A Note on Nirvana

By Kema Ananda

The following is a small selection from Kema Ananda's unfinished book, "Yogin's Bread." This passage is actually a long footnote explaining the nature of Nirvana and comparing it to the Christian conception of the Beatific Vision. The first paragraph is from the body of the text, and the rest is the note on this paragraph.

As a yogin ripens in pure love and understanding it becomes clear that every sound is a Mantra [a Divine sound] every being is a Living Buddha, and every place is Nirvana.

With the full development of wisdom and compassion, the core teaching of the Vajrayana school becomes apparent. The phrase "Every sound a Mantra, every being a living Buddha, and every place Nirvana," becomes accessible. For instance, the reality that every sound is indeed a divine sound is lost to us in ignorance simply because "familiarity breeds contempt." The mind shrouded in ignorance, trying to bend the creation to the dictates of the self illusion, often fails to recognize the miracle of sound. Thank goodness we have music!

Likewise if our Buddha nature is not recognized due to ignorance, attachment and aversion, it is impossible to see the reality that everyone has a Buddha nature.

The word Nirvana is like the word God, it attempts to express the inexpressible. It can only be experienced. It is experienced at each of the four stages of emancipation in the path of purification, a system of yogic practise used by the Buddha, and still used in the Southern school, or school of the Elders. It is based upon the development of insight or wisdom, once achieved, compassion toward all beings is naturally generated.

The Mahayana, or Middle school of Buddhism achieves the same end, through the path of purification and compassion, based on the penetration of the Heart Sutra, or Wisdom of the Heart.

It is also penetrated in the two-in-one practise of Mahamudra, a system of yogic practise used by the Vajrayana, or the Northern School of Buddhism. In this approach, of developing compassion and wisdom, as the vehicle to Buddhahood, this is seen as the ultimate position to serve in the alleviation of suffering or ignorance. Liberation from suffering is achieved by the penetration to Buddhahood. The yogin that accomplishes that goal is said to be a Living Buddha.

Nirvana cannot be equated to the concept of Heaven. All three schools of Buddhism agree that the evolution of consciousness can definitely experience levels of consciousness that can only be described as heavenly. We will be unfolding the paths that lead to Jhana, or the heavenly states, when we focus on the areas of work to develop tranquillity.

However that is not the final goal, the heavenly states are impermanent, as they are still within the realms of existence. Nirvana on the other hand, partakes of the Unborn, or the immortality of the Primordial, or God. Nirvana is to extinct into God, whereas to achieve Heaven is to reside on the right hand of God, still in existence, in adoration of God. The great Christian theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas defined Heaven as "total immersion in the beatific vision." This, however, is not the final goal for a Christian. I quote from the Summa Theologica (8th article) "Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. To make this clear, two points must be observed. First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek: secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object...if therefore, the human mind, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than that He is; the perfection of that mind does not yet reach simply the First Cause [primordial source or God - ed.] but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Because of this, the mind is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the mind needs to reach the very essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man's happiness consists..."

Nirvana transcends Heaven and Hell, as extinction into the source ends arising to existence in any form. The Christian theological tradition acknowledges an important difference between existence and essence. A thing's essence (Latin "being") is its final end. For instance, the essence of an acorn is a mature oak tree. Existence, on the other hand, implies a separation from essence (Latin "existere" - to stand out from.) When we exist, we "stand out from" our true being. Thus the goal is to reach our true Essence, which is God, the Source, or Nirvana. Once Enlightenment is experienced, existence separate from the source, or God, is removed and Nirvana is reached, but no one enters, as "no one looks on the face of God and lives." The yogin can only know the approach, and the coming out of Nirvana. It is impossible to know in Pure Nirvana.

This is the point on the path that Buddhists call fruition, as the bloom of Nirvana, and the fruit of liberation are attained, by the very extinction of the yogi that attains it. Ignorance is then ended, as anyone to be ignorant, or separated from God, has gone into extinction or Nirvana. The extinction and the resurrection, as was physically demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, is the way back into the garden. This is the overcoming of the original guilt sin. For the yogin has turned back to God, and has been consciously reborn. This is also the Two-in-One, as Nirvana and Samsara are one, (liberation and suffering are one.) The cause of suffering, craving, even for heavenly existence, is ended, and liberation is attained.

The Christian Trinity, of "The Father, Son and Holy Spirit" experienced as One, makes it possible for the yogin to see that every place is Nirvana. The concepts of a Primordial Source or God, equals the concept of "The Father." Whatever term is used, the reality is beyond form or substance. Unseparated from this, is the "Son of God" or the One Mind, like the Father, it is beyond form or substance. Yet we can say that it is real, because we can arise to it, we can know when Christ has come into the Heart-Mind base. The One Mind, or Divine Consciousness, Christ Consciousness, are all concepts that could be used to express the equivalent of "The Son." The Heart-Mind base in "At-one-ment" is the heart and mind left in the original state, and this can be recognized as the "Holy Spirit."

There is a Koan (mind riddle to assist in "sudden enlightenment") from the Zen school: "If it all reduces to One, to what does the One reduce to?" To try to answer the Koan with words would be to say, Pure Nirvana. To give any answer, in the school of hard knocks would be, "ten blows if you answer and ten blows if you don't." To be reborn from the experience is to have returned to the garden. Nirvana and this reality are not seen as separate, every place is then recognizable as Nirvana.

I hope I expressed that clearly enough, so you were able to grasp an intellectual understanding. Trying to explain the core teaching of Vajrayana Buddhism, and then cross-reference it to the core teaching of Christianity is very difficult. What is astounding to me, is that I traveled around the world on twenty dollars to get this information, it took me a year to make the journey and it almost killed me. Then it took the better part of twenty years to integrate the understanding and the experience, and I just crammed it into a footnote!

Kema Ananda often used the mastery of practical skills as a vehicle for teaching. You can read his delightful piece on baking bread by going to Yogin's Bread. And take my word for it, the recipe is delicious!

Punnadhammo Bhikkhu