Monday, July 14, 2003

Why Realisation of Dukkha is Nirvana

While it might be astonishing that Dukkha is Nirvana, it is nevertheless true. So how can Dukkha, which seems so obviously to be the antithesis of Nirvana, arise simultaneously? When we speak of Dukkha (as one of the 3 Universal Characteristics and as the first of the 4 Noble Truths) in the ultimate sense, it is not simply about theoretical agreement with the fact that there is gross physical suffering in life, but that in its most fundamental form, Dukkha can be experienced here and now in the most subtle mental form. In the process of insight meditation, one comes to a point when one watches one's thoughts rise and fall and realises, to his dismay and exasperation (yes- this is Dukkha indeed), that no thought or physical sensation can be grasped on to. At this point, suffering goes beyond merely speculating or visualising that in the "distant" future, we will suffer from ageing, sickness and death. At this point, one faces the most basic of all existential dissatisfactions squarely in the face- the inability to hold on to anything within and without ourselves when we want to. Exactly when one sees this crystal clearly, along with the other two Universal Characteristics of Anicca and Anatta (which are facets of each other), one lets go (the Fourth Noble Truth of relinquishing attachments) of all grasping (the Second Noble Truth- craving that arises from ignorance of the 3 Universal Characteristics) and attains Nirvana (the Third Noble Truth). Thus, the exact moment one realises Dukkha fully is the moment one attains Nirvana!

This is probably why, in Mahayana Buddhism, Nirvana is used to substitute Dukkha as part of the 3 Universal Characteristics- because the realisation of Dukkha IS the realisation of Nirvana. This is also probably why there is the Mahayana saying that "Afflictions (our various forms of suffering) are Bodhi (Enlightenment)"(Fan1 Nao1 Ji1 Pu1 Ti1), and vice versa. Not only does Dukkha or our afflications lead or motivate us to Nirvana (Bodhi), but we have to realise that Dukkha and Nirvana can be ultimately synonymous! This is the ultimate non-duality of Samsara and Nirvana. Any attachment for Nirvana and aversion to Samsara is thus a delusion. Experience Dukkha, I mean Nirvana, now!

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