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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
34 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY enlightened but will not be reborn physically after death), and the arhat (who has attained nibbana). If the nonreturner continues to practice after death, where does he or she reside while doing so? If nibbana is a place or a state that transcends this world, it is a version of cosmological dualism. Such a worldview does not neces- sarily reject social engagement, but it subordinates such engagement into a support for its transcendent goal, as Bhikkhu Bodhi explains: Despite certain differences, it seems that all forms of classical Bud- dhism locate the final goal of compassionate action in a transcendent dimension that lies beyond the flux and turmoil of the phenomenal world. For the Mahayana, the transcendent is not absolutely other than phenomenal reality but exists as its inner core. However, just about all classical formulations of the Mahayana, like the Theravada, begin with a devaluation of phenomenal reality in favor of a tran- scendent state in which spiritual endeavor culminates. It is for this reason that classical Buddhism confers an essentially instrumental value on socially beneficent activity. Such activity can be a contributing cause for the attainment of nibbana or the realization of buddhahood; it can be valued because it helps create better condi- tions for the moral and meditative life, or because it helps to lead oth- ers to the dharma; but ultimate value, the overriding good, is located in the sphere of transcendent realization. Since socially engaged action pertains to a relatively elementary stage of the path, to the practice of giving or the accumulation of merits, it plays a second- ary role in the spiritual life. The primary place belongs to the inner discipline of meditation through which the ultimate good is achieved. And this discipline, to be effective, normally requires a high degree of social disengagement. —“Socially Engaged Buddhism and the Trajectory of Buddhist Ethical Consciousness,” Religion East & West, issue 9