Introduction to Awakened Beings


There is a well-known teach­ing in the Bud­dhist scrip­tures describ­ing the stages of enlightenment—the stages of real­iz­ing Nib­bā­na. This com­pris­es the four paths (mag­ga) and four fruits (pha­la):

  • The path and fruit of stream-entry (sotā­pat­ti-mag­ga and sotā­pat­ti-pha­la).
  • The path and fruit of once-return­ing (sakadāgā­mi-mag­ga and sakadāgā­mi-pha­la).
  • The path and fruit of non-return­ing (anāgā­mi-mag­ga and anāgā­mi-pha­la).
  • The path and fruit of ara­hantship (ara­hat­ta-mag­ga and ara­hat­ta-pha­la).

The first ‘path’ of stream-entry is also called ‘vision’ (das­sana), because it refers to the first glimpse of Nib­bā­na. The fol­low­ing three ‘paths,’ of once-return­ing, non-return­ing, and ara­hantship, are col­lec­tive­ly known as ‘cul­ti­va­tion’ (bhā­vanā), since they involve a devel­op­ment in the truth (Dham­ma) ini­tial­ly real­ized at the moment of stream-entry.1

Those who have reached com­plete real­iza­tion of Nib­bā­na, as well as those who obtain a first glimpse of the goal and are thus guar­an­teed to reach it, are clas­si­fied as true dis­ci­ples of the Bud­dha. They are known as the ‘com­mu­ni­ty of dis­ci­ples’ (sāva­ka-saṅgha), as seen for exam­ple in the verse prais­ing the attrib­ut­es of the Saṅgha: ‘They are the Blessed One’s dis­ci­ples who have prac­tised well.’

There are many spe­cif­ic terms used to describe these true dis­ci­ples. The most fre­quent­ly used term is ariya-pug­gala (or ariya), trans­lat­ed as ‘cul­ti­vat­ed,’ ‘noble,’ or ‘far from the foe’ (i.e., far from men­tal defile­ment). The term ariya-pug­gala was orig­i­nal­ly used in a gen­er­al sense; only lat­er was it used specif­i­cal­ly in rela­tion to the stages of enlightenment.2 The orig­i­nal term used in the Pali Canon when dis­tin­guish­ing the stages of enlight­en­ment is dakkhiṇeyya (or dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala). In any case, the terms ariya-pug­gala and dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala were adopt­ed from Brah­man­ism. The Bud­dha altered their mean­ings, as he did with many oth­er words, for exam­ple: Brah­mā, brāh­maṇa (brah­man), nahā­ta­ka (‘washed clean’), and vedagū (‘sage’).

The Bud­dha gave the term ariya a new def­i­n­i­tion, dif­fer­ent from that pre­scribed by the brah­mans. The word ariya (San­skrit: ārya; Eng­lish: Aryan) orig­i­nal­ly referred to a race of peo­ple who migrat­ed from the north-west regions and invad­ed the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent sev­er­al thou­sand years ago. As a result of this inva­sion, the native inhab­i­tants retreat­ed either south or into the forests and moun­tains. The Aryans con­sid­ered them­selves cul­ti­vat­ed; they dis­dained the native peo­ple, mark­ing them as sav­ages and enslav­ing them. Lat­er, when the Aryans had con­sol­i­dat­ed their rule and estab­lished the caste sys­tem, the native peo­ples were accord­ed the low­est tier as sudras (labour­ers). The term ariya (‘noble’) des­ig­nat­ed the three upper castes of ksha­triyas (war­riors, kings, admin­is­tra­tors), brah­mans (schol­ars, priests, teach­ers), and vaishyas (mer­chants). Sudras and all oth­ers were labelled anariya (‘igno­ble,’ ‘base’).3 A person’s caste was deter­mined at birth; there was no way to choose or alter one’s position.

