The term arhat (Sanskrit) or arahant (Pali) denotes for Buddhism a being who has reached a state of perfection and enlightenment. The term has been thought to derive from pre-Buddhist contexts in India, where it signified a “worthy” being. Theravada Buddhism regards the arhat as a being who has completed the path to enlightenment by transcending the ordinary human state (puthujjana) and completing the stages of liberating wisdom as spelled out in the buddha’s teachings and in the later Visuddhimagga (Path of purification). For Theravada, the arhats represent figures who are worthy both of imitation and veneration because they embody the highest ideals of the tradition. Mahayana Buddhist schools also venerate the arhats but generally assign them a penultimate rather than an ultimate position on the Buddhist spiritual path.
The volume Horner 1936 represents one of the earliest studies of this ideal, and its author’s work remains essential for understanding the history and significance of the term. Horner 1934 has a more focused discussion of the path. Katz 1989 complements Horner’s work very well and extends the scope of the discussion by taking into account other factors, such as psychology and society. Gombrich 2009 offers an important new theory about the derivation of the term arahant. Harvey 1995 and Jaini 1992 examine the meaning of the arhat ideal. Bond 1988 offers a general discussion of the significance of the arahant in Theravada.
Bond, George D. “The Arahant: Sainthood in Theravāda Buddhism.” In Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions. Edited by R. Kieckhefer and G. Bond, 140–171. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Article traces the nature of the arahant ideal in the Theravada textual tradition and examines some of the stories of figures venerated for having fulfilled the ideal.
Gombrich, Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2009.
The author argues that the Buddhist use of the term arahant may have much in common with Jainism, and he suggests that the term may originally have derived from a term meaning a “conqueror” or “destroyer of enemies.”
Harvey, Peter. The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāṇa in Early Buddhism. Surrey, UK: Curzon, 1995.
In one section of this work, pp. 227ff., the author discusses the meaning of arhat in relation to tathāgata and buddha.
Horner, I. B. “The Four Ways and the Four Fruits of Buddhism.” Indian Historical Quarterly 10 (1934): 785–796.
A useful, concise discussion of the evolution of the ideal of the arhat and the path.
Horner, I. B. The Early Buddhist Theory of Man Perfected. London: Williams and Norgate, 1936.
A classic study of the arahant in the Pali texts, which traces the ideal in the context of Indian thought. First published in 1900.
Jaini, Padmanabh S. “On the Ignorance of the Arhat.” In Paths to Liberation: The Mārga and Its Transformations in Buddhist Thought. Edited by R. Buswell and R. Gimello, 135–145. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.
Examines the nature and limits of the arhat.
Katz, Nathan. Buddhist Images of Human Perfection: The Arahant of the Sutta Piṭaka Compared with the Bodhisattva and the Mahāsiddha. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.
A thorough examination of the path of the arahant according to the Pali texts and formulae. This fine study also addresses important questions such as the comparison of the arhat and the buddha, the role of the arhat in society, and the relation to the bodhisattva.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese