I like to put things in perspective by using extremes to create high contrast.

Let's imagine a person who has become an enlightened being, let's use the word "arahant". But imagine that they're put in an inescapable, hostile, deadly environment: a slave labor camp.

What would this arahant experience, and how would it achieve those experiences? What would be this arahant's view on reality (reality as in the combination of objective and subjective reality)?

From what I understand: if you master your mind, than you no longer suffer mentally; you might feel pain, sadness, grief or whatever, but you no longer suffer from the experience.

But imagine that this arahant has a child, or a wife, who are taken away to be killed, never to be seen again.

The reason I am asking this is that I just can't imagine that a person wouldn't fill up with hate and anger, disbelieve in any cause and become completely hopeless. How would an arahant hold itself in such a horrible situation? I can't imagine that it is even remotely possible to focus oneself on the teachings of the Buddha. Bad food, bad sleep, laborious days, bad shelter, bad clothing, bad physical health, etc... I couldn't even focus on where to put my next step! Let alone, keeping up righteous mental activity.

EDIT: For those who are interested, I summarize what I learned from asking this question. I was lost in thought with some imaginary situation (described in this question). Like trying to prepare myself for any situation that might every arise and compare my current state with a state that would be required and trying to get there. For that part I was no longer present with my actual experience. Instead I created a whole lot of (now I see) unnecessary experience from which I mentally suffered. The answer I accepted is the answer that first answered the question on the matter asked, and then guided my attention back to my self. I experience the answer as: first addressed the wandering mind and get its attention, then give an answer that the mind can chew on. Then provide the answer with the 'real' value. That made the chewing of my mind on the subject decrease immediately. I feel more tuned in to the moment of now after reading it. I feel thankful.


5 Answers 5


First of all, Arahanths never feel sadness, grief, hate etc. They don't have wives, but they may have ex-wives.

if the Arahath has psychic powers he might fly away to spare the people from acquiring extremely bad karma or he might stay if he saw it as an unavoidable consequence of a past Karma.

Either way, he will never get upset no matter what happens. He would try to make the people come to their senses, if he sees potential in them to be better humans. Otherwise he'd remain in a meditative state when not attending to the maintenance of the body.


I don't want to blame the victims but I suspect that, naturally, part of what's bad about a concentration camp is fear: fear that keeps you awake at night, fear that makes you labour, and so on.

You mentioned "disbelieve in any cause" and "become completely hopeless" ... and I wonder whether perhaps an Arahant might have already done something like that: i.e. perhaps see what you call "causes" as "mere constructions"; and "hopes" as (for example) symptomatic of craving.

Anyway I think that theory, at least, is fairly clear: defined in the Punna Sutta (SN 35.88).

Note too that an Aharant's life-experience might make for less a culture-shock: perhaps they're used to living with nothing; and to seeing dead bodies.

  • Thank you for answering. Do you think that the arahant would be able to maintain mental wholesome states and contain equanimity? Don't you think that the slightest chance exists that the arahant would be willing to self destruct? I'm will read the link you provided more fully. I took a quick look and to me it seems pretty apathetic (in opposite to emphatic), but maybe I missing the point. Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 13:11
  • I think it would be presumptuous of me to speculate about an aharant's vulnerability. I think that monks' training does equip them to maintain their peace of mind in adverse circumstances (see e.g. the experiment with Khachab Rinpoche here, not that I want to compare that either with a concentration camp). I thought the sutta I referenced was relevant because it gives the expected reaction/attitude towards being insulted, hit, beaten, stabbed, and killed.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 13:21

Being an arahant should not be confused with happiness. The arahant feels physical pain like everyone else. However, he or she has an increased awareness, understanding, and compassion. His awareness would greatly increase his awareness of the suffering of others. His understanding of karma would greatly increase his understanding of the CAUSES of the destructive behavior of Nazis. By understanding karma, it is unreasonable to blame a person for the past circumstances and suffering that causes their present behavior. Part of the increased awareness of the arahant consists of an awareness of the past experiences of another person. Bad people are bad for understandable reasons. By having increased compassion, the arahant would do his or her best to help fellow prisoners. You are mistaken to say, "You might feel pain, sadness, grief or whatever, but you no longer suffer from the experience." The truth is that, by understanding the causes of suffering, a person becomes more objective about it, thereby avoiding UNNECESSARY suffering. In point of fact, by being profoundly aware of the suffering of others, the arahant has an increased sadness. Your understanding of the mental state of the arahant is far off the mark. You claim that an arahant would have "disbelieve in any cause" in a concentration camp. You seem to think that being an arahant consists in believing in some kind of "cause." Buddhism is not a cause, it is a psychology. Similarly, you claim that the arahant would "become completely hopeless." It is not clear to me what kind of hope an arahant would have given that his or her assessment of the situation would be firmly grounded in what would be realistically possible. You seem to think that an arahant would need to "focus oneself on the teachings of the Buddha." This would not be the case. The arahant can see reality for himself or herself. Finally, being an arahant does not consist of maintaining "righteous mental activity." This is a Christian concept that finds no place in the psychology of the arahant. I have practiced mindfulness meditation and have studied Buddhism for more than 50 years. I can say from experience that the psychology of suffering and karma is very difficult to understand. You are far better off practicing mindfulness meditation in order to come to a better understanding of your own mind. Forget about speculating about the nature of arahant.

