A person who is liberated, who has freed his or her mind of all mental afflictions, still experiences physical suffering. The difference between us and an arhat, a person who has freed the mind from mental affliction, is that an arhat doesn’t identify with pain. Arhats experience physical pain vividly but don’t grasp onto it; they can take action to avoid or alleviate pain, but whether they do so or not, the physical pain doesn’t come inside. What an arhat does not experience is mental suffering. A buddha, one who is perfectly spiritually awakened, has gone a further step. A buddha has no mental suffering of his or her own, but is vividly and non-dually aware of the suffering of others. Superficially, the arhat who is free from mental suffering can seem to us who lack this realization as numb and detached, in a state of existential anesthesia. A buddha, one who is fully awakened, presents the paradox of being free from suffering and also non-dually present with other people’s joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. A buddha taps into immutable bliss, the ultimate ground state of awareness beyond the dichotomy of stimulus-driven pain and pleasure. The mind of a buddha has been purified of all obscuration and from its own nature there naturally arises immutable bliss, like a spring welling up from the earth. With the unveiling of the buddha-nature of unconditioned bliss, there is also a complete erosion of an absolute demarcation between self and other. The barrier is gone. This is why buddhas are vividly and non-dually aware of the suffering of others, their hopes and fears, the whole situation, and at the same time are not disengaged from the purity and bliss of their own awareness. The mind of a buddha doesn’t block out anything and nothing is inhibited, and this is why the awareness of an awakened being is frequently described as “unimaginable.”
B. Alan Wallace.
Photo by Thomas Kaye.