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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
spring 2008| 40 |buddhadharma inquiring into one’s own experience. BuddhAdhArmA: Just as happiness is often discussed as the goal of Buddhism, so too is the “lessening of suffering.” Would you say that is a sufficient description of cessation? BlAnche hArtmAn: Well it seems that complete ces- sation is, as Gaylon said, to prevent the arising rather than do something about it after it’s arisen. BuddhAdhArmA: But surely we want to lessen suf- fering. Andrew Olendzki: Classically, we’re invited to do both. With unwholesome states that have already arisen, we work toward letting go of them, abandoning them, understanding what’s causing them, and changing the channel. that lessens suffering in the sense that we’re able to catch it earlier. In the case of those unwholesome states that have not arisen, we’re supposed to do various practices to help guard against them, to prevent them from arising. GAylOn ferGusOn: Buddhism involves the lessening of suffering, but it’s not only about the lessening of suffering. that’s the distinction. BlAnche hArtmAn: With respect to the lessening of suffering, I’m interested in not just working on our own states of mind, but what about hunger in the world? What about homelessness? What merliJNhoek underneath the distortions of the mind, the illusions we create, is the tangible experience of discomfort. BlAnche hArtmAn: I don’t find it so useful as a start- ing point for teaching necessarily, but I certainly find it useful as a starting point for practice. Andrew Olendzki: I usually start off with the phe- nomenal field, the six senses. I ask, what would happen if you were an ancient wanderer in India with no ties and no duties, and you sat under a tree and crossed your legs and straightened your back and paid careful attention to what was arising? What would you notice? You would notice awareness, and that this awareness seems to be coming from six different channels, and that the moment of awareness is further elaborated upon and nuanced by percep- tion and feeling and intention. this is the way that the mind-body organism processes data and con- structs a world of experience. Sitting down and noticing. that’s how people can start connecting these categories of Buddhist thought to their felt experience. It’s only then that you can begin to ask what’s wrong with this picture? GAylOn ferGusOn: Yes, with that approach you’re helping people to move as quickly as possible away from the notion that the truths are philoso- phy, a metaphysical cosmology, or a belief system, and rather to see that they are a pointer toward The buDDha TaughT about nirvana in different ways, depending on the needs of his disciples. To those who were weary of samsara’s suffering, who were depressed by it, the buddha taught about nir- vana as if it truly existed. To them he described nirvana as the genuine and irreversible liberation from samsara, the peace that was the cessation of samsara’s suffering. once those people had hope that there was in fact a way they could gain freedom from samsara’s misery, they were filled with longing to attain it, so they renounced samsara and became eager entrants into the path of dharma. Then, to his disciples who became fixated on the idea that nirvana was real, the buddha taught that nirvana does not inherently exist after all, that it too is just like a dream. finally, to his most apt disciples, the buddha described the true nature of nirvana, which, like the nature of all other phenomena, cannot be described as being existent or nonexistent because it is beyond all conceptual fabrications. Thus, the way that the stages of the teachings proceed is as follows: first, it must be explained that samsara is of the nature of suffering, because if one is still distracted by the thought that one can get some happiness out of this existence, one will not think about the dharma. Therefore, it first must be taught that everything in existence is of the nature of suffering. Then, when that thought of everything in existence being of the nature of suffering gets really depressing, one is introduced to the concept of nirvana and is taught that the possibility of liberation from this suffering exists. This eases one’s sadness and gives one great incentive to practice the dharma with the goal of attaining nirvana’s peace. however, there is still this thought that nirvana is something real, and if one does not free oneself from that, one will never be able to attain nirvana. Therefore, one is then taught that nirvana does not truly exist, that it has no inherent nature. finally, what remains is this clinging to nirvana being nonexistent, which is also an obscuration to one’s wisdom. in order to be free from that, one is taught that the nature of nirvana transcends both existence and nonexistence, and that this is the ultimate description of genuine reality. no Suffering and no enD of Suffering while buddhism promises an end to suffering, Khenpo tsultrim Gyamtso says we shouldn’t cling to the reality of suffering, or its emptiness either. from The Sun of Wisdom, by khenpo Tsultrim gyamtso. published by shambhala publications.