The Questions of King Milinda

Book 4: The solving of dilemmas

Chapter 6

6.1.6. Dilemma the Fifty-Seventh. Why Have Arahats No Power Over Their Bodies?

‘Venerable Nāgasena, your (members of the Order) say:

“There is one kind of pain only which an Arahat suffers, bodily pain, that is, and not mental.”

‘How is this, Nāgasena? the Arahat keeps his mind going by means of the body. Has the Arahat no lordship, no mastery, no power over the body?’

‘No, he has not, O king.’

‘That, Sir, is not right that over the body, by which he keeps his mind going, he should have neither lordship, nor mastery, nor power. Even a bird, Sir, is lord and master and ruler over the nest in which he dwells.’

‘There are these ten qualities, O king, inherent in the body, which run after it, as it were, and accompany it from existence to existence. And what are the ten? Cold and heat, hunger and thirst, The necessity of voiding excreta, fatigue and sleepiness, old age, disease, and death. And in respect thereof, the Arahat is without lordship, without mastery, without power.’

‘Venerable Nāgasena, what is the reason why the commands of the Arahat have no power over his body, neither has he any mastery over it? Tell me that.

‘Just, O king, as whatever beings are dependent on the land, they all walk, and dwell, and carry on their business in dependence upon it. But do their commands have force, does their mastery extend over it?’

‘Certainly not, Sir!’

‘Just so, O king, the Arahat keeps his mind going through the body. And yet his commands have no authority over it, nor power.’

‘Venerable Nāgasena, why is it that the ordinary man suffers both bodily and mental pain?’

‘By reason, O king, of the untrained state of his mind. just, O king, as an ox when trembling with starvation might be tied up with a weak and fragile and tiny rope of grass or creeper. But if the ox were excited then would he escape, dragging the fastening with him. Just so, O king, when pain comes upon him whose mind is untrained, then is his mind excited, and the mind so excited bends his body this way and that and makes it grovel on the ground, and he, being thus untrained in mind, trembles and cries, and gives forth terrible groans. This is why the ordinary man, O king, suffers pain as well in body as in mind.’

‘Then why, Sir, does the Arahat only suffer one kind of pain—bodily, that is, and not mental?’

‘The mind of the Arahat, O king, is trained, well practised, tamed, brought into subjection, and obedient, and it hearkens to his word. When affected with feelings of pain, he grasps firmly the idea of the impermanence of all things, so ties his mind as it were to the post of contemplation, and his mind, bound to the post of contemplation, remains unmoved, unshaken, becomes stedfast, wanders not—though his body the while may bend this way and that and roll in agony by the disturbing influence of the pain. This is why it is only one kind of pain that the Arahat suffers—bodily pain, that is, and not mental.’

44., Venerable Nāgasena, that verily is a most marvellous thing that when the body is trembling the mind should not be shaken. Give me a reason for that.’

‘Suppose, O king, there were a noble tree, mighty in trunk and branches and leaves. And when agitated by the force of the wind its branches should wave. Would the trunk also move

‘Certainly not, Sir!’

‘Well, O king, the mind of the Arahat is as the trunk of that noble tree.’

‘ Most wonderful, Nāgasena, and most strange! Never before have I seen a lamp of the law that burned thus brightly through all time.’

Here ends the dilemma as to the Arahat’s power over his body.