When the Bud­dha began teach­ing, he declared that nobil­i­ty does not depend on birth, but rather on right­eous­ness (Dham­ma), which stems from spir­i­tu­al prac­tice and train­ing. Who­ev­er acts in line with noble prin­ci­ples (ariya-dham­ma) is ‘noble’ (ariya) irre­spec­tive of birth or caste. Who­ev­er does not is anariya. Truth is not restrict­ed to the dic­tates of brah­mans and the Vedas, but is objec­tive and uni­ver­sal. A per­son who has real­ized these uni­ver­sal truths is noble, despite hav­ing nev­er stud­ied the Vedas. Because knowl­edge of these truths makes one noble, they are called the ‘noble truths.’4 Tech­ni­cal­ly, those who under­stand the noble truths are stream-enter­ers and above. There­fore, the scrip­tures gen­er­al­ly use the term ariya as syn­ony­mous with dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala (‘those wor­thy of offer­ings’), a term which will be dis­cussed shortly.

The Four Noble Truths (ariya-sac­ca) are some­times referred to as the ariya-dham­ma.5 The term ariya-dham­ma, how­ev­er, does not have a fixed def­i­n­i­tion and is used in oth­er contexts.6 It can refer to the ten ‘whole­some ways of action’ (kusala-kam­ma-patha)7 and to the five precepts.8 Such def­i­n­i­tions are not con­tra­dic­to­ry, since those house­hold­ers who tru­ly keep the five pre­cepts their entire lives, with­out blind adher­ence (sīlab­ba­ta-parāmāsa) and with­out blem­ish, are stream-enter­ers and above. The stan­dard com­men­tar­i­al def­i­n­i­tion of ariya in ref­er­ence to ‘noble’ peo­ple encom­pass­es the Bud­dha, Pac­ce­ka-Bud­dhas and dis­ci­ples of the Buddha,9 although in some places the def­i­n­i­tion refers to the Bud­dha alone.10 When qual­i­fy­ing a spir­i­tu­al prac­tice or fac­tor, ariya is equiv­a­lent to ‘tran­scen­dent’ (lokut­tara),11 although this is not always strict­ly the case.12

Although the def­i­n­i­tion of ariya is rather broad, one can sum­ma­rize that when the term is used in ref­er­ence to peo­ple it is iden­ti­cal to dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala, mean­ing those who have gone beyond the state of ordi­nary per­sons and become mem­bers of the sāva­ka-saṅgha (today, more often called the ariya-saṅgha).13 In the com­men­taries and sub-com­men­taries this def­i­n­i­tion is almost fixed, with very few excep­tions. In the scrip­tures, the term ariya tends to be used in a gen­er­al sense, not spec­i­fy­ing the lev­el of awak­en­ing. Dakkhiṇeyya is the more spe­cif­ic tech­ni­cal term and is used less often than ariya.

The Bud­dha extend­ed the mean­ing of the term ariya, refer­ring to mem­bers of a new com­mu­ni­ty: Bud­dhist dis­ci­ples who are enno­bled by prac­tis­ing the Mid­dle Way. These dis­ci­ples live eth­i­cal­ly, non-vio­lent­ly and har­mo­nious­ly. They are ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing well­be­ing for all. Their actions are not ruled by the entice­ments and threats of reli­gious offi­cials, who often cater to people’s self­ish needs. Moral prin­ci­ples may be per­vert­ed due to the deci­sions of such reli­gious author­i­ties. An exam­ple of this is the sac­ri­fice of ani­mals per­formed by brahmans.

Dakkhiṇeyya trans­lates as ‘one wor­thy of offerings.’14 The orig­i­nal Brah­man­ic mean­ing of this word referred to the pay­ment received for per­form­ing cer­e­monies, par­tic­u­lar­ly sac­ri­fices (yañña; San­skrit: yajña). The Vedas describe the forms of pay­ment, includ­ing: gold, sil­ver, house­hold goods, fur­ni­ture, vehi­cles, grain, live­stock, young women, and land. The more pres­ti­gious the cer­e­mo­ny the greater the reward. For exam­ple, in the Ash­vamed­ha (‘roy­al horse sac­ri­fice’) the king shared the spoils of war with the priests. The recip­i­ents of these gifts were invari­ably the brah­mans, because they were the only ones enti­tled to per­form the rituals.

