Arahants still exist?


Dear Group,
This series of posts looks at the Theravada position according to the Commentaries and also the claims of arahatship in recent history

I see on another forum where someone muses that a year should be long enough to attain sotapanna if he tries hard under a good teacher. And another quoted a passage frorm a Thai monk which said anyone who had been ordained for 5 years should have at least attained sotapanna. These goals are taken seriously and then people decide they should find an arahant to train under and ensure their progress. Sometimes these keen individuals have little knowldege of Buddhist teachings but like the idea of a quick way to Nibbana (about which their ideas are may be confused).

It becomes potentially dangerous to the sasana as a whole, when many people later convince each other that they have attained this or that stage, as wrong release becomes the goal.

Dhamma Issues 5, no 1. The Disappearance of Ariyans


At the Buddha’s time the Order of the monks was established, but there was not yet an Order of bhikkhuní, nuns. Mahåpajåpatí, the Buddha’s aunt, wanted to obtain permission from the Buddha for the ordination of women who wanted to go forth. The Buddha refused at first, but after Ånanda had interceded, her request was finally granted, but it was subject to eight strict conditions. These eight rules pertained among others to the conduct of nuns towards the monks, to the ceremony after the rainy season, the Invitation Festival, when they had to avow offences seen, heard or suspected. In case of offending against an important rule, a nun had to undergo a discipline for half a month before both Orders.

The Buddha foresaw that accumulated defilements would cause both monks and nuns to commit transgressions against their purity of life. This would be the condition for the true Dhamma, saddhamma, to decline more rapidly. He explained to Ånanda that if women had not been allowed to go forth from the home into the homeless life, the Dispensation would have lasted for thousand years. But now it would only last for five hundred years. With the decline of the Dispensation arahats would disappear from this world. In this Issue the consequences of the decline of the Dispensation have been explained.


Issue of Analysis : Are there at the present time still arahats?

Conclusion regarding the analysis of this issue :

At the present time there is no one with the excellent qualities of the degree of the arahat. The sources which support the conclusion of the analysis:

1. Book of Discipline (V), Cullavagga X, Eight Important Rules for Nuns (the Brahma-faring will not last long).

2. Gradual Sayings, Book of the Eights, Ch VI, The Gotamid, §1, Mahåpajåpatí, and its Commentary, the Manorathapúraní.

3. Sumangalavilåsiní, Commentary to the ³Dialogues of the Buddha², III, no 28, The Faith that satisfied (Sampasådaniya Sutta).

The sources that explain the reasons for this conclusion:

The Vinaya, Book of Discipline (V), Cullavagga X, Eight Important Rules for Nuns (the Brahma-faring will not last long) and the Gradual Sayings, Book of the Eights, Ch VI, The Gotamid, §1, explain about the endurance and the disappearance of the true Dhamma (saddhamma) in the dispensation of the Buddha Gotama. We read that the Buddha said to Ånanda:
³If, Ånanda, women had not obtained the going forth from home into homelessness in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, the Brahma-faring, Ånanda, would have lasted long, true dhamma would have endured for a thousand years. But since, Ånanda, women have gone forth… in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, now, Ånanda, the Brahma-faring will not last long, true dhamma will endure only for five hundred years….²

Dhamma Issues 5, no 2. Disappearance of Ariyans

The Commentary to the Sutta The Gotamid, in the Gradual Sayings, the Manorathapúraní, gives an additional explanation:
³The words vassasahassam, thousand years, that are used here, refer only to the arahats who were endowed with the four analytical knowledges (patisambiddhas[2]). But when we take into consideration the following thousand years, there were only arahats who are sukkha vipassaka (who only developed insight and did not attain jhåna). In the next period of thousand years (the third period) there are anågåmis (who have attained the third stage of enlightenment, the stage of the non-returner). In the next period of thousand years (the fourth period) there are sakadågåmís (who have attained the second stage of enlightenment, the stage of the once-returner).

In the next period of thousand years (the fifth period) there are sotåpannas (who have attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the streamwinner). Thus, the saddhamma, the true dhamma, of the level of pativedha, realization, can, according to this reckoning, last for five thousand years. Even so pariyatti dhamma (of the level of intellectual understanding) can endure for five thousand years. Without pariyatti dhamma there can be no pativedha dhamma [3]. This means that when pariyatti dhamma has disappeared the monkhood will have changed into something else.²

It can be concluded that at the present time, which is the third period of thousand years in the dispensation of the Buddha Gotama, nobody has the excellent qualities of the degree of the arahat, and the highest attainment will only be that of the anågåmí.

In the Sumangalavilåsiní, Commentary to the ³Dialogues of the Buddha², III, no 28, The Faith that satisfied (Sampasådaniya Sutta), the decline of Buddhism in the Buddha era of a former Buddha, Kassapa Buddha, has been explained, not the dispensation of the Buddha Gotama. We read:
³… the lineage of recluses dressed in white is not able to cause the endurance of the dispensation since the time of the Buddha Kassapa. The dispensation could endure only thousand years with those who have attained the four analytical knowledges, another thousand years with those who had the six supranatural powers (abhiññås 4), another thousand years with those who had three knowledges (tevijjå 5), another thousand years with those who had ³dry insight² (sukkha vipassakas), and another thousand years with those who observe the Påtimokkha. Thus, the Dispensation declined beginning with the penetration of the truths by the bhikkhus who came afterwards, and the transgression of the precepts by the bhikkhus who came afterwards. Since that time the appearance of another Buddha had no obstruction anymore [6] .


2. All arahats have eradicated defilements completely, but arahats have different degrees of excellent qualities. Only the arahat with the highest attainment has the four analytical knowledges.

3. The ³Dispeller of Delusion² (the Commentary to the Book of Analysis, Commentary to Ch 16, Classification of Knowledge) is one of the texts explaining about the disappearance of the teachings. We read (431): ³For there are three kinds of disappearance: disappearance of theoretical understanding (pariyatti), disappearance of penetration (pativedha) and disappearance of practice (patipatti). Herein, pariyatti is the three parts of the Tipiìaka; the penetration is the penetration of the Truths; the practice is the way….²

4.These are: magical powers, divine ear, penetration of the minds of others, divine eye, remembrance of former existences and extinction of all defilements.

5.These are: remembrance of former lives, divine eye, extinction of all defilements.

6. When the dispensation has disappeared completely there are conditions for the appearance of another Buddha.

This is a post from an American monk who spent many years in Burma

In, bhantevimalaramsi@j… wrote:

Dhamma Greetings,

I hope this finds you peaceful and calm.

