Self-immolation: Equanimity?

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Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Jechbi » Sat Oct 03, 2009 5:42 am

Not to gum up the beautiful Daily Dhamma Drops thread, I'm putting this here. Today's post caught my eye for this image:
Bhikkhu_Samahita wrote:Image
Power of Equanimity: Not much agitation, wavering or panic here!

At the time, David Halberstam wrote in The New York Times:
David Halberstam wrote:I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.

Later, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:The Venerable Thich Quang Duc awakened a whole population by his act of sacrifice. Many westerners did not understand the meaning of the act, and think of it as violent. On the contrary, it was a manifestation of his willingness to suffer for the sake of the enlightenment of people. In its essence it does not differ from the act of Christ in his death on the Cross. Accepting the most extreme suffering of his body, Thich Quang Duc burned himself and in so doing created the fire of consciousness and compassion in the hearts of people.

In Mahayana Buddhism, I understand that there's some sense of tradition to support this kind of act, as recounted here from the Lotus Sutra.

I'm awe-struck by the act, and it does indeed seem to be a demonstration of astonishing equanimity, in the sense of being equanimous with the sensations of searing pain and the reality of the end of this lifetime. I find it hard to believe that it is wholesome kamma to kill oneself in this way, though, even if the act demonstrates a high degree of equanimity, and even if it is done for what might be regarded as a worthy cause. Obviously there are different perspectives about this. I'm curious to hear how one would justify this act from a Theravada perspective.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 03, 2009 6:01 am

Hi Jechbi
Thanks for raising this subject. Actually, I too was thinking of Venerable Thich Quang Duc's act today.
To be honest with you, while I revere Venerable, his self-immolation is an act that I have trouble reconciling. Whether, as you said, killing oneself in that way is wholesome and, whether Venerable's equanimity was genuine or was based on deeper and subtle aversion.
And being mere putthujanas and without knowledge of the state of mind of Venerable, it might be hard to really do anything other than rationalise the act according to our own predelictions. But its worth having a go.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Individual » Sat Oct 03, 2009 6:10 pm

I am not troubled at all by Thich Quang Duc's actions when you look at the broad scope of things. It helped to end oppression of Buddhists in Vietnam and helped to inspire countless people in the power of the Dhamma. I think that this mitigates the fact that suicide is generally a selfish act and that many misguided people copied him. Lastly, it's the intent that matters, and it seems doubtful that his intent was anything but noble. However, what he did was a unique case and it's really not relevant to most people. Nobody here ought to condone self-immolation for the sake of political protest or whatever else, since more compassion can be carried out through living.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Jechbi » Sat Oct 03, 2009 9:21 pm

Thanks, Individual and Ben. For the sake of discussion, another citation from Daily Dhamma Drops. If we regard the Venerable's act of self-immolation as a form of speech (and it does seem as if he was trying to communicate to a mass audience through this public act), then I wonder how it stacks up against the Buddha's own standards for skillful speech:
Bhikkhu_Samahita wrote:Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be untrue and incorrect,
disadvantageous, and which also is unwelcome and disagreeable to
others, that he does not speak. (No need at all...)

Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be true and correct, yet
still disadvantageous, and which also is unwelcome and disagreeable
to others, that neither does he speak. (No advantage for listener!)

Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
and also advantageous, yet still unwelcome & disagreeable to others,
that speech the Perfect One waits for the right time to speak!
(Correct constructive critique should fall, when it does not hurt!)

Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be untrue and incorrect,
disadvantageous, but pleasing, agreeable and welcome to others,
that he does neither speak. (Empty and false flatter is all out...)

Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
but disadvantageous, though pleasing, agreeable & welcome to others,
that he does not speak. (No speech, when no advantage for listener!)

Such speech as the Perfect One knows to be both true and correct,
advantageous, and also pleasing, agreeable and welcome, that speech
the Perfect One knows and picks the exact right time to speak.
(Making well timed maximum impact of advantage for listener!)

