Although it is hardly mentioned, there is a very serious spiritual division in the world of Buddhism. While the public assumes such a division is between those who elect to become monks or nuns and the non-monastic followers of the Buddha, the actual division is a spiritual one.
This particular spiritual division is between those who are aryan, oftentimes translated ‘noble’ as in noble disciple (P., ariya-savaka, trans. noble disciple) and the prithagjana (P., puthujjana), translated as ordinary or run-of-the-mill person.
To digress a little, some of the confusion between the noble and the ordinary person lies, I speculate, with the problem of rendering Sanskrit or Pali into equivalent English. To say the least, something gets missed in the translation—and this something is substantial. What the English should hint at is the difference between aryan and prithagjana is akin to saying of this group it is the chosen ones and the other, the damned.
When we consider the real meaning of aryan, perhaps the simplest way to explain the depth of the spiritual division is the aryan or ariya-savako, in Pali, realizes that their self is not anyone of the Five Aggregates. In other words, they don’t identify with form or shape, feelings, perceptions, habitual tendencies, or even consciousness. This is evident from the following:
“But monks, an instructed disciple [ariya-savako] of the pure ones...regards material shape as: ‘This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self;’ he regards feeling as: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self;’ he regards perception as: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self;’ he regards the habitual tendencies as: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self;’ he regards consciousness as: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ And also he regards whatever is see, heard, sensed, cognised, reached, looked for, pondered by the mind as: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’” (M. i. 136).
Again, from another canonical source.
“There is the case, monk, where a well-instructed disciple [ariya-savako] of the noble ones—who has regard for nobles ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma—does not assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He does not assume feeling to be the self... does not assume perception to be the self... does not assume fabrications to be the self... He does not assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness” (M. iii. 18).
These passages are unambiguous: the aryan’s self is not the Five Aggregates.
Turning now to the prithagjana or in Pali, puthujjana, they deeply believe they are the Five Aggregates—this is their self, in other words.
“In the same way, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person [puthujjana] regards form as: 'This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.' He regards feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness as: 'This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.' If he walks, he walks right around these five clinging-aggregates. If he stands, he stands right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he sits, he sits right next to these five clinging-aggregates. If he lies down, he lies down right next to these five clinging-aggregates. Thus one should reflect on one's mind with every moment: 'For a long time has this mind been defiled by passion, aversion, & delusion.' From the defilement of the mind are beings defiled. From the purification of the mind are beings purified” (S. iii. 151).
Least we are of the opinion that this spiritual division is not substantial, no prithagjana or ordinary person has ever won enlightenment. So long as they believe that their self is the Five Aggregates they are doomed and forever fixed to the wheel of samsara. Until one knows a hundred percent that their self is not the Five Aggregates, they are not even included in the Triple Gem Sangha!
This brings up an interesting thought. If I know that my self is not anyone of the Five Aggregates, isn’t the doctrine of no self, frankly, implausible? Surely, one can’t argue that not identifying with the Five Aggregates means one has no self! Holding on to this thought, that the aryan is not aggregated, it can only mean that the aryan is, intrinsically, what the Five Aggregates are not which is logically the self! This is as good as checkmate concerning sects which claim the Buddha categorically denied the self or atma.