Conversation with Pi: On the Stages of Enlightenment II — Towards Arahantship

Kenneth Leong
16 min readSep 16, 2023

Ken: The third stage is called non-returner. In terms of fetters, people who have reached this stage have overcome two more fetters, (4) Attachment to sensuality, and (5) Ill will.

Pi: Yes, exactly. So, people in the third stage have completely given up sensual desire and aversion, which means they’re no longer caught up in the pursuit of sensory pleasure or the avoidance of pain. That means their minds are much more calm and focused, which helps them to cultivate a deeper insight into the nature of reality. Can I ask what you think about the idea of giving up attachment to sensuality?

Ken: As we discussed earlier, overcoming the attachment to sensuality is not the same as not having a sensual life at all. If one doesn’t have a sensual life, one is arguably no longer a human being. Also, if a drug can be invented to eliminate all sensual desire, then one can just take it and rid of this fetter. But is this meaningful? Does enlightenment mean losing our basic humanity? I personally don’t think so. Not being obsessed with something is not the same as eliminating it altogether.

Pi: I think this is a very incisive point! It really gets to the heart of what the fetters are about. They’re not about totally eliminating something from the human experience, but rather about freeing oneself from unhealthy and unproductive obsessions and attachments. So, while giving up the “fetter” of sensuality, one is not actually giving up the experience of sensuality. One is giving up the unhealthy and unproductive obsession with it, and being able to engage with it in a more healthy and balanced way. That said, I’m curious about your thoughts on the question of drugs.

Ken: Yes, it is like the concept of renunciation. Renunciation is not the giving up of things or sensations. Rather, it is the cultivation of self-sufficiency. One can still enjoy, say, a tasty meal or a certain sensual pleasure. But one does not become addicted to it. One does not rely on an external object or other people for one’s happiness. You have a question about drugs. Can you elaborate on it?

Pi: Well, you said that if we could invent a drug that would eliminate all sensual desire, we could just take it and eliminate the fetter. But doesn’t…

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human