MN 58

The question is, who is the listener? If the whole world is watching (to use the language of the Vietnam War era), it's kind of hard to do something like this in a manner that mitigates the effects on those for whom it is disadvantageous.

Of course this is irrelevant if one does not accept the notion that a public demonstration might constitute a form of speech.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Dan74 » Sun Oct 04, 2009 12:52 pm

My first retreat was at the Quan Duc Temple in Fawkner, so I have a kind of a connection with this story. It terms of the resolve and equanimity displayed by Ven Quan Duc, it continues to nourish and inspire me in practice.

In terms of Theravada justification, I can only think of Jataka tales. Wasn't there one where the Buddha-to-be sacrifices his body for the emaciated tigress and her cubs?

But I agree with other posters - I do not feel qualified to judge Ven Quan Duc. If anything, I prostrate myself before his selfless action.

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Jechbi » Sun Oct 04, 2009 4:04 pm

Dan74 wrote:In terms of Theravada justification, I can only think of Jataka tales. Wasn't there one where the Buddha-to-be sacrifices his body for the emaciated tigress and her cubs?
I think there's another one where, as a monkey king, he uses his body to save his subjects. Maybe it's a recurring theme.
Dan74 wrote:I do not feel qualified to judge Ven Quan Duc. If anything, I prostrate myself before his selfless action.
Good point.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Individual » Sun Oct 04, 2009 4:59 pm

Dan74 wrote:In terms of Theravada justification, I can only think of Jataka tales

In the suttas, there are the cases of Channa and Vakkali:
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/suicide.html

Not identical, but similar cases.

That article above should also have references in it on the various cases where suicide is condemned in the suttas.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 04, 2009 8:59 pm

In the case of Channa there was no blame because he was an Arahant at the point of death. http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ada-e.html So if Venerable Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant then there is no blame.

Besides, the case of Venerable Thich Quang Duc is different from the suicide cases in the Suttas, such as Channa's, because he didn't kill himself to end bodily suffering, but for selfless reasons.

Here's an old E-Sangha thread that might be useful: http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index. ... topic=4622

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby fivebells » Sun Oct 04, 2009 9:16 pm

Does blame ever enter into questions of Dhamma?
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 04, 2009 9:21 pm

fivebells wrote:Does blame ever enter into questions of Dhamma?

Here: http://telescopes.stardate.org/research/cosmic_rulers/ the translation is "blame", in a quote from Horner's translation:
For whoso, Saariputta, lays down one body and takes up another body, of him I say "He is to blame." But it is not so with the brother Channa. Without reproach was the knife used by the brother Channa.

My recollection is that Bhikkhu Bodhi uses "blame", but I don't have the volume with me right now.
Here: http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ada-e.html the translation is "fault".
Sāriputta, if someone gives up this body and seizes another, I say it is a fault. In the bhikkhu that fault is not apparent. Bhikkhu Channa took his life faultlessly.”

I.e. for an Arahant there is no "fault" because he will not be reborn. Take "fault" or "blame" as you will, but certainly the Buddha often says what is the correct and incorrect thing to do (if one wants liberation).

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Individual » Sun Oct 04, 2009 11:48 pm

mikenz66 wrote:In the case of Channa there was no blame because he was an Arahant at the point of death. http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ada-e.html So if Venerable Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant then there is no blame.

That's a pretty silly categorization, which seems similar to the Mahayana view, "Bodhisattvas can do whatever they want (ethically speaking)".

When you say, "Because he was an Arahant," we should clarify what that means. There is no self. And it's not because he was affiliated with a specific sect or merely an honorific title. To be an Arahant is to have perfectly clear insight into the way things are and, as a result, to be free from the ebb and flow of cause & effect, to not be reborn in this life as much as the next.

