sariputta and his stream-crossing (like crossing actual streams, as in rivulets of flowing water) strategies) etc.

Because of these ambiguities, and how personality is not changed after awakening, it is highly doubtful that one will be able to recognize an arhat snaps fingers, just like that

Awakened people don't come out like cookie cutter sheets, which is probably why our teacher often referenced the need for discernment, and a long period of getting to know the person before determining their attainment

Cheers.

  • Personality is not changed? Really? That seems weird. What do you mean by that? – AlexiaL Oct 16 '16 at 10:43
  • i've read it said that arhants have completely eradicated emotional obstructions etc. which to me does imply a change to 'personality' @AlexiaL , in zen i suppose that's meant to resolve, "the mountains are mountains again" but doubt that things remain unchanged. my advice is to seek the answers rather than have them. wheeras if that sounds like "spiritual shopping", then just try it differently. just my two cents – user3293056 Feb 9 '17 at 6:00
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I asked an enlightened monk that I had a strong feeling was an Arhat about this and he said he was enlightened when he was a layman. He just put on the robes to help him teach the message and he was completely unconcerned with such delusions. He was continually mindful of annica and had reached a state of anatta. He still got angry and would often shout at his followers but with equanimity.

  • if anyone, layman or worse a Bhikkhu, claims he/she an Arahat, definitely this is the opposite! – Mishu 米殊 Feb 10 '17 at 11:53
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    Lol an arahant wouldn’t shout because he would be free of anger. – TheDBSGuy Nov 22 '18 at 15:46
  • @TheDBSGuy - No, but they might choose to appear so for the sake of conveying a message. – PeterJ Dec 18 '18 at 11:01
  • So, an arahant would speak loudly not shouting right? An arahant would speak with no emotions right? – TheDBSGuy Dec 18 '18 at 11:52
  • An arahant would be impossible to have anger. – TheDBSGuy Dec 18 '18 at 11:53
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In Udana 7.2, Ven. Sariputta (the Arahant) tried to teach Ven. Bhaddiya without realizing that he too was an Arahant.

The Buddha saw this and exclaimed the verse, describing Ven. Bhaddiya:

He has cut the cycle, has gone away to freedom from longing. The dried-up stream no longer flows. The cycle, cut, no longer turns. This, just this, is the end of stress.

This shows that the Buddha could recognize who is an Arahant, but not another Arahant.

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As a rule of thumb, they will be

Very calm (stable). Not swayed by pleasurable/exciting things, not upset or frustrated by pain/failure/disagreement.

Immovable. Impossible to disturb. Solid like a rock.

Not doubting themselves but not arrogant either. In other words, extremely open-minded AND very confident at the same time, which is an almost impossible combination for a regular person.

Basically, always in a good mood. Bright, alert.

Moving with grace.

Precise in their use of language.

Seeing through noise into the gist of things.

Exceedingly reasonable.

Very careful with generalizations, not prone to careless overgeneralization.

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Layman(non-Arya) is blind with lobha, dosa and moha , so no wonder cannot see through Arhat, but if you follow his teaching and get enlightened, you have no more doubt. Exactly to say, Sotapanna can teach one to be a Sotapanna, Sakadagami can teach one to be a Sakadagami, Anagami can teach one to be a Anagami and Arahat can teach one to be a Arahat. If you follow his teaching and get enlightened, you have no more doubt. Nowaday, still there are Arya. Try to catch the train if not will be left.

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If a layperson becomes an Arhant, he will automatically leave his home and enter the monk hood otherwise he will pass away into Nibbana within 7 days.

Also, it is very rare for any one to proclaim he or she is an Arhant if he is truly a real Arhant. An Arhant will remain silent and will not brag his or her achievement.

There is one case in Thailand where a temple was well known and many devotees flooded the temple every Sunday to do Dana or Charity to serve foods to the monks. In the Temple area there was a lone monk who stay within the vicinity and sweep the ground every morning and afternoon without a sound or utterance of any kind since he noticed most devotees will come to the Temple and go straight to the main Temple to visit the chief monk for the blessing. Little attention was given to the lone monk whom no one pay attention at all. Over time, the lone monk passed away and was cremated. After the cremation was over, the lay people was shocked to find the monk relics like gems and pearly white pearls. Then, they realised that this lone monk was indeed an Arhant who keep to himself with little talk to other monks too.

So, it is hard to judge a monk whether he is an Arhant or not. Only upon their demised will one come to know whether the monk is an Arhant or not.

The Watcher2

  • That's a very bold statement in the first sentence. Are you sure this is always the case? Or did you read it but not give the source? – PeterJ Dec 18 '18 at 11:03
  • I don’t believe layman claiming to be arahant unless they are planning to ordain as soon as possible within 7 days or on that very day. – TheDBSGuy Dec 18 '18 at 11:54
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    @PeterJ I think that's Theravada orthodoxy, e.g. here , "The Milindapanha, which is almost as old as the [rest of (Burmese ed.)] Pali Canon above implies that lay people do/did attain enlightenment. It is just that they all ordained or died within 7 days or less." – ChrisW Dec 18 '18 at 12:02
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    @ChrisW - As you know I have a serious problem with this approach. We should not speak as if we are omniscient when we are merely restating an orthodoxy we have learned from a book, Buddhists should not be 'people of the book' and I'd be genuinely surprised if anyone here disagreed. . . . – PeterJ Dec 18 '18 at 12:18
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I get this from The Duration of Gotama Sasana (Dispensation)

The Buddha said that after His parinibbaana, only for 1,000 years will the monks be able to acquire the analytical knowledge (Patisambhida), or what we know as Arahanthship or deep knowledge.Then, as time goes on, they will only be able to attain Anaagami (Never return). And then only Sakadagami (Once return), and finally, only Sotapanna (Stream enterer). With the death of the last disciple who has attained Sotapanna, the attainments will disappear.

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The person who became Arhat, he doesn't have Three poisons He also removed Kleshas so his existence no longer valid cos there is no "I"

  • @JanithChinthana I'm also talking about a person who is living and I believe you are a Srilankan so please watch this video – Maduka Jayalath Jun 19 '14 at 8:43
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Being in Nirvana permanently is a unique situation, so I think it would be recognizable but not easy. I watched Arahant Ajaan Tong Sirimangalo's videos and I saw a complete pure divine being.

Achieving Arahantship, entering Nirvana permanently before the physical body dies is a very rare event I think. Because the physical body's life time is not long enough for most people to achieve that goal. I think what is more common is achieving Sotapanna and Sakadagami stages before the body dies. Maybe some Anagamis can also been found around the planet but I think their number would be few like Arahants.

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