Ordinary disciples, who constitute the majority of disciples, while devoted to the Buddha and his teaching and while having planted seeds for future liberation, have not yet irreversibly entered the path to emancipation and are still subject to infinite rebirths.
In the traditional Pali commentaries, the Pali term "ariya-sāvaka" is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)". Accordingly Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones" 
However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:
broadly: any lay disciple (Pāli: upasaka, upasika) of the Buddha;
narrowly: one who is at least on the path to enlightenment (Pāli: sotāpatti maggattha). In this sense, "ordinary people" (puthujjana) can be contrasted with this narrow definition of "noble disciple" (ariya-sāvaka).
The canon occasionally references the "four pairs" and "eight types" of disciples. This refers to disciples who have achieved one of the four stages of enlightenment:
For each of these stages, there is a "pair" of possible disciples: one who is on the stage's path (Pāli: magga); the other who has achieved its fruit (Pāli: phala). Thus, each stage represents a "pair" of individuals: the path traveler (Pāli: maggattha) and the fruit achiever (Pāli: phalattha). Hence, the community of disciples is said to be composed of four pairs or eight types of individuals (Pāli: cattāri purisayugāni attha purisapuggalā).
In the Pali canon, the Buddha often contrasts the "instructed disciple of the Noble Ones" (Pāli: sutavā ariya-sāvaka) with the "uninstructed worlding" (Pāli: assutavā puthujjana). For instance, in the "Sabbasava Sutta," the Buddha states:
The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma — discerns what ideas are fit for attention and what ideas are unfit for attention.
In the "Etadaggavagga" ("These are the Foremost Chapter," AN 1.14), the Buddha identifies 80 different categories for his "foremost" (Pāli: agga) disciples: 47 categories for monks, 13 for nuns, ten for laymen and ten for laywomen. Some of these categories and the associated disciples are identified in the table below.
The Buddha's Foremost Disciples (Based on AN 1.14)
In addition, in SN 17.23, SN 17.24 and AN 4.18.6, the Buddha identifies four pairs of disciples "who have no compare" and who should thus be emulated. These four pairs are a subset of the 80 foremost disciples identified in the aforementioned sutta AN 1.14. These four pairs of disciples to be most emulated are:
In Buddhism, there are two traditional communities (Pāli: sangha):
The "community of monks" (Pāli: bhikkhu-sangha or sammati-sangha) refers to a community of four or more monks. (See the article on "Sangha" for more information.)
The "community of disciples" (Pāli: sāvaka-sangha or ariya-sangha) refers to the community of monks, nuns, and male and female layfollowers, especially those who are on the path to enlightenment.
For an example of a traditional stock reference to the sāvaka-sangha in the Pali canon, in "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3), the Buddha advises his monks that, if they experience fear, they can recollect the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha; and, in recollecting the Sangha they should recall:
'The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples [sāvaka-sangha] is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals....'
A similar phrase can also be found in the lay disciple's daily chant, "Sangha Vandanā" ("Salutation to the Sangha").
According to Je Tsongkhapa (founder of the Tibetan Gelug School):
"The Sutra on the Ten Levels says that those who have cultivated these ten [virtuous practices, i.e. not killing, not stealing, not lying etc.] through fear of cyclic existence and without [great] compassion, but following the words of others, will achieve the fruit of a Śrāvaka."
↑See, for instance, PTS (1921-25), p. 707, entry for "Sāvaka.", which identifies the etymological root of "sāvaka" to be śru. In Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xvii, Bhikkhu Bodhi provides a seemingly different derivation, stating that "sāvaka" comes from sāveti, meaning "to declare," and refers either to one declaring the Buddha as their teacher or to one to whom the Dhamma has been declared.
↑At times, in the Nikayas, depending on the context, sāvaka can also refer to a disciple of a teacher other than the Buddha (Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi, 2003, p. xvii).