It's really a flaw of humanity to always have to pin things down into neat little categories to avoid thinking for ourselves. A situation like Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation might make us ask, "Is this justified or not?" There's really no yes or no answer. You could say that Arahants are always blameless, no matter what they do, but then how is this different from saying that Tibetan Lamas can use drugs, engage in financial or sexual or emotional exploitation, merely because they are "Living Buddhas"? The truth is that, because there is no self, there are no Arahants, Buddhas, etc., but merely the mental faculties that can be cultivated and are then labeled as "a special person" by those with lesser insight. But since that something special is not the person at all, it is completely misguided to think, "That person is special. He can commit suicide and face no consequence as a result."
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby BlackBird » Mon Oct 05, 2009 12:49 am

Individual wrote:There is no self.


Hi Individual, could you please expand on that?

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Oct 05, 2009 1:08 am

Greetings,

The argument I have heard from the Mahayana perspective is that self-immolation can be justified also in the context of a monk who is becoming old and difficult to sustain, who would rather get on with the next life in which the bodhisattva activities can be more fruitfully performed.

Or that was how I interpreted what they were saying, anyway... and it's not related to the Thich Quang Duc incident, but would also necessitate strong equanimity.

Metta,
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 05, 2009 3:49 am

Individual wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:In the case of Channa there was no blame because he was an Arahant at the point of death. http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ada-e.html So if Venerable Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant then there is no blame.

That's a pretty silly categorization, which seems similar to the Mahayana view, "Bodhisattvas can do whatever they want (ethically speaking)".

I see it as the opposite. I took the Theravada view to be that that it is impossible for an Arahant to intentionally do harm, so that has nothing to do with your characterisation of justifications of actions of certain Mahayana Bodhisattvas. The point here is that an Arahant has "done what has to be done" so he will not be reborn if he ends the current life. Suicide for a non-Arahant will presumably lead to the hell realms, (though, come to think of it, as I read it a Stream Enterer cannot be reborn below the human realm).

Of course I've no idea of the status of Venerable Thich Quang Duc. I was merely discussing how the Channa case might apply to a similar situation. And, in any case, as I pointed out, in Channa's case the motivation is very different. As I understand it Venerable Thich Quang Duc did not end his life because he was sick, but out of compassion for his countrymen.

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:24 am

Hi Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:
Individual wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:In the case of Channa there was no blame because he was an Arahant at the point of death. http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ada-e.html So if Venerable Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant then there is no blame.

That's a pretty silly categorization, which seems similar to the Mahayana view, "Bodhisattvas can do whatever they want (ethically speaking)".

I see it as the opposite. I took the Theravada view to be that that it is impossible for an Arahant to intentionally do harm, so that has nothing to do with your characterisation of justifications of actions of certain Mahayana Bodhisattvas. The point here is that an Arahant has "done what has to be done" so he will not be reborn if he ends the current life. Suicide for a non-Arahant will presumably lead to the hell realms, (though, come to think of it, as I read it a Stream Enterer cannot be reborn below the human realm).

Exactly as I read it.


mikenz66 wrote:Of course I've no idea of the status of Venerable Thich Quang Duc. I was merely discussing how the Channa case might apply to a similar situation. And, in any case, as I pointed out, in Channa's case the motivation is very different. As I understand it Venerable Thich Quang Duc did not end his life because he was sick, but out of compassion for his countrymen.


I mentioned earlier that I hesitate to say that Venerable's act was one imbued with equanimity. It could be just as likely that his act may have been spawned from subtle aversion towards the social and political situation he was in. And so, I also hesitate to say that he was motivated out of compassion for his countrymen. No doubt he possessed a lot of very admirable qualities,but whether those qualities were present in abundance at time of death - that's something that i am having diddiculty reconciling.
metta

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Individual » Mon Oct 05, 2009 7:51 am

BlackBird wrote:
Individual wrote:There is no self.


Hi Individual, could you please expand on that?

Metta
Jack

Was that a serious question? I don't think it was, but still, I thought I should ask.

mikenz66 wrote:I see it as the opposite. I took the Theravada view to be that that it is impossible for an Arahant to intentionally do harm, so that has nothing to do with your characterisation of justifications of actions of certain Mahayana Bodhisattvas. The point here is that an Arahant has "done what has to be done" so he will not be reborn if he ends the current life. Suicide for a non-Arahant will presumably lead to the hell realms, (though, come to think of it, as I read it a Stream Enterer cannot be reborn below the human realm).

