It is funny moving between different Buddhist circles and hearing the disciples declare that their teacher is an arahant, while at the same time implying that the others are not (I know this from the Thai forest tradition, where the Ajahns apparently hold that in Burma there are no arahants -- is this just nationalism or...?). Interestingly, even though it is an offence for a monk to declare oneself publicly (to laypeople) an arahant, there is an exception in the Vinaya where the Buddha says that if laypeople out of excessive devotion invite the monks saying, "May the venerables, may the arahants come to my house," it is okay to accept such an invitation. This shows that often people will use a word like "arahant" simply to express their devotion, without having any means of knowing where that person is actually at.
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)
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