"Arhat" is a Sanskrit word with three meanings:
(1) Killer of thieves--Arhats are really ferocious! Wherever there are bandits, they kill them. "Well," you ask, "isn't that violating the precepts?" No. The thieves the Arhats kill are not thieves outside themselves. The thieves they kill are the inner thieves of affliction. Why is it that there are thieves outside? It is because the thieves of affliction, that is, greed, hatred, and stupidity, are inside. Greed is a thief, hatred is a thief, and stupidity is a thief. These are the thieves you have to kill.
(2) Worthy of offerings--Arhats should receive the offerings of heavenly beings and human beings. An arhat is an enlightened sage who has certified to the fruition. If we make offerings to an arhat, we will attain limitless and boundless blessings which are beyond reckoning. Being a bhikshu is the cause of becoming an arhat; one becomes an arhat as a result of having been a bhikshu. So, on the causal ground, bhikshus "destroy evil," and in the fruition, they "kill thieves." On the causal ground, they are said to be "mendicants," and in the fruition, they are said to be "worthy of offerings." On the causal ground, they "frighten Mara," and in the fruition they are "without birth."
(3) "Without birth" means having ended birth and death, that is, having ended the sufferings of birth and death. The arhat has only ended "sectional birth and death"1, but not "transformation birth and death"2. So he is still an arhat. By cultivating precepts, you accomplish the study of morality. By maintaining purity in action and stillness, you accomplish the study of samadhi. By cultivating the Four True Paths3, you accomplish the study of wisdom. When precepts, samadhi and wisdom are cultivated to perfection, greed, hatred and stupidity are destroyed. Thereupon you accomplish the fruition of arhatship.
There are four stages of arhatship: arhats of the first fruition, arhats of the second fruition, arhats of third fruition and arhats of the fourth fruition. One who is certified to the fourth fruition of arhatship has genuinely ended birth and death.
Now in America, I want to create living Buddhas, living Bodhisattvas and living arhats. Whoever can get rid of desire and cut off love will have a share in it. Whoever can't get rid of desire and cut off love is a person who is good for nothing. There's no way to help him. Everything is created by the mind alone. It depends on which way your mind wants to go. People who cultivate the Way should have an ambition as firm and unshakable as a person who supports the sky with his head while planting his feet on the ground. Their determination should be strong enough to pound nails and cut through iron. Only then can they cultivate the Way.