What does 'potently impotent' mean?

I have read a book by Ajahn Brahm, Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond. In it he writes that arahants are ‘potently impotent’ (in the context of sexual desire). I imagine he only had in mind male arahants when he wrote that, but besides this point, what does that mean precisely?
I have become a bit suspicious of oxymoronic pronouncements (like for example ‘crazy wisdom’) which often purport to reveal some deeper truth but which, when you reflect rationally on them, don’t really make much sense.
So what does ‘potently impotent’ mean in practice?


Hindered by desire, our actions are impotent and self-serving.
Free from desire, our actions are potent to serve all.

1 Like

Yeah! “Impotent” means “not powerful” but also “nonsexual”. I think Ajahn is gently making fun of us ordinary people who tend to subconsciously think of sex as an accomplishment, or associate “sexy” with “strong”. Cause true strength is strength of character, not libido.


I’m not certain what this means but a few issues come to mind-is it possible for an arahanth to have an erection?
-is it possible to have an erection without necessary having lustful thoughts?
These questions have been speculated upon by people without attainments and not surprisingly arahanths hardly ever made any comments about it.

The Pali word “viriya” meaning lit. state of a strong man, but figuratively energy, effort, or potency is related to the English word virile, which has to do with strength, energy, and the sex drive. However, the arahant has used viriya not for sexual conquests but instead for conquering and vanquishing their sexuality, and so the arahant is potently impotent. It’s a joke that plays on the fact that the Buddha used terms and metaphors such as being virile and a warrior to emphasize the effort required to achieve the opposite of these things, I.e. being wholly celibate and non-violent. The Buddha co-opts the traditional masculine ideals of society and inverts them to serve the purpose of motivating men to put all their effort into perfecting brahmacariya, the holy life.

Viriya definition

Virile Etymology

PIE root *wi-ro-

Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

Self-conquest is far better than the conquest of others. Not even a god, an angel, Mara or Brahma can turn into defeat the victory of a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.


Apparently it is:

So it’s an imperfect joke by Ajahn Brahm but the gist of it makes sense.