The Arahant: Parent and Child

Q: You often say that Buddhism is not a religion. What do you mean by that?

A: Don’t misquote me! ‘Buddhism’ [makes finger quotes] is certainly a religion; the problem is, it has little to do with the Buddha’s original teaching. I make a sharp distinction between the original teaching and the various derivative religious teachings. They can’t be compared at all. Continue reading The Arahant: Parent and Child


The Arahant: Paradox of Teaching

Q: “Those who know don’t teach,” and the corollary: “Those who teach don’t know.” This comes from Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu; what do you think?

A: It’s true, and this is the essential paradox of teaching. When you know, when you come to realization, you can clearly see that Nibbāna is impossible to express in words or any other way. So how to teach it? It cannot be taught; it can only be learned and experienced for oneself. Therefore if a person wants to teach or be taught enlightenment, it means they are already a failure because it cannot be taught. So if I am realized and I know this, then why would I agree to be a teacher and accept students? Continue reading The Arahant: Paradox of Teaching

The Arahant: Confirmation

Q: Reader David asks, “What gave confirmation that this monk is indeed an Arahant?”

A: By nature this is a deep matter that is not accessible to everyone. Even knowing the criteria, anyone who is not himself an Arahant can easily make a mistake. Therefore the best confirmation is from another Arahant. But of course, that may lead to a regression, ‘How do you know that person is an Arahant?’ and so on. Continue reading The Arahant: Confirmation

The Arahant: How do you Feel?

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.

The Arahant: What is ‘Buddhism’?

Q: What is Buddhism?

A: [laughs] That depends on whom you ask. From my point of view, the Buddha’s teaching is real. It is absolute reality recorded in the Theravāda Suttas. Yes, there might be a little interpolation or editing here and there, but by and large, it’s reliable. Then there is our practice, our realization of the Buddha’s teaching. That is also real—absolute reality if we are successful. Continue reading The Arahant: What is ‘Buddhism’?

The Arahant: No Systems!

Q: I was reading about Mahāsi Sayādaw’s system of meditation…

A: No ‘systems’! No system invented after the fact can hold the Dhamma. The Buddha’s teaching is too big to fit in any system; human nature is too varied to fit in any system. At best you may find that the experience of certain types of people fit, more or less, some pattern. Then what about the others? Will you chop the Buddha’s teaching into pieces, take what you like, and throw the rest away? But this is going on. Continue reading The Arahant: No Systems!

New Series: ‘The Arahant’

‘The Arahant’ is a very senior Sri Lankan monk, one of my mentors. He is one of the very few with sufficient intelligence and command of the English language to discuss high philosophical topics without lapsing into doctrinaire clichés. He explains the reasons for this below, so I only need to touch on it here.

While the Arahant gave me permission to take notes during our discussions, he specifically forbade me to disclose his identity. The reason he gave was that his frank criticism of the Lankan Sāsana (the Saṅgha) had already caused him so much trouble, and as he is now quite old and frail, he doesn’t need any more. But I suspect that his humility may also have something do with it.  Continue reading New Series: ‘The Arahant’