When the Bud­dha began teach­ing he spoke in favour of abol­ish­ing ani­mal sac­ri­fice, and he trans­formed the mean­ings of the words yañña and dakkhiṇā. He devel­oped the mean­ing of yañña into cru­el­ty-free alms­giv­ing, while dakkhiṇā in the Bud­dhist teach­ings refers to suit­able gifts and faith­ful dona­tions, not a fee or recompense.15 If it is a reward then it is a reward for virtue, but it is more apt­ly called an offer­ing in hon­our of virtue. In addi­tion, these gifts are not exces­sive­ly lav­ish, but sim­ple and basic req­ui­sites essen­tial for life.

Per­sons wor­thy of these offer­ings have trained them­selves and are full of virtue. They embody a vir­tu­ous and joy­ful life. Their very exis­tence in the world is a bless­ing to oth­ers. When they go out into the wider soci­ety and impart these vir­tu­ous prin­ci­ples, liv­ing as an exam­ple and instruct­ing oth­ers, they offer a price­less ser­vice to the world. And these indi­vid­u­als do not demand or wish for rec­om­pense. They rely on the offer­ings of the four req­ui­sites mere­ly to sus­tain life. Offer­ings made to such peo­ple bear great fruit because the offer­ings per­mit good­ness to man­i­fest and increase in the world. These peo­ple are called ‘wor­thy of offer­ings’ (dakkhiṇeyya) because offer­ings made to them yield valu­able results. They are also referred to as the ‘incom­pa­ra­ble field of merit,’16 because they are a source of virtue to blos­som and spread in the world.17

Peo­ple give suit­able remu­ner­a­tion to ordi­nary teach­ers; is it not appro­pri­ate for peo­ple to give sim­ple gifts to those who teach virtue and the ways of truth? In today’s soci­ety peo­ple whose busi­ness caus­es destruction—harming the econ­o­my, the envi­ron­ment, or even human goodness—receive all sorts of lav­ish rewards.18 Is it not right that those who pro­tect the world and pro­tect virtue by being mod­er­ate in con­sump­tion should receive sup­port? Those who con­sume only what is nec­es­sary have min­i­mal impact on the world’s resources; they take lit­tle and give much in return.

The mak­ing of offer­ings dif­fers from ordi­nary giv­ing; one does not give out of per­son­al affec­tion, oblig­a­tion, or an expec­ta­tion to get some­thing in return. One gives with faith in the pow­er of good­ness, appre­ci­at­ing that the recip­i­ent is a mem­ber of the Bud­dhist monas­tic com­mu­ni­ty (saṅgha), or that he or she upholds virtue. In any case, the recip­i­ent must pos­sess the nec­es­sary qual­i­ties to be enti­tled to these offer­ings. For exam­ple, an unen­light­ened monk or novice who eats the alms­food of lay-sup­port­ers is ‘indebt­ed,’ despite hav­ing moral con­duct and mak­ing effort in Dham­ma prac­tice. He should has­ten to free him­self from this debt by achiev­ing the state of a dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala. Ven­er­a­ble Mahā Kas­s­apa, for exam­ple, claimed that he was in debt to the laypeo­ple for sev­en days, between being ordained and real­iz­ing arahantship.19 After his ordi­na­tion he made effort in Dham­ma prac­tice as an unawak­ened per­son for sev­en days, before reach­ing the fruit of ara­hantship and becom­ing one wor­thy of the offer­ings by the faith­ful laypeople.

The com­men­taries cat­e­go­rize monks and novices who receive offer­ings in four ways:

  1. Those who behave immoral­ly. They do not have the inner qual­i­ties fit­ting for a men­di­cant and mere­ly wear the out­ward signs of a monk. They are unde­serv­ing of offer­ings; their use of offer­ings is called theyya-parib­hoga: ‘to con­sume as a thief.’
  2. Those who have moral con­duct but do not reflect with wis­dom when using the four req­ui­sites. For exam­ple, when eat­ing alms­food they neglect to con­sid­er: ‘I eat not for plea­sure or beau­ti­fi­ca­tion. I use alms­food only for the main­te­nance and nour­ish­ment of this body, to keep it healthy, to sus­tain the holy life.’ Such use of offer­ings is called iṇa-parib­hoga: ‘to con­sume as a debtor.’20
  3. Sekha, or the first sev­en of the eight dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala (see below). Their use of offer­ings is called dāya­j­ja-parib­hoga: ‘to con­sume as heirs.’ They have the right to use these offer­ings as heirs to the Bud­dha, who was supreme among the dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala.
  4. Ara­hants, who are freed from the enslave­ment of crav­ing. Their virtue makes them tru­ly wor­thy of offer­ings. Their use of offer­ings is called sāmi-parib­hoga: ‘to con­sume as masters.’21

