Arahants redefined, or not?

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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}
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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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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?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

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

tiltbillings wrote: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?
Yes these are the central questions and we can define these things according to the texts and teaching traditions. It may be helpful to do so here. When it comes to how and what we perceive I think the questions do not center here. For instance, on the one hand we have very accomplished monks who have been practicing for many long years and according to our teachings they should have become Arahants within seven of those years. So Arahants of this sort should therefore be quite abundant, even now. However, even the slightest expression of emotion or personality by some of these people is regarded as evidence of their still not having become Arahants. Is this really true? Is this an accurate interpretation of dispassion? And again, we have those who have practiced very well, who have profound insight and who are willing to express a complete openness about these processes and who are willing to bring much clarity to many things. But they can also often be difficult to accept as fully enlightened when their lives seem to overstep what we may think is possible for Arahants. According to the tradition, arahants cannot engage in worldly activities to the extent of maintaining marital relations, worldly employment and so on. So the challenge here is to make certain about what is sound doctrine and what is mere dogma and delusion.

I am inclining towards the thinking that this all comes down to how renunciation functions as a quality on the path to arahantship and how renunciation expresses itself after one is an arahant. If this can be made VERY CLEAR it will serve as a very good guideline to how we should interpret our perceptions of others, be they worldly or Noble.
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 cooran » Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:09 am

Hello Nathan,

nathan said: For instance, on the one hand we have very accomplished monks who have been practicing for many long years and according to our teachings they should have become Arahants within seven of those years.


Could you point out the Sutta where the Buddha taught this please?

metta
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

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

Chris wrote:Hello Nathan,

nathan said: For instance, on the one hand we have very accomplished monks who have been practicing for many long years and according to our teachings they should have become Arahants within seven of those years.


Could you point out the Sutta where the Buddha taught this please?

metta
Chris
Certainly. I take the following as the assurance of the Buddha that those who are diligent in this occupation will see the fruits of their labor. Note the use of the terms "any person".

Assurance of Attainment

"O bhikkhus, should any person maintain the Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge (arahantship) here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning (the Third Stage of Supramundane Fulfillment).

"O bhikkhus, let alone seven years. Should a person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in this manner, for six years... for five years... four years... three years... two years... one year, 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.

"O bhikkhus, let alone a year. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in the manner, for seven months, 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.

"O bhikkhus, let alone seven months. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for six months... five months... four months... three months... two months... one month... half-a-month, 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.

"O bhikkhus, let alone half-a-month. 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.

"Because of this was it said: '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."

Thus spoke the Blessed One. Satisfied, the bhikkhus approved of his words.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... wayof.html
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 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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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
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---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

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

Chris wrote: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
I don't think it is the time involved that is of particular concern so much as one's assurance that a committed practice will bear fruit in due course, that it will be efficacious work because it is work. "This manner" is clear and well outlined. It is elsewhere presented in great detail in many ways throughout the dhamma/vinaya. One may set to it immediately and without difficulty at any time. If one can maintain themselves in any manner, they can maintain themselves in this manner.

Yes, the culmination of this maintenance of right mindfulness in the Arahant fruition would be arrived at in one moment. That the process leading up to it would be especially brief is far more unlikely than would be the obtaining of a correct understanding of right practice and the establishment of right practice in short order. I do not think correctly understanding and maintaining the practice need be difficult at all. It proceeds with ease or with difficulty but it is like any work under various internal and external conditions in that sense.

Given all of the other things that people choose to commit to these days in contrast to the potential for a monk or recluse to simply and strictly do this work, there is little doubt that even a little progress will take a long time. In this context the expectation that realization would take only a moment is far more of a leap than the expectation that the development of insights and enlightenment qualities would progress very, very gradually. The Buddha speaks generally of a graduated process of development within whatever timeframes be these days or many lifetimes. Perhaps you can find some references this time if you wish to explore this gradual development process. The path process should be well distinguished from the initial moment of Arahant fruition. Whenever that moment occurs the same process precedes it.

