Just what is an arhat

Arhat, or Arahant in Pali, is a term you hear a lot in Buddhism. Someone who has achieved liberation. But what does it actually mean? Well the etymology is ambigous. The traditional school reports arhat as meaning: one who is worthy. But apparently, recent research suggests that it is cognate with sanskrit Arihan: one who kills or destroys enemies. The Tibetan translation of Arhat – dgra bcom pa – means: one who has destroyed the foes of afflictions.

The latter reminds me of “Mercy alone is perceived as the seed
Of a Conqueror’s abundant harvest,” from Candrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara.

In fact in “The Voice of the Silence”, Blavatsky writes

But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.

These tears, O thou of heart most merciful, these are the streams that irrigate the fields of charity immortal. ‘Tis on such soil that grows the midnight blossom of Buddha more difficult to find, more rare to view than is the flower of the Vogay tree. It is the seed of freedom from rebirth. It isolates the Arhat both from strife and lust, it leads him through the fields of Being unto the peace and bliss known only in the land of Silence and Non-Being.

A.A.Bailey writes in “The Rays and initiation”

When a Master takes the fifth initiation He… must become consciously aware of the highest aspect: the Will-to-Good. He has developed in Himself “the love necessary to salvation, His own and that of those He loves, His fellowmen;” all His actions and His thinking are qualified by goodwill, in its esoteric sense, and the significance of the Will-to-Good lies ahead of Him and will be later revealed.

Apparently amongst Christian esoterocists, the initiation when one becomes an arhat is understandably called the Ressurection. But apparently, it is the seventh which is the true ressurection. Hell, what do I know?

The fifth initiation is also called among esotericists: the initiation of revelation. I find this more interesting because of the emphasis within Buddhism on awakening. The word Buddha itself meaning one who has awoken; achieving liberation and revelation/awakening occuring at the same point.

Lest we forget. The Diamond Sutra, in which Buddha speaks to his disciple Subhuti, reminds us that there is no ego here.

“Subhuti, what do you think, can an Arhat have the thought, ‘Have I attained the Way of the Arhat?'” Subhuti said, “No World Honored One. Why? Actually there is no dharma called ‘Arhat.’ World Honored One, if an Arhat had the thought, ‘I have attained the Way of the Arhat,’ that would be an attachment to self, others, living beings and to a life. World Honored One, the Buddha has said that I am foremost in the attainment of the No Strife Samadhi, and I am the foremost Arhat free from desire. Yet, World Honored One, I do not have the thought, ‘I am an Arhat free from desire.’ If I had the thought, ‘I have attained the Way of the Arhat,’ then the World Honored One would not say, ‘Subhuti is foremost of those who delight in practicing Aranya.’ Since Subhuti actually does not practice anything, he is called, ‘Subhuti who delights in practicing Aranya.'”

So, this initiation – The initiation of liberation, of revelation – Is it the initiation of enlightenment? Well, just what does one mean by enlightenment? It does all get hard to fathom. We know the practice works in our own lives. We’ve seen what happens, so looking ahead isn’t such a bad thing.

Buddhism starts counting at Western Occultism’s second initiation. In that light and the light of Buddha’s discussion with Subhuti, here’s what Dogen has to say in the Shobogenzo:

The eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind in the present transcend self and other; correct from head to tail, they are beyond our ability to comprehend thoroughly. For this reason, one’s whole body, as it is, “does not covet and is not defiled.” It does not covet and is not defiled by the whole of “any phenomena, existent or non-existent.” The wholeness, just as it is, of “holding to the four-line verse,” is called “does not covet and is not defiled”; it is also called “the fourth stage of fruition.” The fourth stage of fruition is the arhat.

Just a thought.


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