Here we can see that the term dakkhiṇeyya is used in both social and eco­nom­ic con­texts. The prin­ci­ple of offer­ings (and to some extent the prin­ci­ple of gen­eros­i­ty) fits into the wider prin­ci­ple of the Bud­dhist social struc­ture, of hav­ing an inde­pen­dent group of indi­vid­u­als (the monas­tic sang­ha) with­in a wider soci­ety. These indi­vid­u­als gain their inde­pen­dence by not seek­ing ben­e­fits from soci­ety and not being direct­ly involved in oth­er social insti­tu­tions. They have their own way of life based on spir­i­tu­al free­dom. They sup­port soci­ety by trans­mit­ting the Dham­ma, with­out seek­ing rec­om­pense for their work. They live on offer­ings by mem­bers of the wider soci­ety, who give out of devo­tion to the Dham­ma in order to pre­serve the teach­ings and puri­fy them­selves of unwhole­some qual­i­ties like greed. Offer­ing this sup­port has min­i­mal finan­cial impact on the sup­port­ers’ lives.

The recip­i­ents (the monas­tic sang­ha) are like bees who col­lect pollen from var­i­ous flow­ers to make hon­ey and build their hives, with­out dam­ag­ing even the fra­grance or com­plex­ion of the flowers.22 Indeed, they fer­til­ize the flow­ers. Because they depend on oth­ers to live, they have an oblig­a­tion to act for the wel­fare and hap­pi­ness of all. Although their life depends on oth­ers it does not depend on any­one in par­tic­u­lar; they rely on the pub­lic and in a sense belong to the pub­lic, but are sub­ject to no sin­gle indi­vid­ual. In a well-orga­nized soci­ety no one should be des­ti­tute and forced to beg.23 In such a soci­ety reli­gious men­di­cants live on the offer­ings of oth­ers but the receiv­ing of alms has no resem­blance to beg­ging. This sys­tem of an inde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ty that is devot­ed to spir­i­tu­al val­ues and pro­vides a nec­es­sary bal­ance to the wider soci­ety is unique among social sys­tems in the world.

There are gen­er­al­ly two ways to cat­e­go­rize dakkhiṇeyya-pug­gala or ariya-pug­gala: into the eight lev­els of erad­i­cat­ing defile­ments (the eight lev­els of path and fruit men­tioned above), and into the sev­en qual­i­ties or prac­tices that enable the attain­ment of those eight lev­els. [The first of these clas­si­fi­ca­tions is pre­sent­ed below; the sec­ond clas­si­fi­ca­tion is pre­sent­ed in a fol­low­ing section.]


1 MA. I. 73; DhsA. 356; Vism. 697; Vis­mṬ: Ñāṇadas­sana-visud­dhi-nid­de­savaṇṇanā, Pariññādippabheda-kathāvanṇṇanā.

2 The first exam­ple of using ariya-pug­gala as a term spe­cif­ic to stages of enlight­en­ment occurs in the Pug­gala-Paññat­ti of the Abhid­ham­ma (Pug. 11–12, 14). See relat­ed mate­r­i­al at: Vin. V. 117; Nd. I. 232; Ps. I. 167.

3 See ārya in ‘A San­skrit-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary’ by Sir Monier Monier-Williams (Lon­don: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1964), p. 152. See also ‘The Laws of Manu’ (Man­a­va Dhar­ma Shastra).

4 S. V. 433 (referred to at Vism. 495; in the Pali Canon the word ariy­oti has van­ished. See also ItA. I. 85; PsA. I. 62). Com­pare with S. V. 435. 