Do you take Theravada views for granted? If you defend one view on the basis of referencing another and another, I'm not sure where to begin. I could try to be thoughtful and say something, and then you could repeat the Theravada POV, regardless of what's consistent or intelligent.

My point is that being there is no self, the idea of distinguishing here:
  • What Arahants can do
  • What non-Arahants can do

...doesn't make any sense. You're distinguishing the two, but the key distinction between them -- personhood -- has no reality upon which to base itself.

It's the same type of reasoning used to justify all sorts of terrible behaviors by religious authorities.

You say that an Arahant is incapable of committing harm. But you'd also say that killing, including suicide, is harm. Well, if an Arahant can't commit suicide, again, why is this not harm? If he carries it out, how is it not the same as any other suicide?

"Because he's an Arahant" isn't an answer. Do you follow?

Maybe an analogy would be more clear: Let's say that I say that a man named Chuck Norris can knock down tall buildings using only his fists. You might think that's absurd and ask me how that's possible. I might respond, as you did: "Because he's Chuck Norris." Because that's who he is. He's Chuck Norris. But then that doesn't answer the question because I'm referencing merely his personhood, not what exactly it is that allows such a thing to occur. What exactly is it about Chuck Norris that allows such a thing to be possible?

I might elaborate, "Because Chuck Norris is an invincible, unstoppable power in the universe". This, though, leaves you even more baffled... As equally baffled as defending Arahants' freedom to do whatever they want, because they're enlightened.

If you simply say, "Because it's him", you're appealing to a sense of authority, or in this case, an appeal to mysticism, without really justifying it -- without explaining in useful, meaningful terms, because of what you know from your experiences. If you talk about enlightenment, you're just describing an aspect of their personhood vaguely that you probably know virtually nothing about anyway and without really getting at what it is about the act itself that isn't the same.

mikenz66 wrote:Of course I've no idea of the status of Venerable Thich Quang Duc.

Yet you expressed your opinion: If he's an Arahant, he's OK. If he's not an Arahant, he goes to Hell.

While I agree with that, let's be a bit more clear... An Arahant is what they are because of wisdom, not something arbitrary like being a popular Theravadin monk or being on a list in a Theravada scripture, or whatever else.

Because of that, it's not simply that his personhood -- an irrelevant social construct -- that's the justification there. It's because his suicide was of a radically different nature than any mundane suicide by a non-Arahant. That is, he was actually thinking about what he was doing. Whereas other suicides are spontaneous and irrational, the result of craving, people who are subject to cause & effect because of ignorance, and so on, the Arahant's clear vision of the way things are allowed him to see the results of his deeds and his action was because of non-craving.

But then there's really no need to get hung up on the word "Arahant" or blinded by moral absolutism. A person who lies to a Nazi to hide Jews, who steals to feed the hungry, who kills to protect freedom, and so on, a person who violates these basic precepts, against lying, stealing, and killing, is not necessarily always subject to the same result or a negative result.

So, I think it's a bit silly to have to say: Either Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant and faced no consequence, or he was not and went to hell.

Instead, based on the Buddha's teachings, look at the intent and look at the result of it. If his intent was noble and the results for humanity were so wonderful, how could he go to hell, even if he's not an Arahant? Just because that's the rules of Theravada Buddhism that you read in a book somewhere? Come on.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 05, 2009 9:08 am

Individual wrote:So, I think it's a bit silly to have to say: Either Thich Quang Duc was an Arahant and faced no consequence, or he was not and went to hell.

I wasn't, I was trying to clarify what the Suttas and Commentary have to say, and how it might apply to this situation.
Individual wrote:Instead, based on the Buddha's teachings, look at the intent and look at the result of it. If his intent was noble and the results for humanity were so wonderful, how could he go to hell, even if he's not an Arahant? Just because that's the rules of Theravada Buddhism that you read in a book somewhere? Come on.

So there's no point in trying to understand the Suttas if they seem to contradict the way you'd like things to be?