By reading your emails I have come to assume that you are from Burma. I have spent a lot of time around Burmese monks and about three years in Burma doing intensive meditation. So your comment about there being arahats in Burma is interesting to me. Where have you seen or met one, I would very much like to go and talk with them. I have spent time with the Mingoon [sorry I don’t remember the spelling] Sayadaw who was the chief monk for giving answers at the 6th Buddhist council. He was truly an inspiration to be around. I asked him directly a few questions about whether a monk should practice the Buddha’s teachings through the commentaries or the suttas and his answer was definitely to follow the instructions in the suttas and read the commentaries to see if they agreed with the suttas, and if they do to use them but sparingly.

This advice is from a monk who wrote many commentaries himself.

Also, I asked him monk to monk if he knew of any arahats that I could visit because I was so keen on practicing meditation properly. He was a very well known monk and had vast experience in living in Burma, he told me that he didn’t honestly think there were any arahats left in Burma. He also said that many laymen had such faith that any monk who showed any ability at all that was special, all of a sudden they became arahats to them. I have been around many great monks who are very inspiring and sensitive, and have asked about arahats and none of them actually knew where I could find one, this includes the Taungpulu Sayadaw, U Pandita Sayadaw, and the Chanmay Sayadaw to name a few. Of course I know that the idea is to never talk about these kinds of things, but monks do talk about these things privately. Of course, the trick is getting past the claim of arahatship and getting to the reality of it. And there are ways that one can recognize an arahat if one knows what to look for and spends the time to be with that monk.

The idea that simplicity makes for complexity doesn’t make much sense unless one doesn’t experience much progress in their meditation. I have kind of observed this to be true with certain types of meditation, but not with all of them.

If samadhi is the only theme in the Anapanasati Sutta then why does it have the 4 foundations of mindfulness and the seven factors of enlightenment in it? There are two kinds of desire one is an unwholesome type that leads to more dukkha and the other is called chanda in Pali which is the wholesome desire that directs one’s mind in the direction they what it to go. Without any desire then we would all just sit on a rock and do nothing or strive towards a final goal.

I do wish you happiness and success in your quest.

Maha-Metta from Bhante Vimalaramsi
Here is an extreme example. Most cases are not so obvious of course.

While I call myself Dharma Dan on this page, I usually go by the name Daniel Ingram.
I am an arahat with mastery of the formed jhanas, formless realms, Nirodha Samapatti, and a few other traditional attainments.

I hold an MD, an MSPH in Epidemiology, and a BA in English Literature, all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I am currently in a medical residency program in Emergency Medicine at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

This was cited on another list as evidence that if a layman attains arahatship he doesn’t have to join the order within 7 days.
Within a couple of days, on the early morning of the eleventh day of the waxing moon, the eighth month of 1957, his mind reached the End of Suffering completely without traditional rituals or teachers.

Later he returned home. He taught his wife and relatives what he had found for two years and eight months, as a lay teacher. He then decided to re-enter monkhood in order to be in a better position to teach the people. The ordination was made on February 3, 1960
There was a large debate about whether a Thai monk was an arahant.
World Fellowship of Buddhists Magazine
VolXIII no1 (BE2519/1976)
From Nyanaponika Mahathera
Forest Hermitage Kandy, Ceylon
Commenting on the bio of A.Mun.

“..the shock I felt when reading the statement in the 4th section (p.135) that “a number of Buddhas togther with their arahant disciples” had paid a visit to the Acharn to “offer their congratulations upon his achievement”. The controversy that understandably arises upon such a statement can I think be conclusively and decisively settled..[he then quotes sutta passagae ] Obviously , the statements abscribed to venerable Acharn Mun are in contradication with the afore quoted sutta passage. There are also conflicts with other well-known utterances of the Master on the nature of Tathagatha, on Nibbana, and the khandhas..Admirers [of acharn Mun] will have to face the dilemma and solve it for themselves, honestly without misinterpreting the Buddha- word

The World Fellowship of Buddhists (in Sukhumvit road) were distributing A. Muns
biography and they serialized it. They were not at all happy with Venerable Nyanaponika’s criticisim
of A. Mun. So the editor published a lengthy reply.
THis is some of the published reply:
“To Ven. Nyanaponika mahathera, Forest Hermitage, Kandy
I have received your letter dated december 1975 strongly criticising the biography of the venerable meditation master phra acharn Mun Bhuridatto. It did not come as surprise that the English version should be no less controversial than its Thai counterpart.. [it was]strongly criticised by a number or readers who could not tolerate what was contradictory to their former belief. Some of them I dare say did so out of sheer jealousy and to flatter their own egotism and vanity rather than out of genuine doubt. To such people no amount of reasoning or explanation will help. They are not seekers after Truth but are like Sanjaya and the six teachers (makkhali Gosala and others), and cannot bear to see others stand out more prominent than they do. AS far as your letter is concerned I would say that your viewpoints expressed therin are, to say the least, too strong and intolerant. <.....>

I do not understand why so many Buddhists prefer to idolize the concept of Absolute Nothingness or Total Loss like that of the materialists and attribute it to teh cessation of suffering or Nibbana. What benefit is there in clinging to the nihilist idea of nothingness, hoplessness or bleakness like that? To be well versed in the Tipitaka is never enough. That is only pariyatti, which could become a hindrance and even a snake killing whoever makes a religion or God of it. This attitude towards book- learning, unsupported by firsthand experience through practice, is called agaladdupara pariyatti. It can be another Net of Wrong View. The pariyatti or book learning may earn the students such grandiose terms as Maha, pandita etc, yet it is memory work, speculation, imgination, anything but firsthand experience or attainment. Such being the case who is in a position to misinterpret the Buddha’s word. Those admirers[of book study] will have to face the dilemma and admit the incompleteness of such book-study and the delusion of high-sounding titles such as Maha, pandita ect.”

<....>Nibbana, unlike the materialists death, does not end all. If acceptance of this fact should bring the Theravdins a bit closer to the Mahayanists then it is to be willingly accepted. After all it is better than a concept that brings us closer to the materialists isnt it.”

I stopped wondering years ago about who is enlightened because I think it is always motivated by tanha. What we can know about a teacher – beyond speculation- is whether they point to the present moment in a way that helps us to begin to insight such moments. The rest is wishful thinking. The Anguttara nikaya commentary tells the story of one teacher, after the Buddha’s time, who had many pupils all of whom attained arahatship. But he was still a wordling – not even a sotapanna. However, he understood the tipitaka very, very well; knew the letter and the meaning and so was a great teacher (Angutara nikaya Ekakanipata pali (the book of the ones) Nivaranapphahana-vagga (abandoning of hindrances) 6th sutta; about the Thera Gamantapabbharavasi mahasivatthera ). He lived at Yissa Mahavihara and 60,000 students became arahant.

