Author Topic: What happens to Arhats?  (Read 28096 times)

Big Uncle

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What happens to Arhats?
« on: March 10, 2011, 02:37:15 AM »
I am just curious because some levels of Arhats are 'no-returners' or 'once-returner'. I wonder where do they go after they leave their earthly body? They are not yet a Buddha so they must abide somewhere... Where is that?

vajrastorm

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2011, 08:28:10 AM »
I think this is the same category of questions as  “Where is Nirvana?".   

I believe that it is not a ‘place’ that an Arhat, say of the ‘level’ of ‘no-returner’, goes to when he leaves his earthly body, just as Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t leave His earthly body when he became enlightened under the Bodhi tree.

Be it ‘Nirvana’ or ‘Ultimate Nirvana’, these are just states of mind. In further response, I will quote from two sources of ‘reference’.

The first is from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse in his lovely book “What Makes You Not A Buddhist?”. As the fourth seal of Buddhism, he states: “Nirvana is beyond concepts”. I take this to mean that it is beyond our conceptual mind, our mind of grasping at the dualistic perception of things, to fathom what Nirvana is. We have to go beyond our conceptual, dualistic mind to realize Nirvana.

The second is from the Heart Sutra. “Since that is the case, Shariputra, Bodhisattvas do not ‘attain’ anything. …..By passing beyond mistaken minds they go to ultimate nirvana”. To me, this means that Buddhahood is not an 'attainment'. Our own true nature is the Buddha nature, which is now hidden behind thick layers of obscuration and negativities.  Ultimate nirvana is when we have cleared away all these layers, have become non-dualistic and can see ourselves and phenomena as all really are.  There is no goal to achieve. It’s just ‘returning’ to our own true nature.  (Yet even here, I fear I’m responding with my limited conceptual mind).

hope rainbow

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2011, 03:04:55 PM »
I am just curious because some levels of Arhats are 'no-returners' or 'once-returner'. I wonder where do they go after they leave their earthly body? They are not yet a Buddha so they must abide somewhere... Where is that?

I have always understood this as a "no-returner as a sentient being" and as a "once-returner as a 'non-yet liberated from samsara-being' "
Anyone correct me if necessary.

Big Uncle

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2011, 06:24:17 PM »
So if the state arhats achieved is beyond concepts and physical location. Why do they still need to practice the 10 stages of Bodhisattvahood to become a Buddha? If they don't take rebirth in Samsara, why do Arhats need to practice anymore? It sounds a little complicated and unnecessary...

DSFriend

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2011, 08:02:52 PM »
Thanks for posting this thread. I do not have much knowledge about Arhats and have always wanted to understand more. I am looking forward to the sharing...

hope rainbow

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2011, 06:15:13 PM »
So if the state arhats achieved is beyond concepts and physical location. Why do they still need to practice the 10 stages of Bodhisattvahood to become a Buddha? If they don't take rebirth in Samsara, why do Arhats need to practice anymore? It sounds a little complicated and unnecessary...

I think this is because arhats have not achieved buddhahood yet, and the 10 stages of bodhisattvas are meant to the achievement of buddhahood.
Arhats have achieved liberation from samsara, but they have not done so with a bodhicitta motivation, the factor necessary to the achievement of buddhahood.

jessicajameson

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2011, 12:33:51 PM »
I found this article. It is from the Buddhist Philosophy by Daniel Cozort and Craig Preston. I know it talks about Nirvana (which was brought up by Vajrastorm), but it does cover the question of where arhats abide.... I think. The relevant part is from where I highlighted onwards...

(http://www.snowlionpub.com/pages/N64_8.html)

Nirvana With and Without "Remainder"

Nirvana is neither a place nor a mental state. It is a fact about us. A nirvana is the absence of afflictions in someone whose cultivation of wisdom has resulted in the destruction of ignorance, desire, hatred, etc. That mere absence is the nirvana.

On that, all Buddhist schools agree. However, they disagree over the use of the term "remainder" used in conjunction with nirvana. Other than Prasangika, it is said that after a person attains nirvana, he or she subsequently can be said to have a "nirvana with remainder," the "remainder" being the body and mind. Death cuts the remainder. However, the nirvana without remainder is a single moment, occurring just at the time of death but not after. After death there is no person to whom the nirvana can belong!

