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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 8 24 If that intention is grasped in the wrong way, however, the breadth of its scope can be lost. Our own suffering can drift into seeming more significant than that of others, simply because it’s what we have the power to resolve. The Mahayana teachings arose to say, “My suffering is felt here, yet it can’t be more important than anyone else’s. All beings have similar experiences.” Of course, this under- standing has always been present within the Southern teachings as well; however, it seems that it was obscured by various factors. We have been looking at this question from a large-scale social view, but all movements are composed of individual human beings. These patterns of development are readily to be found on the personal plane too. During his early years in Thailand, Ajahn Sumedho once declared to Ajahn Chah, “I’m totally committed to the practice. I’m determined to fully realize nibbana in this lifetime; I’m deeply weary of the human condition and determined not to be born again.” Given the classic Theravadan vernacular, that’s a worthy at- titude; you’d expect the teacher to respond, “Sadhu! Good for you, Sumedho!” Ajahn Chah, however, replied, “What about us, Sumedho? Don’t you care about those who’ll be left behind?” In one stroke he had teased his disciple by suggesting that Ajahn masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is here that the Buddha first articulated the middle way and the four noble truths. There are two insights crucial to understanding these truths: first, they are relative, not absolute; second, they are not just personal but also universal. This first insight in- dicates that the statement “There is dukkha” describes a relative experience. It is not intended as a proclamation meaning “Dukkha is abso- lutely real.” This is one rea- son why the Buddha called these truths “noble” rather than “ultimate.” The second insight refers to the fact that it’s not just me who is experiencing dukkha; there is a shattering of the delu- sion that my experience of dukkha could be more significant than yours. All beings are in the same boat. It seems that in some regions, the understanding of these two principles shrank. Dukkha became regarded as an abso- lute reality, and thus a narrower diameter for the footprint emerged. It also appears, according to some historians, that because of this shrinking footprint the impulse for renewal arose, initiating what became known as the Mahayana movement. The Pali scriptures repeatedly state that the best thing we can do for ourselves and all beings is to be totally enlightened. Ultimately, the truth is not self and not other; there is no arahant, no bodhisattva.