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Beyond Enlightenment

August 15, 2013

Q: So now you have attained to Arahant. Is that it? Is there anything beyond?

The Arahant: Oh yes, certainly. It’s not the end of the game by a long shot. In fact, I am very humbled by the fact that I perceive myself only now for the first time to be fully alive.

Q: What could be beyond enlightenment?

The Arahant: Let’s back up for a minute. What is enlightenment? It can’t really be described in words, but it is possible to say what it is not. It’s not a state of ‘consciousness’ or ‘being’, nor an ‘experience’, nor a kind of ‘self’ or ‘identity’. In fact all those things are conspicuous by their absence.

An individual becomes an Arahant by a certain insight that removes the unnatural cankers of ego and so on, but leaves all his faculties perfectly intact. That insight has to do with the exact nature of the subject/object dichotomy, and the ontology of actual Being. That’s about all that can be said about it; you just have to work for it and experience it for yourself.

Meditation or jhāna is an important precondition of attaining to Arahant, but is neither its cause nor effect. In fact, too deep concentration is an obstacle to attaining Arahant, which usually occurs during the first jhāna or shortly after coming out of meditation. But practice of jhāna gives you the ontological point of view from which you can attain that insight. The insight itself occurs in less than a second, and it changes you permanently. Once you have seen, you cannot un-see it.

As far as the benefits of becoming Arahant, one gets full access to all one’s faculties, everything that it means to be a human being. In other words, I have complete confidence that, barring physical and temporal limitations, I could learn to do anything that any human being can do. If I had an interest, I could learn nuclear physics or become a world-class athlete, if there was sufficient time and the physical state of my body permitted it. And I have full freedom and control over what kind of body I will take in my next life. In other words, the highest perfection of mystic yoga.

Now of all the benefits to attaining Arahant, in my opinion this one is the most beneficial and profound. The type of embodiment one attains in the next life is determined by the state of being at the moment of death. And the attributes of that embodiment more or less determine what your experience in that life will be. If you look at the various possible embodiments, they go all the way from hell-beings to the stage of Brahmā and beyond, to the Buddha-worlds.

Given the choice, why in the world would anyone want to reappear in the realm of conditioned, fabricated ‘being’? Certainly, one would rather appear in the Buddha-worlds, the pure abodes beyond the Brahmā-loka. Or better, not appear at all but remain in a state of non-manifestation in the formless realms. All these choices are available to the Arahant.

The main determinant of one’s birth in these higher worlds is the type of jhāna cultivated during one’s life and specifically at the time of death. Those who are absorbed in the first two jhānas reappear in worlds that are still destroyed by pralāya at the end of the mahā-kalpa; those in the next six jhānas attain progressively higher worlds, until finally those in neither-perception-nor-non-perception, the highest jhāna, attain the formless worlds.

The best place to appear is the Suddhāvāsa or Buddha-worlds, which although they display form, are distinct from the other worlds of the Rūpadhātu (worlds of form) in that they do not contain beings who have been born there through ordinary merit or meditative attainments. There are only those Non-returners who are already on the path to Arhat-hood and who will attain enlightenment there without being reborn in a lower plane.

Unlike the lower worlds, the Śuddhāvāsa worlds are never destroyed by pralāya. The Suddhāvāsa devas are instrumental in the appearances of the Buddhas. They can travel among any of the worlds at will. Just like on the human level, an Arahant can become anything that is possible for any human; similarly on a higher level, he can enter into any of the worlds or manifest any possible state of being.

So there is a lot more to do after attaining to Arahant. It is not the end of the game; actually it is just the beginning, the price of the ticket to the really interesting places.

From → Q&A

  1. dhamma123 permalink

    Upon attaining Awakening, one can enter Nibbana or Suddhāvāsa- is this correct? How often did the Buddha mention the Buddha Worlds in his Suttas? Finally, how does one know they have abolished the fetters (one of them or any of them)? Thank you.

    • Thank you for your questions. The Arahant replies: “An Arahant can go anywhere he desires. Those of lesser attainment are more restricted in their options. We are not literalists; the frequency a subject is mentioned is unrelated to its importance. That has to be established by analysis. Finally, how do you know when you are hungry? It’s a simple matter of observation.”

    • That being said, the term suddhāvāsa appears only three times in all the Suttas: in Mahāsamayasuttaṃ (DN 20.1) para. 1, Samayasuttaṃ (SN 1.37), para. 1, and brahmalokasuttaṃ (SN 6.6), para. 1. — Ed.

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