In all likelihood, none of us here has yet reached the state of Nirvana: for it is a rare thing indeed for a human being to reach this level of development. Therefore we have no firsthand
knowledge or experience of Nirvana.
But the Buddha reached Nirvana, and he spoke of it many times and in many ways to us, his followers--indeed, he told us exactly how to achieve it. From his teachings we learn that each of us is capable of achieving Nirvana in this lifetime, if we follow the correct Path.
My current understanding of Nirvana (and I welcome differing views) is that it is complete and total freedom from everything that binds or enslaves us.
Freedom from fear, from suffering, from doubt, from greed, from conditioned thinking, from delusion, from the idea of a separate "self," from all forms of craving and addiction, from anger and hatred, from the need for approval, from a need to prove ourselves, from all forms of thinking that bind us, all the erroneous ideas we cling to.
By letting go of these things, says the Buddha, we can achieve ultimate freedom:
"As you cease grasping, so you will be freed." -- Digha Nikaya
"There is nothing you need to hold onto and nothing you need to push away." -- Sutta Nipata
"When you grasp, you are losing your freedom." -- Sutta Nipata
The Buddha describes Nirvana as "the highest happiness" (Dhammapada
) and "the true reality" (Surangama Sutra
). "Nirvana is wherever you live in truth and goodness," the Buddha says in the Majjhima Nikaya.
Upon reaching Nirvana (this is my understanding), we will be freed from the endless cycle of "constant journeying" (Digha Nikaya
), from returning to this realm again and again. We will progress into a higher realm of being, "beyond birth and death."
From my (admittedly meager) study of the Buddha's teachings thus far, it seems to me that in considering what we want to achieve in this lifetime, a question of paramount importance is:Is there anything more important than reaching Nirvana?
I have asked myself this question many times, and so far I have been unable to think of anything more important than becoming completely and totally free from everything that binds me.
Imagine, for instance, becoming completely free of fear
. Oh, what an empowering liberation that would be! That alone would be the achievement of a lifetime--of many lifetimes, in fact--and it is just one facet of the Nirvanic gem, one manifestation of ultimate freedom.
The erroneous notion that pursuing our own liberation above all other things might be "selfish" quickly evaporates when we realize that, upon attaining Enlightenment ourselves, we automatically become a light to everyone around us:
"An awakened follower when he is fully enlightened, without even consciously attempting to, leads all beings to Nirvana." (Prajnaparamita
Nirvana, then, is not only the highest possible good for us ourselves, but also for everyone around us: family, friends, strangers, everyone we meet. As the sun shines its nourishing light and warmth and energy upon the world, so the enlightened spirit shines its luminous radiance upon all they touch: the world is lifted up by our own arising, and the attaining of Enlightenment/Nirvana therefore becomes the greatest possible service we can do for humanity. "Without wisdom you can do nothing for others." (Prajnaparamita
But knowing that my own thoughts and ideas are often skewed and limited, I ask you all: can anyone here think of anything that is more important in this lifetime than reaching Nirvana? Is there any higher or worthier or greater goal? Any achievement that surpasses that?
I ask this question because I feel I am at a crossroads in my own life. I feel I need to make some serious life decisions, about whether to continue chasing after the things of this realm--success, money, recognition, the achievement of "earthly" goals, the approval of others, etc.--or whether to let go of all those things, and devote myself--not partly, not mostly, but wholly--to the Nirvanic quest.
Has anyone else here given thought to these things? If so, please share. Perhaps we can help each other find the answers (or at least the questions).