The Ultimate State of Nirvana and How to Realize it.
Nirvana is the ultimate state of being where all types of suffering cease forever. It is a state of purity, peace, quiescence, and timelessness. Buddhism defines Nirvana as ending the perpetual cycle of birth and death and realizing Enlightenment or Buddhahood. Yoga expresses Nirvana as the union between self and other, inner and outer, where all phenomena are no longer differentiated or discriminated. Zen meditation describes Nirvana as killing the mind and overcoming the ego. One similarity all spiritual paths have in common is that Nirvana is a transcendental state of being, free from mental defilements which can be realized by anyone. It is our pure and eternal nature that we all inherently possess, and it is up to us to return home and realize our true selves.
Nirvana is a realm that transcends conditioned phenomena and is unconditioned by nature. Only by being unconditioned can it be eternal, unchanging, and pure because all conditioned phenomena are susceptible to arising and passing away. Nirvana, however, being unconditioned and unborn, is not susceptible to arising and passing away, increase or decrease, birth and death, and hence can be our one and true refuge to rely entirely.
To realize Nirvana, we must first understand what it isn’t. Anything that is conditioned, transient, and impermanent is ultimately not reliable and should not be our point of refuge. This includes people, external objects, our physical bodies, as well as our mental world with its thoughts, feelings, and concepts. All such things are impermanent, arise from conditions, and pass away when those conditions change. Seeking joy from other people or external things may bring us short term satisfaction. Still, ultimately, they always carry the potential to disappoint because they are not in our control.
Everything found within the phenomenal world is also similar. Everything arising due to cause and effect coming together, are temporal and transient, and only have value depending on one’s perception and view towards it.
Nirvana, on the other hand, is non-arising, unchanging, eternal, and permanent. It is clear, pure, has no characteristics, and pervades all directions. Nirvana transcends time and space in every sense because it abides nowhere and hence can abide everywhere.
How can we know Nirvana?
The question begs, if Nirvana is clear, unchanging, unconditioned, and lacks characteristics, how can we know Nirvana? How can we pinpoint it or realize it? Ancient Masters of the past, including countless meditators, yogis, monks, and ascetics, have pondered this very question in an attempt to penetrate the reality of life and death. The reason why this question is fundamental is that anything observable has characteristics, and so is not it. Anything that can be thought up like an idea, a concept or a vision is similarly conditioned and also cannot be it. If we could feel it, hear it, sense it, or perceive it, then it would have to have arisen and hence will eventually pass away, and so can’t be it either. If Nirvana does not abide in external forms, thoughts, sensations, or perceptions, if it does not abide anywhere, then where does it abide?
The Buddha had an answer to this paradox. How to attain what is unobservable? How to realize what is inconceivable? The Enlightened One pointed to our observing nature, our seeing nature, our knowing nature as our Nirvanic Nature, our True Ever-abiding Self. Our pure awareness is what permeates time and space. Our pure awareness is what lacks characteristics. Our pure awareness is permanent, quiescent, and eternal. It cannot be observed because it is the observer itself, and it is ever-present right here and now. We live every waking moment with it, and it never leaves our side. Yet, we are unaware of it, unenlightened to it, and as a result, experience constant stress, anxiety, discontent, and suffering.
The Path to Nirvana
The Path to Nirvana is described in words and concepts, yet the ultimate goal transcends words and concepts. For this reason, it is said the Path is ultimately also empty in nature, but to return home to our true nature, we still need this prescribed Path. Like a raft that ferries us across the ocean, once we arrive at the opposite shore, the ferry no longer serves its original purpose. Similarly, once we return to our inherent nature, free from words, concepts, and thoughts, we’ll realize that the raft we rode also lacked any real nature of its own. In that sense, it’s so extraordinary and inconceivable that teachings exist that can lead us somewhere that is without positional existence. We rely on the conditioned to realize the unconditioned. This is the inconceivability of the Path to Nirvana.
In order to traverse the Path and return home, we must rely on a map, which is the practice. We must also have a working compass, which is our right view. And finally, we must wear the armor of indestructible resolution and determination to persist during the difficult times, the doubtful times, and the painful times.
The Compass of Right View
The Compass of Right View is our deep understanding of cause and effect, impermanence, and non-self. By understanding cause and effect, we have faith in the conditioned nature of all phenomena. By understanding impermanence, we realize the empty and insubstantial nature of all phenomena. And by understanding non-self, we know that we are not our mind, our bodies, or our limiting beliefs. Our true self is our eternal, inherent, blissful nature, the same essence as Nirvana, that pervades all time and space. Only by equipping ourselves with the Compass of Right View can we tread the path correctly towards Nirvana.