My interest here is in focusing on how the qualities of purification and renunciation factor into this process of development both before that final fruition and after. It would be most beneficial to well understand how we are to practice for our purification and how we are to practice renunciation for our liberation. Then we will have a well founded understanding of how this developed or perfected purification and renunciation should manifest both internally and externally. I would like some help with making this clear in this thread. It would be better to find my thinking in agreement with the teachings, the learned in the dhamma and with other committed practitioners than to be found holding to some peculiar notions of purity and renunciation which are purely my own.
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

Greetings Nathan,

nathan wrote: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.


I agree with you - this is nonsense. All this is, is seeing things clearly (i.e. without ignorance) for a moment... the taints need to be uprooted totally otherwise there will be many moments in the future where one still has moments of delusion.

Metta,
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Re: Arahants redefined, or not?

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

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Nathan,

nathan wrote: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.


I agree with you - this is nonsense. All this is, is seeing things clearly (i.e. without ignorance) for a moment... the taints need to be uprooted totally otherwise there will be many moments in the future where one still has moments of delusion.

Metta,
Retro. :)
I was not trying to suggest nonsense but roughly indicate two polarities in thinking about our understanding of awakening and the awakened. Actually, I didn't write 'for a moment' but rather 'stages of doing away' with misperception and by implication the underlying degrees of ignorance. Characterizing this on the one hand as little more than entirely non-dualistic perception and the end of dualistic misconceptions and on the other hand as a restrictive inhuman stoicism were more like caricatures. A use of imagery for common polarities in our attitudes about awakening and the nature of the awakened. Sometimes the comments I read about how arahants are conceived of as being seem very much like cartoons to me. I might have attempted some more complex or accurate description but I would have to think long and hard about how to phrase the question in some sort of technically precise way and it is largely about attitudes and how our thinking about doctrine informs these. We must include what we know about human beings, even in a mundane sense to be rational as well. The two kinds of truths about our existence, the mundane wisdom and the supermundane wisdom are not in opposition but complements, understanding of both kinds is complete understanding.

What I was aiming at exploring is the process of purification and renunciation involved in leading to the perfection of wisdom equated with full self-liberation. So the real issue here is not so much perception as action in terms of the efficacy of intentions in leading up to the first fruition, from the point of first fruition through the stages of the path, prior to and in terms of it's resultant nature and the natural limits of functioning for the resultant conditions for intention after the full awakening. Clearly, intent as a quality of being is not gone in the awakened. They can think discursively and they can make choices and act. They are not robots with no motivation to live but what can they think or not, what can they feel or not and what might they do or not. These are the questions that surround our perceptions of those who we hope to be the accomplished among us, who can wisely advise us and it is important to me to understand how to recognize both their Noble awakened nature and their still common and mundane humanity. And to know the difference.

The questions here are not regarding the path to understanding but the path to purification and liberation in this sense. It is my sense here that there must be not only a liberation from mind and consciousness but also from feeling and senses so there are conditions for a full release from becoming. In understanding the nature of this release and the conditions which conform to this we should be able to understand the parameters of actions for a fully awakened one. Obviously there are many faculties beyond fully awakening. So there is confusion about how much ignorance remains and the nature of this ignorance. If we are looking for a model of perfection we have the Buddha but for those of lesser development we have lower expectations and it is in this respect that there is much confusion and disagreement.

So, I expect that from those with access to the commentaries and who are learned there should be some perspective on these questions. In the Tipitaka as variously accessible to us all there will also be much that can help us to understand correctly.
I see so many silly approaches to this subject in threads which are quite oblique to the key issues involved such as 'can Arahants cry', laugh or fart or whatever. People have very strong views about such trivia. What can we know that is important to know? Do people feel that these things should come down to a matter of personal opinion or are there clear and detailed doctrines we can explore. If there is no interest I tend to simply look into things more deeply for myself, but I find it odd that it is usually superficial investigations and misunderstandings which we have the energy to explore together.

It would be great to know exactly what is meant by "nothing more for this world" when you still have to brush your teeth every day.
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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