How instrumental is intellect in spirituality?

Continuing the discussion from Was Ven Maha Boowa an arahant and why?

(unfold the quotation)

It’s my understanding that an arahant exemplifies the perfection of mental health and it is impossible for what we would call mental problems to develop in his mind. The body of such a being might develop problems but this would most likely just inhibit wholesome actions, not produce unwholesome actions.

With respect to mild mental retardation, mindfulness training can take hold & render benefit. The possibilities here are obviously something to explore, and this is ongoing research, so hard & fast conclusions should be on hold.

This leaves us with the main aspects of a question such as this:

Does a Noble lose a given attainment due to a new disability? Which disabilities? Are all Noble attainments affected, or just higher/lower ones?

Does someone with a certain disability lack the ability for a given Noble attainment? Which kinds of disability have this effect? Which attainments are affected?

Are both sets of disabilities equivalent, or do some disabilities affect Nobles/putthujjana differently?

Now, a very important point about Noble attainments can be found at AN 9.12:

These nine persons, passing away with residue remaining, are freed from hell, the animal realm, and the sphere of afflicted spirits; freed from the plane of misery, the bad destination, the lower world. Sariputta, I had not been disposed to give this Dhamma exposition to bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, lay male disciples and female disciples. For what reason? I was concerned that on hearing this Dhamma exposition, they might take to the ways of heedlessness. However, I have spoken this Dhamma exposition for the purpose of answering your question.

Are there any other occasions where the Buddha explained that a teaching was this unimportant, this close to being left on the simsapa tree? What use is there in fondling Noble attainment speculations when it’s such inessential thinking? Why speculate about the interaction between Noble attainments and developmental disabilities at all, whether or not one believes they have psychic powers in this respect?

Why speculate about Noble attainments at all? Is it as the Buddha feared: so one can rest on one’s laurels? Or is it so one can assess others? Or so one can give personal imprimatur to one’s favored monastics?

I fail to see anything but idle & frivolous speculation when these things are discussed.

(I also think a set of mythical benchmarks came to have literal connotations for the growing “eternalism-isn’t-wrong-just-tainted-rightness” crowd, in those early decades, but this is probably also an idle & frivolous speculation… damnit…)

1 Like

but mental problems are caused by abnormalities in brain biochemistry and blood supply, how would the mere worldview and knowledge avert the impact of pathological processes, connected with aging in particular, which have tangible and measurable physical dimension?

one explanation to your contention i could suggest is that one who’s destined to some spiritual attainment in a particular life by the merit of their kamma and aggregated practice in previous lives is also destined to not develop mental disabilities in that life

And abnormalities in brain biochemistry and blood supply are also caused by unwholesome mental activity like wrong attention and harmful thinking patterns etc. (neuroplasticity).

For the first 30 years of my life, I was a big fan of science and to some extent I still am. But I’ve started to notice more and more scientism in it and ways in which the materialistic views of scientists shape and distort it’s findings. So nowadays I’d put more confidence in the first verses of the Dhammapada:

Mental qualities are not self. One ultimately has no control over these things. The arahant by definition knows this directly and is no longer entangled in these phenomena as representing or constituting a ‘self’. I think these are pretty safe statements.

So how then could that knowing quality then be somehow altered or impinged upon by some passing phenomena? Can a mind no longer entangled in phenomena – not dependent on any thing - be defined as an ‘it’?

I don’t see how someone suffering from dementia or other serious mental illness could awaken (at least it seems highly unlikely) but once a person has awakened I don’t see why an arahant could not develop dementia at some future point. What would be different (from that of a non-arahant) is the relationship of the arahants mind with the phenomena of dementia – ‘freedom from’ as opposed to ‘absorbed/entangled in’.

1 Like

Dhp1 appears to be about (kammic) intention rather than about all ‘experience’. The Pali word for ‘mind’ in the verse is ‘mano’ rather than ‘vinanna’ (‘conscious experience’). I can’t see the relevance of Dhp 1 to the discussion. You appear to be inferring that the experience of physical aging, physical illness & physical death is due to kamma (intention) and somehow, this unproven conjecture based on a misinterpretation of Dhp1, is superior to science that is capable of keeping very wealthy but very evil people alive to past 100 years old .

The beginning of SN 22.59 states the very nature of each of the five aggregates lends itself to disease (ābādhāya) thus how can past kamma explicitly relate to this process of natural impermanence?

Consciousness is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, consciousness were self, this consciousness would not lead to disease (ābādhāya), and it would be possible to have it of consciousness: ‘Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus.’ But because consciousness is nonself, consciousness leads to disease, and it is not possible to have it of consciousness: ‘Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus.’ SN 22.59

In MN 12, the Buddha is said to have stated:

Sāriputta, even if you have to carry me about on a bed, still there will be no change in the lucidity of the Tathāgata’s wisdom. MN 12

Therefore, once the defilements are completely uprooted/cut in arahantship, I suppose all that can be expected is the sick & decaying aggregates of an arahant would not engage in unwholesome behaviours; that is all. For example, an arahant might lose memory of things (such as another person’s name or what they said in the previous sentence); may lose control of conscious functions (such as occurred to Ajahn Chah); but they should not exhibit greed, hatred & delusion.


quite simply, one person falls ill, while another doesn’t, and both possess consciousness, impermanent and leading to disease, so what would be that factor which is responsible for different outcomes?

I’m not saying physical aging, physical illness & physical death happen because of kamma (although there are causal links between kamma, being born and old age, sickness and death) but I am saying these processes are influenced by kamma, even in this very life.

If you dwell in negativity you will weaken your immune system, get sick more often and more seriously which might mean an earlier death. On the other hand meditation and positivity in general has been shown to activate/deactivate certain genes and to improve your immune system, breathing and heart rates, blood pressure, inflammatory disorders and possibly even life expectancy.

So I’m not talking about the superiority or inferiority of science, I’m merely pointing out that most of these discoveries including neuroplacticity have been made in science only very recently and we shouldn’t stubbornly insist science has everything figured out. After all…by it’s own admission, it barely understands only 4% of the mass-energy of the known universe.

1 Like