The Buddhist Yoga is a path for breaking away from the cycle of suffering to the freedom of Nirvana. As we have discussed elsewhere, human life in the Buddhist perspective is part of an impersonal process of Karma; change, impermanence, transience and sorrow are the inherent nature of life; an essential craving for the experience of life is the force which holds together the psycho-physical energies of man and drives him helplessly within the cycle of sorrow. As Buddha describes, “Where there is contact, there is feeling; where there is feeling there is craving; where there is craving there is clinging; where there is clinging there is becoming; where there is becoming there is birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow and despair.”
The path shown by Buddhism is to get rid of craving, when the craving ceases, the cycle of interminable sorrow is broken, the flame of conditioned being is extinguished and the end of suffering is achieved. It is the extinction of the limited, conditioned and suffering individuality subject to repeated birth in a transcendent unconditioned, unborn, uncreated beyond, which Buddha called as Nibhana. Buddha was definitely referring to some such unconditioned Reality in this passage: “Monks, there is an unborn, unbecoming, unmade, uncompounded. Monks, if that unborn, unbecoming, unmade, uncompounded were not, no escape from the born, become, made, compounded had been known here. But, monks, since there is an unborn, unbecoming, unmade, uncompounded, therefore can escape from the born, become, made, compounded is known“
But the popular conceptions of Nirvana as an absolute extinction of being and consciousness-resembling Death-in an all-negating Void is a misunderstanding of Buddha’s teachings. Such conceptions of Nirvana display a lack of insight into spiritual states of consciousness and the purpose behind the terminology of negation very often employed by Eastern spiritual masters to indicate the higher states of consciousness. For a too positive and affirmative description of superconscious states will only stir the speculative and imaginative activity of the conditioned mind and its mostly faulty constructions, which can only obscure the clarity and objectivity of mind and prevent the dawn of insight. This is the reason why Buddha, like many other Eastern masters, was not very much willing to give a positive description of the state of Nirvana.
But in later Buddhist spiritual literature there are description of nirvanic experiences of Buddhist nuns and monks. These descriptions reveal the positive content of Nirvana as a great release; deathless; ending of all suffering and birth; total liberation of the mind from all psychological bonds, compulsions, craving, obsessions and ignorance; tranquil serenity; absolute impersonality and disinteresness; unclouded clarity of deep insight into the true nature of life or in other words wisdom; friendliness, kindness, compassion for all creatures; full flowering of all powers and faculties of the mind and vitality and a life of vigorous and energetic action, Virya; and finally, above all, supreme Bliss Nibanam pavaman sukam, beyond the bliss of Nirvana there is nothing, nitanasukha pavan n’athi. Thus Bhudhist nirvana, in a negative sense, is not exactly the extinction of individuality, but the extinction of the conditioned and sorrowful flame of human life fuelled by desire. In a positive sense, it is an immense release of human consciousness into an unconditioned blissful Reality and all the positive consequences of such a release on the consciousness, personality and action of the individual. And the most concrete and living example of the positive content and the transformative effect of Nirvana was the life and personality of Buddha himself. Buddha lived in the Nirvanic consciousness for nearly forty-five years as a spiritual teacher, living in the world and radiating his powerful spiritual presence and influence all over the land where he was born.
This we can see nirvana is not some tansce-like strate shut off from the world; it is a state of where inwardly you have escaped from the world of suffering and ignorance into a higher consciousness of timeless freedom, serenity and insight but at the same time living and functioning in the world from that timeless consciousness. As the Buddhist scholar, Winston R. King rightly points out: “Buddha after his enlightenment and entering into full Nibhana, lived for forty-five years in that state. Now if one can still be in the world even after having ‘gone out’ of it, that is entered into Nibhana, that implies a certain positive and concrete quality in Nibhana. And such is the general quality ascribed to those Nibhanic persons, the Buddha and his enlightened disciples. It is obviously not merely a withdrawn-into-trance or withdrawn-into-asceticism life or quality of spirit, but a calm, cool serenity of mind and heart in the midst of space-time-life.” Similarly the Buddhist yogi, Ashwagosha, in his monumental work on Buddhist yoga, “The Path of Purification” describes nirvana as “abiding in bliss here and now.”
How to achieve this cessation of craving and suffering and the final release? The path shown by Buddha is not a painful ascetic suppression of desire but a clear understanding of the nature of the impermanent, transient and sorrowful life and the casual factors which keeps the human being in this sorrowful cycle of life. But this is not an intellectual insight gained by philosophic reflection but an experiential insight attained by a psychological discipline. The practical consequences of this Insight are a perfect detachment from life, effortless cessation of craving and its fatal and obstinate clinging on life, and finally Nirvana. The last two factors of the famous buddhist eight-fold path, that is, right mindfulness Satipathana and right meditation Jhana, are the psychological discipline taught by Buddha to his disciple-monks to arrive at the Insight, Vipasana, and pass on to the Great Release, Nirvana. We will discuss these core practices of the Buddhist yoga in some more detail in our subsequent articles.