Hinayana schools do not recognize any existence after death for an Arhat. The Mahayana schools do, and all except Asanga's say that Arhats manifest in different forms, no longer helplessly reborn according to karma, and continue to cultivate wisdom and merit until they have become Buddhas. Because Asanga and his followers say that there are Arhats who do not go on to Buddhahood, they must explain that those Arhats are born in the pure lands of Buddhas and abide there forever in meditative absorption.

The Prasangika school uses the term "remainder" in a completely different manner. For them, "remainder" has to do with whether or not to an Arhat things still appear to have true existence. To explain this, we have to recall what was said previously about the obstructions to liberation and obstructions to omniscience. What prevents our liberation is our conceptions of inherent existence. Things appear to us as though they exist from their own side, independently, and we assent to this appearance by conceiving of them in this way. Meditation that analyzes the way things exist will destroy this false conception, and we can be liberated from it and from the samsara it causes.

However, because of the way we have been conditioned, which in Buddhism is a process without beginning, things still appear to exist inherently. The liberated person is someone who no longer assents to this appearance, who is always doubtful of the evidence of the senses and resists conceiving of them in the wrong way. He or she is like someone who wears sunglasses, well aware that the green tint pervading all visible objects is just the effect of the lenses. It takes a very long time for the appearance of inherent existence itself to fade. Those "taints" of appearances are the obstructions to omniscience.

From this perspective, then, an Arhat experiences a nirvana with remainder most of the time, since most of the time things appear falsely. But then, when does a nirvana without remainder occur? It occurs only when that person is meditating on emptiness because at that time only emptiness appears to the mind. For nonBuddhas, it is impossible for both emptiness and other things to appear to the mind simultaneously. (Another way of putting this is to say that the two truths cannot appear simultaneously to a non-Buddha's mind.)

So, both Prasangikas and others could identify an Arhat's usual state, the time when he or she is not absorbed in meditation on emptiness, as a nirvana with remainder, but they would mean very different things by it. Prasangikas would mean that things falsely appear to the mind; others would mean that the Arhat is alive. Similarly, both Prasangikas and others would identify the nirvana of an Arhat at the time of death as being a nirvana without remainder but they would mean something different by it. Prasangikas would mean that at that time there is no false appearance to the mind (because, for a short time, only a vacuity appears to the mind), whereas others would mean that the body and mind are abandoned.

Other than the purpose of again pressing home their contention about the empty nature of things, why do Prasanigikas change this terminology? Jamyang Shayba here gives two arguments. First, it makes no sense to say that there is any person who experiences a nirvana without remainder if that means that the aggregates are abandoned. There is no person once the aggregates are destroyed. Second, the language that suggests that Arhats "extinguish" their aggregates really just refers to their emptiness. Like all things, our bodies and minds are "primordially extinguished" into emptiness because they are, and always have been, empty of inherent existence.

jessicajameson

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2011, 12:38:03 PM »
This is interesting as well. It is from a teaching during a Manjushri retreat in 2008 called "20 Mind Training like Rays of the Sun" by Ven. Thubten Chodron. He seems to have the same idea about what happens to arhats after they "die"....

Arhatship: nirvana with remainder and nirvana without remainder


And I've been doing some study recently, one of my Tibetan teachers asked me to learn more about the Theravada tradition. So I've been doing some study and I really enjoy it and it's a wonderful complement, I’m understanding many things that we hear about in the Sanskrit tradition that aren't explained fully I'm seeing in the Pali tradition. And seeing many quotations that we use in the lamrim, and finding them in the Pali Sutras. And it's a very exciting process. But one thing that I've really been seeing is following this track in the Pali sutras, to become a stream enterer, once returner, a non-returner and then an arhat. And then the discussion of what happens when you've become an arhat.

