Zen Wisdom 230

People do not become arhats because they have ideas that they want to become arhats; rather, when vexations have ceased or have been eradicated through long cultivation, people become arhats. Some people, upon having heard a phrase or sutra from the Buddha, instantly eradicated all vexations, greed, anger and ignorance and immediately attained arhatship. Such people were very rare, but we do read about them in the sutras. Others, with the goal to cut off all vexations, practice in a gradual manner.

There are four stages of arhatship. The first stage is achieved when the practitioner eliminates the view of the self and eradicate doubt. The second, when greed, anger and ignorance are alleviated. The third, when greed and anger in the realm of desire are completely cut off. The fourth stage is true arhatship, when greed, anger and desire in the three realms (desire, form, formlessness) are eradicated. At this point all vexations are cut off. People who practice gradually differ from those who attain arhatship instantly; nonetheless, gradual practitioners do not have the intention or desire to become arhats. Their goal is to terminate vexation.

There is a correspondence between the Hinayana arhat and the Mahayana bodhisattva insofar as how much vexation has been alleviated or eradicated. For example, the first position of Hinayana attainment is attained when one has dissolved one's view of the self and has also eradicated all doubt. Doubt here means doubting the Three Jewels as well as doubting whether one can transcend samsara and eradicate vexation. In Mahayana Buddhism, this level of attainment is considered the first bhumi level of Bodhisattvahood. Bhumi means ground, and can be considered the fertile ground of practice from which wisdom sprouts. There are ten bhumis, of which the tenth is at the threshold of Buddhahood. The fourth stage of arhatship corresponds to the end of the seventh bhumi.