The Arahant: How Do You Know?

Q: How do you know when you are enlightened? How did you know?

A: [laughs] The details are different for everyone. Each meditator is unique. The general symptoms are given in the Suttas: they follow the Precepts! But the trouble is, no one believes it because to meet someone like that anymore is very rare. The Buddha said:

“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)

These are important indicators. It takes some time to verify that one has attained to Arahant. It helps if there are other Arahants around who can confirm it. Still, if you are really an Arahant, you become certain of it in time. Actually, in these talks as well as your practice, we should not focus on the question of being an Arahant, but the method of attaining Arahantship. That will be much more helpful.

People are clinging to ‘being’; but being, in the sense of false ego, is the source of all their problems. There is the body, the identity, the ‘self’, consciousness and experience, and these are all sources of suffering, dukkha. We must be able to let go of all these clingings. The Buddha said:

“He gets attached to form, clings to form, and determines it to be ‘my self.’ He gets attached to feeling, clings to feeling, and determines it to be ‘my self.’ He gets attached to perception, clings to perception, and determines it to be ‘my self.’ He gets attached to fabrications, clings to fabrications, and determines them to be ‘my self.’ He gets attached to consciousness, clings to consciousness, and determines it to be ‘my self.’ These five clinging-aggregates — attached to, clung to — lead to his long-term loss and suffering.

“Now, the well-instructed, disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed and disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed and 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, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He does not assume perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perceptions. He does not assume fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. 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.

… “These five clinging-aggregates — not attached to, not clung to — lead to his long-term happiness and well-being.” — Yamaka Sutta (SN 22.85)

If you can just follow this one instruction—or any of the insight instructions of the Buddha—perfectly and completely, you will attain to Arahantship. At this point, people usually ask, “How?” I tell them, “I can’t tell you. It’s like asking, ‘How do I like something?’ The very question is absurd. Look. It’s your mind, so you can figure out how to get it to follow this instruction.”

But people go on asking these impossible questions because they are lazy; they want their teacher to do the hard work of bringing their own mind under control. Only you can do that work. And you must do that work, or the mind will continue to cause you trouble until you do. This is the Buddha’s teaching.

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Published by

Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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