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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
spring 2008| 38 |buddhadharma tion, or stopping, as an action. But cessation is essentially nirvana, which is a state, or at least a noun, no? Andrew Olendzki: actually, it’s more often used as an adjective in the Pali Canon, applied to a person who has become quenched. GAylOn ferGusOn: they’re nirvanic? Andrew Olendzki: they’re nirvana-ized or some- thing. the fires have been quenched, extinguished; they’re cool. they’ve become cool. BuddhAdhArmA: So you don’t teach nirvana as an experience? or a state? Andrew Olendzki: I try not to teach beyond my expe- rience, so I don’t have a lot to say about the experi- ence of nirvana. all we’re saying is that nirvana is what the Buddha attained under the bodhi tree, and that there’s incremental progress toward it. But I don’t see it as a state in the sense that, you know, I slipped into nirvana for an hour or two. there are also gradations—stream-enterer, once- returner, and so forth. BlAnche hArtmAn: You’ve also got the whole maha- yana side, the bodhisattva ideal of let’s do it all together or not at all. GAylOn ferGusOn: Dzongsar khyentse talks about the classic four marks of view in his book What Makes You Not a Buddhist, and the fourth one is “nirvana is peace.” he emphasizes that nirvana is beyond conception. BlAnche hArtmAn: I would call it the inconceivable. GAylOn ferGusOn: Yes. It’s certainly not our concept of happiness. BuddhAdhArmA: happiness has become a very popular word, and these days Buddhism is often described as trying to help you to become happy, because that’s what we all want. Doesn’t the search for happiness in fact define the root of suffering? BlAnche hArtmAn: my actual experience is that after a number of years of practice, I’m a hell of a lot hap- pier than I was before I started practicing. that’s undeniable. my teacher named me Zenkei, which means total joy, and at the time I asked myself what the heck he named me that for. Now I really appre- ciate it, because there is a lot of joy in my life. BuddhAdhArmA: Is your practice motivated by trying to be happy? BlAnche hArtmAn: No, I have been more motivated by trying to figure out how to live when you know you’re going to die. knowing that you’re going to die makes how you live a very important question. So my motivation was to find the best way to live given the limited time I have. Andrew Olendzki: We all appreciate the Dalai Lama’s comment that everyone basically wants to be happy. that’s a really open and joyous place to start looking into all of this. at the same time, it’s also fair to say that happiness can turn into a mar- keting label. We found out a long time ago at the study center that no matter how good the teacher or the date, if we offer a course about coming to terms with sickness, aging, and death, nobody’s going to come. But if we take the same course and call it the art of happiness, lots of people come. It’s a skillful means thing. to a certain extent, you want to use the language and put out the ideas that are going to be useful and understandable to people wherever they are in their lives. then hope- fully from that starting point they are gradually pulled into the deeper and subtler ways of looking at the issues. I don’t think the Buddha was lead- ing with the happy card, but he was very clear on saying that greater happiness is accessible through understanding than through confusion. GAylOn ferGusOn: I’m sure we all agree that seeking happiness is the cause of a lot of suffering. that’s classic buddhadharma. the very struggle to always be in any particular state is what the second noble truth is about. Yet I agree that it makes sense to start with people where they are and lead them to NisaharoN