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Arahants redefined, or not? - Dhamma Wheel

Arahants redefined, or not?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
nathan
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Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:41 am

Many very sincere lay people are under the impression that Arahants are extremely rare or else extinct these days and then there are those who think otherwise. Within the buddhist community there are two basic divisions of thought on the subject of those who are awakened. Those who think it should not be made known and not discussed and those who do. It is not hard to find those who consider the discussion of fruition taboo, they predominate. Those who do not are in the minority and among these there are only a handful who are willing to speak of fruitions and an even smaller group who will speak of themselves as arahants.

If you examine what some of these few publicly self-declared arahants have to say about what an arahant is and is not it tends to harmonize very well with current philosophical thinking on non-dualism which has become fairly widely accepted these days within many buddhist and other circles. On the other hand it does not harmonize well with classical Theravada conceptualizations of the Arahant or of full awakening. I have a good sense of what these non-dualistic, "after awakening, the laundry" folks think about the traditional views of the nature of the arahant and I am interested to hear what very experienced and very well versed Theravada practitioners and particularly longstanding monastics would have to say in response.

On the one hand I have no problems with non-dualism per se but on the other hand it does not seem to be a form of insight which is particularly dependent on dhamma as a whole at all. While I can see this being an aspect of awakening I cannot see how the more full sort of liberation or the kind of complete transformation detailed in the abandoning of all of the taints can simply be dispensed with as mistaken. The sort of awakening described by these kinds of 'fully awakened people' seems relatively mundane in comparison. There may be accretions of irrelevant concepts here and there within Theravada but on something as important as this kind of definition of the nature of arahantship I find it difficult to accept that the traditional understanding regarding the taints can simply be set aside in favor of stages of doing away with an internal perception of duality and little else. Perhaps it is so and perhaps not, it is certainly a POV that is slowly rising to the foreground. I think that those who think otherwise had better put together a clear and coherent response to this in a way which is at least as reasonable and insightful as that of those who pose these challenges or I else think this will inevitably become the predominant view of the nature of full awakening, at least in the west.

For those who do not know of any examples of this other perspective, have a look in this forum.
http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com/

I am curious how these challenges to traditional conceptions of the arahant would be answered from within a mature Theravada outlook. I am not at all interested in reading any negative personal comments about any of these people so please restrict this to the ideas involved and do not make any targeted comments about anyone in particular.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

nathan
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:07 pm

I'm not sure how to interpret the silence here so far except that perhaps my questions have been unclear.

I am all for sound reasoning in conformity with the teachings. The clarity and precision in the prosaic language of our times has done a lot to foster that. But I also think that the urge to reinvent or reform things, even dhamma, is more the expression of a restless age which can let nothing be than it can be the product of awakened minds who both realize and acknowledge timeless truths.

I suppose the Arahant issues can be looked at in many ways. Expectations regarding Bhikkhu Arahants should probably be a little different from expectations regarding Lay Arahants. It may be that some of the conceptualizations of the taints in the Buddha's lifetime were a bit different from the way we conceptualize the same terms today. But we should be able to sort some of this out to a fair extent. On the one hand I am all for a more clear understanding of just what is abandoned and what is not as the four Noble Paths unfold. On the other hand I am not for a completely secularized dhamma which omits important elements of the teachings, the practices and the fruitions.


Probably, for me, all of this questioning of the nature of fully awakened beings hinges on the question of what is and isn't an expression of Disillusionment, Dispassion and Renunciation.


In the sutta's we see some very austere and stoic portrayals of the personalities or characters of Arahants. Portrayals sometimes so unflinching that they can appear almost inhuman. In our own times we may encounter those who claim to be or are said to be fully awakened who can at times seem almost unaltered in terms of how very human and even flawed their behavior may appear and how fully involved in the world they can seem to be.