 

And first of all, sometimes people in the Mahayana tradition look down at the arhats because sometimes in the Mahayana sutras they're not expressed very favorably. But the Buddha himself said in the Pali sutras that his disciples are there to teach the Dharma for the benefit of the world and the welfare of the world, and with compassion. So it's quite clear that they have compassion and they want to benefit others. But in thinking about the goal of arhatship and the discussion of what happens when you become an arhat, because when you become an arhat, okay, your afflictions are eliminated. As it's presented in the Pali canon; you still may have some karma left on your mindstream, but it can't ripen in future rebirths because your craving and your ignorance have been eliminated. So in the lifetime when you become an arhat, it's called nirvana with remainder, the remainder being the tainted aggregates that you took at the beginning of that lifetime. Because when you were born at the beginning of that lifetime you were still under the influence of ignorance and so your five aggregates are tainted or contaminated in that way. And they don't get purified, they're still the same aggregates you have when you're born, so it's called arhatship with remainder of those five tainted aggregates. And then when you die, you become an arhat without the remainder of those five aggregates. But it's not quit sure what happens. It's said that you get nibbana-ized.

 

The Buddha was quite strict, it's not that you cease totally when you attain arhatship—nirvana without remainder. I mean he was quite clear about when people were asking, “Does an arhat, or does a Tathagata exist after death, not exist, both, and neither?” He very clearly negated the possibility of total non-existence. But they don't have in the Pali tradition, they don't really say what happens to the arhat. It's just they shed these five aggregates and so then there's nothing with which to identify the arhat with; because without the five contaminated aggregates there's nothing, where do you say there's a person? And yet they're not totally non-existent. That’s how it's presented in the Pali canon.

 

In the Sanskrit canon, or at least in the Tibetan tradition, when you have arhatship without remainder you abide in meditative equipoise on emptiness for a long, long time. So consciousness still exists, the person still exists, it's merely labeled in dependence upon those aggregates, which are not tainted aggregates, but not completely purified aggregates. Although they're free from ignorance, so they're untainted. Yes, they would be untainted. They still have the cognitive obscurations but they would be untainted. So you abide in the nirvana for eons in your meditative equipoise until eventually the Buddha wakes you up and says, “You have to work for the benefit of sentient beings, your job isn't really done.” So that's from a Mahayana viewpoint, what's happened to the arhats.

 

And in doing all this study I realized that there's something about that kind of arhatship, that it's wonderful to be out of samsara, but I don't feel super inspired by it. Because yes, samsara is awful, and yes, I want to get out; but then to stay in my own meditative equipoise afterwards, then there's still the thing of what's the purpose. I accomplished my own purpose and got out of samsara, but what's the purpose in the long term? And so I think that's where bodhicitta, at least for me personally, gives some kind of vision that goes on into the future that is really how to make your existence quite valuable and meaningful over a long period of time. Because as a Buddha you then have the ability to manifest in may different forms and many different bodies to work for the benefit of sentient beings. So you're always busy.

DSFriend

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2011, 05:17:26 PM »
So if the state arhats achieved is beyond concepts and physical location. Why do they still need to practice the 10 stages of Bodhisattvahood to become a Buddha? If they don't take rebirth in Samsara, why do Arhats need to practice anymore? It sounds a little complicated and unnecessary...

I think this is because arhats have not achieved buddhahood yet, and the 10 stages of bodhisattvas are meant to the achievement of buddhahood.
Arhats have achieved liberation from samsara, but they have not done so with a bodhicitta motivation, the factor necessary to the achievement of buddhahood.

Would it be correct to say then that Arhats are "stuck" somewhere for a very long time, perhaps in bliss but not achieve full enlightenment. Wouldn't this state be similar in someways to the gods, where they do not experience sufferings (until much much later), thus so much time is wasted as that life is not used to pursue Bodhicitta?

