Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call #317, on September 9th.
Today let’s look at Chapter 7 of the Dhammapada, which is called the Arahant. According to the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is the former Jeffrey Block from Brooklyn and one of the greatest mindfulness scholars of our time, explains that from a classical mindfulness perspective, an arahant is someone who has attained the four jhanas, or the four levels of concentration; and also the three “higher knowledges,” which are (1) the recollection of past lives, (2) the knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings according to their karma, and (3) the knowledge of the destruction of the āsavas, which are the defilements that sustain the round of rebirths. All very mystical stuff.
The Dhammapada gives us the qualities of an arahant – or maybe what it feels like to be an arahant. These are excerpts from Chapter 7.
For someone at the journey’s end [meaning, who is reaching awakening], freed of sorrow, liberated in all ways, released from all bonds, no fever exists, which I take to mean, there’s no clinging, no grasping, no wanting, but instead, an ability to be with each moment just as it is, just as it arises.
For [such] a person [the next verses say] there is no more wandering. Calm in mind, speech, and action…, such a person is fully at peace.
In the classical sense, arahant-ship can only be achieved by someone who has given up all worldly attachments. But it’s interesting to wonder what it might look like to be an ordinary human, living in these times, living a life in the law, and who is arahant-like.
Bhikkhu Bodhi offers some additional guidance when he talks about the four types of humans: those concerned only with self-good, or becoming a better person; those concerned only with others' good – meaning, those devoting themselves to caring for others; those concerned with the good of neither, which is probably no one here on the Wake Up Call; and those concerned with the good of both themselves and others, who are the humans Bhikkhu Bodhi calls the “best.” Some students of mindfulness might say an arahant is only concerned with self-good, but I think an arahant is the “best” kind of human, concerned with both themselves and others.
And even if we ordinary humans – and ordinary lawyers – who are good to ourselves and good to others, might not reach completefreedom from sorrow, liberation in all ways, release from all bonds, with no fever at all, it’s still worth it to point in that direction, because there’s a big incentive: as the verse says, for [such] a person…there is no more wandering. Calm in mind, speech, and action and released through right understanding, such a person is fully at peace.
I’ve experienced tiny, momentary, glimpses of that kind of peace, and maybe you have, too. In the early mornings in Sonoma these days there’s a racket because we have a nest of hawks in this majestic oak outside my office. They make a high-pitched, keening sort of sound, the parents and babies keening to one another in the early morning. I hear them when I’m practicing. When I can let go into just listening, I get a sense of being fully at peace.
Maybe take a moment right now and recall a time when you felt fully at peace. Maybe you were in nature, or maybe listening to music, or just sitting quietly. Or maybe you were holding someone’s hand, someone you love, and you felt at peace. Can you conjure the feeling right now?
How wonderful if we could be in the practice of looking for, and paying attention to, those moments, however fleeting, of being fully at peace, so that we can recollect them whenever we want. I’d say this is true self-good.
And I’ve been wondering this week if maybe it could also be good for others, just in & of itself, without anything more.
Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year – wishing you all a sweet year! – and I attended the live-stream services at my synagogue. At one point a slide came up that said, “Sanctuary is where you are.” To me, remembering that, is why recollecting moments of peace is not only being good for ourselves but is also being good for others; or another way of saying that is, it’s why recollecting peace, and “sanctuary is where you are”, are really, all the same thing.
Because the Four Perils of overwhelm, reactivity, perfectionism, and living surrounded by conflict are painful; the things our clients are dealing with and bring to us, is painful; climate collapse and racism and COVID are frightening and painful. But it’s not “just” those things – it’s also that we so much want things to be different: better, safer, more peaceful, more loving, and the way that “plus” amplifies the pain, and causes so much more suffering.
So what if we practice being calm in mind, speech, and action, [and] fully at peace? What if we practice listening to the hawks, or the wind, or the music, or silence, or holding the hand of someone we love? And what if we practice recollecting that peace, so that we can do that any time.
Maybe, by doing that, we can be a sanctuary for others. Maybe, instead of always doing all the things we do to serve others, we could dedicated a few minutes, a few times a day, not to doing, but to being, and be a sanctuary? Maybe we can set an intention to provide safe space, sanctuary space: a calm mind, peace – for anyone who walks into our office, or enters our virtual space – for clients, for students, for staff. And for our family, our friends. Maybe even for all beings.
If, as Bhikkhu Bodhi says, “the best” humans are devoted to the good of both themselves and others; if those are the true aspiring arahants for whom there is calm in mind, speech, and action [and] no more wandering, then imagine offering that to our colleagues and students and clients and families and friends – and how much they will appreciate and cherish that sanctuary. In fact, imagine if everyone in our lives could look for us and know that whenever they found us, they could count on that sanctuary is where we are.
I think if we practice, then that peace, that sanctuary, can become ours to offer.