There must be a reasonable outlook that includes room for the kinds of diversity of accomplishments apart from full awakening that are also particular to the capacities and qualities of the fully awakened. There must also be a reasonable outlook that includes room for the kinds of diversity in the conditions remaining in the life and being of one who is fully awakened. At the same time there must be a consistently correct understanding of just how qualities of disillusionment, dispassion and renunciation which is complete and comprehensive would be operative in the beings of and expressed in the lives of the fully awakened. If we find we are unwilling to allow for the ongoing humanity of the still living and fully awakened then I feel we do everyone a disservice and if we either knowingly or unknowingly misrepresent what the qualities of disillusionment, dispassion and renunciation actually are and how these actually function, then we are misleading ourselves as well.

There are some kinds of absolute difference or distinction which should demarcate the fully awakened from the worldly. Even if these differences are in many respects untraceable, where there is a meeting with the world and with the worldly we should be able to note some kinds of observable distinctions in body, speech and mind. It is very difficult to determine the range of how these inner changes might find external expression but there must be some sort of common and consistent characteristics that we can make more clear in our own minds than we often seem to have done at present.

In working towards any goal it is best for us if we can have appropriate aims and expectations which neither fall short of nor overshoot the real goal which in this case is simply Full Awakening. It seems entirely reasonable that the fully awakened, although having no false identifications and delusional impulses with regards to their qualities and functions, still have many remaining qualities and functions. Feelings and thoughts continue even if a number of the responses to these have ended. If there is a change in psycho-emotional makeup, it is not the complete extinction of thoughts and emotion but a change in the makeup of thoughts and emotions, in how these functions are experienced and in how these faculties are employed by the awakened.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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tiltbillings
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:19 pm

Non-dualism is a funny thing. I personally think it is not something one should in step in, because then one will track it all over, stinking up the place. Also, there is nothing more dualistic than someone going on about non-dualism.

More importantly to this thread, an experience of what one might think is non-dual can lead to all sorts of assumptions about what one experienced and about one's level of attainment.

So, the questions are, I think, what is awakening, who has it and how do we know?

nathan
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:46 pm

But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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cooran
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby cooran » Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:09 am

---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

nathan
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:05 am

But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

nathan
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Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 3:11 am

Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:22 am

I suppose I could have been more precise about some of the differences in degree of fruition but still it is said that there will be those who will know the final fruition. I would like to focus less here on the full awakening directly and the insights involved in the path to wisdom and focus more on what we understand of other important parts of the process connected with virtue, sense desire, etc.. Basicly, how we conceive of renunciation, our expectations of how it should be practiced and what aspects of this renuncation is a natural result of the path as opposed to that which is a practice of the path. We do not well understand any of the options available to the Arahant when practice and living have become so fully aligned.
One may say they are free to turn left or right at the crossroads while another may say they are compelled to only turn right, etc..

"This is the only way, O bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Arousings of Mindfulness."

Often, in discussions about what Arahants are and are not there are very strong views arising from our conceptions of "the purification of beings" and what this entails. This and "the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief" have much to do with our conceptions regarding the makeup and behavior of the fully awakened.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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cooran
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby cooran » Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:38 am

Hello Nathan,

Thank you. I don't think there is anywhere else in the Canon where the Buddha seems to talk specifically about Time.

I think the clue is in the words "in this manner" - which refers back to the whole of the preceding Sutta. MN 10. The fact that the Buddha goes down in a sequence to "Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for a week, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning."

~~~ so ... it is not an easy thing to do, and this would seem to mean that very few can maintain practice "in this manner" for even two weeks.

And, of course, the Sutta really means that Time doesn't come into it .... for those who extinguish the Three Poisons by practising in the proper manner, Liberation takes just a second.

metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

nathan
Posts: 692
Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 3:11 am

Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Fri Feb 20, 2009 4:12 am

But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 20, 2009 4:23 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

nathan
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

Postby nathan » Fri Feb 20, 2009 8:38 am

But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}


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