Nirvana is a  term used to describe the profound peace of mind that is acquired with liberation.  It is the state of being free from suffering.

The word literally means "blown out" (as in a candle) and refers, in the Buddhist context, to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished. (loosely quoting Wikipedia here...)

So...I'm curious if you all believe that Atheists as a general rule are able to reach this level of liberation? Do you think it's possible for Theists to do so? Do you believe that all/most Atheists reach Nirvana? How do you know when you've reached it? Once you've reached it how do you know you'll be able to stay there? Is it just in your mind or is there more to it? What could be a scientific explanation for the state of Nirvana?....Do you believe that Nirvana is attached to any kind of religious dogma since it's roots are found in Buddhism? Isn't Buddhism a religion? If not, then why not. If you believe Nirvana is rubbish, then tell me why.

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@Simon Paynton  Belief and intellectual knowledge are distinct from awareness.  Awareness is what people try to reach during meditation. 

Awarenessm but not awareness that amounts to knowledge or conjures up any beliefs? Hmm,..

It's what they mean by "the void", "wisdom in emptiness" etc.  By definition, it's not possible to actually spell out in words.  It's awareness beyond conscious intellectual thought and words.  "Don't think - see!" 

You're right, Un-One - it's imparseable --

Awareness - here's a simple analogy I like to use: You're walking down your town's main shopping street. You look in the window of a sporting goods shop (or a shoe shop, if you're female ;-) and you form opinions about what you see. However 50% of the light that is actually hitting your eyes is reflected by the window - images of people walking behind you, of cars going by, of shops across the street. But because of the purpose you have of looking at the latest fishing reels or pumps, your mind filters out that other 50%. You don't even notice  it (unless you choose to). The Awareness you're shooting for in meditation is to "treat" all; the light the hits your eyes equally - judge nothing - have no purpose - just be aware. Seeing things as they actually are can be a real teaching experience.

Again ANALOGY - not a lot of point in jumping on exceptions to applicability.

Mike - I agree, seeing without judging or imposing opinions upon it. 

A lot of religious "thinkers" master the art of gobble-de-goop.

Since Buddhism is a non-theistic tradition, I feel entirely safe in saying that anyone who is willing to give enough dedication and practice to meditation can reach a such a state, and that's certainly what the Buddha taught. I imagine also that anyone with an idea of God or deity might have a harder time. There is an old Zen koan (a short saying or story with a purpose): if you meet the Buddha while walking down the road, then kill him. It's completely figurative of course. It means that any preconceived notion will prevent you from reaching enlightenment. It is better to be rid of those notions and instead see what is as it is. If you have notions of what enlightenment is like, then be rid of them, because what you think it is is probably not what it really is. The Buddha described it as a turtle trying to explain to a fish what it was like walking on land, and being in the sun and air.

I spent a year and studied quite a bit into Buddhism. I find it really interesting and a completely practical way for managing day to day stress. There have been all kinds of studies into meditation and what it does to the brain. It's also an incredibly useful tool for self-awareness and self-assessment. On the other hand, there are some supernatural aspects that I don't find useful. Buddhist cosmology hangs somewhat on Hindu cosmology (they did grow side by side) as far as devas and devils and the different heavens and hells. In the end, that doesn't really matter. The Buddha taught that one should take what is useful in the practice and discard what is not. Even the basic tenets the four noble truths and the eight-fold path are not above being tossed aside if they hamper you in your journey. This has led to Buddhism becoming quite varied over its 2500 year lifespan so all kinds of things are taught from place to place. I prefer the Vipassana tradition rather than the Mahayana tradition like Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.

If you'd like to find out more I recommend: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula or In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (the Pali Canon is the oral teachings of the Buddha passed down until it was written 300 years later. Unlike the Bible, it is not taken as dogma or doctrine.)

Hope that gives you a starting point at least!

"I think a lot of my preconceived notions I have about the concept of Nirvana..." -

it's more like going to a place, rather than working something out.  It's like going to the Garden of Eden.  That said, I think a little knowledge goes a long way. 

The best way I can describe from what I know is that Nirvana is a state of mind. From studies of fMRI of people who have for a long time been practicing meditation, certain parts of their brains are activated more often than parts of people who don't. It has to do with the plasticity of the brain and being able to reinforce certain neural connections over time. I think it's all really fascinating. So in a sense, yes, there is some evidence that may indicate a state like nirvana in possible to achieve.

While feelings are subjective, people respond physiologically in similar ways. Anger, fear, joy, arousal, sadness, all elicit a standard response from the body and certain areas of the brain activate to give those feelings. What you experience as fear may not be exactly what I experience as fear, but the how of experiencing it is generally the same from person to person.

In all, it's not necessary to understand the concept of nirvana in order to practice meditation, and you are probably better off not worrying about it. Zen Buddhism has some interesting things that it teaches about Nirvana. It's said that those experienced in Zen can pass the understanding of Nirvana with a smile or a look. I don't know about that, but I do know that trying to achieve it is taught as the surest way to fail. All that is important is focusing on your breathing. You'll mind will wander. Let the thoughts come and go and just stay focused on your breath moving in and out.

I've been studying it.  The definition I like is "perfect awareness and perfect love".  Desire and aversion get in the way of awareness, they cut you off from other people, and while you've got that going on, you are distracted from the love that exists in nature, just from being alive. 

"perfect awareness and perfect love."

Yes, providing the the love has no object, because then it's an attachment. The way to achieve perfect awareness is to stop thinking (through meditation).

IMO nirvana is a chemical state of the brain that results once you, by releasing all attachment, become just another lump in the pudding.

My objective in life is to emulate my dog. He "thinks" ONLY of making others happy. He carries no resentment - EVER. If I'm happy, he's in heaven. His second priority (after me) is playing.

"Yes, providing the the love has no object, because then it's an attachment." 

So - you're saying we shouldn't love anybody?  That's a fallacy that many Buddhists seem to fall into (I'm not saying you're a Buddhist).  Everything hinges on the words in systems like this, and each word can have several meanings.  So everything gets confused.  To say that non-attachment trumps love is a tragic mistake.  You end up like this guy.  As I understand it, the true sense of non-attached love is unselfish love. 

I believe the Zen Buddhists say that thinking is not the same as awareness, in the same way that reading a book about something is not the same as experiencing that thing.  This makes sense.  But we don't just go into Nirvana when we're meditating.  How lame would that be?  It should be an everyday way of living your life - by taming the ego and putting it in its proper place.  I believe "mindfulness" may be useful here. 

Even your dog has an ego, super-ego and id.  What if he was terribly abused as a puppy?  Then he would be a nasty dog, or maybe a terrified one.  His id would be horribly wounded, he would feel constantly threatened, and his ego would be on high alert all the time.  The ultimate challenge would be to straighten out the id.  I believe the best way is to "reap what you sow" - there's no other solution. 

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