Nirvana in Buddhism is the supreme state of Buddha Nature that is free from Samsara and suffering. Once this state is attained and contained all karmic imprints are stopped and one is released from the cycle of reincarnation. While Nirvana is often used in the East, freedom from suffering can also be explained through non-attachment and this form of Buddha nirvana is also referred to as “Enlightenment.”
So, how do you reach Nirvana or enlightenment? In Buddhism, enlightenment can be explained as the liberation from our thoughts. Instead of being our thoughts, we shift perspective to watching our thoughts-we are observing our thoughts without identifying with our thoughts.
This is the liberation from thought identification to thought observation, and this is what it means for the brain to get out of its own way. Beyond the brain and its thoughts we experience that we are still there, and this experience is liberation-the experience of our true nature.
To explain this, a mirror is often used as a metaphor for the mind, or consciousness. Our mind is an empty mirror in which thoughts occur as reflections. We are the mirror. Our thoughts, as reflections in the mirror, are our subjective self, or ego. By observing our thoughts we can see that these reflections come and go in the mirror, but when we watch closely we find something behind these reflections that is clear and stable. This is the mirror-our true nature.
Knowing our true identity, we can observe the reflections as they change from pleasant to unpleasant thoughts and back again, but since we no longer identify with the reflections we have now become liberated from them. This simply means that we are no longer controlled by our thoughts.
We now control our thoughts, and can select positive and happy thoughts, instead of negative and unhappy thoughts. This is enlightenment and freedom from our thoughts, which leads us to the essence of our nature. This was what the Buddha taught, and all his 84,000 teachings can all be condensed into one line: Recognize your essence.
The Buddhist tradition tells us that negation lacks the oneness with the parts, and therefore, we should abandon “the poison of contradictions.” Being able to discriminate is an important function of the mind, but a dualistic mind ruled by negation is not a happy mind because it is disconnected from its own true nature. Our true identity is beyond conceptual thinking, and it is by redrawing this conceptualization that we can experience the true nature of the mind.
Karmic patterns are not part of our true nature-they are part of the manifest world (Samsara). To be real and to experience who we are, we need to move beyond into the un-manifest and unlimited world of our true nature. Just the same, when we die and leave the body, we also leave this karmic world of delusion to enter the ultimate nature of reality.
The true nature of mind is the door through which we enter into the ultimate reality of existence. The Buddhists teach us that to leave the karmic world behind; we cannot be attached to it. Non-attachment is a mind in equilibrium without craving or aversion. Again, non-attachment is not the nihilistic perception of nothingness, but the abandoning of conceptual thinking, which leaves the mind calm to experience itself. The true nature of the mind is naturally full of light and unlimited love. This is very similar to the experience of the light in the near-death experience. In fact, “The light experienced in meditation has many of the qualities of the light of the NDE.”
Buddhism teaches that when we die, we encounter this light-the Luminous Bardo of Dharmata, Dharmata meaning true nature and luminosity referring to the light that is naturally present. As the near-death experience gives evidence to, this ultimate reality is beyond our human understanding, and in Buddhism it is bright and unimaginably positive as the ultimate bliss.
This clear light nature is the ultimate level of reality and as such it is also your true nature as the light of your enlightened mind. Therefore, an important key to enlightenment is the realization that nirvana is not something you effort for as you try to reach it with attachment to the goal. You are in essence nirvana and as such all you need is to stop reacting to karmic imprints and just be – be yourself.