↑Following the Buddha's teaching includes understanding the Four Noble Truths, ridding oneself of the unreality of the phenomenal, and pursuing nibbana. See, for instance, the Anguttara Nikaya's second "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.126) (Thanissaro, 2006b) when, taken in consideration of the first "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.125) (Thanissaro, 2006a), a disciple is described as one who "regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness [see Skandha], as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [compare Three marks of existence]."
↑Acharya (2002), pp. 100-101. (On-line, see the "Glossary" entry for āriya..) Also see Webu & Bischoff (1995); and, Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xxi-xxiii.
↑See, for example, Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), passim.
↑Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xviii-xix.
↑See the entry for "ariya" in Pali Text Society Pali-English dictionary, and Pali commentaries: Itivuttaka-Atthakatha 2.73, Ekanipata-Atthakatha 1.63, Patisambhidamagga-Atthakatha 1.167, Sammohavinodani-Atthakatha 119, Nettippakarana-Atthakatha Mya:112.
↑See the translation of Kalama sutta by Soma Thera  and Thanissaro Bhikkhu . In the Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Kalama sutta the term "noble disciple" is used instead.
↑Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. 379, n. 4.
↑Ibid., pp. xviii-xix. Also see, Nyanatiloka (1952)'s entry for "sāvaka" where he states:
"sāvaka: ... refers, in a restricted sense (then mostly ariya-sāvaka, 'noble disciple'), only to the 8 kinds of noble disciples (ariya-puggala, q.v.)." [Italics added.]
↑See, for instance, "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3) (Bodhi, 2000, p. 320) as well as Nyanatiloka (1952), entries for "ariya-puggala" ("noble ones") and "sāvaka".
↑In regards to disciples achieving arahantship, Bodhi (2005), p. 226, states:
In principle the entire practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to people from any mode of life, monastic or lay, and the Buddha confirms that many among his lay followers were accomplished in the Dhamma and had attained the first three of the four stages of awakening, up to nonreturning (anāgāmi; Theravāda commentators say that lay followers can also attain the fourth stage, arahantship, but they do so either on the verge of death or after attainment immediately seek the going forth [that is, homelessness, associated with becoming a monastic]).
↑Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xix-xxi; and, Prayudh (1986).
↑Nyanatiloka (1980), in his entry for "ariya-puggala," further references the Visuddhimagga, Ch. XXI, verse 73, for a "sevenfold grouping" of noble disciples who have achieved stream-entry as follows: the faith-devotee (Pāli: saddhānusārī); the faith-liberated one (Pāli: saddhā-vimutta); the body-witness (Pāli: kāya-sakkhī); the both-ways-liberated one (Pāli: ubhato-bhāga-vimutta); the Dhamma-devotee (Pāli: dhammānusārī); the vision-attainer (Pāli: ditthippatta); and, the wisdom-liberated one (Pāli: paññā-vimutta). For more detailed information, see Buddhaghosa & Nanamoli (1999), pp. 680 (§ 66), 682-83 (§§ 74-78).
↑See, for instance, Bodhi (2005), pp. 21ff. See also Thanissaro (1997).
↑The number of foremost disciple categories is evident from scanning Uppalavanna (n.d.-b) as well as mentioned in Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xxiii.
While the disciples identified with these categories are declared to be the Buddha's "foremost" or "chief" (Pāli: agga), this is different than his "Foremost" or "Chief Disciples" (Pāli: aggasavaka) who are consistently identified solely as Sariputta and Mahamoggallana. In this article, in order to avoid confusion regarding this use of the Pāli word agga, the aggasavakas will be referred to as "Chief Disciples" while those disciples simply referred to as being agga will be called "foremost" disciples.
Prayudh Payutto (1986). Sangha: The Ideal World Community. A lecture delivered in January 2529/1986 at the Fourth International Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, held at Buddha's Light Vihara, Bangkok. Available on-line at: http://www.saigon.com/~anson/ebud/ebdha062.htm.