Points of Controversy

1.2. Of Falling Away

Controverted Point: That an Arahant can fall away from Arahantship.

Applying The Thesis

Theravādin: Your assertion that an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship involves the admission also of the following: that he may fall away anywhere; at any time; that all Arahants are liable to fall away; that an Arahant is liable to fall away not only from Arahantship, but from all four of the Path-fruitions. Just as a man may still be rich if he lose one lakh in four lakhs, but must, you would say, lose all four to lose his title to the status given him by the four.

Refutation By Comparing Classes Of Ariyans

If an Arahant may fall away, then must those in the three lower Stages or Paths—the Never-Returners, the Once-Returners, the Stream-Winners—also be held liable to fall away and lose their respective fruits.

If an Arahant may fall away, so as to be established only in the next lower fruit, then must an analogous falling away be held possible in the case of the other three classes, so that those in the first stage who fall away are “established” only as average worldlings. Further,

If the Arahant fall away so as to be established in the first fruit only, then must he, in regaining Arahantship, realize it next after the first fruit.

If an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship who has admittedly put away more corruptions than any of those in the three lower stages, surely these may always fall away from their respective fruits. Why deny this liability in their case ), and assert it only with respect to the Arahant?

If an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship who admittedly excels all others in culture of the Eightfold Path, of the Earnest Applications of Mindfulness, of the Supreme Efforts, the Four Steps to Potency of Will, the Controlling Powers and Forces, and of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, why deny that those who have cultivated these thirty-Seven matters pertaining to Enlightenment in a lesser degree may no less fall away from their respective fruits?

Similarly, if each and all of the Four Truths—the fact of Suffering, the Cause of it, the Cessation of it, the Way to the cessation of it—have been seen by the Arahant no less than by the three lower Paths, why maintain only of the Arahant that he can fall away?

You cannot assert that the Arahant, who has put away lust and all the other corruptions, may fall away from Arahantship, and yet deny that the Stream-Winner, who on his part has put away the theory of self, may also fall away from his fruit; or deny either that the latter, who on his part has also put away doubt, the misapprehension of behaviour and vows, or the passions, ill-will and delusion, all three entailing rebirth on planes of misery, may also fall away. Or , similarly, deny that the Once-Returner, who on his part has put away the theory of a self, doubt, the misapprehension of behaviour and vows, gross sensuous passions, coarse forms of ill-will, may also fall away from his fruit. Or , similarly, deny that the Never-Returner, who on his part has put away the theory of a self, doubt, the misapprehension of behaviour and vows, the residuum of sensuous passion and ill-will, may also fall away from his fruit. Or analogously assert that the Never-Returner can fall away, but that the Stream-Winner cannot, or , that the Once-Returner cannot. Or, analogously , assert that the Once-Returner can fall away, but that the Stream-Winner cannot.

Conversely , you cannot maintain that the Stream- Winner, who has of course put away theory of a self, etc., cannot fall away from his fruit, without maintaining as much for the Arahant who on his part has put away the passions of appetite and all the other corruptions, Nor, similarly , can you maintain that anyone of the four Classes cannot fall away, without maintaining as much for any other of the four.

You admit all the achievements and qualifications conveyed by the terms and phrases associated in the Suttas with the position of Arahant:

That he has “put away passion or lust, cut it off at the root, made it as the stump of a palm tree, incapable of renewing its existence, not subject to recrudescence,” and has also so put away the remaining nine corruptions—hate, delusion, conceit, etc.

