Dear Guruji, please enlighten us on what is Nirvana and better still give it to us right now!
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know our senses always look outward and the mind through the senses always captures the world around us and then whatever the senses capture is stored inside. You look at scenery and the scenery gets imprinted in your mind. You taste coffee and the coffee’s taste and flavor, fragrance, everything get imprinted in your consciousness. You taste apple pie or chocolate and that gets imprinted in your mind. Similarly with sound and touch; you touch a certain part of the body and that creates a sensation and the mind starts craving for those sensations. So these impressions in the mind are like a screen between you and the world outside.
Now the more the impression the more it is stifling for the life force or life energy, the prana. Just imagine you go and sit and watch a movie in the morning, afternoon, evening; do it for three days and see what happens. You brain looses balance, you go haywire. So many impressions, three movies a day and for three days, that’s it, you are ready to get into mental hospital. Then on the fourth day if you are asked to watch a movie you will say oh no, please I want to shut my eyes. The ability for senses to enjoy is limited but the hunger of the mind could be unlimited, you know. Bulimia is one such solid example, you stomach says please no but your heart says no I want more, so you stuff in more when there is no place and then you throw-out and then again eat. So it is an imbalance between the capacity/ability to enjoy and the desire to enjoy.
Nirvana is bringing the balance and having no desire. You know desire means a lack, desire indicate lack. If it is all there then why would you desire. You desire a car because it is not there right now with you. You desire something that which you don’t have. When your consciousness is fulfilled, it says I want nothing, I am satisfies, I am fulfilled that is Nirvana. Even hankering for enlightenment is an obstruction for enlightenment.
That is the story of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha was in search of knowledge. He did everything that everybody said. Someone said you do this japa, he did that, someone else said you fast and he did that, he fasted and fasted because at that time there was another enlightened person called Mahavir who had attained enlightenment and who never ate food so the whole Jain tradition started with control on food where they ate every other day or didn’t eat because the propounder, the prophet of the Jain philosophy Mahavir ate very little food. In several days he ate just once because he was in bliss he didn’t need it.
So Buddha tried to copy this by also fasting in the hope that by fasting he may get enlightened but then he became so weak that he could not even walk. He barely pulled himself and sat under a tree and almost collapsed when someone came and brought him a bowl milk pudding and he drank that and broke all the vows of fasting and had a good sleep that night. The morning when he woke up there was nothing left, the last star was going down the horizon, the dawn was coming up and something happened within him. Suddenly he realized that’s it, there is nothing to look for now. He had been looking for joy here and there but now there is nothing to look for anywhere and he just sat that moment, that freedom dawned on him. That freedom is called Nirvana, freedom from everything.
See in life from childhood we keep hanging on to something or another, as a child you are hanging on to little toffees and toys and then you grow a little older it is toys and friends and then you grow a little older and you are hanging on to friends and a little older then children, grandchildren. Something or another kept occupying your mind, you got lost in outer relationships. My son, my daughter-in-law, my grand children, my this, my that and it took your whole life, your whole day, your whole time or you started caring for this or that, you are worried for the world so something or another occupied your mind so your mind could never reflect on who I am; what I am; what do I want; what is life.
It never had time, even all the religious prayers we did were for the welfare of something, to get something. You sat and prayed oh let my son be okay, my daughter be okay, let my life be comfortable, let me have money, let me have fame, let me have something or thanking god for giving you this or that. Our prayers are all geared for getting something or thanking for what we have already got. That means we are still latching on to objects, people and relationships.
Nirvana is that freedom, when mind is free it says I want nothing I have everything. I have everything this is all mine, anyway I have no need for anything. That state is called Nirvana and the same is called Samadhi, you know Nirvana or Moksha in Sanskrit. Moksha means freedom, liberation, mind free from all the hang-ups.
Suppose you are taken from here and put on Mars, another planet where you know nobody and you have nobody, how would you feel? Just imagine, you are taken and thrown in a distant planet. There is nobody around, what happens? You go blank, there is nothing! All our emotions are linked with people, objects, and concepts. When you get freedom from impressions of people, impressions of different events, emotions, objects and when your mind is free from all concepts and even the concept of Nirvana. Last obstruction is hankering for Nirvana, I want to be free, I want to be free. This wanting to be free can also be bondage. That state of nothingness that is Nirvana.
In simple terms it is said freedom from sorrow. Sorrow is because of the sense of mine. Someone looses their purse or their cell phone, you don’t get affected but when you loose your own cell phone or your purse, you get affected. What is the difference? There is a story, a father gave his home in the valley to his son and asked him to take care of the home and the father left for a long pilgrimage, trekking in the mountains. After a month or so when he came back he saw his house in the Kashmir valley burned down. The house was not there, it was burned down into ashes and the father became miserable and started crying, oh my god everything is gone, everything! By the time his son returned from the field he saw the father beating his chest and yelling, crying and howling. He said dad what happened?
What happened, see my life saving, everything is gone, everything is finished, my home is burned down and the son said, dad I already sold the house and I got double the money. A very good offer came so I immediately sold it. Someone came from another town and they were willing to pay double the money and they wanted the home so I sold the home dad.
