Q: Can you give some details on your physical, mental and emotional condition? Especially compared with before you attained to Arahant?
A: Physically, I feel very good, considering my age. [mid-60s — Ed.] I have no chronic diseases, aches and pains, that sort of thing. I do get a little stiff if I sit for a long time. But I rarely get colds: maybe once in 2-3 years. I have the energy of a person half my age. I love to walk, but other than a little yoga, not much interest in exercise.
Before I became a monk, my intimate partners were usually much younger. Emotionally, I am also much younger than my chronological age. Old people are boring! They become encrusted with so many fabrications. The suffering due to old age is mostly our own doing. I used to worry so much about everything; now, not at all. I feel comfortable in my body, confident about the future. I’m not at all afraid of death.
I have no enemies—not even the people who hate me. I wish them well. May they find peace and happiness! There’s no one in the world I would want to see suffer or die. Rather, my intention is to offer them the Buddha’s path. Of course, it’s up to them to take it.
I feel happy, but it’s not the kind of nervous, fearful happiness I used to feel now and then. That feeling has a good deal of fear in it, because deep down I knew it was temporary, based on fabrication. The happiness I feel now is steady, based on confidence that at any time I can sit down, take a few breaths and be in the rapture of jhāna. That wholesome feeling pervades my whole body and energy. It’s going on beneath the surface, even when I’m doing something other than meditating.
Q: How much do you meditate?
A: On a typical day, 3-6 hours of actual sitting. I do walking meditation between sitting sessions, so it’s actually more than that.
Q: How would you describe your mental state?
A: It’s hard to describe. I think I quoted this Sutta the other day:
“So it is with an Arahant whose mental effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis. Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of Arahantship, on attaining Arahantship that particular desire is allayed. Whatever persistence he first had for the attainment of Arahantship, on attaining Arahantship that particular persistence is allayed. Whatever intent he first had for the attainment of Arahantship, on attaining Arahantship that particular intent is allayed. Whatever discrimination he first had for the attainment of Arahantship, on attaining Arahantship that particular discrimination is allayed.” — Brahmana Sutta (SN 51.15)
So everything that I thought before, particularly with regard to spiritual advancement and attainment of Arahantship, is now gone. There has been a very subtle shift in my perception of the subject/object duality. I now can see directly that the ‘world’ and ‘experience’ are actually a projection, a fabrication reflected by the mind and senses. It’s not ‘real’ in the sense of objective reality. It’s a fabrication that will end when the body and senses are finished. In the meantime, in meditation I can enter any of the higher jhānas such as Perception and Non-perception, and ‘experience’ as we usually know it, stops. It’s still there somewhere, but I don’t have to take it in.
Desire is also fundamentally different. I can directly see that desire or craving (tanha) leads to suffering. Every peak is followed by a valley, every day by night. Similarly every kind of enjoyment is followed by suffering, except for jhāna. Objects appear desirable because we block out the inevitable future; we only see the immediate possibility of enjoyment, and forget the consequences. But kamma [karma — Ed.] is real, and the vehicle of kamma is our own mind. So immediately whenever we fabricate desire, we also condition suffering, dukkha. Especially mental suffering, which is the most pernicious kind.
I would say the biggest difference in being an Arahant is the disappearance of mental suffering. Not the complete disappearance—because we still can suffer, but it is deliberate, such as trying to express our mental state in mere words. [laughs] We fabricate, but it is deliberate, and done with full awareness and intention. Then the fabrication is given up as soon as the need for it is finished.