As we have seen, it is the condition of the man who has escaped from the series of rebirths, and will never be born again. It is attained even in this life by the Arahat, in whom all desire and restlessness have come to an end. On the other hand, it is said of such an one that he enters Nirvana when he dies, as if it were a state not of this life, but of the period beyond.
I imagine that those modern sects, such as the Zen in Japan, which hold that the deepest mysteries of the faith cannot be communicated in words but somehow grow clear in meditation are not far from the master's teaching, though to the best of my belief no passage has been produced from the Pitakas stating that an arahat has special knowledge about the avyâkatâni or undetermined questions.
Even at the outset it was not free from a strong infusion of magic; the Arahat, like the Brahmanic ascetic before him, was believed to obtain influence over the gods by his virtues, and thus a claim to supernatural power is brought in, which agrees but ill with the ethical doctrine.
One becomes an Arahat by a life of strenuous and untiring discipline. Ten fetters are to be broken by which a man is kept from freedom; self-deception is one of them, trust in sacrifice another, and the list embraces both sensual and intellectual weaknesses. One must watch and be sober; every act, however trivial, is to be done with full self-consciousness and earnestness.
One must remember that he is engaged in a great and a hard work, and must resolutely "swim upstream," estimating at its proper value every affection and temptation that would hold him back. The body is to be contemned, and all natural ties; emotion is to be uprooted from the heart so that the proper state of entire calm and undisturbedness may be maintained. Then one is an Arahat, a true Brahman.
Our western Buddhists are just now emphasizing the idea that Christ was the sacred Buddha of Palestine, that he studied and taught "the eight-fold path," became an arahat, and attained Nirvana, and that the Christian Church has only misrepresented His transcendent wisdom and purity. The ablest tract on Theosophy that I have yet seen is entitled "Theosophy the Religion of Jesus."
Death seals that which was already won, there is no return from the Nirvana of death to any further life. This, however, does not amount to an assertion that the dead Arahat has no life or knowledge in the beyond; he is freed from desire, but whether his consciousness is altogether extinguished, Buddhism does not decide, and regards as a vain speculation. No Gods.
The Arahat, in whom desire is vanquished, and who has no further birth to anticipate, is filled with a deep joy and triumph as of a victor who has conquered every foe; and those who are less advanced in the path yet have their share in this enthusiasm, and are inspired by it to continue the struggle. Still Buddhism is a sad religion.
The stage of the worthy, holy one, the Arahat, who is free from desire for existence, and also from pride and self-righteousness, and who is saved and has obtained holiness, even in this life. An Arahat is not equal to a Buddha; the former is himself saved, but the perfect Buddha is able by his perfect knowledge to save others. Of Buddhas, however, there are not many.
Lo-han, Arhat, Arahat, are all designations of the perfected Arya, the disciple who has passed the different stages of the Noble Path, or eightfold excellent way, who has conquered all passions, and is not to be reborn again. Arhatship implies possession of certain supernatural powers, and is not to be succeeded by Buddhaship, but implies the fact of the saint having already attained nirvana.