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The sixteen arhats are the sages of Buddhism they are the monks who have attained enlightenment through the teachings of the Buddha and are now freed from the cycles of suffering and rebirth In early monastic or Theravada Buddhism the arhats were the major disciples of Shakyamuni and served as patriarchs of the sangha or monastic community after the death of the Buddha Among his numerous disciples sixteen were chosen by the Buddha and entrusted with the task of protecting and preserving his teachings until the coming of the next Buddha Maitreya Thus the arhats remain alive indefinitely and reside with their numerous disciples in their reclusive abodes or paradises Tucci p555 The sixteen arhats protect also the four quarters together with the four guardian kings who watch over the four cardinal directions As a result the sixteen arhats are invariably depicted in paintings as a set with the historical Buddha in the center Included also in the paintings are Shakyamunis two best disciples Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana Hvashang and Dharmatala and the four lokapalas Hvashang and Dharmatala are laypersons who became the two religious supporters of the arhats Although the two supporters are sometimes included amongst the ranks of the arhats making a list of seventeen or eighteen they should be differentiated from the group of arhats who were all monks These two figures are most probably later additions as they are not mentioned in the original lists of arhats from India nor in the list from Atisha As uniquely Tibetan additions Dharmatala and Hvashang are also not included in the Chinese set of eighteen Tucci pp556-558 Representations of the arhats can be found quite commonly in Tibetan monasteries and they can be presented in various manners For example they can be depicted all together within one painting or in sets of paintings where they appear as single central figures or they can be portrayed in groups of just four or more within a single
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