Why do arahants keep themselves alive?

I’ve been thinking lately about the end of sensual and egotical desires that occurs after attaining arahantship.
Then, I started thinking about what drives would keep arahant alive.

I’ve read a lot of times that arahant, for instance, don’t kill themselves because they’ve exhausted any aversion born out of identification or desire to exist/annihilate “themselves”.
But does that, by default, makes them prone to keep feeding their bodies, protecting it from cold or heat, curing its diseases, etc.?
Why not, for example, let themselves starve to death?

Why is the active impulse to live stronger than the desire to let themselves to die pasively?
It is, underlying to that tendency to keep themselves alive, a desire to not die, or a desire/attachment to higher forms of wellbeing?
(A kind of different but related question: why do arahants keep entering to jhana? What motive do they have?)

Do they still live because of compassion for other beings?
If so, shouldn’t all monks become Dhamma-teachers?
Why are there monks (if I recall correctly from the suttas; I have no example in mind right now) that spend their lives living completely isolated and in hard environments, even after attaining arahantship?

I’d appreciate any answer you could give.
Thanks in advance for your time!
Kind regards!


I suppose in a way, an arahant monk is a Dhamma teacher simply by being around. For example, SN46.3 says that even the sight of an arahant is very beneficial for others.

On a less sutta-related note, there’s the story of Ajahn Brahm going to meet Ajahn Tate. IIRC, simply being in the presence of Ajahn Tate was so powerful that Ajahn Brahm had no questions to ask him. We don’t know, of course, if Ajahn Tate is an arahant. But in any case, highly developed mendicants are a big gift to the world.

  1. If they ordain, they follow the monastic lifestyle (out of respect for the Dhamma and sangha I guess), which includes going for alms. Thereby, they keep the body alive.

  2. One can have the drive to develop compassion before arahanthood, or one may reflect like the Buddha that one has the ability to teach and benefit others, just as others suffer because they don’t understand this truth, let me help them. Or someone requested the teachings.

  3. Jhanas for arahants are just plesant abiding in the here and now. Arahants still have feelings, pleasant, unpleasant and neither, but they see feelings as dukkha, so entering the cessation of perception and feelings is the one period where they are freed from all sufferings. We can have an analogy, say one doesn’t mind playing lego with kids, even though one’ve already developed disenchantment towards lego, no lust towards it. One might even think lego is a waste of time, but still, there’s no aversion or boredom (which is subtle aversion) in playing lego oneself. However, if given the choice, it’s far preferable for one to choose the higher happiness of meditation rather than the lesser happiness of playing lego with kids.

  4. Not all persons are good in teaching, as we might experienced in our primary, secondary or university teachers. SuttaCentral


I think that an arahant will keep themselves alive out of compassion as you say. If we just look at the process of something as basic as generosity, we can see two sides. There is the giving and the receiving. If either side is stopped then the process stops. So just by taking alms, the arahant is encouraging generosity to flourish in the heart of the giver. This essay by Lily de Silva includes an overview of the qualities of the recipient which will attract most merit for the donor. I think that this is one of the reasons that the Buddha made sure that Buddhist mendicants live off donations rather than say eating fallen fruits from the forest like some other ascetic groups.

In respect to your question on jhana, I think that this is just the default state when you are an arahant. Just like non-arahants mind tends towards proliferation, the arahant mind tends towards jhana unless they need to engage with the world. We can see this tendency in our own minds as practitioners - we practice more and more meditation, then when we sit down the mind increasing inclines to calm rather than proliferation.


This gives a good idea of the attitude of an arahant:

I don’t long for death;
I don’t long for life;
I await my time,
like a worker waiting for their wages.

  • Thag 11.1

Maybe existing/being a field of merit for others feels profoundly meaningful and worthwhile? :slight_smile:

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Arharant exactly because enlightened naturally cannot act against the Dhamma. Thoughts that contradict the Dhamma do not develop at all. Killing, all killing even suicide, contradict the first precept hence the reason such a thoughts as you presented cannot pass in the Arahant mind at all. :pray:

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Aren’t there suttas where an Arahant commited suicide?
I forgot which though.

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Thanks SDC and everyone else for your kind answers.

Suttas like this one are the source of my confusion.
As I see it, letting oneself starve to death would be a middle ground between longing for death and for life: I’m not actively doing stuff neither for ending my life, nor continuing it. And I stop eating (as an hypothetical arahant) without any lust for non-existance.

Why is eating, taking minimum care for the body, etc. seen as “more neutral” than starving oneself without any underlying aversion?
Why can we accept that an arahant eats without desire for food, etc., but cannot accept starvation without desire for non-existence?

Kind regards!

