Enlightenment – Nirvana


The term ‘Enlightenment’ is very important in the Zen sects because the ultimate goal of Zen discipline is to attain what is known as ‘enlightenment.’ Enlightenment is the state of consciousness in which Noble Wisdom realizes its own inner nature. And this self-realization constitutes the truth of Zen, which is emancipation (moksha) and freedom (vasavartin). Enlightenment is the whole of Zen. Zen starts with it and ends with it. When there is no enlightenment, there is no Zen. Enlightenment is the measure of Zen, as is announced by a master. 

Enlightenment is the most intimate individual experience and therefore cannot be expressed in words or described in any manner. All that one can do in the way of communicating the experience to others is to suggest or indicate, and this only tentatively. The one who has had it understands readily enough when such indication are given, but when we try to have a glimpse of it through the indices given we utterly fail.


What is Nirvana?

Nirvana is a state, the absolute Truth, the absolute nature, a tranquil dwelling. These are only suggestions. Nobody can understand what it is, if they haven’t attained Enlightenment yet. We can give a simpler example to expand an explanation.

A triangle has its bottom and top. We can divide the triangle horizontally many times. The lower is the bigger, while the higher is the smaller, the top is only a dot. According to geometric definition, a dot has no size. Thus, there is no size in the top.

The triangle has only one way where the top can look down to see the bottom, while the bottom can’t look up to see the top. The bottom is wide, symbolizing this world. Every higher part symbolizes every heavenly realm. The top symbolizes Nirvana, which has no size. It’s only a dot. The dot can see everything. It’s Nirvana. Nirvana is just like a dot, but it’s everything.

Nirvana is only the dot that is as large as the universe. Zen Masters usually bring into comparison that a dust could cover the whole universe. They want to say that the absolute universe has no concept of size.

The dot becomes the universe in which physics and spirit are included. Nirvana is the absolute Truth, in which there is no space, or time, or size. And Nirvana can cover the whole universe.

Frankly speaking, we can’t fully understand what Nirvana is with the above explanation that seems to be paradoxical. However, we happily believe it because our subconsciousness has been nourishing Buddhism-Dharma. If not, we can never have conditioned causality to talk about the Extinction of Suffering.

The Buddha once said that “this person has a light in a vase with its lid, but the light is still smoldering, and he doesn’t know its smolder. Like that, the person doesn’t know his subconsciousness has been nourishing Buddhism-Dharma, and one day he may attain Enlightenment.”

If one day, scientists might find out the smallest unit in the universe, then they are amazed to discover that the smallest unit is not material, but vortex. Then human beings can realize all invention is meaningless, because people find out that the smallest unit that can cover the whole universe is Nirvana. And if the scientists and Buddhist Monks can attain Enlightenment to see the absolute Truth, right then all human beings would be enlightened.

The nature of Nirvana

The nature of Nirvana is a state in which all is in one and one is in all. This is the state when the One attains Enlightenment, then His ego is eliminated. Every individual has his/her own ego, but when he/she attains Enlightenment his/her own ego disappears. And when ego does not exist, all beings become only one.

For instance, if we know about someone when facing them, then we have some judgment. There are two aspects in this knowing: a person who knows and a person who is known. But there are no two aspects in the Buddha’s knowing. It means the knowing of the Buddha about two aspects is only one. 

In the state, the non-ego mind becomes the great compassionate heart.

If parents love their children, it’s because the children are part of the parents’ blood. This love is natural. However, Saints, Arhats, and the Buddha love beings with an absolute love, even though all beings are not their children. This is the great loving-kindness and compassion. Only in theory, we can see how great Buddhism is. No word can describe the Buddha’s great loving-kindness and compassion.

We are too small in comparison with the Buddha’s heart. He thinks of all beings and Himself as only one. In this point, there is nothing to explain completely, only enlightened Ones can understand. There is one thing we can be sure that although all people in the world may dislike us, we are always loved by the Buddha. So, every time we get upset most, feel lonely most, feel extreme despair, we can worship the Buddha and reveal our misery to Him. We can find His love and support to rely on.

