Arhats : Worthy Ones; Destroyers of the Enemy

The Arhats were sixth-century BCE disciples of the historical Buddha. Arhat is the Sanskrit name for this category of spirit; they are also known as Lohan (Chinese), Nahan (Korean), and Rakan (Japanese). They are sometimes called Buddhist saints. These acolytes were able to achieve freedom from ignorance and suffering. They may be compared to apostles, in terms of their actual relationship with the historic Buddha. The enemies they destroy are greed, delusion, desire, and old karmic residue.

In the Buddhist spiritual hierarchy, Buddhas are at the pinnacle, followed by Bodhisattvas and then Arhats. Many find the Arhats to be the most approachable. Arhats are miracle workers, and many people seek their blessings.

There are Arhats and then there are Arhats. Although technically there may be thousands of Arhats, there is an inner sanctum of “Immortal Arhats,” whose numbers are given as sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, depending on tradition. (The first sixteen are fairly standard; debate continues over the remaining two.) Immortal Arhats use their magical knowledge and power to prolong their lives indefinitely in order to preserve the Buddha’s teachings, especially in difficult, corrupt times. Each of the Immortal Arhats leads a retinue of 500 to 1,600 subordinate Arhats.

• There were originally sixteen Arhats: this is the number accepted in India.

• Two more were added by the Chinese so that there are eighteen Lohans/Arhats.

• Varying traditions exist in Tibet: there may be sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen.

The standard sixteen include Ajita, Angaja, Bhadra, Chudapanthaka, Jivaka, Kalika, Kanakavatsa, Kanaka Bhadra, Nagasena, Nakula/Vakula, Panthaka, Pindola Bharadvaja, Rahula, Subinda, Vajraputra, and Vanavasin.

Among the most prominent Arhats are:

• Arhat Angaja: depending on tradition, he may be the first Arhat. He dwells on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. His blessing offers especially potent protection from illness and anguish. After receiving his blessings, the children of various deities gave Angaja all sorts of valuable, precious gifts: too many to cope with. Eventually they all merged into his two attributes: an incense burner and a fly whisk formed from a yak’s tail. (SEE ALSO: Shiva.)

• Arhat Pindola Bharadvaja is the most widely revered Arhat in Japan. He has the gift of healing. Rub the part of his statue that corresponds to the part of your body that is ailing or feels pain while petitioning his blessings and help. Children’s bibs and bonnets are tied to his statue as part of the process of requesting his protection for them. (SEE ALSO: Binzuru.)

• Arhat Rahula: only son of the historic Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama; Shakya muni). He walked in his father’s presence and attained enlightenment. Arhat Rahula teaches in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Deities (Trayastrimsa); he tutors the children of the heavenly inhabitants who repay him with gifts of beautiful, powerful, jeweled tiaras.


Arhats may appear individually or in company with each other, typically in groups of four or more. Their standardized images are predominantly based on Buddhist records and the works of Chinese Tang Dynasty painters.


Incense, prayers, good deeds on behalf of others, upholding Buddhist ideals, visits to their shrines


  • Bodhisattva
  • Buddha
  • Buddha Shakyamuni
  • Dharmatala


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.