Right View helps us transcend our limited self because we turn away from attachment to self. Right View helps us transcend the physical world because we perceive the illusory nature of the world of forms. Right View helps us transcend the mental world because we learn to view thoughts, concepts, and feelings as empty of real nature, and hence we become free from all phenomena.
Armor of Indestructible Resolution
Our Armor of Indestructible Resolution is our realization that by not traversing the Path to Nirvana, we will forever remain in a dream state. By not setting our mind on Truth, we will forever stay in the darkness of Illusion. By not choosing reality, we have already chosen Falsehood. And this is how ordinary people carry out the lives from birth to death, from death to birth, and then birth to death again. We are unaware of the Laws of Reality, the Realm of Truth, our Eternal, Blissful State, and so experience endless un-satisfactoriness and discontent, constantly chasing the extreme highs and pleasures only to inevitably come crashing back down to the low troughs of depression, anxiety and pain.
Realizing the reality of nature, that there is no real refuge in the impermanent, transient world, we should wear the Armor of Determination and dedicate to our practice of the Path to Nirvana. When we wear the Armor and practice the Path, we are unbothered by the phenomenal world with its imperfections because we don’t abide in it. We don’t abide in the conception of self, so when others slander us, ridicule us or try to hurt us, we are unaffected and remain peaceful at heart. We don’t abide in forms and seek pleasure from material objects so when we are inevitably separated from our possessions either through breakage, loss, thief or wear and tear, we are also unaffected and remain joyful at heart. Neither do we abide in thoughts, concepts, and feelings, so when we perceive unhappy thoughts, harmful concepts, or uncomfortable feelings, we are again unaffected and remain happy at heart.
By not abiding the mind anywhere, we attain real peace, true freedom, and experience great joy and happiness.
The Map of Practice
The practice of the Path is the map takes us from this shore of conditioned phenomena to the unconditioned shore of Nirvana. How do we abide the mind nowhere? That is the practice. The goal is to abide the mind neither in forms, thoughts, concepts, feelings, or self. By abiding the mind nowhere, the mind is free forever. The practice is simply to remain as the observer of phenomena and maintain Right View, the views of cause and effect, impermanence, and non-self throughout.
Starting now, we must practice awareness of our mind, bodily sensations, and the external environment unendingly, moment to moment. This is also the practice of meditation. The beauty of the path is we don’t have to change anything at all, because anything that we change is just playing with conditions. We can play with conditions all day long, but we will remain in the conditioned realm. It’s not to say we cannot change anything, because it’s not about changing or not changing. If we wish to change, we can change. If we don’t wish to change, we can let things remain the same. The important point is to remain aware of everything and live life through our observing nature. Everything that we become aware of, with Right View, will create distance from it, and the thing will lose its power and hold over us. When we are angry, we observe the anger, and the anger will naturally subside. No further action is necessary. The same applies to everything we experience from thoughts and sensations to concepts and feelings. By bringing the light of our awareness into our experiences, we create distance, and over time, the thought, feeling, or perception, that once carried so much weight, will now appear to be so small and insignificant. This is the natural consequence of maintaining awareness of whatever enters our field of senses, moment to moment.
Another magical consequence of bringing the light of awareness into our lives is that we can keep up with the fast-paced nature of life. This is important because instead of simply relying on our habitual mind and instinctual reactions to manage situations, we are afforded time to observe, process, think, and then respond to things in a more effective and appropriate way.
The Path to Nirvana seems simple, just remain as the observer, but many challenges and difficulties will arise the moment we begin the practice. By living more consciously and mindfully, we will very quickly see just how destructive our thinking is, how harmful our habits are, and how reactionary we are to the things that are happening around and within us. It may lead us into thinking that the path is insurmountable, or that we don’t have enough energy, will power, or capability to practice the path, but these are just another limiting belief, and we simply have to remain composed and observe them when they arise with our life of awareness. Although not everything is pleasant to observe, and sometimes it may create much discomfort or strong emotions, everything can be and should be observed. This is the only step to the path, and we will take positive steps forward every time we can observe with a calm and unmoving mind.
Doubts will arise, irrational thoughts will tempt us away, laziness may seep in, even rational and logical reasonings try to convince us to play game, the thinking game, but we must simply remain resolute and observe. When we are not observing, we are fueling the thinking mind with more thoughts, concepts, reasoning, excuses, and ideas that continue turning the never-ending mind. By observing, the thoughts will naturally cease because thoughts cannot survive in the realm of pure awareness, especially when we maintain Right View.
