Q. Arahant vs Bodhisattva – which is best? | Buddhism

Q. According to Buddhism is it better to be a Bodhisattva or an Arahant? I’ve heard quite a few conflicting things about this so would be good to get some clarity.

Tom: According to the Pali Suttas, the earliest records of Buddha’s teachings, true enlightenment/liberation is to be an Arahant, a Boddhisattva being anyone who desires liberation. By this definition, a Bodhisattva is unenlightened and still stuck in suffering/samsara, and an Arahant is an enlightened sage.

In later Buddhist schools/thought, a Bodhisattva became someone who foregoes enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings attain liberation. The idea here is that an Arahant, whilst liberated, is somehow ‘cold’ and ‘self-centred’ (I don’t agree with this by the way), placing their enlightenment above others, and so the ‘compassionate’ Bodhisattva rejects full liberation in place of compassion towards others. The problem with this, as has been oft pointed out, is that only a ‘liberated being’ can lead another to full liberation, and that with Nirvana, duality and the sense of ‘another’ outside of yourself, ceases (please excuse my dualistic language – see these quotes from Diamond sutra if you are unsure what I am talking about here when I say ‘dualistic language’)

Later still, a Bodhisattva was defined loosely as a compassionate enlightened being who helps all others attain liberation. By this definition, a Bodhisattva is a desirable outcome!

So take your pick!

There is more complexity and nuance in this topic if you want to delve into it, but the above is a broad outline. Hope that helps 🙏⁠

2 thoughts on “Q. Arahant vs Bodhisattva – which is best? | Buddhism

  1. “Later still, a Bodhisattva was defined loosely as a compassionate enlightened being who helps all others attain liberation. By this definition, a Bodhisattva is a desirable outcome!”

    Reading the text left me first confused, as if liberation and helping others where contradicting each other.
    But the above definition makes sense to me.

    And maybe this might also in a way relate somehow to the inwards and outward facing path, but that is just an idea or intuition- I know that the latter is about advaita and hinduism.

    And the thought I also had, when I first heard about the two directions of Buddhism: one: liberation for its own sake, the rest for liberation others (yes, they are no others anymore to be liberated, but because liberation is beyond dualistic language we probably have to live with these paradox), that it might also have to do with personality structure. I know that liberation does not touch personality structure and has nothing to do with it, but the way liberation is “lived” might be influenced by the personlity structure.
    I have had a lot of teachers some really empathic, some rather narcissistic. And this DID influence the way they teach!

    So maybe Arahant is the rather narcissistic branch of buddhism??

    Liked by 3 people

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