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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
71 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly wanted to alert us to the character of these processes; so, his teachings on human well-being deal largely with what unfolds in the four areas, such as perception, conception, desire, plea- sure, grasping, awareness, causation, absence of self, and non- substantiality. But Gautama was not merely interested in a description of the processes and compulsions of humans. His ultimate concern was a prescription—providing recommendations for what to do in the face of these processes and compulsions. Gautama’s own shorthand for describing the aim of his teach- ing project was simply this: pain and its ending. So, getting to the point means getting clear about nirvana. Probably most of us would agree, however, that nirvana is a pretty fuzzy notion. What does it refer to? For the casual listener of his day, nirvana would have been understood as referring to an extraordinary state of affairs, such as transcen- dence, salvation, or even something like heaven. Perhaps both to disarm and reorient his listeners from their pious acceptance of extravagant religious terminology, Gautama gave nirvana lots of nicknames. He called it, for instance: the far shore, the subtle, the unproliferated, the peaceful, the wonderful, freedom, the island, the shelter, the asylum, the refuge. Glosses like these can help us come closer to a doctrin- ally responsible English translation of nirvana. What are they amIrroSenBlatt