Finally, we may realize realms and states where we feel we’ve accomplished something, but anything we think we’ve attained is not that which we are seeking. Anything we can attain or accomplish is not the Path because it is conditioned and susceptible to change. Real attainment is non-attainment of anything, and we should let that be the central point of our Right Views. Simply observe all realms and states that arise and remain unmoving until they inevitably pass away. Do not become entranced by positive states or create aversion towards negative ones. Simply remain calm, composed, unmoving, fully aware, and present. That is the Path.
Meditation as Practice
The importance of meditation practice in our daily routines is truly realized once we settle our minds on the Path. By trying to remain aware of all phenomena that enter our sensual realms, such as sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, and thoughts, we are shown just how weak our level of concentration and mindfulness is. Even though we are entirely motivated to observe, and we try our best to remain mindful, our attention is relentlessly dragged left and right by everything around us. We don’t usually notice this because we willingly allow our mindfulness to follow our thoughts, our phones, our friends, and everything else under the sun. When we finally endeavor to reclaim control, it will be met with great resistance.
This is why meditation because so important. Meditation is the process of maintaining full awareness, and when that becomes our natural state, we will be fully aware and eternally unmoving despite the ever-changing nature of the phenomenal world. Only then is our practice of the Path complete and Nirvana fully revealed. Until then, its very beneficial to allocate short periods throughout the day to develop awareness and concentration. But I will delve deeper into meditation later.
How the Path to Nirvana has redefined my life and shaped the way I do everything
Like many others who inhabit our world, I was also unenlightened to such a path and practice my entire early life. Until I reached the age of 25, I was still in the so-called Rat Race, chasing external objects, status, money, and material possessions, thinking that was the purpose of life because that was what everyone else was doing. Then one day, like any other ordinary day, I was sitting behind my computer at work when the question popped up. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Where is my life leading me? Do I really enjoy this life path? Those sobering questions really pointed to everything I had never illuminated, which was questioning the very fabric of society’s views on the meaning of life. Within minutes, I had an epiphany after epiphany, realizations after realizations, such as:
‘What would I think on my death bed if I were to carry out my life as an accountant, working a nine to five job where the only solace was my weekends and annual leave?’ – I would regret my entire life.
‘What am I really searching for within all this, and how do I truly want to live out my time here on Earth?’ – Happiness and Fulfillment. Doing the things I love, feel passionate about, and find real meaning in.
‘What is preventing me from living life on my own terms, coming out of my comfort zone, and truly experiencing everything life has to offer and on a deeper, more meaningful level?’ Nothing.
At that point in life, I had no debt, commitments, family, or anything holding me back, so I took the plunge and quit my job, sold or gave away all my possessions, packed a bag and went off seeking the meaning of life – at least what it meant to me. Although it seems like a difficult thing to do, it was the only thing left that was worthwhile after I broke everything down. So I began my journey of self-discovery and spirituality with no regrets and no looking back. Today, six years later, I have travelled to many countries, worked around the world, became a qualified School Teacher, Yoga Instructor, and even became a Buddhist Monk for two years to study the Monastic perspective on the meaning of life. That was where I learned about meditation, service, compassion, all the virtues, how to cultivate them, purpose, the meaning of life, and the ultimate state of Nirvana.
Nowadays, I carry out my work as a School Teacher during the week, and a Yoga instructor on the weekends. I opened an after-school tuition center for the community children, which I teach at every day. In my spare time, I continue to write articles for my website and film videos for my YouTube channel; but all these things are not attainments to me. With a focused mind, motivated towards service, and spiritual growth, my one true practice is to remain as an unmoving observer throughout it all. There are good days, bad days, stressful days, relaxing days, sick days, tiring days, challenging days. Still, I don’t give up, don’t blame or complain, don’t make excuses, and carry on my work the best I can. I do so, taking the position of the observer and letting life play out naturally in its own magical way.
As a result, I find that I am constantly pushing my limits, taking on more and more, setting myself big goals and high aspirations, and that comes with a lot of setbacks, difficulties, and stressful situations. However, I find that I learn and grow so much more from these challenges than I would ever from an easy and comfortable position, so I continue my work willingly and joyfully. Over the years, I can definitely say I have strengthened greatly in my resilience, willpower, and determination and have overcome so many fears and limiting beliefs. The Path has shown me everything is possible, and that we can accomplish so much more by operating as a calm observer of life.
I keep reminding myself not to fall into the trap of thoughts of attainment, feelings of pride and achievement, or believing that I am actually doing anything at all. Because although I abide in the world to serve and learn, I remember that ultimately, it is all just words and concepts. And like flowers in the sky, all phenomena are illusory inconceivable. To observe life likewise, one can live freely, untiringly, and peacefully in this world. This mind of pure awareness, observing without attachment or seeking attainment, is the mind of Nirvana, our True Self.
Thanks for reading 😊