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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
70 Quenched Once, a man called Janussoni approached the Fortunate One. Exchanging greetings, he sat down next to the Fortunate One, and spoke. “It is said, ‘unbinding is conspicuous, unbinding is conspicuous.’ In what regard, friend Gotama, is unbinding conspicuous? In what regard is it palpable, leading the practitioner to come and see, and to be personally realized by the wise?” Gotama replied, “Janussoni, an infatuated, hostile, and deluded person comes to the realization that, through the overwhelming power of infatuation, hostility, and delusion he has become mentally exhausted, and that he is hurting himself and others. And that person becomes depressed and distressed. He realizes that if infatuation, hostility, and delusion were eradicated he would no longer hurt himself, he would no longer hurt others, and he would no longer experience depression and distress. It is in this way, Janussoni, that unbinding is conspicuous. Because a person realizes the absolute eradication of infatuation, the absolute eradication of hostility, and the absolute eradication of delusion, unbinding is conspicuous, palpable, leading the practitioner to come and see, and to be personally realized by the wise.” —Nibbuta Sutta; Anguttaranikaya 3.55 Whenever I read this sutra, I am struck by its tone. It sounds genuine. I don’t hear anything resembling art or literature or religion in the words being exchanged. I’m not sure why, but I get the impression that Gautama is an old man here. I hear him speaking with the practiced combination of tender- ness and terseness unique to someone who has expressed this teaching in so many ways in such detail to so many people for so long. Janussoni’s question is simple and direct, and Gautama sees that Janussoni’s concern is real. It’s a genuine question calling for a genuine answer. I suspect, though, that Janussoni was not a student of Gau- tama. If he was, I think that Gautama might have had a word or two more to say about method. Our second sutra helps fill this gap. In it, Gautama is speaking to a group of follow- ers, which probably accounts for the nature of his additional comments. Destination I will teach the destination and the path leading to the destination. Listen to what I say. What is the destination? The eradication of infatuation, the eradication of hostility, and the eradication of delusion is what is called the destination. And what is the path leading to the destination? Present-moment awareness directed toward the body. This awareness is what is called the path leading to the destination. In this way, I have taught to you the destination and the path leading to the destination. That which should be done out of compassion by a caring teacher who desires the welfare of his students, I have done for you. There are secluded places. Meditate, do not be negligent! Don’t have regrets later! This is my instruction to you. —Parayana Sutta; Samyuttanikaya 4.43.44 The structure of Gautama’s answers in both sutras reflects simultaneously the no-nonsense nature of the exchanges as well as the content of the advice being offered. The exchanges and the advice are sparse and elegant, in the way that physi- cists like their theories to be. On the face of it, the instruction that Gautama offers to Janussoni and his students might seem predictable, perhaps even somewhat trivial. The more I reflect on it, however, the more it strikes me as a remarkably poignant response to our situation as human beings in a deeply troubled world. As the titles “Quenched” and “Destination” indicate, Gau- tama’s advice points directly to the very purpose of his teach- ings: nirvana. Gautama dedicated his life to developing and prescribing a realistic treatment for human unhappiness. He observed that people spend their lives caught in a whirlwind of activity that harms others and is self-defeating. He termed this tumult samsara, and contrasted it with nirvana, a condi- tion of release. Nirvana is the cool forest, a refreshing breeze, a thirst quenched. Samsara is burning sensation, overheated dizziness, confusion, and difficulty. Why do we persist in creating such samsaric difficulty for ourselves and others? Gautama’s inquiry into the nature and cause of our continuing unhappiness involved a painstaking examination of the processes that, he would come to see, con- stitute “human being” (as both noun and verb); namely, those of body, feeling, mind, and sensory reception. It is in these “four locations,” he would discover, that each of us fashions our particular subjective experience of “the world.” Gautama amIrroSenBlatt