That, in order so to put away each and all of the corruptions, he has cultivated—

  • the Path,
  • the Earnest Applications of Mindfulness,
  • the Supreme Efforts,
  • the Steps to Potency of Will,
  • the Controlling Powers and Forces,
  • the Factors of Enlightenment;

That he has consummated as having “done with lust, done with hate, done with delusion,” that he is one by whom:

  • “that which was to be done is done,”
  • “the burden is laid down,”
  • “the good supreme is won,”
  • “the fetter of becoming is wholly broken away,”
  • one who is “emancipated through perfect knowledge”,
  • “who has “lifted the bar,”
  • “filled up the trenches,”
  • “who has drawn out,”
  • “is without lock or bolt,”
  • an Ariyan,
  • one for whom “the banner is lowered,”
  • “the burden is fallen,”
  • who is “detached,”
  • “conqueror of a realm well conquered,”
  • who has “comprehended Suffering, has put away its cause, has realized its cessation, has cultivated the Path thereto,”
  • who has “understood that which is to be understood, comprehended that which is to be comprehended, put away that which is to be put away, developed that which is to be developed, realized that which is to be realized.”

How then can you say that an Arahant can fall away from Arahantship?

With respect to your modified statement, that only the Arahant, who now and then i.e., in jhāna reaches emancipation, falls away, but not the Arahant who is at any and all seasons emancipated:

I ask, does the former class of Arahant, who has put away each and all of the corruptions, who has cultivated each and all of the matters or states pertaining to enlightenment, who deserves each and all of the aforesaid terms and phrases associated with Arahantship, fall away from Arahantship?

For you admit that the latter class of Arahant, who has done and who has deserved as aforesaid, does not fall away. If you admit also, with respect to the former class, that all these qualities make falling away from Arahantship impossible, then it is clear that the matter of occasional, or of constant realization of emancipation does not affect the argument.

Can you give instances of Arahants falling away from Arahantship? Did Sāriputta? Or the Great Moggallāna? Or the Great Kassapa? Or the Great Kaccāyana? Or the great Koṭṭhita? Or the Great Panthaka? Of all you admit that they did not.

Proof From The Suttas

You say that an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship. But was it not said by the Exalted One:

“Both high and low the ways the learners wend:
So hath the Holy One to man revealed.
Not twice they fare who reach the further shore,
Nor once alone that goal cloth fill their thought”

Hence you are wrong.

… Again, is there to be a “cutting of what has been cut?” For was it not said by the Exalted One:

“He who with cravings conquered grasps at naught,
For whom no work on self is still un wrought,
No need for cutting what is cut is there;
All perils swept away, the Flood, the Snare”

… Again, your proposition implies that there is a reconstructing of what is already done. But this is not for the Arahant, for was it not said by the Exalted One:

“For such a Brother rightly freed, whose heart
Hath peace, there is no building up again,
Nor yet remaineth, aught for him to do.

“Like to a rock that is a monolith,
And trembleth never in the windy blast,
So all the world of sights and tastes and sounds,
Odours and tangibles, yea, things desired
And undesirable can ne’er excite
A man like him. His heart stands firm, detached,
And of all that he notes the passing hence.”

Sammitīya, Vajjiputtiya, Sarvāstivādin, Mahāsaṅghika: Then our proposition according to you is wrong. But was it not said by the Exalted One:

Bhikkhus, there are these five things which conduce to the falling away of a bhikkhu who is temporarily emancipated: which are the five? Delight in business, in talk, in sleep, in society, absence of reflection on how his heart is emancipated.

Hence the Arahant may fall away.

Theravādin: But does the Arahant delight in any of those things? If you deny, how can they conduce to his falling away? If you assent, you are admitting that an Arahant is affected and bound by worldly desires—which of course you deny.

Now if an Arahant were falling away from Arahantship, it would be, you say, because he is assailed by lust, or hate, or error. Such an attack, you say further, is in consequence of a corresponding latent bias. Yet if I ask you whether an Arahant harbours any one of the seven forms of latent bias—sensuality, enmity, conceit, erroneous opinion, doubt, lust for rebirth, ignorance—you must deny such a thing.

Or if, in his falling away, he is, you say, accumulating lust, identity view, doubt, or the taint of mere rule and ritual, these are not vices you would impugn an Arahant withal.

In fact you admit that an Arahant neither heaps up nor pulls down, neither puts away nor grasps at, neither scatters nor binds, neither disperses nor collects, but that, having pulled down, put away, scattered, dispersed, so abides.

Hence it surely cannot be said that “An Arahant may fall away from Arahantship.”