The commentaries explain that examples like this where a putthujana teacher helps his students to become ariya, it is like the Buddha was their teacher (because the putthujana teacher is using the Buddha’s words). Later he himself attained.

Bhikkhu Santi
According to the Suttas, the least unreliable means of knowledge pragmatically are the words of the Fully Awakened One, the Suttas. Even enlightened disciples, though they know the attha of the Dhamma, can still muddle up the right phrasing (byañjanā) in ways that could make it difficult for others following primarily their teachings to reach the attha. And the commonest way to get muddled about the meaning of the Suttas is to take them out of context, which most often happens through not really applying them, i.e. by scholars who are exclusively scholars and do not `lead the teachings inwards’, as the epithet opanāyiko advises us to do. Thus it is very useful together with learning and contemplating the Suttas to live with and listen to carefully someone who has really experienced the attha of the Dhamma. I don’t believe there are any monks or nuns in the Western Sangha who have really fully experienced this, there is one monk who I believe is a likely candidate for being a stream enterer (not me!), but that’s it.

I saw this in the Dhammapada-athakatha and thought it might be on interest. It is in Book 1, 13 (trans. burlingame PTS edition p.242. It is about the youngest daughter of Anathapindika, Sumana. She was already a sakagami (her father was only a sotapanna) but she had been unable to find a husband. She was gradually overwhemeld with disapointment over this and refusing to eat [or unable to eat] she lay in her bed, ill. Anathapindika visited her and she called him “younger brother” and then died. Anathapindika (sotapanna) went to the Buddha. “Although the treasurer had obtained the Fruit of conversion(sotapan) he was unable to bear the grief that arose within him. Accordingly when he funeral rites over his daughters body he went weeping to the teacher. said the teacher ‘householder how is it that you come to me sad and sorrowful, with tears in your eyes weeping?'” endquote.

Anathapindika explained that what worried him most of all was that his daughter “died raving incoherently” [called him ‘younger brother’]. the Buddha explained that this was because she was already sakadagami while anathapindika was sotapanna . Naturally anathapindika was relieved knowing that his daughter was thus now reborn in a better world etc. Perhaps what is interesting here is that a sotapanna did not even know that his own daughter was already enlightened – and even believed that she temporarily deranged. If we judge people from their behaviour we can say “he looks always calm ” But looks can be deceiving. Often we are not even aware of our own defilements and mistake subtle clinging for calmness.

Sometimes someone may be quite agitated and yet still be acumulating some wisdom. Cittas (mindstates) are changing fast. In between moments with akusala cittas(unwholesome moments) panna(wisdom) and sati can be popping in and out that are aware very briefly of some reality. And we cannot tell by looking at someone whether this is occuring. In the visuddhimagga they give an example of the type of monk who has tendencies towards lobha (desire, attachment). This type of monk walks very carefully and studiously. He moves beautifully and his robe is always kept properly and so on. It says (III92) “One of greedy temperament acts skilfully, gently, carefully and evenly”. As I read it this monk has all the outer appearance that we might expect of an arahant.

We can see that we can’t really know about people by outer behaviour. We can only know ourselves- and in the beginning the moments of sati may be so few and so weak that it is not clear even to ourselves. If we haven’t heard details of the Dhamma and considered it and applied it properly we can delude ourself and think we have few defilements. Pleasant feeling and neutral feeling arise with awareness- they also arise with subtle craving.

What is true is that if we are genuinely gaining insight we can detect more and more subtle levels of wrong view – by discussion and listening or reading what people say. We can see who understands the path. Perhaps we find that some of the teachers we were in awe of in early days now seem stuck in subtle, or not so subtle, wrong practice.

Ven. S. Dhammika
The situation differs somewhat in Thailand and Cambodia but there the popular conception of what constitutes enlightenment is a very particular one. Any scruffy old laung po credited with predicting a winning lottery number or performing a miracle is hailed as an arahat. Of course more perceptive observers have a very different assessment of the general level of spirituality in the Thai Sangha. According to Paul Breiter Ajahn Chah used to say, ‘Buddhism in Thailand is like a big old tree, it looks majestic but it can only give small sour fruit.’ Combine notions like these with the Sangha’s dysfunctional, outmoded and even counter-productive practices and structure and it is not surprising that it produces so few great masters. One encounters good scholars in the Sangha, sincere practitioners and just simple decent human beings but of inspiring individuals, let alone arahats or even sotapannas, there are precious few.
xabir2005 Jul 14 2007, 01:43 PM Post #13

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I’m not sure if all of them are willing to discuss their enlightenment, but it seems like people like ‘Daniel M. Ingram’ a.k.a ‘Dharma Dan’ are very open about this. But naturally because they are open, they’ll be controversial. However, other enlightened people can verify that this guy is genuine.

Dharma Dan has completely comprehend the insight to complete liberation from samsara, he has attained insights to Reality. You may want to check out his models of enlightenment and see what one has to go through. You should also read his free e-book first. (his book is a really good read and I’d highly recommend everyone to read it!)

Please remember that he comes from an authentic lineage (Mahasi Sayadaw Insight tradition) and has received permission by his teacher U Pandita to teach. In this lineage, to be qualified to teach requires at least Second Path (Once Returner, Sakrdagamin).

There is an thread on the BSWA Forum about Daniel Ingram, with some participation from the man himself.

BTW The teacher who allegedly authorised Danel to teach is not the famous Sayādaw U Pandita, but a disciple of his also named Sayādaw U Pandita.

He trained in India and Malaysia.
All quotes from Danial Ingram aka Dharma Dan,.
As to one who asked about the sequence of my practice: Arising and Passing first time around 1984 without any training at all, stream entry 1/13/1996 while on retreat at the Thai Monastery with Christopher Titmuss, et al. in Bodh Gaya, India, (though I owe much of that to the training I received on a previous retreat at MBMC, where I got to the upeka ñana but couldn’t land the path) second path on 7/21/1996, third path 11/20/1996, arahatship around 4/17/2003 on retreat at MBMC.

