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Experience of an Arahant

August 9, 2013

Q: What is your experience of being an Arahant? How is it different from before you attained?

The Arahant: In one way, it’s nothing. Nothing changes externally. But one’s point of view, or way of looking at things changes completely. So it changes everything in one’s world. I attained fairly recently, so I am still going through the stage of noticing how different things are. The experience of attaining to Arahant takes less than a second, but in that brief time the whole universe turns inside-out. You go from being the effect of the whole universe to being its cause.

Q: Does that mean you experience yourself as God?

The Arahant: [laughs] Heavens, no. There is no ‘self’, no ‘god’ and no ‘experience’. We invent all of that when we create an ‘I’, a ‘self’. Nor is there an objective reality; we create what we call the ‘universe’ by the way we look at perception. I know this is difficult, but there’s no other way to explain it that truly does it justice.

Let me go back in time, to a couple of years before I attained. Like most people, I assumed the existence of a ‘self’, an ‘I’. In my case, I was a very scholarly, philosophically-inclined monk. I not only read a lot, but also authored big thick books on philosophy, consciousness and meditation. I thought I was pretty smart, at least compared to the general run of people. But actually I was still a puthujjana, because I had not really understood the Buddha’s teaching.

That started to change when I met the forest monks. There were some who could hardly read, but could meditate rings around me. I started to realize that knowledge isn’t everything; in fact, it can be misleading. If you don’t practice, you’ll wind up with knowledge but no realization. If you practice well you’ll get both, because you’ll experience the truth directly, just like the Buddha did.

Once I started practicing nicely, I attained to Arahant in less than a year. Of course I was well-prepared with knowledge, and also had a large store of good kamma from all the offerings and other ritual practices I had done as a novice monk. Still, when I hear about Zen monks, in particular, meditating for decades without attaining enlightenment, I always wonder, ‘What are they doing?’

We are fortunate in the Theravāda tradition to have the best and most complete version of the Buddha’s teaching. That’s not to say the Theravāda Suttas are perfect, but they seem more powerful in actual practice. Once someone from our line makes up their mind to attain enlightenment, it goes pretty fast. The key is making that unshakable determination: ‘I will attain no matter what.’

I was very surprised when I attained that I lost all taste for scholarly research and discussion, which had been among my favorite things before. Similarly I also lost taste for teaching or any kind of leadership. Now I am quite content with remaining secluded and obscure. My inner state is rather indescribable, except to say it is beautiful and very satisfying. There is no effort, no struggle.

This is actually a very hard question. These things are very difficult to describe; words are hardly adequate to give a sense of the inner life on an Arahant.

“Not determining or fabricating, not intending ‘being’ or ‘nonbeing’, he does not cling to anything in the world.” — Dhātuvibhaṅga Sutta (MN 140)

Thus an Arahant has gone beyond all conceiving (maññāna), beyond conceiving subjectivity. He has ‘faded out’ (vivajja); ‘I am’ has faded out.

“The monk does not conceive anything, he does not conceive anywhere, he does not conceive by anything.” — Sappurisa Sutta (MN 113)

These Suttas are rarely quoted, for the reason that they are too difficult to understand. But the state of the Arahant is the most important thing to understand about the Buddha’s teaching, because it is the cessation of suffering, and that is the aim of the Buddha’s teaching.

From → Q&A

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