How to Become an Arahant

1:10 (10) Bāhiya (Bāhiya Sutta)

Thus has it been made known. On one occasion the Blessed One was residing near Sāvatthī, at the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. On the same occasion, Bāhiya of the Bark-Cloth was living at the seashore near Suppāraka. He was highly esteemed, honored, venerated and was someone who was a recipient of robes, alms, lodgings and medicine in case of sickness.

During his seclusion, a sudden reflection arose in his mind: “Am I also considered to be an arahant, worthy of one who has gained entrance into arahantship?”

In sudden response to his question, a devatā, who was once a former blood-relative of Bāhiya of the Bark Cloth, out of deep compassion and concern for his welfare and being familiar with his innermost thoughts, approached him and said: “Dear Bāhiya, alas! You are neither an arahant nor have you come close to the revered path of arahantship.” Why? Because you are not even familiar with the practice wherein one becomes an arahant and is worthy of the title.”

“Well then,” inquired Bāhiya, “in a world frequented by devas and arahants, who is one that bears such a noble title?”

 “There is, Bāhiya, in a far-off district called Sávatthī, a most renowned Arahant and Fully-Enlightened one who lives there. This Dharma-Lord, Bāhiya, is indeed an arahant and teaches the Dhamma for the self-realization of arahantship.”

And so, Bāhiya, deeply encouraged by what the devatā said, left his humble abode and journeyed to Sāvatthī in quest of the Noble Dharma-Lord. Upon his arrival, he noticed a group of monks who were walking-about in the open-air. He then approached them and respectfully enquired, “Where, venerable sirs, may I find the Blessed One—the arahant, the rightly self-awakened One—it is him I seek.”

The monks responded, “The Blessed One has journeyed into town in quest of alms.”

Then Bāhiya enthusiastically left the Jeta Wood and arrived in Sávatthī; soon he noticed the Blessed One who was in search of alms. Transfixed by the sight of the Dharma-Lord, who exuberated calmness and tranquility of mind and a most perfectly controlled presence, Báhiya hurriedly knelt down before him and reverenced the Blessed One’s feet.”

 “Please teach me the Holy Dhamma, O’Lord; yes, please teach me the Holy Dhamma, most blessed Sugata, so that it will be for my good and future happiness.”

The Blessed One responded, “You have arrived at a most inopportune time. We are in quest of alms.”

A second time Bāhiya said to the Dharma Lord: “It is impossible to know what the future may hold, both in terms of your lifespan as well as my own. So, please, teach me Dhamma, O’Lord, so that my life will be blessed with future happiness.”

A second time the Blessed One responded: “Now is not a suitable time, for we are in quest of alms.”

A third time Bāhiya said to the Lord: “Please, I do not know for certain what the future may hold, please teach me, O’Sugata, so that my future happiness will be assured.”

“The Blessed One then responded, “Listen well, Bāhiya, it is thus that you must train yourself: With respect to what is seen, there will only be what is seen; in the heard, just what is heard; what is imagined, only what is then imagined; in cognition, only what is cognized. So, only in this fashion, Bāhiya, must you hereby train yourself.”

“Listen, Bāhiya, and attend well. When you see merely what is seen, and cognized merely with what has been cognized, it is then, Bāhiya, that you will never be ‘with that.’ And when you are not ‘with that,’ then Bāhiya, you will never be ‘in that.’ When, Báhiya, you are never ‘in that,’ then, Báhiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Thus, this is the end of suffering.”

[From Ireland: This is a difficult passage. An explanation of it derived from Comy. would be something like this: “In the seen is merely what is seen” without adding one’s own views, opinions, concepts, personal likes and dislikes, etc.: that is, just seeing what is there as it actually is. “You will not be with that,” bound by that view, by attraction or repulsion, etc. “You will not be in that” situation of being deluded and led astray by views and emotions. “You will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two”: neither in this world nor another world. This means the experience of Nibbána or enlightenment, which is a stepping out of the mundane world.]

*From an Unborn Mind perspective, being prior-to anything perceivable or conceivable is the best course, with the result being that one is never in nor out of phenomena. Parinibbana is no-where and yet everywhere in-between.*

In the midst of this brief yet salient Dhamma Discourse, Bāhiya of the Bark Cloth was suddenly awakened and freed from his past suffering. The Blessed One, after his discourse, soon left.

Not long after the Dharma-Lord’s departure, a cow with a young calf in tow collided with Bāhiya and killed him. Shortly thereafter, the Blessed-One returned and viewed Bāhiya’s body decaying in a dung heap. He then alerted his disciples to take the corpse away, cremate it, and then erect a stupa for it.

After carrying out their assigned task, the monks addressed the Blessed One: “Now that his remains have been sufficiently cremated and his memorial stupa constructed, what will be his final destination—his future birth?”

At that, the Blessed One replied, “Bāhiya of the Bark Cloth was a true Noble One, he was in full accord with the Dhamma and his spirit vexed me not. He has thus attained Final Nibbāna.”

Upon realizing the great significance of that, the Blessed One uttered the following inspiriting verse:

Where water, earth, fire and air find no footing,
Therein shine no stars, nor does any sun display its light,
Therein glows no moon, yet darkness there is not.
It is there when a proper sage, an Arahant, comes to self-realization,
Through his own prior-gnosis,
It is then that his spirit is freed from form and formless,
A Final Release from both bliss and pain.

Bāhiya of the Bark-Cloth: born in the family of a householder of Bāhiya, thus his name designation. His life was engaged in trade and he was known as an able shipman. Once, his ship was wrecked, although he was able to float safely ashore on a plank. Since his clothes had been lost, he made himself an outfit out of bark and later went about with bowl-in-hand for alms. The populace, noticing his strange garment of bark, began to pay him great honor and offered him royal robes, yet he refused their offer; thereafter his fame spread. Of course, in time, because of his new life-status, he imagined himself to be an arahant. This devatā who arrived on the scene had once been his fellow celibate in the time of Kassapa Buddha, one of the ancient Tathagatas of old. Through his persistence with the Buddha, his request was granted provided he comprehended the discourse above. His immediate recognition granted him his new status as an Arahant. It’s most unfortunate how he met an untimely and grisly end, yet in his short-time spent with the Buddha we can see how “time itself” is never a factor in coming to full and undivided Union with the Unborn. Total and unequivocal recognition is needed and no-thing more.

The final verse is most profound. It is describing being-in the Great Mahasunya, a placeless-place where there are no earthly or heavenly elements, with neither light nor darknesss, but only being within the sanctum-sanctorum of the Imageless Unborn Mind. It is then when an arahant joins in the great freedom from both form and formless realms—parinibbana.

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One Response to How to Become an Arahant

  1. n. yeti says:

    More backstory on Bahiya of the Barkcloth, specifically his sudden demise which is pretty shocking and definitely stands out in the canon. There is commentarial tradition to suggest Bahiya (just as he had been a blood relative the deva he speaks with in a past life) had been a bandit formerly, and in that life murdered and robbed a pratyekabuddha. As a result he suffered karmic retribution for many lifetimes – twenty if memory serves, but not certain about that – until finally extinguishing that unfortunate karma when trampled by the ox.

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