Arahant comes from the Pali word arahati meaning ‘worthy’ or ‘noble’ and is a title given to someone who has attained enlightenment as a result of listening to and practising the teachings of a Buddha. Like a Buddha, an arahant has perfected wisdom and compassion and is no longer subject to rebirth. The Buddha describes the arahant as having transcended ‘the round of birth and death, they have destroyed the taints, lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the ultimate goal, destroyed the fetters and become completely free, liberated through final knowledge’ (Majjhima Nikaya 1. 141).
Attaining to the level of full enlightenment is not to be taken lightly or as something easily attainable. It can take several decades of devoted practice and will more likely take several lifetimes to perfect the Paramitas, the Jhanas, and other advanced states. There are however, several other partially enlightened noble levels (see: 10 hindrances).
Buddhism is unique among the major world religions in that followers can attain to the same level as the founder. For example, in Judaism, Abraham and Moses are considered the founders who made the covenant with God and provided the Law (Torah) and there cannot be another one to do so. In Christianity, there can only be one Christ. In Islam, Muhammad is considered the seal or final prophet. Whereas, in Buddhism, anyone can attain enlightenment and reach the same wisdom and title as the Buddha, an enlightened one.
- 10 hindrances (Four stages of enlightenment)