This truth is called nirvana, liberation, enlightenment and so on. It is hotly debated these days. Some think that if you reach nirvana you will never be born again, others think you will be reborn, but you can pick where. For people who do not believe in rebirth, they see it as something we can achieve in this lifetime. I have no idea who is right and who is wrong – it maybe they are all wrong.
I will just write my own thoughts here and you can decide for yourselves what you believe. I will show you that there are two good bits of news in this third noble truth.
I do not see nirvana as some mystical or metaphysical thing. I do believe it is beyond our concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, existence and non-existence. All these are positions relative to each other, mere labels created by language. This means it cannot be fully realised through language alone and is only reached through meditation and implementation.
Buddha said that nirvana is the ‘highest happiness’, but he wasn’t talking about the mundane happiness we strive for in our everyday lives. He was talking about absolute freedom from evil, freedom from craving, attachment, desire, hatred and unawareness. All of this we can achieve in this lifetime by truly understanding the Four Noble Truth and following the Eightfold Path. Once we start meditating on these teachings and turning them from knowledge to wisdom, we will start to change our actions of body, speech and mind. Knowledge is something learned, something intellectual, were as wisdom is a part of our lives.
So, this is the first bit of good news. Nirvana can be reached by anyone, whether they call themselves Buddhist or not, in this very lifetime – you just have to put the work in.
People think that nirvana is like heaven, full of happiness, the opposite of this world. They image that there, the sun shines brightly every day, only ‘good’ people are around, one doesn’t have to work, there are no money worries, everybody is friendly, and every moment is filled with happiness.
However, this is just a projection of our dualistic minds, trying to fill heaven with all the things we like best. But what about all the things other people like and we don’t? I would want a heaven where no one eats meat, while others would want one where they could eat a big fat juicy steak every day. Do we each get a heaven of our own? I believe if people really gave some thought to their concept of heaven, they would understand they were just changing one conditioned world for another. That way, heaven, like this world, would be equally impermanent.
So this is the second bit of good news; we do not have to die to attain nirvana. It can be obtained during this lifetime. Death is irrelevant to nirvana. People feel like this life is full of discontentment and causes them nothing but suffering, and the only way out is death. They feel at death they will be miraculously transported to a better place. But nirvana isn’t a place; it is the cessation of the three poisons, namely, desire, aversion and unawareness. The Buddha defined it as ‘perfect peace’, or a state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states.
So, in a nut shell, I believe nirvana isn’t a metaphysical thing, it isn’t a place to go to and we do not have to die to realise nirvana. It is an extinguishing of our afflictive states of mind and can be reached by anyone in this very lifetime.