Q: Why do arahants keep themselves alive?

A: In hopes of doughnuts being offered, of course!

I’m not an arahant, so this is mere speculation. Though I think it may not be too far from the Truth.

I think you refer to Godhika. Technically the monk became an Arahant at the moment of the last breath. He was not an Arahant while suffering his severe illness. If he were an Arahant, the sickness would not have disturbed his meditation. In case this, Sutta may be used to argue for euthanasia, albeit the issue is if you terminate your life, your Kamma will bring you where your state of mind is and the level of the path you are.
In the case of Godhinka, he was so advanced and closed to the other shore that the moment he started to die was able to leave the attachment to the body, his illness and the disruption it caused. So this suicide is not the suicide of an Arahant but the suicide of a monk that died to merit and maturation of Kamma at the moment of death reached Nibbana. If this had not happened, this monk would have died breaching the first precept with all its consequences. :pray:

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Already answered above:

For lay arahants, the tradition is that they die within 7 days if they don’t ordain.

Also, a second answer is the confusion of the word desire. There’s no tanha (cravings) in arahants, but there can be chanda (wish, desire) in arahants. The common confusion between tanha and chanda is that some translators use desire for tanha.

Surely we have all experienced eating without cravings too, just normal chanda to do the motion of eating, going to toilet, sleeping etc.

That’s the commentary view. From the [sutta] MN144 (SuttaCentral) itself it seems that

“Sāriputta, didn’t the mendicant Channa declare his blamelessness to you personally?”

Ven. Channa already was an arahant to be able to declare such a statement before he used the knife.

The explanation from Early Buddhist text position is then that the Vinaya didn’t prohibit suicide directly. For the monk who jumped off the cliff and accidentally killed another person down there, the offence is not so serious, just a prohibition to not jump off a cliff. SuttaCentral

On one occasion a monk who was plagued by lust climbed the Vulture Peak, jumped off the cliff, and hit a basket-maker. The basket-maker died, and the monk became anxious … “There’s no offense entailing expulsion.

But, monks, you shouldn’t jump off anything. If you do, you commit an offense of wrong conduct.”

It seems that suicide is not so much prohibited directly, or else the wording would had been much wider coverage and the offence higher than dukkata. However, the Buddha did said that the only blameless suicide is where one doesn’t get reborn. Only arahants can perform blameless suicide.

As to why arahants prefer death over suffering chronic pain, when we advice non arahants with chronic pain not to kill themselves actively before natural death? It might be the same explanation for why arahants prefer Jhanas, and that there’s no personal consequences for arahants who commit suicide as opposed to those who are not enlightened.


I am not 100% sure, but I think there are more cases in the suttas.

There are monks who committed suicide. None of whom where Arahant when they act on it.
This is an interesting academic study about “suicide” in the Pali text.

The main interest of this paper, however, focuses upon the anecdotal cases of individuals, which we shall now examine. They stand out from the other material because they represent instances of suicide which, if not condoned, are certainly exon- erated. We aim to find out exactly why this should be so. We have located three stories which are indubitable suicide cases. They concern the bhikkhus named Vakkali (S.III. 119; cf. also Thag.350-4; Dh.A.IV.117; Vism.129), Godhika (S.I.120) and Channa (M.III.263; S.IV.55), each of whom takes his own life with a knife. There are other stories as well, which share the same basic theme and structural pattern, but which do not
make it entirely explicit at the end whether the protagonist puts an end to his own life or dies of natural causes. Owing to their fundamental resemblance to the indubitable suicide stories, we shall treat these as relevant to the issue

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SN 35.120:

And how, friend, is one moderate in eating? Here, reflecting carefully, a bhikkhu takes food neither for amusement nor for intoxication nor for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness, but only for the support and maintenance of this body, for ending discomfort, and for assisting the holy life, considering: ‘Thus I shall terminate the old feeling and not arouse a new feeling, and I shall be healthy and blameless and live in comfort.’ It is in this way, friend, that one is moderate in eating.

If the arahant is free from greed, hate and delusion, there really is nothing left to do - to go the way of non-action and starve is still action; it is something others can observe and would be misunderstood by anyone who is not also an arahant; it is not something that would inspire future generations, which is a major factor in the endurance of the dispensation and something the Buddha was adamant about. This begs the question: why would the arahant care about that? I think the answer is simple: it is easier and blameless to eat and keep the body comfortable. It will inspire those future generations.

Thanks, Venerable, for your kind answer.

So, the main reason for not letting oneself pasively to starve is respect for the duty already taken?
I suppose there are other reasons that could be added to that one (like the ones shown by the other posters).
It makes a lot of sense to me.

Thank you, again, Venerable.
Kind regards!