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According to Theravadan Buddhism would the Buddha have been considered an arahant? Is this word synonymous with the title 'the Buddha' or does being the Buddha mean something over and above being an arahant? If the terms 'the Buddha' and arahant are synonymous then why don't we call all enlightened beings Buddhas?

My understanding was that once someone was an arahant then that was it, they had done what needed to be done. He/she was enlightened and therefore at the exact same level of attainment as the Buddha. Is that correct?

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"According to Theravadan Buddhism would the Buddha have been considered an arahant?"

IN SN 22:58 we read the Buddha saying:

"The Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One [...]"

Describing himself as an Arahant, he proceeds:

"What is the distinction, what is the disparity, what is the difference between the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, and a bhikkhu liberated by wisdom? [...] The Tathagata, bhikkhus, is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path"

There are other characteristics of a Buddha. In MN 115 (*) he declares:

It is impossible that two rightfully Enlightened Ones should be born in the same world element at one and same time. [...] It is impossible that a woman should be the perfect rightfully Enlightened One. [...] It is possible that a man should be the perfect rightfully Enlightened One.

Also, MN 12 describes the ten powers of a Buddha (I don't believe these always apply to arahants):

(1) "Here, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the possible as possible and the impossible as impossible."

(2) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the results of actions undertaken, past, future, and present, by way of possibilities and causes."

(3) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the ways leading to all destinations."

(4) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the world with its many and different elements."

(5) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is how beings have different inclinations."

(6) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the disposition of the faculties of other beings, other persons."

(7) "Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the defilement, the cleansing, and the emergence in regard to the jhānas, liberations, concentrations, and attainments."

(8) "Again, the Tathāgata recollects his manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births... Thus with their aspects and particulars he recollects his manifold past lives."

(9) "Again, with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Tathāgata sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate... and he understands how beings pass on according to their actions."

(10) "Again, by realizing for himself with direct knowledge, the Tathāgata here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints."

"My understanding was that once someone was an arahant then that was it, they had done what needed to be done. He/she was enlightened and therefore at the exact same level of attainment as the Buddha. Is that correct?"

Yes. The difference, it seems, is not of attainment, but of role and skills. Many suttas depict the different skills of arahants, sometimes in contrast with Bhudda's skills.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi develops this further on: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/arahantsbodhisattvas.html


(*) While this excerpt exemplifies distinct characteristics of Buddhas, its important to note that the portion about the impossibility of a woman to become a Buddha is absent in the agama version of this sutta. See Analayo's paper The Bahudhātuka-sutta and its Parallels On Women’s Inabilities and related Q&A here

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The definition of an Arahant in the Theravada school is someone who has totally destroyed the three unholesome roots of greed, hatred, and delusion. The definition of a Sammasambuddha is someone who attains enlightenment without a teacher and teaches the Dhamma to others. By these definitions, the Buddha was the first Arahant of the current Buddha era.

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  • BTW, Ari in Sanskrit means enemy (greed,hatred delusion) and hant or hanth means killer or destroyer.
    – Narasimham
    Sep 8, 2014 at 9:34
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My understanding based on the teachings I have read is that an Arhant is one who walks the path in order to seek enlightenment for their self and does not attempt to help others to do this. Buddha was not the only one to achieve enlightenment but he was unique in the sense that he spent his life showing others the way to enlightenment so that all of us, even now may benefit from his teachings. I think he was the one who encouraged people to become Buddhas by way of the Bodhisattva path rather than the Arhant path.

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Anybody who reaches Nirvana is considered Enlightened / Arahat. The Buddha is Enlightened. An Arahat is a word for an Enlightened being. Hence Buddha is also an Arahat.

Since the Nirvana for any person is the same the attainment of Arahatship is the same, though on other aspects the Buddha's faculties, powers, attainments, insights and knowledges are far superior due to his Paramis.

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Yes, the Buddha is considered the first Arahant (Arahath) in this Buddha Kalpa era. The difference is that a Buddha (Sammā Sambuddha is the more accurate term) achieves enlightenment without anyone's teaching, and the term Sammā Sambuddha means he can teach his findings to others. There are three ways to become an Arahant:

  1. Sammā Sambuddha (The Buddha) - One who attains Nibbāna (Nirvana) by himself but can also show the path of Nibbāna to others.

  2. Paccekabuddha (Paccēka Buddha) - One who attains Nibbāna (Nirvana) by himself without anyone else's teaching. However, he cannot teach the path to Nirvana to others. It's like someone mute having a dream; he cannot share what he saw with others. Only he knows what he experienced.

  3. Sāvaka Buddha (Arahant) - Yes, an Arahant is also called a Buddha. The term means he attained Nibbāna (Nirvana) by hearing the path of Nibbāna from the Sammā Sambuddha Sasana (Sammā Sambuddha or one of his followers).

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Here's an analogy.

The Buddha is like Einstein who discovered the Theory of Relativity. He's the only one, and there's no one else like him.

The stream enterer is the physics bachelor's degree graduate who studied relativity and passed. He has proven understanding of the breadth of physics, but not the depth. He has entered the physics academic stream.

The once returner is the physics master's degree graduate. He needs to return to university one more time to do his doctorate.

The never returner is the physics doctorate graduate. He doesn't have to return to university again to do a degree, but he still needs to build up his research portfolio and experience.

The Arahant is the tenured physics professor. He has reached the peak of his career.

Einstein obviously never studied relativity for his degrees because he is the one who discovered it and instantly became the first professor of it.

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no an arahant learns from a buddha, a buddha discovers the path on his own.

ive also heard that buddhahood has additional powers, its not just nibbana attainment and thats it. i coukd be wrong on that.

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Yes, according to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as the Buddha, is considered an arahant. The term "arahant" is often translated as "worthy one" or "perfected one" and refers to someone who has attained enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara).

The Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, around 2,500 years ago. He gained profound insights into the nature of suffering, the causes of suffering, and the path to liberation. After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma (the path to liberation) to others.

In Buddhist terminology, the Buddha is often referred to as a Samyaksaṃbuddha, which means a "fully self-awakened one" or "perfectly enlightened one." An arahant, in general, is someone who has reached the same level of enlightenment but may have done so through the teachings of a Buddha. The Buddha is considered the supreme teacher and the one who rediscovers and articulates the path to enlightenment for others to follow.

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At the Nirvana, all are same. Even the Buddha.

What makes Buddha different?

1) Buddha is the one with most concentrated mind. Which means most powerful Dayana.

2) Buddha is the only one with some special visions / wisdoms about the nature of the world. (which has some definitive names) which no other person, (ever who's reached Nirvana) has.

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