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It is more convincing to note that the list of lay arahants is isolated in the Canon.Any passage making an unusual claim, or any small selection thereof, should be looked at with greater scrutiny than passages that appear over and over again in the Canon. Here is one of the most famous pericopes from Gotama’s early life as a bodhisatta: Before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Household life is confining, a dusty path. It isn’t easy, living in a home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell.Isolated passages have a greater chance to be interpolations or mistakes of one kind or another. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?
Elsewhere there is a short list of names of lay disciples, all male, who are said to have reached nibbāna, but it is a mere list and so placed that it could well be a late addition to the Canon.
On the other hand, 55.37 suggests that laypeople may become “accomplished in wisdom” leading to “the complete destruction of suffering”, although admittedly this passage does not establish that any have done so, nor that they could explicitly have done so while remaining laypeople.
The strongest evidence that the Buddha allowed for lay arahants is the list that appears in 6.119-139: these are “householders” and “lay followers” each of whom is said to have “become a seer of the deathless, one who lives having realized the deathless.” These are phrases only used of arahants: those who have achieved nibbāna.
While we could begin with discussions of modern-day theory and practice, my preference is to begin with the original texts, at least insofar as we can get a handle on them.
Although they may eventually lead us astray, at least it’s worthwhile to have them under our belts. In the first, called “stream entry”, one was guaranteed that one would have at most seven more lives and would never be reborn in a station lower than human.