5 Alter­na­tive­ly: ārya-dham­ma. Sn. 62; SnA. I. 350. 

6 See, e.g.: DA. II. 643; A. V. 241; Nd2A. 77.

7 A. V. 274.

8 A. II. 69; AA. III. 213, 300; AA. III. 303.

9 VinA. I. 165; DA. III. 1009; Nd1A. II. 379; NdA. [2/200]; Vism. 425. The Vib­haṅ­ga of the Abhid­ham­ma defines ariya as com­pris­ing Bud­dhas and dis­ci­ples of Bud­dhas (Vbh. 259). (Trans­la­tor: although ariya usu­al­ly refers to ‘enlight­ened’ dis­ci­ples, there are some excep­tions. See below.)

10 E.g.: MA. I. 60; SA. III. 208; Nd1A. II. 272; DhsA. 349.

11 E.g.: M. III. 72; AA. III. 416; Nd1A. II. 336.

12 The term ariya can some­times des­ig­nate the mun­dane (lokiya), e.g.: SA. I. 35; SA. III. 303.

13 Some excep­tions include pas­sages at: J. II. 42; 280; J. III. 81; J. IV. 293. The com­men­taries explain these excep­tions by clas­si­fy­ing ariya into four cat­e­gories: 1) ācāra-ariya—noble by behav­iour; those ground­ed in virtue; 2) das­sana-ariya—noble in appear­ance; those pos­sess­ing fea­tures that instil con­fi­dence; 3) liṅ­ga-ariya—noble by ‘gen­der,’ i.e., those liv­ing the life of a spir­i­tu­al renun­ciant (samaṇa); 4) paṭived­ha-ariya—noble through real­iza­tion, i.e. the Bud­dha, Pac­ce­ka-Bud­dhas and enlight­ened dis­ci­ples of the Bud­dha. See, e.g.: J. II. 42, 280; J. III. 354; J. IV. 291.

14 Offer­ings = dakkhiṇā (San­skrit: dak­shiṇā). Dakkhiṇā + neyya (‘tad­dhi­ta’ suf­fix; ‘sec­ondary deriv­a­tive’) = dakkhiṇeyya.

15 The com­men­taries men­tion those things giv­en with the belief in action (kam­ma) and the fruits of action (kam­ma-vipā­ka), not giv­en with the expec­ta­tion of med­ical assis­tance or oth­er favours; see: [KhA. 200]. Some places men­tion things offered by those who believe in the ‘world beyond’ (par­alo­ka); e.g.: Vism. 220; ItA. I. 88; VinṬ.: Pārāji­ka-kaṇḍaṃ, Sikkhāpaccakkhāna-vibhaṅga-vaṇṇanā. 

16 Anut­taraṁ puññakkhet­taṁ lokas­sa.

17 See, e.g.: DA. III. 996; AA. IV. 29; VinṬ.: Pārājikakaṇḍaṃ, Sikkhāpaccakkhāna-vibhaṅgavaṇṇanā.

18 What we call ‘pro­duc­tion’ or ‘indus­try’ invari­ably involves some degree of destruc­tion. Some­times the costs or harm­ful effects out­weigh the val­ue of the man­u­fac­tured prod­uct. It is time that peo­ple review the true mean­ing of ‘indus­try,’ ‘labour,’ and ‘pro­duc­tion,’ by using a broad­er per­spec­tive of economics.

19 S. II. 221.

20 This is a more lib­er­al def­i­n­i­tion than that found in the Pali Canon, which claims that all unawak­ened per­sons use offer­ings as debtors.

21 VinṬ.: Nis­sag­giyakaṇḍaṃ, Kosiya-vaggo, Rūpiyasikkhā­pa­da-vaṇṇanā; MA. III. 343; SA. II. 199; AA. I. 72; Vism. 43; Vis­mṬ.: Sīlanid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Catupārisuddhi-sampādanavidhi-vaṇṇanā.

22 See: Dh. verse 49.

23 See the Cakka­vat­ti-Sut­ta: D. III. 61.