vajrastorm

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2011, 09:01:30 AM »
The difference between the gods and arhats is that gods are still in samsara whereas arhats have attained liberation from samsara. Gods will still have to be reborn and as they have not collected any merit but have instead exhausted all their merits, they will most probably be reborn in the Lower Realms. A negative throwing karma will surface at the time of their end, as they had been chasing  one pleasure after another, in continuous pursuit of their self-centered cravings.
Wherever the arhats ‘abide’, be they  ‘with’ or ‘without remainder’, their state of ‘bliss’ may last for eons longer then the gods of the formless realm . Yet, as has been said, all this ‘bliss’ seem purposeless. Yes, wouldn’t they themselves realize , one day, that there must be more in ‘being’ than in just being stuck in perpetual ‘bliss’. ‘Bliss’ over too long a period will surely become boring. Then they would seriously question why they are remaining there when there is so much suffering amongst other sentients beings. When they realize this and decide to come back to samsara to help other beings, they will have to start all over again. As is said in the Lamrim, why don’t we walk the Path to Full Enlightenment once; why walk the path twice and start all over again a second time. You will have to return to samsara and start developing bodhicitta and move up the ten bodhisattva levels to full Buddhahood. It is also said in the Lamrim that arhats still have some traces of ‘obstruction’ to complete omniscience and they have yet to abandon the four causes of ignorance.

DSFriend

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2011, 10:54:08 AM »
Thanks Vajrastorm. Your sharing added on to the little I know of arhats.

Guess the requirement to become enlightened is achieving both compassion and wisdom. The state of an arhat clearly shows both compassionate action and all seeing wisdom is lacking even at such a high state.

This goes to show also how subtle and deeply rooted our ignorance can be to keep us in samsara.

Also reading this posting brings to mind how important meeting a Guru and receiving direct instructions is so crucial. How can one get there without a teacher? Impossible.

jessicajameson

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2011, 08:38:39 PM »
is it possible to just gain enlightenment, instead of being an arhat first?

Big Uncle

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2011, 04:47:44 AM »
Wow, I love the discussion and from what I read in the posts, Arhats are in deep sleep until a Buddha wakes them up and tells them to practice again! What if a Buddha never wakes them up?

What if they are forgotten? So they sleep for all eternity enveloped by the meditation on Emptiness? Sounds good and extremely boring! It almost sound very selfish. Perhaps, thats why they need to practice Bodhisattvahood to become a Buddha (total selflessness).

No wonder in Mahayana, they don't talk much of being an Arhat and suggests we practice the path of Bodhisattvahood. After all, arhats have to thread on the same path once more in order to realise their own Enlightenment. However, Arhats do belong in the field of merit or are still proper objects of refuge.


DSFriend

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2011, 06:36:49 PM »
is it possible to just gain enlightenment, instead of being an arhat first?

Did a bit more research and studying up on Arhats. Here's what I learnt.
There are two types of obscurations -
1. Obscuration of Liberation
2. Obscuration of Omniscience

To become a Buddha, we need to rid off both obscurations.

Arhats have attained liberation from samsara, thus they have rid themselves of obscuration of liberation..but not obscuration of omniscience.

To gain enlightenment requires one to rid off all the obscurations and the seeds/stains. Honorific titles (for lack of a better word) are given to show the attainments. In this case..."arhats", "tathagathas" etc.... 

Our goal is not to become an arhat but to be fully enlightened. Thus, Je Tsongkhapa's teachings on both compassion and wisdom is so precious. I think in this lineage, with the guidance of a qualified Guru, it is possible to be enlightened without having to become an arhat. Please correct me if it is an incorrect view.

hope rainbow

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Re: What happens to Arhats?
« Reply #14 on: April 08, 2011, 09:13:04 AM »
Would it be correct to say then that Arhats are "stuck" somewhere for a very long time, perhaps in bliss but not achieve full enlightenment.
Wouldn't this state be similar in someways to the gods, where they do not experience sufferings (until much much later), thus so much time is wasted as that life is not used to pursue Bodhicitta?

If arhats can return to samsara because of extremely subtle karma still at work, then have they really been out of samsara in the first place?
I was told that arhat are on the top level of heavens, formless, in absolute bliss created by extremely good karma.
This later description makes sense to me if they are indeed still subject to their karma, however subtle it is... Then they must still be within the rules of samsara (karma).
Only once one is no more subject to karma is one free from samsara, that is Buddhahood, and only Buddhahood.

Do I get this right?