Subject: Where is an arahant?
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2001 04:37:44 -0800 (PST)
From: Ananda Ekaputera (NTU Buddhist Society)
Dear Bro. Piya,
I'm Ananda from NTUBS and we are very glad to hear your talks last two Sundays. Anyway....I have a question regarding an arahant. Last time in Buddhist Library I read a thick book about Dhutanga practice by Ven. Ajahn Mun the great. It is said that one of the student, Ajahn Chob (if I'm not wrong), was approached by an arahant who later gave him a speech.
My question is, I thought an arahant should be not in this cycle of Realm of Existence, so how can an
Arahant communicate with a being?
Thank you very much.
I Think Therefore I Am
Firstly, I feel delighted to be able to teach Dharma during the period mentioned, and to see that the NTUBS members are serious about and capable of studying deeper aspects of the Buddha's Teachings. I'm especially happy also because I have been privileged to be associated with its founding (19/8/83) and even before that. [Please see www.ntu.edu.sg/studentorgn/buddhist/history.html]. You are all part of a very fine tradition.
The Mahaa,parinibbaana Sutta contains a beautiful passage about the existence of Arahants. The Buddha declares that in any "dhamma,vinaya" (doctrine & teaching; system of spiritual study and practice) where the Noble Eightfold Path is found, the saints and Arhants will be found:
Now, Subhadda, in this Dharma and Discipline the Noble Eightfold Path is found, and in it are to be found ascetics of the first, second, third and fourth grade….this world would not lack for Arahants. (D 2:152)
The best place to find the Noble Eightfold Path is this human realm, where is it easiest to practise it. The reason being that there is a "balanced" interplay between joy and suffering among humans, as compared to the heavens (almost all pleasure), the animal kingdom (spiritual ignorance), or the sufferings states. As such, the Buddhas arise in the human realm and teach almost exclusively there.
In the Mangala Sutta, it is the "best fortune" or "highest blessing" to see (i.e. meet with) ascetics (sama.na) (Sutta Nipata v. 266), here meaning especially the four types of saints (mentioned in the Mahaa,parinibbaana Sutta), including the Arahant.
However, there is a problem here for an unenlightened worldling like us. How do we know it is an Arahant standing before us? Or, how should our attitude be if we think we have found an Arahant? Saariputta declares that the Buddha is the best of teachers, and so on. Then the Buddha asks him if he has known all the past Buddhas, all the future Buddhas or even knows the mind of the present Buddha. Saariputta, of course, answers no. So how could you know I am the best, asked the Buddha! I leave the moral of this brief instruction to your own wisdom. (Saariputta's further reply to the Buddha is also very interesting––see the Sampasaadaniiya Sutta (D no. 28).
In other words, if we do meet an Arahant (or we think is an Arahant) or someone enlightened (or claims to be enlightened), we should not treat that person like a pop idol, in which case it would be idol-worship! In the Mahaa,parinibbaana Sutta, the Buddha advises that the best way to respect the Buddha (what more an Arahant) is to practise the Dharma. I will close my answer with an important statement from the Buddha in the Cha-b,bisodhana Sutta (M no. 112) (which I have abridged):
Monks, a monk declares, "I understand: Birth is destroyed! etc." [and that he is enlightened]." That monk's words should neither be approved nor disapproved. [Then the Buddha's goes on to teach "the foundation of mindfulness" practice:] Telling the seen as it is seen; telling the heard as it is heard; telling the sensed [smelt, tasted, touched] as it is sensed; telling the cognized as it is cognized.
[In this way, the Buddha lives "unattracted, unrepelled" by the world.] (M 3:30 f.)