In short, go to the Malasian Buddhist Meditation Centre in Penang, Malaysia and practice there for as long and well as you possibly can, that’s my advice! The place is amazing: the price is right, the people are so nice, the food is safe and nourishing, the water is safe, there is little if any malaria, the technique as powerful as anything that exists today, the weather is great, and the teachers I have sat with have been extremely inspiring and helpful, basically all the good stuff of Myanmar and more but without the hassles.
As to one who asked about the sequence of my practice: Arising and Passing first time around 1984 without any training at all, stream entry 1/13/1996 while on retreat at the Thai Monastery with Christopher Titmuss, et al. in Bodh Gaya, India, (though I owe much of that to the training I received on a previous retreat at MBMC, where I got to the upeka ñana but couldn’t land the path) second path on 7/21/1996, third path 11/20/1996, arahatship around 4/17/2003 on retreat at MBMC.

In short, go to the Malasian Buddhist Meditation Centre in Penang, Malaysia and practice there for as long and well as you possibly can, that’s my advice! The place is amazing: the price is right, the people are so nice, the food is safe and nourishing, the water is safe, there is little if any malaria, the technique as powerful as anything that exists today, the weather is great, and the teachers I have sat with have been extremely inspiring and helpful, basically all the good stuff of Myanmar and more but without the hassles.


For those interested in the story about Sayadaw U Pandita, Junior, (not to be confused with Sayadaw U Pandita of Panditarama in Burma, though they are in the same lineage) he was the abbot of the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre in Penang, Malaysia (a Mahasi Center) when I did my last retreat there in April, 2003, and during that time I made very good progress. I told him that I hadn’t really taught much for 6 years and was thinking of teaching again. He looked me straight in the eye, and with an unusually loud voice said, “GOOD!” That’s the story of getting permission to teach.

Re: How to be in solitary for 30 days or longer
by Sekha » Wed Apr 24, 2013 6:49 am

i dont know what are sotapannas , or anagamis, but i assume they are highly evolved people ? i am very eager to meet arhats do you have some suggestions on where i can meet them? thank you so much for your help!

well, I meant that ironically. One friend of mine, of a rather credulous temper, has been a monk for about 13 years. He was ordained in Myanmar in the Mahasi tradition, which he has followed for over 10 years, as a monk. Towards the beginning of those 10 years, after a few retreats, it was declared that he was had become a sotapanna, and he has believed it for the remainder of those 10 years. He has met a lot of other people who also believed they were sotapannas, for the same reasons. One of his friend even made him believe for years that he was an arahant, and it is likely that the guy was actually parajika.

What made him change his mind was when he decided to try the Pa Auk technique. So he went there and got quickly disillusioned. Now he knows that he has been fooled for almost a decade, and he has seen other people arriving at Pa Auk believing they were nothing less than anagamis who hit the wall of reality pretty hardly. I think the Pa Auk sayadaw wrote a book seeking to demonstrate that the teaching of Mahasi Sayadaw is _______and that what they take for Nibbana is actually what the abhidhamma calls bhavanga citta.

Welcome to the huge mess that has arisen in the Sasana.

I understand what you want to do, and I have been in a very similar quest for the past few years. Just be careful and don’t believe what everyone says. There is a telling simile in the gospel about recognizing the quality of a person (applicable to a meditation technique) as compared to a tree. In short, a good tree produces good fruits, a bad one produces bad fruits. Just observe what long-term practitioners become, if they get rid of their grossest defilements, or if they are still easily prone to negativity, egocentricity, superiority complexes etc.

People who think that they need to search outside and put effort in outwardly things to meet holly people are really poor. There is no other way as to seek for the entrance to Dhamma within your self and you don’t need to be afraid that those people would not see your serious seek and “appear”.

Actually there is no sort cut at all and people who try it either, simply waste there small time. All you will get it what you desire, yet your desire does not fit to the noble desire at all.

Paṭisalla Sutta: Seclusion

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at the Eastern Monastery, the palace of Migāra’s mother. And on that occasion the Blessed One, having emerged from his seclusion in the late afternoon, was sitting outside the doorway of the porch. Then King Pasenadi Kosala went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side.

Now on that occasion seven coiled-hair ascetics, seven Jain ascetics, seven cloth-less ascetics, seven one-cloth ascetics, & seven wanderers — their nails, armpit-hair, & body-hair grown long, carrying containers on poles [over their shoulders] — walked past, not far from the Blessed One. King Pasenadi Kosala saw the seven coiled-hair ascetics, seven Jain ascetics, seven cloth-less ascetics, seven one-cloth ascetics, & seven wanderers — their nails, armpit-hair, & body-hair grown long, carrying containers on poles [over their shoulders] — walking past, not far from the Blessed One. On seeing them, he got up from his seat, arranged his upper robe over one shoulder, knelt down with his right knee on the ground, paid homage to the seven coiled-hair ascetics, seven Jain ascetics, seven cloth-less ascetics, seven one-cloth ascetics, & seven wanderers with his hands palm-to-palm in front his heart, and announced his name three times: “I am the king, venerable sirs, Pasenadi Kosala. I am the king, venerable sirs, Pasenadi Kosala. I am the king, venerable sirs, Pasenadi Kosala.”

Then not long after the seven coiled-hair ascetics, seven Jain ascetics, seven cloth-less ascetics, seven one-cloth ascetics, & seven wanderers had passed, King Pasenadi Kosala went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, “Of those in the world who are arahants or on the path to arahantship, are these among them?”[1]

“Great king, as a layman enjoying sensual pleasures; living confined with children; using Kāsī fabrics & sandalwood; wearing garlands, scents, & creams; handling gold & silver, it’s hard for you to know whether these are arahants or on the path to arahantship.

“It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.”

“Amazing, lord! Astounding! — how well that was put by the Blessed One! ‘Great king, as a layman enjoying sensual pleasures; living confined with children; using Kāsī fabrics & sandalwood; wearing garlands, scents, & creams; handling gold & silver, it’s hard for you to know whether these are arahants or on the path to arahantship.

“‘It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.

“‘It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.’

“These men, lord, are my spies, my scouts, returning after going out through the countryside. They go out first, and then I go. Now, when they have scrubbed off the dirt & mud, are well-bathed & well-perfumed, have trimmed their hair and beards, and have put on white clothes, they will go about endowed and provided with the five strings of sensuality.”

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

One should not make an effort everywhere,
should not be another’s hireling,
should not live dependent on another,
should not go about as a trader in the Dhamma.[2]

Note 1. In the parallel passage at SN 3.11, King Pasenadi states this, not as a questions, but as a fact: “Of those in the world who are arahants or on the path to arahantship, these are among them.” The version presented here, however, seems psychologically more probable: The king, rather than trying to lie to the Buddha, wants to test the latter’s ability to see through the disguise of his spies. 2. In SN 3.11, this verse is replaced with the following:

Not by appearance is a man rightly known,
nor should trust be based on a quick glance,
— for, disguised as well-restrained,
the unrestrained go through this world.

