What is a Great Disciple? (Part 3)

Ordinary Disciples

Within the disciples of the Buddha, there is a division between two kinds of disciples: the ordinary disciples and the noble disciples.  As Bhikkhu Bodhi states, “The differences that divide them do not pertain to outward form and mode of life but to inward spiritual stature.”[1] This stature can be described when we consider the relationship between a given disciple and Nibbāna, the unconditioned state, the complete release from samsāra or the round of rebirths.

The ordinary disciple, although sincere in their practice and commitment to the Buddha, is still a worldling.  Their release from samsāra is not yet assured, whether it is in this lifetime or any number of lifetimes.  They have not yet “seen the Dhamma for themselves, nor eliminated the mental fetters, nor entered irreversibly upon the path to final emancipation.”[2] They are practitioners in form, but not in substance.  The seeds of Dhamma are planted, but have yet to sprout.


One benefit of practice is that it can bring us back down to earth, in the sense of making us realize how ordinary we all are and how beautiful it is that we share in that ordinariness – from the spiritual greats in our history to the person who picks up your trash every week.  We all share in something, or share qualities that upon notice break down our sense of difference.  But, it is not like we all notice this and practice this, even if we tell it to ourselves or write about it as a comment to a blog post like this.

The discussion developed above about ordinary disciples is a different sense of ‘ordinary’.  And when talked about in such a dry way, it makes it sound judgmental – although description should not be discarded because it sometimes sounds judgmental.

What I would say about ordinary disciples like those talked about above is that they are just those of us who practice and assimilate the words, but have yet to put it into practice.  And perhaps we put it into practice in some parts of our lives but not others.  We have turned the entire dirt lot into a garden, but not all of the seeds have taken yet.  And some will not take and will need to be discarded and replanted.  Perhaps it is not all or nothing, in this sense.

[1] Great Disciples, p. XVII.

[2] Great Disciples, p. XVIII.

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