The Psychology of Nirvana – M.S. Srinivasan

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.

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