Friday, 27 January 2012

Heading to Nirvana...?

It is said in the early texts that Buddha arose from meditating to teach people, suggesting that he continued to practice after achieving Enlightenment.  Why would he do this?

The interpretation offered to me by a teacher who has given this a great deal more thought than I can claim to have done, is that nirvana is perhaps best regarded as a skill to be mastered rather than a destination we might hope to arrive at. 

As such, there is only 'nirvana-ing'...  The idea appeals to me as someone interested in the power we have to shape our lives by inclining our minds, thoughts, words and actions.

It strikes me as a thoroughly hopeful proposition - that we can learn how to do nirvana, and then practice this, to develop a skill as we might any other than we sought to improve, and maybe even master.  Considering this in some more depth, there is perhaps a lot to be said for accumulating 'little nirvanas' in our daily lives - which, combined, make attaining the desired state and then maintaining it a real possibility.  

As a teacher of mindfulness, I am myself also a student.  I have a practice, which I do perfectly imperfectly, and which I renew my commitment to on a daily basis.  The idea of nirvana as a skill rather than a state is an attractive one; my aim is to become more skillful, and to make progress rather than achieve perfection. 

As a skill, and therefore a verb, nirvana is something that entails flexibility, fluidity and adaptation.  My ability changes, and grows, as I change and grow - to try and separate my practice from my everyday experience would be artificial for they inform one another - my life changes as my practice grows, and my practice changes alongside the challenges and victories I encounter in life.  By loosening my grip on an intended destination, seeing it as both proximate and accessible, I shift my attitude, and adopt a more constructive focus allowing me to better sustain my attention and develop this enriching skill.

Buddhism, if there is in fact any such thing, (there are infinite schools which cannot easily or comfortably be lumped together) is entirely practical in its nature. There is nothing mysterious or esoteric about Buddhist philosophy or thought: there is only one goal - the elimination of suffering and this was the Buddha's sole concern - the nature of suffering and how to achieve freedom from it. Nirvana is the alleviation of suffering, which we can attain one day at a time, and without any special equipment - the first step towards this is to become more friendly towards the entirety of our experience, in order to fully know it, and discern what is helpful to us and what is not. Meditation is one route in this direction - to quieten and still the mind and see what's really going on, in this moment.

When discussing meditation to those who are curious but yet largely unfamiliar, I urge them to try it and to open themselves up to the possibility of arriving at their own definition through their actual, lived experience.  The Buddha urged people to trust nothing but their own experience.  If pushed to describe the process, I would probably suggest it can be thought of as entering our own, internal laboratory in which we become exposed to our sensory and perceptual experience.  Within this laboratory is the possibility of an experiment, which some develop into a longer research project.    


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