A counterfeit earring made of clay,
a bronze half-dollar coated in gold:
They go about in this world hidden all around:
impure inside,
beautiful out.

The verse in SN 3.11 may seem more immediately relevant to the situation than the verse given here, but the verse given here is a more interesting and original response to what is happening.

There is a nice story of Bert Hellinger which I once tried to translate into english (will be not the best):

The insight
A group of like-minded people, still on the beginning of their journey, gathered together and discussed their concepts for a better future. They agreed that they would make it differently. The ordinariness and the run-of-mill-ness and its endless circle was to banal for them. They searched for the unique, the wideness and they hoped to find to them self like no one before. In they mind they saw them selfs already at the aim, imagined how it would be and agreed to put it into action. “First of all”, they said, “we need to search for the great master, as all starts with it.” Then they started their journey.
The master lived in another country and belonged to a different folk. Many quaintness was reported about him, but it seems that nobody really know exactly. From the usual way they had already escaped, as everything here was different: the customs, the landscape, the language, the ways, the purpose. Sometimes they came on a place, where it was told that the master should live there. But as soon as they liked to come to know more detail, they have been told that he is currently gone and nobody knew which direction he toke. However, but one day they fond him.

He was with a farmer on the field. In that way he earned his livelihood and the lodging in the night. First they didn’t liked to believe that he was their longed master, also the farmer was astonished that the man who was working on his field, was esteemed as somebody special. But he said: “Yes, I am a master. If you like to learn from me, stay one week on my side. Then I would teach you.”
The like-minded people hired out by the same farmer and gained food, potion and lodging. On the eight day, when it was already dark, the master called them together, sat down with them under a tree and told them a story.

Long time ago, a young man was thinking about what he should make out of his live. He was from a distinguished family, was spared of enforcement and affliction and felt obliged to higher and better. So he left his father and mother, joined a group of ascetic, left them also, found after that the Buddha in person, but also this was not enough for him. More higher he wanted to go, till there where the air is thin and the breath heavy to bear: where nobody else ever was before. As he arrived there, he paused for thoughts. It was the end of this way and he saw that it was a meander.

Now he wanted to take the other direction. He descended, came to a town, conquered the most beautiful courtesan, reached company share of a wealthy businessman and soon was rich and respected himself.

But he didn’t descended till the finally valley. He was just at staying at its upper edge. He missed courage for the full effort. He had a concubine but no wife, he got a son but was no father. He had learned the art of love and life, but not about love and life itself. All which what he hadn’t accepted jet, he started to disobey and ignore till he was disgusted about himself and left even this.”
On this point the master made a break: „Maybe you recognize this story“, he said, „and you know also its end. Its told that the man grow humble and devoted to the ordinary at the end. But what does that mean, he had neglected so much. Whoever trust in life, for him the near isn’t the porridge which he orbit stealthy in the far. He masters the mundane first. Otherwise also the unusual – thought it exist – would be like a hat on a scarecrow.”
It has become silent and also the master remained still. Then he stood up without a word and went on. In the next morning it was not possible to find him. Still night he walked his way and told nobody where he liked to go.

Now the like-minded people stood on their own dependence again. Some of them didn’t want to realize it that the master had left them and walked on to search once more for him. Others couldn’t hardly different between their wishes and fear and searched haphazardly for any way.
But one of them bethought. He walked once more to the tree, sat down and looked into the far till his inner was calm. Whatever plagued him, he took out of himself and putted it in front of him, like somebody had done a long walk and putting down his rucksack before he takes a rest. And he was light and free.
There they stood in front of him: his wishes – his fears – his aims – his real requirements. And without looking in detail or wanting something special – like somebody trusting a stranger – he waited that it would happened by itself, that everything confirm on its place, the place where it belongs seeing the whole according to its weight and range.
It didn’t take a long time and he realized that outside all was grown less, like if some had steal away like detected thieves seeking for the far. And it becomes clear inside him: what he had seen as his wishes, as his fears, as his aims, was never been his own possession. All that came from somewhere else and had crept in. But now this time was over.
It seems that movement comes into the things which are left. What he really owned came back to him, took its right place. Power gathered in his middle and he recognized his own and proper aim. He waited on a little till he was sure. Then he stood up and went on.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. (—William Blake, alias The Devil)

I suppose I should start off by explaining how it was even possible in the first place, so:

How It Was Even Possible in the First Place

The Burmese take their Buddhism very seriously. Their approach to religion seems to be more medieval than modern, coming closer to the attitude of a European Christian 600 years ago than to the attitude of a modern Western Christian or Buddhist. This has its good points and its bad points like everything else, and is not entirely a bad thing, especially from a spiritual point of view. Unlike a modern Western religious person who lives first and foremost in a material world governed by scientific laws, with religion being added as a kind of “app” which is of secondary importance (at best) with regard to one’s interpretation of reality, the devout Burmese Buddhist lives in a Buddhist world governed by laws of Dhamma even when she or he is not feeling religious, with scientific materialism itself being of secondary importance.
The Burmese have their own kind of materialism though, a kind which a Tibetan monk once famously referred to as “spiritual materialism.” They think about meritorious karma almost as though it were money. They believe that established Buddhist rituals have validity and power in and of themselves, regardless of all else. For example, many Burmese believe that observing five precepts is practically futile if one doesn’t first perform the ritual of taking them upon oneself, before a monk or at least before an altar. Also, they believe that a simple ordination ceremony turns a man into a superhuman spiritual being, somewhat like a devout Catholic believes that a simple ritual turns bread into the real and true flesh of Christ, through the Miracle of Transsubstantiation, despite the fact that afterwards it still looks like, and tastes like, plain bread.
Thus the Burmese have a different vocabulary for describing the comings, goings, and doings of monks than the one they use for unordained people. The word for “human being” is not applied to monks. Even a man ordained temporarily, maybe even for just a few days during a vacation from work, will be considered no longer a mere human during that time, and will be called ashin hphayah (Venerable Lord) even by his closest family members.
That’s just for starters. Add to that the fact that I came from America, a country which Burmese villagers naively believe to be some kind of Paradise where everybody is rich and happy. Just a few months after my first arrival in Burma many years ago, a village doctor informed me that the local villagers already loved me more than they loved the saintly abbot of the monastery where I was staying, because I had voluntarily renounced my comfortable, privileged life in “Paradise” to come halfway around the world and live in poverty amongst them, living in accordance with principles which they considered to be sacred. The felt honored, proud, and grateful, as though their way of life had somehow been vindicated.
And then there is the remarkable fact that monks who appear to live unusually saintly lives may receive reverence from Burmese laypeople reaching a level of fever-pitch. I was told that when venerable Taungpulu Sayadaw, the founder of the tradition in which I was ordained, would travel, sometimes young women would line his path on either side, bow down to the ground, and strew their long hair across the path for him to walk on. In those days he was followed by a young Texan monk who simply could not bring himself to walk on the hair of young women, so he stopped following Sayadaw long enough to walk around them.

