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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 09 72 saying? What do they point to? Of all the candidates, one translation stands out as being particularly apt: “unbinding.” Most of the nirvana translations and glosses are adjectives or nouns, describing qualities or positing places and things. “Unbinding” has an advantage over these terms in that it implies a process. It is in a vibrant form, allowing, like a present progressive verb, a sense of a continuous, developing, or imminent action. In short, “unbinding” has a dynamism lacking in most other translations. Most important, of course, it performs exceptionally well the task given it in Gautama’s overall scheme. This idea of unbinding fits well with what Gautama is telling his students and Janussoni. Gautama shows that he understands our everyday difficulty—our mental exhaustion, depression, distress, the ways in which we harm ourselves and others. He has identified a plausible basis for our “diffi- culty consciousness” and laid it open to our scrutiny; namely, that we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the “power of infatuation, hostility, and delusion.” Infatuation, hostility, and delusion are fueling our difficulty. For one who realizes this, Gautama tells Janussoni, unbinding—nirvana—has been made “conspicuous, palpable, leading the practitioner to come and see.” Can Gautama really be equating nirvana with the eradica- tion of infatuation, hostility, and delusion? The effects of such eradication certainly would be in full view to you and to all of those whom your life touches. Right? Taken together, infatuation, hostility, and delusion are referred to as klesha—stain, defilement, soiling. The term stems from the verbal root klish, meaning “to torment, to trouble, to cause unease.” And it certainly is not difficult to see that the presence of infatuation, hostility, or delusion in any given instance of experience tends to spoil things. This points to a crucial feature of the kleshas. Each of these qualities lies on a continuum of ordinary human responses to any given event, person, or phenomenon. Infatuation lies on a continuum extending from virtually imperceptible attrac- tion to enjoyment to raging lust; hostility, from preconscious aversion to umbrage to violent hatred; delusion, from auto- matic, unconscious perceptual assumptions to open-minded uncertainty to schizophrenic-like hallucination. Infatuation, hostility, and delusion, then, can be understood as the points where the flavor so vital to a fulfilling life turns sour and becomes toxic. But how will you know when your response has slipped into the toxic? Could Gautama’s answer be any simpler? Just observe for yourself, he tells Janussoni, the role played by infatuation, hostility, and delusion in your life. Notice how these qualities leave you exhausted and depressed. Notice the distress they create for you and others. Now, diminish their role—unbind yourself from their influence—and observe what happens. See the difference? It is in this way, Janussoni, that unbinding is conspicuous. To his students, Gautama is even more specific. He tells them that the path to conspicuous unbinding is “present- moment awareness directed toward the body.” Elsewhere, Gautama emphasized that it was “within this six-foot body, with its mind and its concepts” that he became awakened. I have always understood this statement as pointing to the basic humanity of Gautama’s message. In that regard, we can see it as a warning and a reminder. It warns us to check our tendency to elevate certain humans to an exclusive, even Gautama emphasized that it was “within this six-foot body, with its mind and its concepts” that he became awakened. I have always understood this statement as pointing to the basic humanity of Gautama’s message. annecutler