Teacher of arahats was a worldling

I stopped wondering years ago about who is enlightened because I think it is always motivated by tanha. What we can know about a teacher – beyond speculation- is whether they point to the present moment in a way that helps us to begin to insight such moments. The rest is wishful thinking. The Anguttara nikaya commentary tells the story of one teacher, after the Buddha’s time, who had many pupils all of whom attained arahatship. But he was still a wordling – not even a sotapanna. However, he understood the tipitaka very, very well; knew the letter and the meaning and so was a great teacher (Angutara nikaya Ekakanipata pali (the book of the ones) Nivaranapphahana-vagga (abandoning of hindrances) 6th sutta; about the Thera Gamantapabbharavasi mahasivatthera ). He lived at Yissa Mahavihara and 60,000 students became arahant. https://tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/s0401a.att2.xml
The commentaries explain that examples like this where a putthujana teacher helps his students to become ariya, it is like the Buddha was their teacher (because the putthujana teacher is using the Buddha’s words). Later he himself attained.

Thero ‘‘rāgacarito aya’’nti ñatvā asubhakammaṭṭhānaṃ kathesi. So uṭṭhāya pattacīvaraṃ aṃse laggetvā theraṃ punappunaṃ vandi. Kiṃ, āvuso, mahābhūti atirekanipaccakāraṃ dassesīti? Bhante, sace attano kiccaṃ kātuṃ sakkhissāmi, iccetaṃ kusalaṃ. No ce, idaṃ me pacchimadassananti! Gacchāvuso, mahābhūti tādisassa yuttayogassa kulaputtassa na jhānaṃ vā vipassanā vā maggo vā phalaṃ vā dullabhanti. So therassa kathaṃ sutvā nipaccakāraṃ dassetvā āgamanakāle vavatthāpitaṃ channaṃ sepaṇṇigacchamūlaṃ gantvā pallaṅkena nisinno asubhakammaṭṭhānaṃ pādakaṃ katvā vipassanaṃ paṭṭhapetvā arahatte patiṭṭhāya paccūsakāle uddesaṃ sampāpuṇi. Evarūpānaṃ ganthavasena vikkhambhitā kilesā tathā vikkhambhitāva honti.

Ekaccassa pana vuttanayeneva dhutaṅgāni pariharato kileso okāsaṃ na labhati, dhutaṅgavasena vikkhambhitova hoti. So taṃ tathā vikkhambhitameva katvā vivaṭṭetvā arahattaṃ gaṇhāti gāmantapabbhāravāsī mahāsīvatthero viya. Thero kira mahāgāme tissamahāvihāre vasanto tepiṭakaṃ atthavasena ca pāḷivasena ca aṭṭhārasa mahāgaṇe vāceti. Therassa ovāde ṭhatvā saṭṭhisahassa bhikkhū arahattaṃ pāpuṇiṃsu . Tesu eko bhikkhu attanā paṭividdhadhammaṃ ārabbha uppannasomanasso cintesi – ‘‘atthi nu kho idaṃ sukhaṃ amhākaṃ ācariyassā’’ti. So āvajjento therassa puthujjanabhāvaṃ ñatvā ‘‘ekenupāyena therassa saṃvegaṃ uppādessāmī’’ti attano vasanaṭṭhānato therassa santikaṃ gantvā vanditvā vattaṃ dassetvā nisīdi. Atha naṃ thero ‘‘kiṃ āgatosi, āvuso, piṇḍapātikā’’ti āha. ‘‘Sace me okāsaṃ karissatha, ekaṃ dhammapadaṃ gaṇhissāmī’’ti āgatosmi, bhanteti. Bahū, āvuso, gaṇhanti, tuyhaṃ okāso na bhavissatīti. So sabbesu rattidivasabhāgesu okāsaṃ alabhanto, ‘‘bhante, evaṃ okāse asati maraṇassa kathaṃ okāsaṃ labhissathā’’ti āha. Tadā thero cintesi – ‘‘nāyaṃ uddesatthāya āgato, mayhaṃ panesa saṃvegajananatthāya āgato’’ti. Sopi thero ‘‘bhikkhunā nāma, bhante, mādisena bhavitabba’’nti vatvā theraṃ vanditvā maṇivaṇṇe ākāse uppatitvā agamāsi.