Suddenly the tears immediately changed and a smile came on the father’s face. The situation was the same, it was his house. First he felt it was my house burned down now it was somebody else’s house and then he said anyways it is an old house, it burned down maybe it was purposefully burned down, now they can build a nice new bungalow. He started talking the other way around. It is mine, because of that I get more pain.
Me is lost in mine, Nirvana is getting back to me from mine. Instead of mine, mine, you go back to me, who am I; and when Buddha went to find who am I? He found nothing. He said I could not find an atma, I could not find a soul. It is all nothing, there is no self, no soul, there is nothing but the one who is experiencing this nothing is me. I experience nothing, I experience Moksha. Who should the nirvana happen to, it’s me. It is not the ego me but the ‘me’ as a consciousness which is ease-ness which is everywhere. So the ‘me’ is not an individual person but ‘me’ is a field of consciousness. This is exactly what Vedanta says. Atma is not an entity it is a field. The being without impression is mukti, liberation.
To say it very simply, from mine to the ‘me’ that is lost in mine and because of that it is miserable. The seer is lost in the scenery. Everything is scenery including our body is scenery and the mind derives from the scenery to the seer. First it gets onto the body and becomes aware of the body, then behind the body there is the mind, behind the mind is the intellect and then the ego; pass one layer after another and go deep. It is like peeling of an onion, you know like onion has many sheets, Nirvana is like peeling the onion, not this, not that, going deep inside to the center core. What do you find in the center core of an onion, nothing!
Now what is the use of finding this, the mind asks. Freedom from sorrow, freedom from misery, FREEDOM!
Lord Buddha said only four things, the first things he said is, there is sorrow, don’t deny it. Life is miserable; married people are miserable, unmarried people are miserable. People with children are miserable and people without children are miserable. Life is sorrow, people who have fame are miserable and people who are hankering for fame are miserable. People who have power and position are miserable and those who do not have are also miserable. People who have money are more miserable than those who do not have. There is misery everywhere. You have friends and you are miserable or you don’t have friends and you are miserable. When you don’t have any friends at least you are miserable in a different manner, your miserable because you don’t have something but when you have friends and you consider your friends as the cause of your misery, this is even worse. So there is misery and there is a cause for misery. No one is miserable for no reason; there is a reason to be miserable. If you are sad you cannot be sad for no reason, your sadness is connected to something, so there is a cause for misery; the second principle of Lord Buddha. The third principle he said is, there is a way and it is possible to eliminate misery. It is possible because it is not your nature, like you cannot eliminate sweetness from sugar right because sweetness is the nature of sugar. You cannot eliminate heat from fire because nature of fire is heat. If it is your nature there is no way you can eliminate it but it is possible to eliminate misery and there is a method for it, a way for it. So what is it, the cause of misery is the seer got stuck in the scenery. You know if you see innocent villagers they go to a movie and if the hero is crying they cry; innocent people, they don’t realize it is only in the movie that the villain is getting victorious. People get so angry and they throw tomatoes and stones on the screen, at least in the past they used to do that. Even in the plays, people got so engrossed in it that they would throw things on the screen. The seer got engrossed in the scenery; this is the cause of misery and it is possible for the seer to retrieve back. However miserable you are you cannot be miserable for 24 hours. You take some rest, you sleep and your mind gets back from the scenery. However beautiful or ugly, pleasurable or painful the seer cannot be with the scenery all the time. In sleep you retrieve and the mind comes back to the seer but consciously when the mind leaves the scenery and gets back to the seer and sees that this is all temporary, everything is changing, everything!
Including our own body everything is impermanent and when this becomes very clear that everything is impermanent, all relationships are impermanent, people are impermanent, our body is impermanent, our feelings are impermanent, suddenly the consciousness or the mind which was logging onto things becoming miserable turns back onto oneself. Me, I am… that return from mine to ‘me’, from the scenery to the seer is the method. From the scenery get back to the seer and reposing in the seer is Nirvana. You are reposing, content, and you find that the seer is all bliss, all love, all that we have been seeking outside in many things are all what the seer is.
It is said that Buddha didn’t utter a word for seven days after he had total contentment, the experience of Nirvana, he didn’t say a word. He just moved several steps up and down and it is said that the angels came and prayed to him to speak; if you don’t speak what will happen, you should speak. Then Buddha said people who know they know it and people who don’t know they don’t know it, by speaking it is not going to help. Then the angels persuaded him that there are some people who are on the border line and if you speak to them they will immediately catch it and it will help them. You should speak, it is then said that Buddha started speaking. Brahma the creator came and told him you should speak. You know there are a lot of stories to that effect.
The main idea is freedom from misery that is Nirvana; totally free from desires; Freedom from misery, freedom from pleasures and hankering for pleasure. You see it is the hankering for pleasure which causes misery and not knowing this is all ephemeral, everything is dissolving, disappearing, everything is changing causes sorrow. However nice something is, however ugly something is both will disappear into thin air. Knowing this you get back to the self.
© The Art of Living Foundation