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In the West we frequently use the word nirvana as a synonym for bliss, or heaven, but this is a misunderstanding.

The Buddhist concept of nirvana has complex moral, psychological, metaphysical, and spiritual levels.

Morally, nirvana is the decision to abandon desire, or selfish craving; it means embracing the Dharma and thus following the Eight-Fold Path that leads to nirvana.

Psychologically, nirvana is the experience of actually being free of selfish desire. It is the peaceful letting go and the letting be, found by freeing ourselves from the emotional turmoil of our desires. These desires inevitably rule us when we give them center stage in our lives.

Metaphysically, nirvana is the absolute condition beyond the transient nature of human existence; it is the condition-less, immutable, eternal reality of awareness. It is the transcendent side ot’shunyata, the absolute  reality that contains all the fullness and emptiness implicit in all things.

Finally, we achieve nirvana spiritually when we personally appropriate its nature in our lives. It is our experience of enlightenment beyond desire, of the emptiness of individual being, of the impermanence of phenomena, of everything.

The Buddha is said to have achieved all these levels of nirvana. By abandoning the world, withdrawing from its seductive influence, he made the decision morally to liberate himself from craving’ s control. Here the Buddha’s inner process is similar to that of any other saint who has let go of selfishness in the depths of the will – a pattern found in all traditions.

Then, through wandering and intense asceticism, he disciplined himself and freed himself psychologically from the hold of desire. He sought the middle way. the essential path to liberation, what later tradition would call the Dharma. He learned from other ascetics he encountered, those like him who had renounced the world, but he also realized that asceticism
alone wasn’t enough. The Buddha discovered an unlimited freedom beyond emotion’s flux. By liberating himself within and without, and by complete commitment to meditation, he entered infinite awareness, the metaphysical summit of nirvana, in which he understood the nature of
existence, its roots or cause, and its eventual destiny. Spiritually, the Buddha lived his enlightenment experience in the world. and shared its fruits with others, attempting to awaken them to what he had discovered, the revelation of our ultimate nature as this vast awareness.

From The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions

Wayne Teasdale

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