By Bhante Debongshi
I have at times been asked the following question: Is it possible for an Arahat to live in a household? The same question was asked by Sandhya Uduwawala a Dhamma devotee from Scarborough last week. I hope this article answers that question.
‘Arahat’ is a Pali word. The etymological definition of this word is as follows: ‘Ari’ means ‘the enemy’, which refers to defilements (kilesas), while ‘hata’ means ‘to kill’ or ‘to destroy’, which refers to the destruction of ignorance. Therefore, the combination of these words becomes ‘Arahat’ or ‘one who has destroyed ignorance’.
In addition, one who has absolutely overcome ignorance or mental corruption is known as an Arahat or Enlightened One, the seer and knower of the truth and awakened. When one has reached this stage, he or she is above and beyond the limitations, conditions and identities of everyday life. In other words, that person is not bound not by ordinary sanctions; therefore, he or she is free and boundless.
For this reason, the word ‘family’ does not apply to an Arahat. In terms of dwelling, the place at which an Arahat dwells is called vihāra or ‘a pure abode’. Thus, imasmim vihāre means ‘in this pure abode.’ Vihara also means ‘the proper way of living’; therefore, viharami anasavo means: ‘I live a faultless life.’ As such, the term vihāra applies only to those who are liberated and to the seekers of liberation. In this context, the residence of an Arahat does not imply familial relations.
Khuddaka Nikaya is one of the texts in the Tipitaka. In this text, a story was told about an old brahmin who claimed to be the Buddha’s father. It proceeds as follows: On a certain day, the Buddha went to the city named Saketa for alms. There, an old brahmin came before the Buddha and affectionately addressed him as his son; he then warmheartedly invited the Buddha and his disciples to his home. The Brahmin was very excited by the Buddha’s presence, and he lovingly introduced his wife as the Buddha’s mother and the children as his siblings. The Buddha taught them the Dhamma for three months. Upon hearing the Dhamma during that time, the brahmin and his wife realized the truth. While living in the same household, they ardently followed the teaching.
Thus, they devoted the rest of their lives to the path of liberation until they reached Nibbana. In this regard, the Buddha stated in Dhammapada: Yattha arahanto viharanti, tam bhumi ramaneyyakam, or: “Wherever an Arahat dwells, that place is blissful and pleasant.” When the disciples asked the Buddha the reason for having been referred to as the son of the brahmin, the Buddha revealed the truth. He had been born as their son in many past existences – in fact, over one thousand five hundred lifetimes. Even in the present life, they carried a vivid memory of their past existence and therefore recognized the Buddha as their son.
This example clarifies the fact that liberation does not distinguish between the stations of life. Both the householder and the Bhikkhu have an equal opportunity to experience the joy of liberation if they are in-charge of their mind, body, energy, thoughts, words and actions. This is the most important fact to realize about enlightenment – that is, it is available to all sentient beings, regardless of the position that they occupy in this life.
The true sense of living in an abode is not in having possessions, whether that be person, place or thing, but in creating a blissful ambiance for oneself in order to bring about an expression of life in the fullest sense of the word. Therefore, I invite all sentient beings to explore the inner meaning of life on earth. May the New Year bring you blessings and fruitfulness in your search for the true meaning of life.