“One thing and only one thing do I teach, suffering and the cessation of suffering” – Buddha
‘Nirvana’ is one of the most widely used Buddhist words in the world. And while many in the east have a pretty good grasp on what it means, most people in the west have little to no idea what it means at all.
In fact, they largely think it’s the name of the 90’s grunge band! Fantastic band…but…no. Nirvana is the central tenet of Buddhism, the ‘hub’ that holds this powerful and ancient philosophy together.
SEE ALSO: The Buddhist Approach To Enlightenment
In his first sermon after his enlightenment, the Buddha preached the Four Noble Truths. Very basically, the Truths explain why life stresses and disappoints us, and why we are stuck and struggling like a ‘flame stuck to fuel’. The Buddha also gave us the remedy, and the path to liberation, which is the Eightfold Path.
Nirvana, then, is liberation; it’s the removal of the flame (our essence) from the fuel source (suffering).
But liberation from what?
The answer is “samsara,” which usually is defined as the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This is the endless cycle of suffering we are all consciously or unconsciously trying to move away from. Buddha’s teachings are not so much a belief system as it is a practice that enables us to stop hitting the walls of a confined existence.
What Happens Next?
So, once we’re liberated, what happens next? First and foremost, Buddha never defined nirvana as a place; rather, it’s a state of existence.
Buddha also said that anything we might say or imagine about nirvana will be wrong because it is so completely different from our ordinary existence. For this reason, it also defies definition, because language is inadequate to define it. Nirvana is beyond space, time, and definition. Pretty crazy right???
The Theravadin scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu said, “… neither samsara nor nirvana is a place. Samsara is a process of creating places, even whole worlds, (this is called becoming) and then wandering through them (this is called birth). Nirvana is the end of this process.”
So in other words, it’s a return to our natural state of being.
How do We get There?
The path laid out by Buddha is relatively simple, but profound. By following the Eightfold Path with deep meditation, nirvana can come to you while living. This is the promise of Buddha’s teachings.
And while the path isn’t necessarily easy, it’s certainly rewarding — not just for yourself, but others as well.
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