[These monks] have already eliminated all the impurities and are further without the mental afflictions. They have gained benefits for themselves and have eliminated all fetters [tying them] to existence; their minds have been set free. (1)
These are the great arhats, the ultimate fruition of those who study [the way of] the buddhas. [Their state] is called "the fourth fruition." There are buddha arhats. (2)
[Dogen comments]: The impurities" [in this passage] refers to broken ladles missing their handles. Although they have been used for a long time, that they are "already eliminated" means that the whole body of the ladle leaps out. "They have gained benefits for themselves" means that they go in and out of the tops of their heads. "Eliminated all fetters [tying them] to existence" means that nothing has ever been concealed anywhere in the realms of the ten directions. The state in which "their minds have been set free," you should strive to understand as "in a high place, it is high and level; in a low place, it is low and level." For this reason, there are walls, tiles, and pebbles. "Free" means that their minds are manifestations of their full and unfettered capacity to function. "Are further without the mental afflictions" refers to mental afflictions that have not yet arisen; it means that mental afflictions are prevented by mental afflictions. (3)
The arhat's paranormal powers, wisdom, meditation, preaching of the dharma, guidance, emitting of light, and such, cannot be on the same level as those discussed by the non-Buddhists and Mara. Discussion of seeing a hundred buddha worlds, and the like, must never be equated with the views of the common person. This is the principle that "just when you think the foreigner's beard is red, there is a red-bearded foreigner." Entering nirvana is for the arhat the action of entering his or her own fist. For this reason, it is called "the wondrous mind of nirvana"; it is "not a place to which one escapes." The arhat who enters his or her own nostrils is considered a true arhat; there has never been an arhat who has not gone in and out of his or her own nostrils. (4)
1 From Chapter 1 of the Lotus Sutra.
"These monks" refers to the 12,000 "great monks," designated arhats, who had gathered around Shakyamuni when he was about to preach the Lotus Sutra.
2 "The fourth fruition": I.e., the last of the "four fruits," or stages of fruition, into which the arhat path is traditionally divided: stream-enterer, once-returner, never-returner, and arhat.
While the term "arhat" is often applied to the buddha, the term "buddha arhat" seems to have been coined by Dogen.
3 "Broken ladles missing their handles" signifies something useless.
"In a high place, it is high and level; in a low place, it is low and level": quoting words spoken by the Chan master Yangshan Huiji to Guishan Lingyou.
4 "Seeing a hundred buddha worlds": Doubtless a reference to discussions in the Buddhist literature of how many realms are seen by the paranormal vision respectively of arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and buddhas.