Samsara vs. Nirvana

How about a post out of left field?

I've been on a roll lately. My focus has been heart disease, although I've branched out recently to other organs and included the liver. Whenever I learn something new, or have one of those "AHA!" moments, I like to write a blog about it. Partly to help cement the understanding for myself. Partly to share stuff with you all.

In the yoga class I taught today, I read a passage by Pema Chodron about not preferring nirvana over samsara. Roughly translated, nirvana means bliss and samsara means chaos. So wouldn't most people, meaning everyone, naturally prefer nirvana? And why not? Isn't nirvana clearly better?

The point of the passage I read was that becoming one with the Buddha, or your own Buddha-nature, is not about resting in nirvana. It is not about finding a place of eternal peace or stillness or heaven and then remaining there forever. You may already know that Buddhists attempt to let go of attachment. And this includes attachment to peace. Or tranquility. Or nirvana.

Life is full of everything. Life is full of people and music and wind and rain and hail and wildflowers and bird crap and anger and laughter. If we attempt to live our lives in a perpetual state of peace or stillness, we will need to shut out the noisy, smelly, ugly, rough world that exists all around us. If every time you sit down on your cushion to meditate, you require the world around you to become completely silent, you are missing the entire point of meditation. Meditating is the practice of creating a calm, still center in the midst of life. In the middle of the crazy, busy, hectic, loud world. In order to find inner peace, you do not need to become a hermit. You do not need to get a divorce, or leave your children, or drop your dogs off at the shelter. In fact, you need to do the opposite. You need to embrace all that is. You need to discover your own wide open compassionate heart and use it to embrace not just the things you like, but everything. Everything you want to push away. Everything you want to reject. Everything that hurts. Everything that smells bad. Everything that makes you cringe and want to run away. Even the chaos. Even samsara.

I hope you don't think I'm making this sound easy. Because this is far from easy. Most of us are conditioned to want to escape. We have been practicing judging the world from the time we spoke our first words until this very moment. The moment when we attempt to take a step back. The moment we stop labeling each experience as "bad" or "good" and just discover what IS. And then take a breath.

You can practice right now. You can practice with your eyes closed or open. Simply allow yourself to take in and accept everything you see, hear, smell, feel, and think. Without pushing anything away. Without judging. Without rejecting or liking or preferring. Just notice what is. And breathe.

It's as simple as that.