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arahat (อรหัต)

Pali-Thai. ‘The worthy one’, a title given to Buddhist saints. A term derived from the Sanskrit word arihan, meaning ‘foe-slaying’. In Theravada Buddhism, one who has attained the highest level of spiritual perfection leading to nirvana and is freed from the cycle endless of rebirths. Some revered Buddhist monks are regarded as arahats. In the earliest Indian sutras, the Sakyamuni Buddha is said to have asked four arahats to remain in the world to propagate the dhamma, one for each of the four directions of the compass, until Maitreya, the next Buddha, arrived. These four arahats are sometimes said to be Maha Kasyapa, Kundopadhaniya, Pindola (fig.) and Rahula (fig.), though other sources mention Panthaka (fig.), Nakula (fig.), Pindola and Kanakavatsa. The arahats extended their lives through magical powers and remain accessible to those in need. Later tradition increased their number from four to sixteen, referring to the number of saintly ascetics who gathered at the death and Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, and then on to eighteen (fig.), especially in Chinese tradition where they probably derived from a Chinese institution during the reign of T'ai Tsung, who in the year 621 AD selected eighteen Cabinet  Ministers, all officials of high standing, sound learning and good literary attainments who according to popular belief became immortals. Others however, believe that they are based on the fact that it was supposed by some that there were formerly eighteen gods regarded as protectors of Chinese Buddhist temples, and that the Eighteen Arahats took their places. The Sixteen Arahats are known as Pindola Bharadvaja, Kanaka Vatsa (fig.), Kanaka Bharadvaja (fig.), Subinda (fig.), Nakula, Bhadra (fig.), Kalika (fig.), Vajraputra (fig.), Jivaka (fig.), Panthaka, Rahula, Nagasena (fig.), Angaja (fig.), Vanavasin (fig.), Ajita (fig.) and Chudapanthaka (fig.). Maha Kasyapa and Kundopadhaniya were eliminated from the first list of four arahats and replaced by fourteen new ones. Since the Eighteen Arahats (fig.) have never received authoritative recognition, the names of the two extra arahats often vary. Sometimes Maitreya and Maha Kassapa are added to the list of sixteen, in other places it may be Nandimitra (fig.) and a second Pindola (fig.). In addition, Maha Kassapa may also be spelled Maha Kasyapa, referring to one of the four original arahats assigned by the Buddha to remain and guard the dhamma. Also the identity of Maitreya is something of a problem as originally the arahats were to remain on guard until Maitreya came. This however becomes irreconcilable if he is one of them. Sometimes, the Eighteen Arahats are depicted riding both real and mythological animals (fig.). Besides this, Japanese and Chinese traditions also revere a group of 500 arahats (fig.), based either on the 500 disciples that were present when the Buddha expounded the Flower Sutra on Vultures Peak or on the 500 rich merchants, who became beggars after meeting and accepting the Buddha's teachings (fig.). Also called arhat, arhan, arihat and arahan, and usually referred to together, as the Eighteen Arahats (fig.). In Chinese called luohan and in Japanese rakan, an abbreviation of the Japanese term arakan (阿羅漢), itself a translation of the Sanskrit word arahan. In Vietnamese, the Eighteen Arahats are known as Thap Bat La Han (Thập Bát La Hán - fig.).