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Nobody will Know

August 24, 2013

Q: What is the strangest thing about attaining to Aharant?

The Arahant: The aloneness of it. Arahantship is completely internal. You can attain the greatest thing a human being can reach, but nobody will know and nobody will care. The world remains exactly the same as it was—for them; while for you, literally everything has changed.

When people attain external things, like becoming President or winning an Academy Award, many people know, and many people care. But because it is impermanent, in a few days it is all forgotten. But when you attain something really wonderful, like eternal liberation from becoming, there is no awards ceremony, no cheering crowd.

In fact, if you announce it you will make so many enemies. People who don’t even know you will accuse you of fraud, and even those who know you may be indifferent. You yourself may feel diffident, uncertain about whether you have really achieved. In the Buddha’s time, a social infrastructure existed in the Sangha to confirm new Arahants’ attainment and help them deal with the profound changes in their reality. Nowadays, all that is gone. Unless you happen to know some other Arahants, you are on your own.

Then again, it’s possible that people have attained to Arahant without knowing. It’s very subtle, and a new Arahant may simply think he had another realization, one of many on the Eightfold Noble Path. And there is much about the Arahant’s life that doesn’t change:

“You say that the Arahant feels only one kind of feeling; physical feeling but not mental feeling. How can this be so? [After attaining] the Arahant [does not die, but] keeps going by means of his body. Has he then no power over his body? Even a bird is the ruler over the nest in which it dwells.”

“O king, there are ten conditions inherent in the body over which even the Arahant has no control: cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement, urine, fatigue, old age, disease and death. Just as all beings live on the great earth depend on it but have no control over it, so the Arahant depends on his body but has no control over it.”

“Why, Nāgasena, does the ordinary man feel both bodily and mental feeling?”

“Because of the untrained state of his mind. Like a hungry ox tied up by a weak grass rope would easily break free, so an ordinary man’s mind becomes agitated by pain, so he feels mental pain [dukkha] too. However, the Arahant’s mind is well trained, so when his body is affected by pain he fixes his mind firmly on the idea of impermanence. His mind is not agitated and he feels no mental pain, just as the trunk of a great tree is unmoved by the wind although its branches may sway.” — Questions of King Milinda, 157

An Arahant still retains his individuality and unique characteristics, he still makes mistakes and has limited knowledge as before. He does not automatically acquire superhuman powers, and may not even be an expert meditator. After all, the concentration required to reach insight is light compared to the deepest samadhi. So without deep philosophical knowledge it is quite possible to miss even one’s own attainment of Arahant, what to speak of someone else’s. I would guess that it has happened many times. The fondest wish of most Arahants is simply to remain serenely at their ease.

“When a monk dwells with restraint over the faculty of the intellect, the mind is not stained with ideas cognizable via the intellect. When the mind is not stained, there is joy. There being joy, there is rapture. There being rapture, there is serenity. There being serenity, he dwells in ease. The mind of one at ease becomes centered. When the mind is centered, phenomena (dhammas) become manifest. When phenomena are manifest, one is classed simply as one who dwells in heedfulness. This is how one dwells in heedfulness.” — Pamadaviharin Sutta (SN 35.97)

It is not very often that an Arahant will take striking external actions. In fact, the motivation for such actions is almost entirely absent in an Arahant. More likely, he will become a gentle but unwavering influence for enlightenment in the people around him. Others may not even notice the change in him unless they too are realized.

Thus all too often, especially in these dark days, the presence of an Arahant is noticed only after his passing, in his notes and other writings, or when his effect on those around him is removed. Remember, the nature of Arahantship is not the presence of something, but the absence of the disease of ego. Left to himself, at his ease, the Arahant is scarcely even present in this world. He has penetrated to the root of emptiness and is established in non-becoming, not in the external world of being and phenomena.

From → Q&A

  1. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    Is this the email to send questions to:

    the (dot) arahant (dot) 108 (at) gmail (dot) com

    Kind regards

    • Better to post them here as comments, but if you want more privacy then it’s OK to use the email. May you be happy and safe!

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