I don't know how to resolve the difficult dilemmas that actions such as the Venerable's immolation pose. There are various ways in which one can approach this problem. One is to analyse it against the Buddha's teachings, which is what I was doing.

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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby BlackBird » Mon Oct 05, 2009 7:05 pm

Individual wrote:
BlackBird wrote:
Individual wrote:There is no self.


Hi Individual, could you please expand on that?

Metta
Jack

Was that a serious question? I don't think it was, but still, I thought I should ask.



Yes, it was. Pardon me for being so ignorant, but I can't recall coming across a passage in the Canon where it states that:
Individual wrote:There is no self.


I see plenty of passages relating to the doctrine of Anatta, but then Anatta is more commonly translated as "not self" because of the implications of refering to the doctrine of Anatta as "no self." Hence the question asking you to clarify your position.

MN 2: Sabbasava Sutta
"As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress."

- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#ayoniso (Than)

An alternative translation:
"Or doubts arise about the self in the present : ßAm I, or am I not? What am I? How am I ? From where did this being come, where will it go?' To whoever thinking unwisely in this manner, one of these six views arises: To him a view arises perfect and clear, `I have a self.' Or, `I have no self.' Or, `with the self I know the self.' Or, `with the self I know the no-self.' Or, `with no-self I know the no-self.' Or this view arises to him: `This my self which speaks and feels and experiences the results of good and bad actions done here and there; it is permanent and eternal and would not change.' Bhikkhus, this is called the soul view, the thicket of speculations, the wilderness of speculations, the bond of views. O! Bhikkhus, the ordinary man bound by these views is not released from birth, decay, death, sorrow, lament, unpleasantness, displeasure, and distress. He is not released from unpleasantness, I say."

- http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/ ... ta-e1.html

But more importantly, the point I wish to stress, and I may be getting a head of myself here, but never the less.

MN 22: Alagaddupama Sutta
23. "You may well accept, monks, the assumption of a self-theory from the acceptance of which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. (But) do you see, monks, any such assumption of a self-theory?" — "No, Lord." — "Well, monks, I, too, do not see any such assumption of a self-theory from the acceptance of which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair."

24. "You may well rely, monks, on any supporting (argument) for views from the reliance on which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair. (But) do you see, monks, any such supporting (argument) for views?" — "No, Lord." — "Well, monks, I, too, do not see any such supporting (argument) for views from the reliance on which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair."

- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... .html#n-27

In the notes to this Sutta, Ven. Nyanaponika states:
They form the theoretical or ideological basis, or support, for the various creeds and speculative doctrines derived from them. Sub-Comy: "The view itself is a support for views; because for one with incorrect conceptions, the view will serve as a prop for his firm adherence to, and the propagation of, his ideas."


Despite what it may seem, I have no desire for an argument/debate. My point is this: "no self" can quite easily become just another subtle form of self view (an extreme example would be rebirth-deniers). From what I've read, the Buddha has advocated distance from such views, not holding on to the raft for the purpose of conjecture, nor for debate, lest one find oneself back up upon that 'near shore'.

Metta
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 06, 2009 1:09 am

Nevermind.
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Re: Self-immolation: Equanimity?

Postby Clueless Git » Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:36 am

mikenz66 wrote:
That's a pretty silly categorization, which seems similar to the Mahayana view, "Bodhisattvas can do whatever they want (ethically speaking)".

I see it as the opposite. I took the Theravada view to be that that it is impossible for an Arahant to intentionally do harm ...

Metta
Mike

From my limited personal reading (Bikkhu Nanamoli(sp?) and TNH almost exclusively) that is my understanding too.

Kinda like that by definition one does not become a true Aharant untill all the roots of behaviours that could be harmfull have been removed.

Somewhere in Bikkhu Nanamoli's book "The Life of the Buddha" the full characteristics of an Aharant are cited. The only one I can actualy remember is 'the ability to see contradiction and paradox'. If anyone knows a link to respected texts that cover that then it would be most appreciated.
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