The Path to Nirvana

By Frank Simons

The cessation of suffering is also called nirvana, the “blowing out” of desire. The second Noble Truth is the origin or arising of suffering. A process leads from ignorance to birth. The most fundamental form of ignorance, of course, is that “I” constitutes a permanent ego that needs to be fed by new and desirable experiences or new and desirable objects.

Video Presentation
Buddhism, Part 6, The Path to Nirvana
Thu, Jan 21, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted
044 415 111 0644

The third Noble Truth is cessation, or nirvana. When someone starts to cultivate an awareness of no self and strips away the desires that feed the fire of samsara, it is possible eventually for the fire of samsara to burn out. Nirvana comes at two moments: at the moment of awakening, when the Buddha understood he was no longer adding fuel to the fire of his personality, and at the moment of parinirvana, when the fire of his personality finally flickered out.

Like the concept of suffering, nirvana seems at first to be quite negative. Nirvana forces us to take seriously the negative Indian evaluation of samsara. It should be ended. Nirvana is this end. Nirvana is experienced at the moment of awakening, when one is no longer bound by ignorance and desire that fuel samsara. It is a quality of mind that characterized the Buddha’s life: peaceful, wise, unattached, and free, acting with spontaneity and clarity of mind, with compassion for the suffering of others.

The path to nirvana is often divided into eight categories: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The logic of the path is clearer, however, if we reduce these to three: 1) sila, or moral conduct; samadhi, or mental concentration; 3) panna, or wisdom; and  five moral precepts of no killing, stealing, lying, abuse of sex, or taking intoxicants.  Buddhists practitioners engage in mental concentration to focus and clarify the mind. They also cultivate wisdom and the understanding of no self. This discipline helps avoid the karma that will lead a person to suffering and to cultivate the detachment that leads to awakening.

Do the western religious traditions that are familiar to you place any value on an experience of “cessation”? Would it be better if they did? How is the path structured to achieve cessation of suffering? Could it change one’s life even without a goal of nirvana?

The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.

 

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