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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 35 |spring 2008 Cessation doesn’t work all by itself. there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding throughout the Buddhist tradition, both internally and externally, about what we mean by that and how it’s used. For example, you have the issues that came up in China at the time of the founding of the Zen tradi- tion when the northern school of Chan essentially said that if we empty our mind of thoughts, we’ll be free of suffering. the southern school, with huineng and the others, said that if you empty your mind of thoughts, you’re just like a rock or a stone. this led to the distinction that there is an emptying of the mind, but what is emptied is the resistance to what is happening, rather than what is happening itself. the Buddha was very clear that cessation of suffering is not talking about being without con- sciousness and perception and all the rest of it. What happened to him under the bodhi tree, as I understand it, is that he became an altered per- son, but the primary alteration was not physical. he still had a body like the rest of us; he still had feelings and perceptions, the five aggregates. What ceased was wanting things to be different than they were, craving. There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what we mean by cessation. Getting fixated on cessation as a goal is heading in the wrong direction. The whole thing is very dynamic and alive. — Andrew Olendzki GAylOn ferGusOn: In the essence of dependent aris- ing, or pratityasamutpada-essence, mantra, om ye dharma hetu prabhava, and so forth, Sariputra gives a pithy synopsis of what the Buddha taught: “regarding dharmas that arise from a cause, the tathagatha taught their cause and also their ces- sation.” that’s a lion’s roar proclamation that we are not doomed to struggling and fighting with life. there is another possibility. BlAnche hArtmAn: David Brazier talks about nirodha, which we generally translate as cessation, as origi- nally meaning an earthen bank. he offers the image of being down behind a sheltering bank of earth or putting a bank around something so as to both confine and protect it, like containing or controlling a fire. So the feeling he brings to it is of containment of the stress around whatever is not going the way we want it, rather than ending something. We’re not going to end impermanence, which is the cause of a great deal of the dissatisfac- tion we have in our life. Andrew Olendzki: as a skillful means, that might be very effective, but containment as an image seems too limiting. For a householder trying to get by There has beeN a loT of DiscussioN about the nibbanic experience. whole books have been written about it. some people think that nibbanic happiness refers to a special sort of physical or mental state. some believe it exists in one’s body. others say that when mind and matter are extinguished, what remains behind is the essence of eternal bliss. some may be filled with doubt. They say, “if nibbana is the extinguishing of mind and matter, how can there be anything left to experience?” it is hard to think of happiness that is not experienced through the senses. This entire discussion, moreover, will be greek to people who have no experience of meditation. in fact, only a person who has experienced nibbana for herself or himself will be able to speak of it with conviction. Nonetheless, there are also inferential ways to speak of it, which will seem quite familiar to anyone whose practice has deepened to the extent of having had the nibbanic experience. some people think that nibbana is some special kind of mind or matter, but this is not so. There are four kinds of what are called in pali the paramattha dhammas, the realities that can be experi- enced directly without any conceptualization or thinking. These four are: material phenomena; two kinds of mental phenomena (con- sciousness itself, plus the other mental factors that occur with each moment of consciousness); and nibbana. Thus nibbana is defined as being different from matter and also from mind. a second mistaken notion is that nibbana is what is left behind when mind and matter are extinguished. Nibbana is the source of ultimate reality, and it is classified as an external phenomenon rather than an internal one. as such, it has nothing to do with anything that might remain in one’s body after the mind and body process has been extinguished. Nibbana cannot be experienced in the same way that, say, visual objects or sounds can be experienced, through the senses. it is not a sensual object. Therefore it cannot be included in any category of sensate (or sense-based) pleasures, no matter how extraordinary. it is non-sensate happiness, not based on the senses. arguments about the nature of nibbana have been going on since the buddha’s time. it seems there was an abbot of a monastery who was discussing nibbanic bliss before an audience of bhikkhus. one of the bhikkhus stood up and said, “if there is no sensation in nib- bana, how can there be bliss?” The elder answered, “my friend, it is precisely because there is no sensation in nibbana that it is so blissful.” This answer is almost like a riddle. i wonder what you think the answer is. Debating nirvana The end of suffering is nirvana, or nibbana in pali. as sayadaw u Pandita explains, the arguments over what that means have been going on since the buddha’s time. from In This Very Life: Liberation Teachings of the Buddha, by sayadaw u pandita. © saddhamma foundation. published by wisdom publications. collecTioNofThearTgalleryofNewsouThwales.phoTo:JeNNicarTerforagNsw