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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
25 Spring 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Adifficulty with the word nibbana is that its mean- ing is beyond the power of words to describe. It is, essentially, undefinable. Another difficulty is that many Buddhists see nibbana (San- skrit: nirvana) as something unobtainable—as so high and so remote that we’re not worthy enough to try for it. Or we see nibbana as a goal, as an unknown, undefined something that we should somehow try to attain. Most of us are conditioned in this way. We want to achieve or attain something that we don’t have. So nibbana is looked at as something that if you work hard, keep the sila (moral precepts), meditate diligently, become a monastic, devote your life to practice, then your reward might be that eventually you attain nibbana—even though you’re not sure what it is. Ajahn Chah would use the words “the reality of non- grasping” as the definition for nibbana: realizing the reality of nongrasping. That helps to put it in a context, because the emphasis is on awakening to how we grasp and hold on even to words like “nibbana” or “Buddhism” or “practice” or “sila” or whatever. It’s often said that the Buddhist way is not to grasp. But that can become just another statement that we grasp and hold on to. It’s a Catch-22: no matter how hard you try to make sense out of it, you end up in total confusion because of the limitation of language and perception. You have to go beyond language and perception. And the only way to go beyond thinking and emotional habit is through awareness— awareness of thought and awareness of emotion. “The island that you cannot go beyond” is the metaphor for this state of being awake and aware, as opposed to the concept of becom- ing awake and aware. In meditation classes, people often start with a basic delu- sion that they never challenge: the idea that “I’m someone who grasps and has a lot of desires, and I have to practice in order to get rid of these desires and stop grasping and cling- ing to things. I shouldn’t cling to anything.” That’s often the position we start from. So we start our practice from this basis and, many times, the result is disillusionment and dis- appointment, because our practice is based on the grasping of an idea. Eventually, we realize that no matter how much we try to get rid of desire and not grasp anything, no matter what we do—become a monk, an ascetic, sit for hours and hours, attend retreats over and over again, do all the things we believe will get rid of these grasping tendencies—we end up feeling disappointed because the basic delusion has never been recognized. This is why the metaphor of the island that you cannot go beyond is so powerful, because it points to the principle of an awareness that you can’t get beyond. It’s very simple, very direct, and you can’t conceive it. You have to trust it. You have to trust this simple ability that we all have to be fully present and fully awake, and begin to recognize the grasping, and the ideas we have taken on about ourselves, about the world around us, about our thoughts and perceptions and feelings. The way of mindfulness is the way of recognizing condi- tions just as they are. We simply recognize and acknowledge their presence, without blaming them or judging them, with- out criticizing them or praising them. We allow them to be, both the positive and the negative. And, as we trust in this way of mindfulness more and more, we begin to realize the reality of the island that you cannot go beyond. When I started practicing meditation I felt I was somebody who was very confused, and I wanted to get out of this confu- sion and get rid of my problems and become someone who was a clear thinker and might one day become enlightened. That’s what got me going in the direction of Buddhist medita- tion and monastic life. But then, reflecting on this position that “I am somebody who needs to do something,” I began to see it as a created condition—it was an assumption that I had created. And if I operated from that assumption, although I might develop all (facINgpage)dorothÉeroseN