What is (authentic) nirvana? What is it like?
Living well is a vibrant process. The great philosopher Siddhartha Gautama gave it lots of other names–perhaps to discourage fanatical followers to attaching themselves to one name. He referred to it, for example, as freedom, the peaceful, the far shore, the island, the refuge, the shelter, and so on. Glenn Wallis likes “unbinding” as a translation.
Our ordinary lives are “samsara.” They are full of dissatisfactions, confusions, sorrows, difficulties, heated dizzinness. Nirvana is the opposite; it’s a release from all that, an unbinding.
Here’s the problem: Samsaric lives are poisoned. They are filled with greed, anger, and delusion. Together, these three are the poisons that stain, soil or defile our lives.
Since each of the three poisons comes in degrees, there are many combinations of them that spoil life. Greed or infatuation can range from a very mild attraction to raging lust. Anger or hostility can range from a slight aversion to violent hatred. Delusion or false beliefs can range from ordinary oversimplified perceptual assumptions to severe hallucinations.
They depend upon each other. Without the delusion of being a separate self, for example, you could not lust after something you don’t have or hate something else for ruining your life.
What’s the solution? There are two steps to dissolving the poisons.
(1) Gautama encourages us initially simply to notice these poisons. Pay attention to what they are doing to your life. To notice the damage, just pay full attention to the moment-by-moment condition of your body. The evidence, if you will open to it, is right there directly confronting you.
We like to look elsewhere. Why? Perhaps we think that looking seriously at our lives could not possibly help.
Not! Until you acknowledge the problem, how could you cure it? Suppose you do acknowledge the problem. How could you cure it? How could you release yourself (unbind) from greed, anger, and delusion?
(2) Gautama says, “Meditate.” That’s the way to living well, to authentic nirvana. Because it undermines the separation that permits the poisons to arise, meditation is the solution to our problems of living.
Are you skeptical? If so, good! It’s fine to be skeptical, to question his prescription.
What’s not good is being negative. Find out for yourself if he’s right. How? Meditate!