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The Absurdity of the Question

August 28, 2013

Q: What would you answer if someone asked you bluntly: “Are you enlightened?” or “Are you an Arahant?”

The Arahant: I would laugh, because the question itself is absurd. Enlightenment or Arahant-ness depends on the absence of something—sankhārā, fabrication—not the presence of something. Therefore it’s absurd to talk about ‘being’ enlightened or an Arahant, because the state of Arahant-ness is beyond ‘being’ and ‘non-being’.

Q: Then what would be a valid question along the same lines?

The Arahant: Let me respond by pointing out what the Buddha said under similar circumstances.

Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “If one were to ask, ‘Which are the fabrications, and whose are the fabrications?’ and if one were to say, ‘Fabrications are one thing, and these fabrications are something else or someone else’s,’ both of them would have the same meaning, even though their words would differ. When there is the view that the life-principle is the same as the body, there is no leading the holy life. And when there is the view that the life-principle is one thing and the body another, there is no leading the holy life. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata points out the Dhamma in between: From ignorance as requisite condition come fabrications. Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, every one of these writhings & wrigglings & wigglings — ‘Which aging & death? And whose is this aging & death?’ or ‘Is aging & death one thing, and is this the aging & death of someone/something else?’ or ‘The soul is the same as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another’ — are abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.” — Avijjapaccaya Sutta (SN 12.35)

Both ‘being’ and ‘non-being’ are fabrications—extreme views conditioned by our ignorance of actual unconditioned Being.

“Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle:

  • From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.
  • From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.
  • From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.
  • From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.
  • From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.
  • From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.
  • From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.
  • From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.
  • From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming.
  • From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.
  • From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.
  • “Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications.
  • From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness.
  • From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form.
  • From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media.
  • From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact.
  • From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling.
  • From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving.
  • From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/ sustenance.
  • From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming.
  • From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth.
  • From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease.

Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — Acela Sutta (SN 12.17)

So to say either ‘I am an Arahant’ or ‘I am not an Arahant’ are both extreme views conditioned by the dichotomy of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’. To ask whether someone is or is not an Arahant is similarly absurd, an invalid question.

Q: Then what would be a valid question?

The Arahant: “Can you help me to attain to Arahant?”

Q: And what would be the answer then?

The Arahant: Yes! Providing you follow the Buddha’s instructions.

From → Q&A

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