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Arhat/Sthavira: Rahula

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Tibetan: Neten Drachen Dzin (gnas brtan sgra g.can 'dzin)

Arhat (Tibetan: ne tan): a Sanskrit term for Buddhist saints popularized in the late 19th century by Western scholars. The correct term for these sixteen Buddhist figures is 'sthavira', meaning 'elder' in Sanskrit.

Rahula, the Elder (Tibetan: ne ten, dra chen dzin, Sanskrit: Sthavira Rahula): the actual son of the buddha Shakyamuni and the 10th arhat from the set of sixteen Great Arhats. Rahula has a number of different ways in which he is depicted. The most common depiction in Tibetan art is for him to be holding up a jeweled crown with both hands. Chinese depictions often have him holding a staff in one hand and a tiger or lion seated at his feet. The iconography of the arhats is not fixed in art or literature.

"On the Island of Priyangku is the noble elder Rahula, surrounded by 1,100 arhats; homage to the One holding a jewelled tiara." (Sakya liturgical text).

The full group of arhats would traditionally comprise 25 figures: the buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the 16 Arhats, the attendant Dharmata, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardians of the Directions; Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Virudhaka.

The name Rahula belongs to three important figures in Buddhist iconography. The (1) first use is as the proper name for the biological son, Rahula, of Gautama - Shakyamuni Buddha. The (2) second use of the name is for the Indian cosmological deity Rahula, the deification of the phenomenon of an eclipse. The (3) third use of Rahula is for the horrific Nyingma protector deity, wrathful, with nine heads and a giant face on the belly. It is likely that this Buddhist protector is a Tibetan creation and not linked to any Sanskrit literature or Indian religious tradition. Aside from these three uses of the name there were also numerous Indian pandits and siddhas with the name Rahula, Rahula Bhadra, Rahula Gupta, etc.

(See Tibetan Religious Art (two volumes). Loden Sherab Dagyab. Otto Harrassowitz (1978). Chapter 35, pages 94 to 98).

Jeff Watt 8-99 [updated 8-2017]