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Lions Roar : July 2018
BUDDHASHAKYAMUNIORAKSHOBHYA,13THCENTURYNEPAL©NORTONSIMONARTFOUNDATION The Buddha gave his discovery more than thirty other names as well, to indicate the ways in which it’s really worth desiring, really worth all the effort that goes into attaining it. The names fall into five main groups, conveying five different facets of that dimension. The first is that it’s not a blank nothingness. Instead, it’s a type of consciousness. But unlike ordinary consciousness, it’s not known through the six senses, and it doesn’t engage in fab- ricating any experience at all (unlike, for example, the nondual consciousness found in formless levels of concentration). The Buddha described this consciousness as “without surface” and “unestablished.” His image for it was a beam of light that lands nowhere. Although bright in and of itself, it doesn’t engage in anything, and so can’t be detected by anyone else. The second facet of this dimension is truth. Because it’s out- side of time, it doesn’t change, doesn’t deceive you, doesn’t turn into something different. The third is freedom: freedom from hunger, from suffering, from location, from restrictions of any kind. The fourth is bliss, unadulterated, harmless, and secure. The fifth facet is excellence, higher than anything known in even the highest heavens. In the Buddha’s own words, it’s amaz- ing, astounding, ultimate, beyond. Even though this dimension is uncaused, a path of practice leads to it—in the same way that a road to a mountain doesn’t cause the mountain, but following the road can get you there. The road is one thing; the mountain, something else. Following the road involves fostering, among other things, generosity, virtue, mindfulness, concentration, and discern- ment. Through these qualities, you can develop the wisdom and compassion to see that nirvana really is the wisest and most compassionate goal you can set for yourself. It’s wise in that, unlike other goals, it’s more than worth the effort and will never disappoint; it’s compassionate in that you not only remove your mouth from the feeding frenzy of interdependence, but also show others who are disheartened by the pointlessness of suf- fering that there is a way out. It’s for the sake of this goal that we meditate. THANISSARO BHIKKHU (Than Geoff) is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. His writings and translations are available free at dhammatalks.org and accesstoinsight.org. It Changes Everything Meditation turns you completely upside down, says Norman Fischer. That’s called enlightenment. LIFE IS STRESSFUL. Too much stress is bad for you; it causes all sorts of problems. Research in recent decades (generally done by scientists who are Buddhist practitioners) shows that mindfulness meditation is an effective way to cope with stress, among other benefits. Unlike medications, it has no side effects. If it’s habit forming, that’s fine: it’s a positive habit. In this way of understanding it, meditation is a stand-alone, psycho-physical practice that, like jogging or weight training, pro- duces a scientifically determined benefit when you do it properly. But the truth is there are no stand-alone human practices. Everything we do has context, a set of ideas and structures that accompany it. Although many people believe that “secular” meditation is the essence of Buddhist practice extracted from its context and offered pure and simple, this isn’t really so. In fact, secular meditation just shifts the context, from Buddhist spiritual culture to scientific humanistic culture. The question is, what is gained or lost with the shift? What’s gained is accessibility. In presenting meditation as a tech- nique to promote happiness and well-being, free of doctrine and ritual, anyone and everyone is invited into the practice. This open invitation has already delivered great personal and societal benefit. But what’s lost is important. Buddhism as a social, intellec- tual, and religious culture proposes a radical transformation of life. Its goal—awakening or enlightenment—is more thorough- going than well-being. It revolutionizes your thinking, your perspective, and your sense of identity. Buddhism proposes to make your life better not by improving it, but by utterly altering your sense of what it is. In Zen practice, we don’t exactly practice meditation. We “sit,” which means we enter a new way of life, with what we call LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 58