Cults of Arhants
The phenomenon of the Buddhist saint is typically defined by the intersection of a particular paradigm of sainthood, characteristic traditions of forest renunciation, and an active cult. The preceding chapters have focused primarily upon the paradigm of Buddhist sainthood and have offered no more than glimpses of the saints' traditions of forest renunciation and their cults. The present chapter contains a discussion of the cult of the Buddhist saints through an examination of the cults of the arhants, as expressed in two quite different but converging bodies of evidence: textual evidence of the cult of the sixteen arhants and the reports of the Chinese pilgrims on the general cult of arhants. 1 As we shall see, the arhants depicted in this evidence possess many of the major features of the paradigm of the Buddhist saint outlined in previous chapters. However, in the evidence of the cult, almost the entire focus of attention is upon the arhants as fully realized saints. Although the postrealization careers of the arhants are depicted in the cultic evidence in bold and vivid colors, there is little discussion or even acknowledgment of their prerealization lives.
A tradition of sixteen great arhants is documented in a number of Indian texts translated into Chinese, 2 particularly important among which is the Nandimitrāvadāna. This text, referred to in Chapter 5, is attributed to the great arhant Nandimitra who is depicted as living in Sri Lanka; it was in existence sometime prior to the seventh century, 3 when it was translated into Chinese by Hsüan-tsang. 4 According to the Nandimitrāvadāna, when the Buddha was about to enter parinirvāṇa, he entrusted his dharma to sixteen arhants and their followers, asking them to protect and maintain it from extinction (LC., 8). At the head of the arhants 5 stands Piṇḍolabhāradvāja, and their number also includes Kanakavatsa, Kanakaparidhvaja, Subinda, Nakula, Bhadra, Kālika, Vajraputra, Śvapāka, Panthaka, Rāhula, Nāgasena, In + ̄gada, Vanavāsi, Ajita, and Cūḍapanthaka (9). These sixteen arhants are Buddhist saints in the classical mold, reflecting in their persons the major features of the paradigm, particularly its postrealization elements. Thus, these arhants all possess the characteristics of enlightened people, including wis