Fortunately I guess, I’ve never had women spread their hair out for me to walk on, although on several occasions they’ve spread out their scarves for the same purpose—not to protect my feet from the hard, dirty ground, but to bless the scarves by their coming in contact with the Sayadaw’s foot. Never would I have dreamed at the age of 16 that there would come a day when hundreds of exotic, dark-eyed women would be literally worshipping at my feet. But, like Kipling’s Man Who Would Be King, it has always been strictly against the rules for me actually to touch any of them, not even their hands. A Japanese monk once accused me of making very strange karma, and I have to agree with him.
For most of my life as a monk I have lived alone in forests, have meditated regularly, have not handled money, and have not followed the lifestyle that most Burmese monks follow; and because of this I have been considered to live an unusually saintly life—in fact, as I’ve probably already mentioned before, in some parts of northwestern Burma I have a reputation for being a fully enlightened being. (I certainly don’t go around telling people that I am one though.) Once when I was living under a rock ledge at the edge of a large forest, a friendly village man came to visit me, and he said to me, wonderingly, “I could never live like you. You don’t drink tea! You don’t smoke cigars!” The fact that I didn’t drink tea or smoke cigars seemed to strike him with more profound awe than the fact that I slept and meditated alone in a forest, under a rock ledge. I have often considered that if Burmese people knew of the stuff that goes through my mind sometimes, they would be much less inclined to worship me. But who knows.
Anyway, I lived at Wun Bo Wildlife Refuge Monastery (where I sit here writing this, in front of my old cave) for about a year and a half before things started approaching anywhere near fever-pitch. Up until then alms round in the nearby villages was easily manageable—house by house alms round was not much of an option, since a line of people would be waiting for me at the entrance to the village, but still everything went into the bowl, with no grocery bags, not even with cakes and fruit balanced on top of the bowl lid (I usually don’t use a bowl lid anyway). But then one morning, around January of 2003, I entered Wun Bo village for alms and found a kind of three-ring circus: a crowd of people, many of whom I had never seen before, were waiting to offer alms food, candles, incense, pieces of cloth, etc. etc. I finally staggered out of the village with a bowl stuffed to overflowing and two big grocery bags full of stuff. After a week or two the crowds and festival atmosphere had diminished somewhat, with flareups on full-moon days and special occasions; but that was the beginning of it all.
I later learned that what had happened was this: About twenty miles from Wun Bo there was an old monk called Ywa Mun Sayadaw, who lived alone in a small cemetery and who was considered by many to be an Arahant. I had visited him once several years previously. Anyway, sometimes local villagers would rent a mechanized contraption called a “toila-gyi,” a kind of motorized iron cart with no suspension, and go in groups to pay their respects to the old sayadaw. Just a day or two before the aforementioned three-ring circus, a group of people from Shwe Zayay, a village just north of Wun Bo, rented a toila-gyi and went on such a pilgrimage to pay their respects to Ywa Mun Sayadaw; and when they told him where they were from, he said, “Oh, that American monk lives near there. You should always make sure that he receives enough food when he goes for alms; even if it is raining you should be sure to give him alms. He is very venerable.” Why he said that I don’t exactly know, but to the Burmese it could mean only one thing: if an Arahant praises another monk, saying that he is very venerable, then that other monk must be an Arahant too, or at least very advanced. That was the beginning of my reputation for being a great saint in the area of Wun Bo.
Human nature is peculiar. If people are biased against you, then you can do no right in their eyes; but if they’re biased in your favor, then they can work everything out as proof that you are wonderful. There was a man I had never met in Shwe Zayay who presumably didn’t like foreigners much, and used to say that if I ever came to Shwe Zayay he would escort me back out personally; shortly afterwards he developed some kind of jaw cancer, became horribly disfigured, and then died—which just demonstrated the fact that if you have bad thoughts toward a great saint, bad things will happen to you. Once I was informed that a photograph was being circulated around the city of Monywa, showing me levitating above the city using psychic power. I never saw it, but my standard response whenever it was mentioned was, “I think it must have been someone else, because I don’t remember doing that.” One time a doctor told me that he had seen a picture of me with light shining out of it; I did see that one, and it was merely overexposed.

