Nirvana Day

The three most important dates in the life of Gautama Buddha are his birth, his enlightenment and his death. February 15 is Nirvana Day, commemorating the day of his death. Upon attaining enlightenment at age thirty-five, Gautama Buddha spent the next forty-five years traveling throughout northern India sharing the truths he had realized. Finally, at age eighty, resting comfortably on his side, surrounded by his followers, he peacefully died. At this time he attained parinirvana, final, complete nirvana. What is nirvana?

In America, there is a misunderstanding of the idea of nirvana. The common impression is that nirvana is like Heaven. All your cares and worries have disappeared. You are in a place of total bliss. Actually, nirvana does not describe a place. The word “nirvana” comes from the Sanskrit word “nibbana.” The earliest Buddhist texts were written in Pali and later in Sanskrit, the languages of the time. The most common translation of “nibbana” is, “To extinguish, to blot out.” Buddhism teaches that the cause of our suffering is our ego based ignorance. Ignorance brings greed, lust and desire. We see and experience life as we wish it would be, not as it is truly. This leads to suffering. When we “extinguish” the ignorance and desires caused by ego we see life truthfully. We live a life of “Oneness,” recognizing that we are a part of the universe and not the center. This “blotting out” of our ignorance is nirvana.

Just before his death Gautama Buddha gave his last teaching. His followers worried what would become of them after his passing. He had been their teacher, their inspiration, for decades. Recognizing this concern he spoke of the impermanence of all things. Everything changes, all people die. The only constant is the truth of the teachings, the Dharma. Look to the Dharma as your teacher. Experience this truth. Gautama Buddha told them to, “Make yourself your own light.”

More than twenty-five centuries later, Buddhists throughout the world follow this teaching. Offering incense or bowing before a statue of the Buddha is not an act of worship. It is an act of gratitude to the Buddha for having shared the Dharma. Chanting of sutras and other verbal recitations are not prayers. Rather, this is done so that we may hear the teachings and more readily make them a part of our life.

Gautama Buddha was a human being, not a deity. He lived, he died. During this brief human existence he found the way to overcome suffering. This potential to overcome suffering exists within us all. This potential is “Buddha Nature.” To fulfill this “Buddha Nature” we need to move beyond our ego based view of the world. Understand the impermanence and “Oneness” of all things. Attain your nirvana.

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