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The Goal of Buddhism

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  • The Goal of Buddhism

    Dear Bhante

    My dear friend has just realised that the goal of Buddhism is the total ending of Dukkha, including even consciousness.

    As a result of this discovery, he's found himself in a bit of an existential dilemma, probably the kind that the Buddha hoped to avoid in Vacchagotta when declining to answer his questions.

    I've tried explaining that the nirodha of consciousness is not that fearsome, as consciousness itself is impermanent, and that nirodha in Nibbana did not mean destruction but the non-arising of consciousness. However, due to language difficulties, I could not use 'anatta' to supplement that. Worse, he's now wondering how kamma operates if everything is impermanent.

    Could you suggest some skillful means to overcome his fear of Nibbana? I've suggested he put aside the kamma question for now, since I cannot explain what I've taken on faith alone.

    With metta

    _/\_

  • #2
    Dear Sylvester,

    Nibbāna is the highest happiness. This, of course, is simply the converse of saying it is the ending of suffering. All that ends at final Nibbāna is suffering, and since no new suffering arises, it is the highest happiness.

    The problem, as you hint at, is the sense of self. As long as a self is perceived, rather than just suffering, then cessation is going to seem scary to many. Once one can make the conceptual leap and accept that it’s all just suffering – even if to begin with it’s just an intellectual stance – the problem largely dissolves.

    I think you have to give your friend a bit of time. Most people need some quiet contemplation to see that this is not as scary as it may seem, in fact quite the opposite.

    With metta.

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    • #3
      With deep gratitude, Bhante.

      Comment


      • #4
        To me the issue remains with this though is what is left? If all our normal experience comes under the heading of some form of dukkha (however extreme or mild) and it ceases, what is left? It doesn't seem like this is something for which a straightforward answer is possible though, from what I've seen so far. It seems as if it's said to be something you have to have a direct insight into through meditation. Maybe it's a kind of "being at one with everything" kind of thing (as in the interviewer's silly joke which the Dalai Lama didn't get..).

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        • #5
          Dear Oliver,

          The point is that the question "What is left?" is really completely irrelevant. Imagine putting your hand on a hotplate inadvertently. It starts to burn straight away, but you refuse to remove your hand because you're not clear what feelings will remain once it's removed! The reason you remove your hand immediately is because the burning stops, and it really is quite irrelevant exactly how you would feel afterwards.

          The only reason we are concerned about what remains afterwards is because of our sense of self. Once the sense of self is removed, Nibbāna is seen simply the ending of suffering; it's just like removing that hand from the hotplate.

          With metta.

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          • #6
            WOW. What a great answer, what a good example! Thank you!

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            • #7
              Thank you, and I do understand that one is not encouraged to intellectualise about these things too much. However (and sorry if I am flogging a dead horse a bit) what strikes me also is that ending suffering could logically either mean the kind of ending that, for example, a pet owner might typically be thinking of when they say they are going to put down their sick animal to put it out of its misery, implying it is better for its existence to end than for a painful existence to continue; or it could mean things as we know them will end, but only so as to emerge into some new state which we can't imagine now but which is perfect happiness. From what I've read so far that seems one reasonable reading of what the Buddha said and it seems to me preferable to me to look at it like that, than the alternative.

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              • #8
                Or rather, which I can't understand now, at least.

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