The Elder Sister of All Alms Rounds

After returning to the Wildlife Refuge Monastery this winter, within a few days my alms round in Wun Bo village became difficult. About half of the alms donors were from Shwe Zayay, and with so many people wanting to offer food, my bowl would eventually be stuffed literally to overflowing, and I’d be carrying a big bag of extra stuff which could be very heavy, especially if there were a lot of banana donors that day; and then, as I would be leaving the village, fairly staggering with the load already, maybe ten or twelve people with clear, innocent looks on their faces would be holding out one-liter bottles of purified water. I would guess that even Superman could not carry all of it, considering that even Superman has only two hands. Usually a part-time monastery attendant who lives in the village would volunteer to help me carry everything, especially the water, back to the cave.
So when a young man from Shwe Zayay invited me to walk for alms in his village, I accepted, partly in the hope that the people of Shwe Zayay would be satisfied and would thus throng less at Wun Bo alms rounds, allowing my collection of a daily bowl of food to be less of an ordeal and workout. Besides, I like Shwe Zayay people, and it’s a pretty village. So I went there on the eighth-day uposatha during the waxing moon of Pyatho.
Apparently to make sure that I made it, or maybe to provide an “honor guard,” three young men from Shwe Zayay were waiting outside my cave at dawn, along with Ko Myint Oo the Wun Bo part-time attendant, and three dogs. We took the cart track to Wun Bo, then walked through that village, and then down along the river bank, there being no actual road. After various efforts Ko Myint Oo managed to turn back two of the dogs, anticipating fights with strange dogs once we arrived at Shwe Zayay; but one little white dog could not be dissuaded, and followed us all the way.
Never before had I walked on an alms round like that one. Up until that morning the most people who had put rice and goo into my bowl in a single morning was maybe 120-140; in Shwe Zayay there had to have been at least 500 people lined up, possibly as many as a thousand. Practically the whole village turned out for the occasion, with a few more from a village across the river. The alms route extended from one side of a large village to the other, and it took about an hour to complete it.
One of the main reasons why I had been invited in the first place was that there were many elderly people in Shwe Zayay who couldn’t navigate the rough path to Wun Bo. Also lots of toddlers offered alms, many of them evidently having little more idea of what they were doing than “Mama wants me to do this.” Despite the rule of one spoon of rice and one spoon of curry each, my bowl (which holds about five or six liters) was full long before I reached the end of the line; but I was encouraged to dump the contents into another container and to keep going, so that everybody could offer something. They didn’t care at all that they were offering many times more food than I could possibly eat. (Sometimes I would remark, jokingly, “I don’t think I’ll be able to eat all this.”) Their desire to inundate me with alms was largely motivated by that spiritual materialism that I mentioned earlier: they considered making an offering to me to be a blessing for them, a meritorious deed (“good karma”) that would protect their health and well-being.
Now, from a Buddhist point of view, we always get exactly what we deserve; it is the fruition of our own karma, our own doing. So in that sense I deserved to have several hundred people very reverentially making offerings to me, with all of them who were not too old to manage it then getting down on the ground and bowing at my feet. But, by the very same token, Adolf Hitler deserved to be lord and master of most of Europe for a few years, and someone like Richard Nixon deserved to be president of the United States, and the most powerful man in the world. But although I deserved it in that sense, I certainly did not want to take it lightly or disrespectfully (especially after my recent hungry experiences in the West). I very much felt that I should be worthy of the honor I was receiving, at least while I was receiving it. So, from start to finish, I was blessing everyone for all I was worth—seeing them as Divinity and perfection, seeing each one of them as being as important as me, or as anyone, seeing them all as us, with no real boundary between them and me. Rather than hope Divinity would blossom in them I saw it as already there. And as soon as I noticed that the blessings were becoming mechanical I would immediately snap out of it, make corrections, and bless them with my whole heart again, as well as I was able.
Several years ago I composed a long, explicitly erotic “epic” poem which, while I was in America, I rarely thought of; but shortly after arriving at my old cave it came up frequently, and I tinkered with it, making adjustments here and there. On the morning of that alms round, before setting out, it occurred to me that the word “resplendent” could be a very nice word to include in an erotic poem. “Resplendent flesh,” or some such. So while going down the long line of faithful Buddhist alms donors, the word “resplendent” would occasionally arise in my mind, and sometimes an entire line of voluptuous poetry containing the word would offer itself up for my consideration. But in that atmosphere, surrounded by people gushing with faith and reverence, it felt so utterly incongruous that it simply fell away and disappeared, almost as quickly as it arose.
Almost at the very end of the long, long line was a slightly nutty yet very good-natured old novice (koyin-gyi), who lives more or less like a hermit near Shwe Zayay. He offered candles, I think, and was wearing a stocking cap with a New York Yankees logo on it. Once about eight years ago he came to my cave with an offering of candles, incense, and bottled water, and handed me a note which said,
“Venerable Lord, you know and see all that is in my mind—So, out of compassion, so that I may be victorious in the Sangha, please tell me the winning lottery numbers.”
I advised him that gambling is not good Dhamma, and that he shouldn’t do it. With many grins he politely took his leave, explaining that it was time for him to set out for alms round. Despite his odd ideas, before the advent of ven. Iddhidaja I had considered recruiting him to be overseer of the Wildlife Refuge after I left. I tend to get along well with old novices, and they have less power to ruin a good monastery than monks have.
Anyhow, after finally reaching the end of the line at the far end of the village, I was requested to stop at the house of two devotees who couldn’t walk very well any more. I made my appearance, still generating blessings as well as I was able, and as a final offering, on top of everything else, I received a bouquet of flowers and a watermelon.
I was to be taken back to the monastery in a motor boat, so I was then escorted to the Shwe Zayay boat launch. Several teenage girls were at the river filling vases, and then carrying them back to the river, full of yellow flowers. The little white dog, who had followed me all the way and had somehow survived the gauntlet of strange, growling village dogs, could not be called onto the boat, so we left her behind at the boat launch. As we pulled away from the village I felt that I had blown yet another opportunity to exercise compassion—I felt like I should have gotten out of the boat, picked up the dog, and carried it back onto the boat. Such behavior on the part of “the Sayadaw” probably would have embarrassed a few people, but it would have spared the dog the dangerous ordeal of finding her way back home through hostile territory. As it turned out, though, she survived the ordeal and showed up at the monastery in time to help celebrate the extreme excess of food.
Altogether, the “haul” of that one alms round, for one monk, amounted to, approximately:
• about 3½ bowlfuls of rice and curry, including plenty of eggs, peanuts, and cauliflower (maybe 25 lbs., or 11 kg)
• two large grocery bags of fruit (maybe 30 lbs., or 14 kg, each)
• two large grocery bags of fried things, cheap bread, cake, cookies, etc. (the bakery stuff being of such a quality that most Americans would choose not to eat it)
• 77 liters of bottled water (no parenthetical comment required)
• 24 bottles of lychee drink, of various brands (equalling about 6 liters)
• various other drinks (including coffee and tea with so much sweetened, condensed milk added as to make it difficult to determine which it was supposed to be, and “Shark,” a cheap Burmese imitation of Red Bull energy drink that tastes like a combination of cough syrup and corn syrup)
• one large grocery bag containing mainly candles and incense (with a few little extras, like home-woven handkerchiefs and a bottle of licorice honey)
• three bottles of spirulina tablets
• two bunches of flowers
• one watermelon
All of it amounted to about 300 lbs. (135 kg) of stuff (not including five golden rings that I didn’t accept, their being made of an inappropriate metal, and several calling birds and lords a-leaping which were turned loose at the boat launch). And then of course it turned out that I wasn’t very hungry. I did, however, probably break a personal record that day with regard to the number of tangerines eaten at a single meal. As for the food and beverages (not including water), I consumed my fill, ven. Iddhidaja took a few bananas, four lay supporters who were keeping eight precepts consumed their fill, three dogs consumed theirs, and the rest, which was plenty, was left for the squirrels and jungle fowl or else carried home by the laypeople.


