2118 Wed 25 Jan 2017
Wishing all a Happy Lunar Year of the Rooster! May we awaken to the crow
of the Rooster!
Wishing all a Happy Lunar Year of the Rooster! May we awaken to the crow of the Rooster!
How do we know we have awakened as an arhat?
We can only answer meaningfully through our understanding.
Arhathood arises from the full understanding and experience of the 4
noble truths. Once we become streamwinners, or even as aspirants to
streamwinning, we are able to see the true, as well as subtle, nature of
suffering. The world may be appearances, but it is what lies below
these appearances that bait and bully us into acting in a way that
perpetuates our suffering.
As long as we neither understand nor
accept that craving is at the root of suffering, we will look for all
the wrong explanations and rationalizations for suffering. Science and
medicine may be able to describe the nature of suffering, even cure
certain aspects and delay others, but the suffering of the mindrooted
in greed, hate and delusion will always haunt us as long as we are
With our worldly knowledge, we may study the nature of
suffering, or even analyze what we see as the causes of suffering. We
may gaze deep into the nature of suffering, but we only see suffering
staring back at us. We cannot exorcise all the demons of suffering, or
even tame any of them, as long as we are rooted in spiritual ignorance.
Meaning of life
The first two noble truths suffering and its arising (through craving)
– clearly describe the true meaning of life. We can take “meaning” here
as referring to the value of life. When we understand that life is
nothing but “suffering” (dukkha) because it is impermanent,
unsatisfactory and beyond our control (it has no abiding essence), we
see the value of such an understanding.
The full meaning of life
is formulated in the teaching on dependent arising, which is rooted in
ignorance, and through ignorance we create our own virtual reality that
invariably ends in suffering. Dependent arising comprises these two
noble truths, describing by means of conditionality (causes and effects)
the meaning of life.
Then, when we reflect deeper, we will see
that because life is impermanent, it is precious to us: we value life.
This is, in fact, the basis for moral virtue: it is founded on the value
and respect for life because it is so fragile. Yet, it is precious
because it is our only means of getting out of suffering, of awakening
to true reality.
The purpose of life
The third noble truth
here (following the practice model) is the path leading to the end of
suffering, that is, the noble eightfold path, constituting the 3
trainings of moral virtue, mental concentration and wisdom. Having
clearly understood the nature and arising of suffering, we are ready to
work towards its ending, or rather, to take the path to the ending of
We must now apply our understanding into action, to
tame and refine our body and speech so that they do not distract our
mental cultivation. Then, we calm and clear our mind to direct it
towards seeing true reality, which brings us the insight wisdom to free
us from the grasp of ignorance and craving.
The total freedom
from ignorance and craving – more fully, the destruction of the 3 karmic
roots of greed, hate and delusion – is called Eternal Bliss, the fourth
and last of the noble truths (according to the practice model) [see
Eternal Bliss is neither a place nor a
state. It is just a word we use to refer to when all suffering ends with
the destruction of greed, hate and delusion. It is like the
extinguishing of fire, or the quenching of thirst. That fire or the
thirst does not go anywhere; neither of them arise any more (as long as
we are quenched). Eternal Bliass, however, is the final quenching; it
needs to be done only once.
The last two noble truths deal with
the path to the ending of suffering, and the total ending of suffering
itself, that is, Eternal Bliss. While the first two truths deal with the
meaning of life, these last two deal with the purpose of life. Based on
our understanding of the meaning of life through dependent arising, we
can now reverse the cycle, or break any of the vital links in the
chain, and bring on the dependent ending of suffering with the
uprooting of ignorance and craving.
This is the arhat’s review knowledge, that is, a retrospective
knowledge. This is the “recollected mental image obtained in
concentration, or to any inner experience just passed, as for
instance, an absorption or a supramundane path, or fruition of the
We remind ourself to keep to our practice, instead
of anticipating or measuring its progress. If we need to ask whether we
have progressed or not, the likely answer is that we have not! True
practitioners only diligently and joyfully practice. As we live our
lives diligently, over an extended period, we are able to joyfully
notice that we have invariably not faltered in the smallest challenge to
our moral virtue, or mental concentration, or wisdom. We live confident
in the fact that we have always, without exception, lived in the spirit
and the letter. This is sufficient for us to rejoice in that we have
attained the supreme goal.