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Nirvana - Freedom from Life and Death

Updated on January 29, 2013

“The One who gives you the most pain, is none other than (your) Buddha… as he is the one who helps you evolve”.

Happiness in Austerity - Buddha

I was introduced to the teachings of Buddha for the first time when I was in middle school. Those days the ‘eight fold path’ to salvation was just another chapter in my history book. As years went by I realized that every religion offered some check points to regulate the conduct of humans in the society, be it Vedas in Hinduism or Ten Commandments in Christianity. Every religion prescribed almost the same techniques to attain freedom from shackles of life. However, one thing which caught my attention in Buddha’s teachings was his emphasis on ‘happiness in austerity’. All of us want to be surrounded by good people and live happier and joyful lives but the fact remains that we hardly get to learn anything from such happy moments. It’s only the bad time which helps us evolve spiritually and makes us wiser. It only happens in the darkest hour of our life that we shut the doors to the outside world and turn inward. It seems highly impractical, insensitive and unrealistic to ask someone to treat the most horrible and soul wrenching moment of his life as a blessing in disguise but …that’s what it is IN FACT.

Turmoil and tribulation, often times, trigger the process of transformation and self realization. The best illustration supporting this fact would be the sudden awakening of Kundalini (primal energy), without formal initiation, in the wake of a devastating event. There have been many reported incidents where people have experienced sudden spiritual awakening while undergoing a severe emotional upheaval brought about by an unexpected tragic event e.g. loss of a loved one. It took me almost a lifetime to understand why higher souls like Buddha embraced austerity even when they could live a life of abundance. Material gain was certainly not their objective. The ability and the desire to look deep within, and beyond the obvious, acted as a fuel for their transcendence.

Listen to No One…Buddha

‘Don’t follow me or anyone else unless the path feels right to you.’

His teachings were remarkably simple, down to earth, and doable, and at the same time, left everyone with a choice to follow or not to follow his path. Using that leverage I often ask myself if renouncing the world and detaching oneself with the worldly ties, paves way for liberation of soul? I completely understand that my personal opinion would not count here and that no one would ever dare to challenge the path walked by a man who has been, ever since, worshiped and revered like God. Being a seeker (like many out there) my job is to find the ‘Truth’ and the ‘Truth’ has to be the one which agrees with my thought process just like Gautama Buddha had said.

If we consider austerity and renunciation as two major milestones in the journey to enlightenment, then it should mean that all spiritualists (who renounce the world) attain ‘Moksha’ / salvation (freedom from birth & death). Has anyone ever wondered if Buddha actually attained Nirvana? Can we say for sure that he was never sent back to this earth to be born again as a human? Such thoughts do cross my mind time and again.

Karmic Life vs. Yogic Life

Hinduism emphasizes on the importance of fulfilling the duties during one’s lifetime. It is said that the one who dies after fulfilling all his obligations, rests in peace because he has nothing to come back for. It (kind of) makes sense as it sounds similar to the theory that ‘re-birth is a matter of choice’. One school of thought holds that there is no heaven or hell and as such there is no judgment day; if souls come back to be reborn, they do so by choice. Taking this philosophy as a basis of my research, I started digging deeper and stumbled on a past life regression story of a man who recalled himself to be a sage who had spent 15-20 years meditating in Himalayas, in his past life. During the regression session he saw that he had abandoned his poverty-stricken family and had found his abode in snow peaked mountains. The most interesting part of the story was that he had renounced the world and had spent the rest of his life as a sage…..a sage who had subjected his body to abject starvation and excessive harsh weather for almost two decades. He recalled his frozen body being washed away along with the gushing water, running down the mountains, after he died in freezing cold. The story didn’t end here. Surprisingly, he had to return to the earth to be born as a human again and face the day to day hardships of life in the process of providing sustenance for his family. Moral of the story – renunciation does not lead to liberation. He had not fulfilled his duties as a son / husband / father in the previous life and as such, had to come back to finish what he had left undone. Being an ascetic didn’t come to his rescue.

Desire is the cause of human suffering - Buddha

Buddha had said that the cause of human suffering is desire and that freedom from desire leads to Nirvana. Well, if the words of Gautama Buddha are taken as gospel truth then the ascetic in the above story should have attained Nirvana in his previous life only, as he had severed his ties with the materialistic world and had chosen to live a life free of desires. Clearly that didn’t happen and he had to come back. The story again proves the point – Karmic life is more powerful than asceticism and if done with complete sincerity and devotion, paves way for liberation of soul and freedom from the cycle of birth and death. There is no freedom unless the purpose of life is fulfilled. There is a reason we are born and our sole duty should be to realize that purpose and try hard to fulfill it with utmost sincerity, honesty and dedication so that we free ourselves from the cycle of birth and death for all times to come. Ironically, the entire process of spiritual evolution starts from the ‘desire’ to know the purpose and ends with the ‘desire’ to fulfill it. So to say, the element of ‘desire’ exists everywhere and in all we do, whether good or bad. Can there be freedom from ‘desire’ in real sense? A thought for the day!

Freedom from Life and Death

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