Some people in the West, upon reading such an account of the behavior of Burmese Buddhists, while taking considerate care not to say anything so obviously politically incorrect as, “Well, they’re just ignorant foreigners who don’t know any better,” would be inclined to express essentially that same idea in different words. It is human nature for us to consider our own cultural conditioning to be Right, or at least more Right than other cultural conditionings. But the fact is that we are all ignorant, and none of us knows any better, with the possible exception of a few enlightened beings. It may even be that from a spiritual point of view, from the perspective of Dharma, such Burmese villagers are better off, or more advanced, than are most of us Westerners, since spirituality is fundamentally built into their system, which hasn’t been the case for most Westerners since the advent of modern civilization. One may be better off with an excess of faith and credulity than with an excess of the opposite—i.e., an excess of cynicism and suspicion. Burmese villagers at least have their door open, so to speak, so that if a real saint or sage actually does come along, he or she is much more likely to be welcomed in and accepted. In the words of Sathya Sai Baba, using Hindu vocabulary,
If you take Krishna to be a mere cowherd, a man of the world like others, then for you he will be just a cowherd! You too climb only up to that stage….You will have noticed that Uddhava who looked upon Krishna as his Guru benefited more than Arjuna who looked upon Him as Sakha, a friend. If you have faith that He is God, He will be God to you; if you dismiss Him as mere man, He takes on that role and becomes useless for you. Search for Him with the heart, not with the eye for externals. The superpower has to be sought in the super-state itself, not in the lower states. Then, if you have the eyes that are fit to see and the wisdom to understand, you will find Him.
And as the ancient Greeks used to say, sometimes the beggar at your door may be a deity in disguise. But I believe there is enough goodness in human nature that no society could ever be completely anti-spiritual, or non-spiritual. Goodness, or badness, can be found anywhere, if we are receptive to it.
Also, some people in the West, upon reading such an account of my own experiences with Burmese Buddhists, would be inclined to consider it just so much blatant, grandiose, pathetic boasting. But bragging and swaggering was not my intention. This account is written in pretty much the same spirit as any number of other accounts describing life in Burma or current events. There are two main reasons why I’ve taken the trouble to write this rather long post.
First, I have lived a relatively unusual life. The number of modern Western men who have renounced a worldly life for the sake of seeking wisdom and practicing Dharma, and have then followed their calling into remote tropical forests, “wrestling with the Devil in the wilderness,” until gaining the stature of living, breathing pagan idols (so to speak), is relatively small. And the number of them who write about it is even smaller. So I write about this stuff to present a kind of case history, an example of what is possible if one chooses to live a radical alternative lifestyle, and a proof that one is not required to conform to a spiritually destitute society, and that one may have a richer and happier life because of not conforming. I have no doubt that my life has been much more fulfilling than it would have been had I accepted a U.S. Navy scholarship and become a nuclear technician, for example.
Second, I’ve written several times about my experiences with westernized Buddhism in America, and about my rather cool (sometimes positively frigid) reception in that country; and I have received quite a few comments from Western people to the effect that: 1) the cool reception I experienced was all my fault; or 2) regardless of its causes, I keep harping away about it, and it’s getting plain tiresome. These people are looking at the situation, naturally, from a Western point of view, which is practically the same as saying that they are looking at it from a point of view biased in favor of the cool reception. But from my perspective, this way of looking at things is seeing only one side of the picture. My exposure to American Buddhists, and my fate at their hands, was so astonishing and bemusing, and such a shock to my system, largely because it was in stark, glaring contrast to anything I had ever experienced before. As soon as I became a Buddhist I began moving toward what I considered to be what the Buddha originally taught, bypassing American culture, even bypassing Burmese Buddhist culture, and aiming at ancient India. So after trying to live like an ancient Indian for many years, supported by a rural Burmese society that comes much closer to ancient India than to the modern West, I returned to America and found a Buddhism there that had mutated so extensively that the difference between it and what I was acclimated to was like the difference between night and day. Stark, jolting contrast—like jumping out of a hot bath and into ice water, or vice versa. So writing a little about being worshipped in Burma is an attempt to broaden the view somewhat, and to give the reader a better idea of this guy’s, or Sayadaw’s, perspective.
Sometimes I worry a little that my strange karma has me locked into a strange polarity of “feast or famine.” Ideally, I would like to find a good middle way between “Please bless us, Venerable Lord” and “Who the heck does this guy think he is.” In Bali, maybe. Or maybe I could just keep moving to places in Burma where I’m not famous yet, and where people haven’t seen me levitating over cities. I doubt that translating “Let This Be a Lesson”—or, worse yet, “Buddhism Meets Skepticism”—into Burmese would change things very much. Also, I think it would be nice to find a middle path where fluent English is spoken, although maybe I’m just being fussy.
In conclusion, I would just like to respectfully suggest that if reading about someone like me being a minor king of Kafiristan (sort of like Colonel Kurtz, except without heads on poles) bothers you, and if you really don’t want to get a better idea of my perspective, then you are very probably reading the wrong blog. Be happy, and have a beautiful day. Seriously.

In response to the request of his disciples a monk gave insuctions for what he described as instant aainment of Arahantship. Each meditator was to meditate on his original object in his room. If while he was thus meditating, there appeared a light he would be on the first path. The second appearance of the light would indicate the aainment of the second path, the third and fourth lights indicated the third and fourth paths respectively. The meditator would then become an Arahant. Because of such insuctions his disciples decided that he was an Arahant. When he died later they believed that he had aained nibbāna and so they honoured and cremated his remains pompously. The bones were enshrined in a pagoda. At that time some knowledgeable monks arrived as guests and the hosts told them about the insuction of their teacher, his supposed parinibbāna and so forth. The visiting monks said: “Sirs, the light that your teacher saw is not the path. It is a corruption of insight (upakkilesa), something that defiles insight meditation. You are not well-informed on insight meditation. In fact, your teacher was a mere worldling.” Their explanation was based on scriptures, but it was not acceptable to the other monks who resented any adverse comments about their teacher, and they argued the case for his spiritual aainments. Thus some Earthen Pot Arahant 153 people credit a person with Arahantship when he is in fact not an Arahant. The Commentary states that these people cannot aain the path and uition or even the celestial realm so long as they do not renounce their wrong view. The Subcommentary explains the Commentary’s statement as follows:– “To cling firmly to a wrong view that makes one upgrade the blameworthy worldling to the status of a noble one, talk about it (the wrong view), to extol it or to argue for it, is an obstacle to the aainment of the celestial realms or the path.” We should bear in mind then that it is a grave mistake to glori one’s teacher and claim that he is a noble one when he is just an ordinary person.

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