Nirvana is a concept deeply woven in the Buddhist belief system. The term translates from Sanskrit to mean “to extinguish.” While that sounds like a negative state, it’s actually very positive. In Buddhism, this term means to extinguish hatred, ignorance and suffering.
Siddhartha’s Search for Enlightenment
Legend tells of the journey of Siddhartha Gautama who became Buddha or “the Awakened One.” After leading a rich, pampered lifestyle, Siddhartha chose to leave wealth behind and explore the true nature of an existence without material attachments. He wandered as a homeless shramana, living simply and dedicating himself to meditation.
Even after pushing a more material lifestyle further and further away, Siddhartha did not yet attain enlightenment. Realizing that starvation would take him if he did not choose another way, he instead decided to adopt the Middle Path as his focus. This meant a life that was carefully balanced between the temptation of wealth and the dangers of poverty.
The legend claims that soon after this change, Siddhartha was able to observe his past lives as well as the past lives of others. This eventually allowed him to obtain perfect knowledge and nirvana.
Nirvana in Life
There are two types of nirvana that guides the path of the soul. Nirvana attained in life describes freedom from desire, ignorance and hate. In this state, the individual will no longer produce karma however they will still possess the residue of previously accumulated karma in their current physical form. The individual is not immune to earthly pains and will continue to experience their karma as illness, aging and death. This is a way of working off any bad karma the individual has accumulated.
Nirvana in Death
When the physical body dies, the next type of nirvana is reached. This is the final nirvana that the soul enters after escaping the suffering of the earthly body. Upon death, the effects of accumulated karma are no longer felt.
Buddhism teaches that the actions of the previous life will not carry over into the next life, however it does have an impact. While nothing actually carries over, the momentum is felt. Once a person manages to free themselves from the binds of ignorance, desire, jealousy and material possessions, they reach a state of awakened bliss and are no longer required to re-enter the cycle of reincarnation. At this point, all their karmic debts are considered paid in full and they attain the ultimate state in Buddhism: parinirvana or the “final nirvana.”