Wisdom liberated Arahants

How can Arahants that do not remember past lives realize the links of Dependent Origination?

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I don’t think it’s possible for someone who doesn’t even remember atleast single past live, can even be arhat.

My reason is that, for a moment leave ‘arhatship’ aside as it’s 4th and final stage of awakening and let’s talk about 1st stage of awakening, ‘stream-entry’.

Suttas say stream-enterer is someone who is established in right view of reality and has unshakable faith in buddha, dhamma and sangha. Accepting(naturally) that there were past lives and there will be future lives if we don’t achieve liberation, is considered as a part of right view. So stream-entry requires right view… and arhatship cannot be achieved without attaining stream-entry.

So based on this, I THINK nobody can be arhat without knowing certain amount of past lives.

An even better question is how could people who remembered past lives not realize dependent origination. Apparently, lots of non-Buddhists did this and were still stuck in the cycle of rebirth owing to their wrong views, at least according to Buddhists. So … there’s more to it than supernomal powers and knowledge, etc.

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Actually it seems to me that in Sn 12.70 wisdom liberated Arahants are asked wether they remember one or more past lives and the answer is negative.


If one were an arhat without remembering, as it really was, a single past life, but instead were aware of not single past life, then they would have to be known as an unconditioned being.

I wonder at the belief of the world, if there can be said, speaking rightly, ‘there is an unconditioned being’.

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Hi @Agon,
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In practice only impermanence has to be studied and known:

" Whenever the mind moves, it is aniccam (impermanent), dukkham (suffering) and anatta (not-self). The Buddha taught us to observe and contemplate this. He taught us to contemplate sankharas which condition the mind. Contemplate them in light of the teaching of paticcasamuppada (Dependent Origination): avijja (ignorance) conditions sankhara (karmic formations); sankhara conditions viññana (consciousness); viññana conditions nama (mentality) and rupa (materiality); and so on.

You have already studied and read about this in the books, and what’s set out there is correct as far as it goes, but in reality you’re not able to keep up with the process as it actually occurs. It’s like falling out of a tree: in a flash, you’ve fallen all the way from the top of the tree and hit the ground, and you have no idea how many branches you passed on the way down. When the mind experiences an arammana (mind-object) and is attracted to it, all of a sudden you find yourself experiencing a good mood without being aware of the causes and conditions which led up to it. Of course, on one level the process happens according to the theory described in the scriptures, but at the same time it goes beyond the limitations of the theory. In reality, there are no signs telling you that now it’s avijja, now it’s sankhara, then it’s viññana, now it’s nama-rupa and so on. These scholars who see it like that, don’t get the chance to read out the list as the process is taking place. Although the Buddha analysed one moment of consciousness and described all the different component parts, to me it’s more like falling out of a tree – everything happens so fast you don’t have time to reckon how far you’ve fallen and where you are at any given moment. What you know is that you’ve hit the ground with a thud, and it hurts!

What takes place in the mind is similar. Normally, when you experience suffering, all you really see is the end result, that there is suffering, pain, grief and despair present in the mind. You don’t really know where it came from – that’s not something you can find in the books. There’s nowhere in the books where the intricate details of your suffering and it’s causes are described. The reality follows along the same course as the theory outlined in the scriptures, but those who simply study the books and never get beyond them, are unable to keep track of these things as they actually happen in reality.

Thus the Buddha taught to abide as ‘that which knows’ and simply bear witness to that which arises. Once you have trained your awareness to abide as 'that which knows’, and have investigated the mind and developed insight into the truth about the mind and mental factors, you’ll see the mind as anatta (not-self).

You’ll see that ultimately all mental and physical formations are things to be let go of and it’ll be clear to you that it’s foolish to attach or give undue importance to them.

The Buddha didn’t teach us to study the mind and mental factors in order to become attached to them, he taught simply to know them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta. The essence of Buddhist practice then, is to let them go and lay them aside. You must establish and sustain awareness of the mind and mental factors as they arise. In fact, the mind has been brought up and conditioned to turn and spin away from this natural state of awareness, giving rise to sankhara which further concoct and fashion it. It has therefore become accustomed to the experience of constant mental proliferation and of all kinds of conditioning, both wholesome and unwholesome. The Buddha taught us to let go of it all, but before you can begin to let go, you must first study and practise. This is in accordance with nature – the way things are. The mind is just that way, mental factors are just that way – this is just how it is.

it's all dhamma. • Ajahn Chah on dependent origination


Yes. Not all arahants have the triple knowledge.

This is because remembering past lives is completely nothing to do with realising the links of DO:

Pages 201-2 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (167.3 KB)


Yet in the traditional interpretation of Dependent Origination the Sankhāra refers to the Kamma of past lives. How can you become aware that the Kamma of past lives caused the establishment of consciousness in the current one if you don’t remember them? This is what puzzles me.

You can realise DO from looking at links between thought moments in this life itself.

The only difference between DO in this and the past or next lives is the gross state of matter, but that’s really just a matter of degree of physical change.

Actually though if you think about it, the body we’re born with as babies more closely resembles our karma than the body we die with (which is more a reflection of the previous lifetime’s karma).

In any case, it’s the same process of aggregates - we only make such a distinction between this life and the next because of our ignorance of how the body is changing right here and now, instant to instant.

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