For those who meditate with purpose, achieving the state of Nirvana is the ultimate goal. Nirvana is the state of ultimate enlightenment; a lucid state that is free from anger, craving and mental suffering. However, this state can only be achieved through mental reflection and discipline. It is an attempt to achieve the state reached by Siddhartha Guatama, otherwise known as the Buddha. While the Buddha was able to achieve this state, he wasn’t fully able to impart what it meant to his followers. Instead, he encouraged them to study the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path – of which meditation is an important part.
The Four Noble Truths
In seeking to meditate to Nirvana, a seeker must embrace other aspects of the Buddhist way of life. First and foremost are the Four Noble Truths; a way of beginning to understand what life is, what role we play in it and our responsibilities to those around us. The Four Noble Truths teach that:
1) Life is suffering.
2) The suffering is caused by our ignorance of the true nature of the universe.
3) The suffering can only be ended by overcoming this ignorance and any attachment to earthly things.
4) Ignorance and attachment can be overcome by following the strictures of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path is a code of living that embraces all aspects of our existence. While they are incredibly vague, each Buddhist is free to interpret them in the way that makes them most pertinent – effectively, we are free to create our own path to Nirvana. All it really requires is the understanding that we recognise our relationship with the natural world and are prepared to embrace the consequences of being conscious and mortal beings. The eight strictures of the Noble Eightfold Path are:
1) Right views
2) Right intention
3) Right speech
4) Right action
5) Right livelihood
6) Right effort
8) Right contemplation
Buddhists who achieve Nirvana through following these precepts then become Buddhas. However, these are not Buddhas in the sense of becoming equal to the original Buddha. Instead, it is a title given to someone who has found the path to enlightenment through their own endeavours. Buddhists who achieve enlightenment under the eye of a teacher become Arhats. The main difference is that true Buddhas are thought to become omniscient, whereas Arhats are simply those who have a greater understanding of the mysteries of the universe.
Silencing the Ego and clearing the mind
The importance of meditation to achieving either Nirvana or enlightenment cannot be underestimated and it involves both the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. In the eyes of the Buddha, it is us who cause the suffering we experience, and that suffering can be tracked down to the Ego. The Ego is the hub of all our doubts, fears and flaws. These characteristics are the obstacles that are set in our way to fully understanding our purest reasons for being. Meditation is a way of learning to silence the babbling inside our heads; effectively stilling the ramblings of the Ego. Until our minds are clear, they will remain in a state of psychic frenzy, keeping our true natures obscured from us.
However, it’s important to discern between clearing the mind and emptying it. Nirvana and enlightenment are not trance-like states; they are lucid and aware, but allow us to exist on a different mental plane whilst still functioning on the physical one. In order to achieve this clarity, meditation must follow the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Everything about your meditation must be considered, from your intent to your posture. You must put in the right effort and undertake the right contemplation. However, given that the strictures of this sort of meditation are slightly nebulous, it means that you are given the freedom to create a form of meditation that is pertinent to you and you alone. Unless you are meditating under the eyes of a teacher, you are free to create your own path to enlightenment.
A lifestyle choice
Meditating towards the ultimate spiritual state isn’t just a thing you do when you feel like it; it is more a lifestyle choice. Zen Buddha said that “enlightenment just happens; it is acausal. One can do all sorts of sadhanas but, ultimately, Spring comes when it comes; there is nothing you can do to bring it earlier. The flowers will bloom when they bloom; all they need is the natural conditions.”
This, perhaps, is the key to understanding the point of meditation. It’s not an incremental journey that on your last lesson will suddenly engender revelation. Instead, it is a continual process of preparing mind, body and soul for the moment of enlightenment so that when it comes it is recognisable and understandable. Meditation is part of the journey, but it cannot take you to the destination. In this way, we can see that meditation doesn’t have to be limited to ten minutes a day; it can be a continual and constant process. Practising meditation should engender a similar state to the trance-like feelings we experience between waking and sleep.
If we are able to turn it into a habit and, ultimately, a constant part of our existence, we can even meditate as we sleep. Meditating to Nirvana or enlightenment is not exclusive to Buddhist monks. Anyone can undertake that journey and make it as valid as someone who has dedicated their lives to this spiritual quest. However, it is important that you take into account the wisdom and the strictures laid out by the Buddha. The Buddha was the first man to achieve this state of spiritual perfection and, as such, wasn’t able to find the words to explain it. Instead, he laid out a series of clues and handholds for those who wished to follow in his path.
Meditation is an important part of the journey towards enlightenment. However, it is only one aspect; the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight Path are a code through which you can live your life, rather than just a method through which you can improve the quality of your downtime.