Let’s start by asking what is Nirvana? And why would anyone want to attain it? Also, when can it happen? As we answer those questions we might begin to realise that it’s something worth striving for.
When Siddhartha became Buddha, the word used to explain his state was not Enlightenment, as we may call it nowadays, rather the word was Nirvana.
Nirvana in Sanskrit means to extinguish, in a way that Buddhists use to represent the wiping out of the attachments that keep us in suffering. It carries with it a sense of breaking free, leaving the chains that anchor us to the emotional attachment.
Enlightenment, when understood as the result of walking the “path”, means to be able to comprehend that everything and everyone is transient. Life won’t be here forever and that is a natural fact, once we understand and accept impermanence, we become free of suffering.
Enlightenment entails achieving clarity and equanimity through the training of the mind. It allows us to identify thoughts that keep us from seeing the reality as it is. We can also call it the awakening. I like to compare it to when someone takes the red pill in the movie the Matrix, they are then able to see things for what they really are.
Why would I want Nirvana?
This question may sound absurd to some of you reading this text. I believe that if you have taken the time to read about it, it’s because you’re already in search of something. You’re not happy with what you have so far. This is how the Buddha started his journey as well.
Usually, when we seek answers of this caliber, this means that we’re trying to break free from Samsara, or the wheel of life and suffering. Samsara is an unending cycle of being born, growing older, getting sick, dying and starting all over again. We take on a similar cycle in our everyday lives today, with the typical corporate routine.
The disturbing comfort we find in these cycles is what pushes us towards the “path”. I’m not limiting this to the Buddhist path, but I’m surely talking about the way of inquiry. Something Buddha himself talked about. The search for answers.
Believe it or not, some people are not there yet. Buddha knew that. Christ knew that. Both of them created deep teachings with shallow explanations, making the understanding easily understood by anyone.
Have you ever met a person who hates his job, complains about it all the time, but won’t look for a way to change his circumstances? They’re afraid of the unknown. They don´t know for sure if it is going to be better. That’s the same cycle that keeps people from attaining Nirvana.
If you get to know the real thing you’ll have to do something about it. Even if it’s tiring or challenging. You’ll be naturally pushed forward. That’s why people look for Nirvana, but also why they look away from it when they realize its truths.
Time is passing. When I end writing this piece, I’ll be older than when I started it. That’s the truth. I’ll be closer to death and therefore closer to the rebirth cycle starting all over again.
Realizing that time is limited, can act as a great driving force on the road to truth. The mistake we ultimately make as human beings, is believing that we’re going to live forever. So we build a life, and try to escape as much suffering as we can through artificial means.
But life in essence is suffering, and realizing that we are going to be dead soon, should accelerate our need to attain the truth.
How to attain Nirvana?
Once you’re ready, getting there will be a natural part of the process. You not only have to be spiritually prepared, but you must also undergo bodily preparation, which is usually related to correct eating, drinking, sleeping, meditating, and physiological practices.
Buddha discovered four essential (or noble) truths, which can be summarized as acknowledging the suffering is part of life, understanding its origin, breaking free from it and finally overcoming it (cessation). Once you’ve fully gone through all of these steps you’ll have achieved Nirvana.
The eightfold path contains the steps you have to master as well, they are preparations for Nirvana, or Enlightenment. The way you choose to go through them and how long it may take you is dependent upon your own unique journey. You need to be ready.
How do I know when I’m ready? Well, you’ll feel curious or pushed towards the path, the exact same way you were curious about this article and realizing that you’ve read this far, its end. I told you, it’s a great path.