  1. Aṭṭhame ārambhadhātūādīsu ārambhadhātu nāma paṭhamārambhavīriyaṃ. Nikkamadhātu nāma kosajjato nikkhantattā tato balavataraṃ. Parakkamadhātu nāma paraṃ paraṃ ṭhānaṃ akkamanato tatopi balavataraṃ. Aṭṭhakathāyaṃ pana ‘‘ārambho cetaso kāmānaṃ panūdanāya, nikkamo cetaso palighugghāṭanāya, parakkamo cetaso bandhanacchedanāyā’’ti vatvā ‘‘tīhi petehi adhimattavīriyameva kathita’’nti vuttaṃ.

Āraddhavīriyassāti paripuṇṇavīriyassa ceva paggahitavīriyassa ca. Tattha catudosāpagataṃ vīriyaṃ āraddhanti veditabbaṃ. Na ca atilīnaṃ hoti, na ca atipaggahitaṃ, na ca ajjhattaṃ saṃkhittaṃ, na ca bahiddhā vikkhittaṃ. Tadetaṃ duvidhaṃ hoti – kāyikaṃ, cetasikañca. Tattha ‘‘idha bhikkhu divasaṃ caṅkamena nisajjāya āvaraṇīyehi dhammehi cittaṃ parisodhetī’’ti (vibha. 519) evaṃ rattidivasassa pañca koṭṭhāse kāyena ghaṭentassa vāyamantassa kāyikavīriyaṃ veditabbaṃ. ‘‘Na tāvāhaṃ ito leṇā nikkhamissāmi, yāva me na anupādāya āsavehi cittaṃ vimuccatī’’ti evaṃ okāsaparicchedena vā, ‘‘na tāvāhaṃ imaṃ pallaṅkaṃ bhindissāmī’’ti evaṃ nisajjādiparicchedena vā mānasaṃ bandhitvā ghaṭentassa vāyamantassa cetasikavīriyaṃ veditabbaṃ. Tadubhayampi idha vaṭṭati. Duvidhenāpi hi iminā vīriyena āraddhavīriyassa anuppannañceva thinamiddhaṃ nuppajjati, uppannañca thinamiddhaṃ pahīyati milakkhatissattherassa viya, gāmantapabbhāravāsimahāsīvattherassa viya, pītimallakattherassa viya, kuṭumbiyaputtatissattherassa viya ca. Etesu hi purimā tayo aññe ca evarūpā kāyikavīriyena āraddhavīriyā, kuṭumbiyaputtatissatthero aññe ca evarūpā cetasikavīriyena āraddhavīriyā, uccāvālukavāsī mahānāgatthero pana dvīhipi vīriyehi āraddhavīriyova. Thero kira ekaṃ sattāhaṃ caṅkamati, ekaṃ tiṭṭhati, ekaṃ nisīdati, ekaṃ nipajjati. Mahātherassa ekairiyāpathopi asappāyo nāma natthi, catutthe sattāhe vipassanaṃ vaḍḍhetvā arahatte patiṭṭhāsi.

Apica cha dhammā thinamiddhassa pahānāya saṃvattanti – atibhojane nimittaggāho, iriyāpathasamparivattanatā, ālokasaññāmanasikāro, abbhokāsavāso, kalyāṇamittatā, sappāyakathāti. Āharahatthaka-bhuttavamitaka-tatravaṭṭaka-alaṃsāṭaka-kākamāsaka-brāhmaṇādayo viya bhojanaṃ bhuñjitvā rattiṭṭhānadivāṭṭhāne nisinnassa hi samaṇadhammaṃ karoto thinamiddhaṃ mahāhatthī viya ottharantaṃ āgacchati, catupañcaālopaokāsaṃ pana ṭhapetvā pānīyaṃ pivitvā yāpanasīlassa bhikkhuno taṃ na hotīti evaṃ atibhojane nimittaṃ gaṇhantassāpi thinamiddhaṃ pahīyati. Yasmiṃ iriyāpathe thinamiddhaṃ okkamati, tato aññaṃ parivattentassāpi, rattiṃ candālokadīpālokaukkāloke divā sūriyālokaṃ manasikarontassāpi , abbhokāse vasantassāpi, mahākassapattherasadise pahīnathinamiddhe kalyāṇamitte sevantassāpi thinamiddhaṃ pahīyati, ṭhānanisajjādīsu dhutaṅganissitasappāyakathāyapi pahīyati. Tena vuttaṃ – ‘‘cha dhammā thinamiddhassa pahānāya saṃvattantī’’ti.