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Are You Among the “Nirvanics”?

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“Nirvanics” mentioned in this article

The way of the wise

“Those who meditate with perseverance, constantly working hard at it, are the wise who experience Nirvana, the ultimate freedom from chains” (Dhammapada 23).

Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, frequently used the expression “godwards” for those who were moving toward Divine Consciousness. We might coin the ungainly word “Nirvanics” for those Buddha is describing in this twenty-third verse of the Dhammapada. They are the wise. As Yogananda said, the world is divided into two types of human beings: the wise who are seeking God and the foolish who are not.

Whatever the terms we may use for “the ultimate freedom from chains,” the idea is the same: right now we are bound, but we can become unbound. How? Buddha is telling us how.

Meditation

One time a man asked me if he could speak with me about some problems and questions he had. “Why bother?” brayed an eavesdropper standing nearby, “All he will do is tell you to meditate!” Yes, it is true: meditation is the only solution. Many things are needed to support our meditation and ensure its success, but meditation is the prime means for those seeking real freedom of being.

Paramhansa Yogananda, writing about Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri, one of nineteenth-century India’s greatest yogis, said:

“The great guru taught his disciples to avoid theoretical discussion of the scriptures. ‘He only is wise who devotes himself to realizing, not reading only, the ancient revelations,’ he said. ‘Solve all your problems through meditation. Exchange unprofitable religious speculations for actual God-contact. Clear your mind of dogmatic theological debris; let in the fresh, healing waters of direct perception. Attune yourself to the active inner Guidance; the Divine Voice has the answer to every dilemma of life. Though man’s ingenuity for getting himself into trouble appears to be endless, the Infinite Succor is no less resourceful.’”

Long before these wise words of Lahiri Mahasaya, Buddha made clear to his students again and again that meditation was the way to freedom.

Perseverance

Wonderful as it is, meditation is no magic trick. Only those gain its benefit who “meditate with perseverance, constantly working hard at it.” So two things must characterize our meditation practice: constancy and effective effort. We keep on and keep on, never stopping for a moment in the endeavor to continually direct our awareness toward Reality. And that endeavor cannot be done in a lackadaisical manner. The Path is walked, or even run, along, not shuffled or moseyed along.

The great twentieth-century Roman Catholic philosopher, Dietrich van Hildebrand, wrote in his masterful study of spiritual evolution, Transformation in Christ, that the majority of people suffer from what he calls “discontinuity.” That is, most people simply cannot sustain either effort or thought unless driven by the base passions. In other words, they have no real freedom of mind and will, though they think they do. Addiction impels us, but wisdom does not, for freedom is both its goal and its requisite. Hence, our sustained effort at meditation must come directly from within us as a fully conscious and willful choice. Every day this is true: each step on the path is a conscious choice–clear to the end. This is not a path for the timid or the lazy or the merely curious.

Intent on meditation

Perhaps Richard’s translation: “constantly working hard at it,” is not the best, for meditation is certainly a matter of effort, but not one of stress or strain. The Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders it: “firm in their effort.” We must be focussed–intent–on our practice, certainly exerting will and strength, but in a judicial and cool-headed manner. Constant and steady is the way.

The chains

We are bound by millions (if not billions) of chains, yet meditation pursued rightly will dissolve them all. In the meantime we have to make sure we are not binding more chains on us, like the washed dog that immediately runs out and rolls in the filth to counteract the cleanliness. Here, too, meditation is the answer, for the insight born of meditation enables us to see the folly of bondage and the understanding to turn away from more involvement in chaining ourselves.

Nirvana

The purpose of all this is Nirvana. Just as a child cannot comprehend adulthood, so we cannot really understand just what Nirvana is. But one thing we can know: it is the opposite of where we now find ourselves! Attempts at definition are risky.

Some time back I saw a television show on which a reputed “authority” on Buddhism was asked by an interviewer to describe Nirvana. He proceeded to give a checklist of the characteristics of Nirvana–every one of which is listed by Buddha in the Pali sutras as NOT Nirvana, though many mistake them for Nirvana. It was sort of like hearing a Christian recite the opposite qualities listed by Jesus in the Beatitudes or a Jew reciting the exact opposites to the Ten Commandments.

But let us give ourselves at least an approximation, a whiff, of what Nirvana surely entails: “It is a supramundane state that can be attained in this life itself. It is also explained as extinction of passions, but not a state of nothingness. It is an eternal blissful state of relief that results from the complete eradication of the passions.” So says the Venerable Narada Thera.

And so seek all of us.

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