Can Arahants Have Alzeihmer?

Suravira, that’s an inspiring story however it’s unknown whether Ven Ghosananda was an arahant

It seems reasonable that an arahant may have alzheimer’s as much as the Buddha’s back may ache.

Theoretically, in either case, any affliction would simply not be a source of suffering.


True enough. It seems we don’t have any perfectly relevant suttas. Since today seems to be my day for not-so-perfectly-relevant contributions, how about SN 55.21? I love this sutta about Mahānāma asking the Buddha what would happen to him if he died with a muddled mind.

Mahānāma was not an arahant either, of course.

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if i don’t confound things, the aged Buddha seemed to have used jhana as a way of escape from his bodily ailments
if he felt such a need there’s a possibility that he experienced suffering

But that would be bodily suffering, not really affecting the mind. It’s like you are having a paper edition of the Majjhima Nikaya and an online one, but your Internet connection is really bad today and your laptop is working kind of slow, so you just switch it off and read the paper book. Just a matter of convenience. That is not a perfect analogy, but I hope you get what I mean.

The problem with mental ailments like Alzheimer is that they are, well, mental, i.e. that they do affect the mind, even though they have a physical cause. The question is, can you have a mental issue and not experience any mental suffering? What does not experiencing suffering, or, better said, not getting afflicted or affected by suffering actually mean?

Given that a human body is a human body, any sort of physical disorder that disrupts neurological functioning could occur. For example, an embolism in the brain can cause a stroke which can cause lifelong cognitive impairment. If it’s large enough, an embolism can be seen with the naked eye and that’s about as physical as you can get.

if suffering is meant as anguish and anxiety over the fact of having an issue, i guess if one isn’t aware of having any mental issue one may not suffer as a result

very good question

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It seems to me that if one is an arahant, and truly free from all attachments and identity formations, then the fact that one can no longer recall people, events or pieces of knowledge that ordinary people would regard as part of their identity would not be a source of anguish. Ordinary people experience this forgetting as a source of anguish because they are losing things they are still clinging to.


That sounds kind of logical, if one doesn’t know one suffers from dementia one doesn’t shed that many tears over it. Let me specify the question, then: Can an arahant have Alzheimer and be aware of it?

If he can, and he or she still doesn’t feel anxious or anguished, we should ask what getting or not affected by suffering actually means. You can imagine a puthujjana having Alzheimer, being aware of it and not feeling anxious over it. Where’s the difference between the puthujjana and arahant here, how do their perception of suffering differ, in what ways does suffering still affect a puthujjana in such a situation in which it doesn’t affect an arahant anymore? I know, this question is different from my original one, but I just can’t help asking it :sweat:

provided arahants are positively susceptible to Alzheimer, if an ordinary person can, so can an arahant

a clip


my thesis is that when a worldling doesn’t fret over something which affects them it’s because of indifference rooted in ignorance
with arahant it obviously cannot be rooted in ignorance, but i don’t think i can fathom the mechanism which is at work

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Could it have something to do with not indulging in papanca as presented in MN1 and other Suttas? Like, a puthujjana thinks: ‘Well, I have Alzheimer, but its fine, I don’ care, that’s the way it is and I won’t let Alzheimer affect me, yada-yada-yada’, and an arahant thinks: ‘Oh, look, Alzheimer.’

Maybe this doesn’t apply to Arahants, but from some lines from MN 12:


It depends on what wisdom the Buddha was talking about. Wisdom often refers to the profound insight into the Three Characteristics of the world and the Four Noble Truths, and I always interpreted it not as propositional content of one’s thoughts but as direct knowledge, mode of thinking and feeling, direct seeing of the world as it is. Thus seen, one can be senile and, well, affected by dementia, but his pañña, his Dhamma eye, the insight that made one a stream-enterer or arahant will still be crystal clear. But maybe it refers to how one can form coherent propositions in one’s mind or operate mentally, I don’t know. Anyway, a very nice quote, thanks a lot!

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I think SN 36.6 answers this queston.

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Being contacted by painful feeling, he seeks delight in sensual pleasure.

I think this is a very important distinction between us and arahants, if not the most important in this particular case. We can not allow our mental suffering to affect us, but doing this we seek consolation in pleasant things: ‘I have Alzheimer, but whatever, here is my family and my dear wife, and the work of my lifetime, and nice books and this beautiful sunset, so I won’t let it afflict me.’ Whereas an arahant just aknowledges that the suffering and Alzheimer are there and stops right there. They don’t seek pleasure, they don’t seek consolation.

But then, the Buddha spending time in jhana is a bit odd in that scheme of things. Oh, well.

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Yes, that is the exact line that made me pause when reading the sutta.

Anytime I experience something that causes anxiety or pain, my reaction is to seek an escape and it’s always the wordly kind - what a far cry from Sariputta’s utterance: Nibbana is pleasant, friends…Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt.

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Good job Sujith for finding out that sutta and providing canonical evidence that an arahant can not suffer from mental disorders.

It seems to me that most people here do not understand the concept of neuroplasticity. They do not seem to understand the difference between a physiological illness and a neurological disorder. It is like a discussion waged in 1990 before the discovery of neuroplasticity. Claiming that an arahant can have mental disorders not only contradicts the suttas but also modern science. That is equal to saying neuroplasticity does not exist, a thing even the most rigid, old school psychiatrist would not try to do in 2017.

The arahant’s intellect is conditioned, impermanent and subject to decay, just like the arahant’s body. Why should it be doubted that the arahant’s intellect can decline and fall apart?

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“Hosts of devas and many men are tied by the satisfaction in forms that are loved,
Miserable and worn out, they come under the power of the King of Death.

“For sure those who are heedful day and night, give up forms that are loved—
They surely dig up the root of misery which is Death’s bait,
so difficult to transcend.”

Ud 2.7

It will do so, at death. Until then, the laws of biology do not allow for that to happen.