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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
32 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY traditions, although they do not necessarily understand that higher reality in the same way. While all of the Abrahamic traditions dis- tinguish God from the world God has created, classical Judaism is more ambiguous about the possibility of eternal postmortem bliss with God in paradise. For Christianity and Islam, that possibility is at the core of their religious messages, as commonly understood. If we behave ourselves here, we can hope to go to heaven. The issue is whether that approach makes this world a backdrop to the central drama of human salvation. Does that goal devalue one’s life in this troubled world into a means? Does Buddhism teach cosmological dualism? That depends on how we understand the relationship between samsara (this world of suffering, craving, and delusion) and nirvana (or nibbana, the original Pali term for the Buddhist summum bonum). Despite many references to nibbana in the Pali Canon, there remains something unclear about the nature of that goal. Most descriptions are vague metaphors (the shelter, the refuge, and so on) or expressed negatively (the end of suffering, craving, delusion). Is nibbana another reality or a different way of experiencing this world? The Theravada tradition emphasizes parinibbana, which is the nibbana attained at death by a fully awakened person who is no longer reborn. Since parinibbana is carefully distinguished from nihilism—the belief that physical death is simply the terminal dissolution of body and mind—the implica- tion seems to be that there must be some postmortem experience, which suggests some other world or dimension of reality. This is also supported by the traditional four stages of enlightenment mentioned in the Pali canon: the stream-winner, the once-returner (who will be reborn at most one more time), the nonreturner (who is not yet fully