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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
spring 2008| 32 |buddhadharma Andrew Olendzki is the executive directOr Of the BArre center fOr Buddhist studies. zenkei BlAnche hArtmAn is A seniOr teAcher At the sAn frAnciscO zen center. she wAs the ABBess Of sfzc frOm 1996 tO 2003. GAylOn ferGusOn is A seniOr teAcher (AchAryA) in the shAmBhAlA internAtiOnAl mAndAlA And is On the fAculty Of nArOpA university. Gotama the Seeker composed a very strange poem: Forum: Does Buddhism make You happier? Debating the Third Noble Truth IntroductIon by Glenn wallIs Fortunately, too, the moderator of the discussion begins by asking for a definition. and off we are. the discussion that follows is deeply edifying. It also has the fascinating quality of being, I suspect, an echo of the kinds of dialogues that have been reverberating throughout the Buddhist world since thoughtful men and women gathered together to discuss the words of that remarkable teacher, the tathagata, the one who has come to an under- standing of reality. as our panelists make clear, nirodha is the good news of Buddhism. It says that that pervasive unease, tension, and discomfort—dukkha—that runs through your life like water can be qualita- tively affected. the claim of nirodha is that duk- kha can be acted on, confined, held in check, stopped—all of which are covered in the lexical range of the Pali word nirodha. In the Buddha’s teachings, what is to be directly acted on is the arising, or samudaya (the second line above), of that powerfully compelling force called craving. If you have ever wondered, “What could pos- sibly be fueling the unease that I so routinely expe- rience in my daily life” you might want to take to heart the Buddha’s suggestion: it is the fact that you demand too much from the world. You ask that the world’s objects yield abiding pleasure, satisfaction, and security. But how can they? the world’s pretty things are ephemeral, transparent, and unreliable, aren’t they? So what can we do? Given the preeminent realities (aka noble truths) of dukkha and samu- daya, how might we live? Well, all things want to float, says the poet rilke, yet we go around like burdens / settling ourselves on everything / ravish- ing them with our weight / What deadly teachers we are / when things, in fact, have the gift / of for- ever being children. the Buddha, too, speaks of heavy loads, relinquishment, and freedom. “Just put down the heavy burden of craving!” he says. “Putting down that burden is happiness; it is itself the very ease you seek.” and here we have the confluence of nirodha and nirvana. a medley of sutras may help. (the Buddha is speaking here.) Unease in life can be abated, friend. It can be acted on, qualitatively transmuted. this is nirodha. It is a preeminent reality. It involves learning how to free yourself from your unquench- able thirst for sensory pleasures. there is a way, a path to help you along. Following it, you discover that unease has an end. You will stop exhausting yourself and making trouble for others. how will you feel? You will be cooled, quenched, calmed, and deeply, deeply refreshed. Glenn wAllis is A Buddhist schOlAr, writer, And prActitiOner, And the chAir Of the Applied meditAtiOn studies prOGrAm At the wOn institute Of GrAduAte studies neAr philAdelphiA. his mOst recent BOOk, Basic Teachings of The Buddha, wAs puBlished By rAndOm hOuse. DaviDyizeNkeiblaNcheharTmaNphoTographeDbyroberTamargolis dukkham samudayo nirodho maggo unease arising let go! here’s how Like haiku, it is complexity resolved, simply. Like Dada, it is a terse repudiation of those who would overvalue conventional norms of discourse and logic. It’s subtly funny, too. the topic of discussion in the current Forum is nirodha, the third line. It is a topic that causes schol- ars and Buddhists alike to burst into Germanic cap- itals: Cessation, the absolute, the transcendent, the holy, the Wholly other, the Sublime, the Sacred, the Ineffable Ultimate, enlightenment. We also get the more sober lowercase translations, such as cessation, destruction, stopping, and extinction. as all of these terms indicate, the topic at hand concerns something Big and Serious. and as all of these terms also indicate, the matter at hand is confusing. too often, attempts to clarify nirodha’s mean- ing result in a case of obscurum per obscuris, explaining one murky matter with another. Gotama himself may have had a hand in this con- fusion when he used, as he so often did, the terms nirodha and nirvana synonymously. (I’ll return to this equation below.) there’s another thing: the widespread contemporary usage of the nonsensical phrase third noble truth to express this important Buddhist technical term certainly does not help matters. Indeed, is there any greater head-scratcher in all of our Buddhist-hybrid english than noble truth—and here, the third one of those? the third noble truth: nirodha. What does it mean, and why should we care? Fortunately for us, Buddhadharma has asked three contemporary Buddhist teachers of palpa- ble clarity, warmth, and wisdom to help us out.