As we know we have love from the Buddha, then we take a vow that while living in the world we should give love to others. From this doing, we can express our deep gratitude to our Buddha.

The nature of Nirvana is the end of ignorance

The End of ignorance is the humblest words to describe the nature of Nirvana. In fact, it’s the enlightened One’s wisdom that covers all the universe. Nirvana is the dot in the peak, it’s nothing but it’s everything. It seems contrary when we say that. Believe it or not, it’s true. The enlightened One knows everything in the universe. Our Buddha is the One who knows everything in the universe. His wisdom is the utmost.

People may have knowledge of many aspects such as the Law of Causality and karma, however, only the Buddha can completely perceive them. When attaining Enlightenment, all Arhats, Bodhisattvas and the Buddha have the same wisdom, and karma can never drive Them to the samsara. But only the Buddha can completely understand in detail how and what the Law of Causality and karma are. That’s why only Him can be called Amittara-Samyak-Sambodhi, the Supreme and Perfect Enlightenment.

The Buddha also brought up knowledge of psychological family, society, people, science, physics. In the old time, writing of and knowledge of science were rare, so He talked very little about that. He only said: “there is so much germs in the bowl of water.” Or “there are many of the same worlds in the universe.” Clearly, He knew very well about everything, He just said very little about them.

The characteristics of Nirvana are the Six Supernatural Powers which were declared by the Buddha.

The Six Supernatural Powers are the knowledge of countless previous lives in detail about self and others. However, the enlightened Ones who know of previous existences and lives can’t still tell what Nirvana is. The greatness of Nirvana can’t be talked through words.

Later, practitioners couldn’t completely reach to Enlightenment, so they misunderstood and classified Nirvana into Nirvana of Theravada and Nirvana of Mahayana. Then they divided Buddhism into the two sects: Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism.

Buddhists who understand Nirvana through the way of Theravada think that Nirvana is the place where there is no ignorance existing, releasing from the samsara. Theravada Buddhists clearly understand Nirvana in detail. According to Mahayana, Nirvana is the great compassion, the supernatural power, the Bodhi-virtues, the absolute wisdom. Mahayana Buddhists completely perceive Nirvana without any mistake.

Truthfully, if the two ways of understanding can be combined, then the meaning of Nirvana of the Buddha must be accurate.

This is the world of human beings, which is different from heavenly world. In heaven there is less suffering, more happiness, more restfulness. 

In Sutra, there are many realms of Deities, from lower to highest. 

The first low realm is called Lokapalas (the four Deva-Kings). 

The second-high realm is called Indra (Mighty Lord of Deva). 

The third higher realm is called Akanistha (the highest of material heaven). 

The fourth highest realm is called Arupaloka (the formless heaven). 

Only the Buddha could see all those heavenly realms.

Practitioners can easily go to those heavenly realms. People who practice Buddhism, do good deeds, give worship to the Buddha and do charity can go to heavenly realms when they die. It’s only a question that how long can they stay there? If their merit is not accumulated so much, and they don’t create more merit when staying there, they will be reborn back in this world when their blessing is gone. Maybe they will practice Buddhism again when they return here.

The higher realm is reserved for practitioners who live the most purified and saintly life. Practitioners who practice meditation and reach deep concentration will go to the higher Deva realm. The higher the realm is, the happier heavenly beings are. Human beings like us can hardly imagine or be told how very happy the heavenly realms are. The human condition in this world can’t compare with that of deities in those Deva realms. They are much happier and much closer to the Extinction of Suffering. Many deities haven’t attained the stage of sainthood, yet they would attain the Enlightenment in those Deva realms. Those are Anagamins (non-coming) who will go to the realm Akanistha, where they will come to Nirvana.

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