  • You claim that an arahant would have "disbelieve in any cause" in a concentration camp That is not what I claim, that disbelieve comes from my imagination when I picture myself in such a camp. I am nowhere near the state of an arahant I would say. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:41
  • You seem to think that an arahant would need to "focus oneself on the teachings of the Buddha.".. The arahant can see reality for himself or herself. Yes I see I am making a mistake there. Thanks for pointing it out. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:42
  • You are far better off practicing mindfulness meditation in order to come to a better understanding of your own mind. Forget about speculating about the nature of arahant. I think this is the most valuable contribution of all content of all answers given here. I'm lost in thought, and not present with my experience. Thanks so much for pointing it out!! I have to remember this more often, I have seem to have forgotten. As I certainly once arrived at a very similar conclusion. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:45
  • I have edited the question with a summary of how I experienced your answer. Thank you for taking the time to answer it. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:54

I gained more inside from asking this question than I added to the question in the EDIT section. I think that it is worthy enough as the answer to this question. At least, to me it feels that way. If hope others can find truth in the following.

I became more conscious of the fact that how I feel is a result of my mental activity. And thus in any circumstance I can feel a certain way, independent of the situation. After asking the question it came to me that those feelings are very accurate of reflecting my mental activity. And that each type of feeling (jealousy, hate, motivation, you name it) is a result of a formula. In the same way that 3+5 yields 8 as the formula of summation. Quick example of such a formula with respect to feeling motivated: the formula consists of the following parameters:

  1. me (or the role that I play as a human being)
  2. my understanding of the current situation
  3. my imagination of a future possible situation that I (or better: we) gain from (as in win-win) (in balance with nature/life
  4. and my estimation of the effort to get there.

You can imagine that if you would gain an abstract value of 10 (on a scale of 1-10) with an estimation of the required effort of value 1 (same scale). Then it is something you are willing to go for and thus feel motivated. On the other hand, if you estimate that the gain will be an abstract value of 1, and the estimation of effort value 10, then you are less motivated because of effort:gain ratio is much higher. And when you have doubt whether it is possible at all to get at that imagined, more beneficial, situation, you feel uncertainty and doubt. Which doesn't add to the motivation to go for it.

So my state of being is independent of the environment and I simply feel positive/negative depending of the parameters that I get to choose to fill in whatever formula that I get to choose. Of course, I can only choose if I see choices. So knowing which emotions exist, understanding these emotions and formulas to execute to produce them are key here. Working on something that I am motivated for feels positive. Feeling thankful feels positive.

The formula of thankfulness:

  1. me, or someone else.
  2. a current situation that is beneficial to me (or others)
  3. an imagined, less beneficial, situation of which I think the chance is realistically high that the current situation was like that.

And there you go! When consciousness puts all these things in relation what you get is: the feeling of being thankful for it being this way. The same works the other way around. Imagine a situation which you could appreciate more, with respect to the current situation and the result is that you do not feel thankful. Rather you would feel depreciation.

Wow!! The simplicity of this (I think) is so amazing! Just like the following metaphor: a charged battery has two poles, but by themselves the are not positive or negative. They only have a polarity when you bring those poles in contact with each other. And then energy is moving between them. The same with consciousness! Consciousness brings stuff together and then energy is moving. And dependent on the direction, it either feels positive of negative. Now add a lightbulb in between the two poles, energy needs to pass the lightbulb, feeling restance, to get there. So anything in between is causing resistance. Everything that stands between you and a future imagined situation from which you (the holistic you, not the ego you) gains from (that standing in between is a mental construct) causes resistance!

Thus an arahant in a slave labor camp can feel positive for sure! Though the environment might make it more or less challenging, but I do see now that it is absolutely possible!!

So when one is unconsciously able to apply all those formulas constantly with the correct (order of) parameters one will feel very positive, energetic, alive and blissful without a doubt!

With this in mind I wanted to put it to the test: EXPERIENCE!

And with 1,5 hour of meditation on my body and these concepts, I could really feel such a strong energetic vibe through my body which relieved pains of stress that I had (cramp around my eye and stomach and sore back). Especially that my back pain had gone away, while I did not change posture, I found so exciting and awesome. I experienced this in 3 separate meditation sessions. To me, this confirms the effectiveness of this focused mental activity. To me, this is truth.


"What would an Arahant experience, as a slave in a labor camp?"

He would experience suffering.

"What would be this arahant's view on reality?"

Life is happiness changing into suffering and/or suffering changing into happiness.

Thus, life is unsatisfactory.

Thus, with the cessation of clinging/craving, comes the cessation of suffering.

  • 1
    I marked this answer down because it goes against the suttas. An Arahant has eliminated all craving, and as a result of this cannot experience suffering. He feels painful and pleasurable sensations, but no MENTAL pain. Also the Buddha didn't say life is unstatisfactory, instead he said that there is dukkha due to attachment to the five aggregates (this attachment was due to prior craving)
    – Val
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 15:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .