The Urban Dharma Newsletter... March 30, 2004


In This Issue: Nirvana in Buddhism

0. Humor/Quotes...
1. Nirvana, Buddhism
2. Nirvana
3. Buddhist Nirvana
...by Tom Harris
4. Hindu Nirvana
...by Tom Harris
5. How Buddhist Nirvana Works
...by Tom Harris
6. Buddhist Enlightenment vs Nirvana
...by Rev. Kusala Bhikshu
7. Nirvana Day
8. Temple/Center/Website:
Ekoji Buddhist Temple
9. Book/CD/Movie: Psychoanalysis & Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue
...by Jeremy D. Safran


0. Humor/Quotes...

Enlightenment After Death

The Emperor asked Master Gudo, "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"

"How should I know?" replied Gudo.

"Because you are a master," answered the Emperor.

"Yes sir," said Gudo, "but not a dead one."


Yes, there is a Nirvana; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem. - Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

1. Nirvana, Buddhism


Related Category: Buddhism

nirvana[nErvA´nu] Pronunciation Key, in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, a state of supreme liberation and bliss, contrasted to samsara or bondage in the repeating cycle of death and rebirth. The word in Sanskrit refers to the going out of a flame once its fuel has been consumed; it thus suggests both the end of suffering and the cessation of desires that perpetuate bondage. Epithets of nirvana in Buddhism include "the free," "the immortal," and "the unconditioned." Nirvana is attainable in life, and the death of one who has attained it is termed parinirvana, or complete nirvana. This has often been interpreted as annihilation, but in fact the Buddhist scriptures say that the state of the enlightened man beyond death cannot be described. Nirvana in the different Indian traditions is achieved by moral discipline and the practice of yoga leading to the extinction of all attachment and ignorance.

2. Nirvana


Nirvana is the supreme state free from suffering and individual existence. It is a state Buddhists refer to as "Enlightenment". It is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists. The attainment of nirvana breaks the otherwise endless rebirth cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists also consider nirvana as freedom from all worldly concerns such as greed, hate, and ignorance. No one can describe in words what nirvana is. It can only be experienced directly.

3. Buddhist Nirvana ...by Tom Harris


The term nirvana is associated with both Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world, and Buddhism, its best known off-shoot. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the word refers to a higher state of being, but the two religions view this state very differently. As it turns out, examining the distinction between the concepts of nirvana is an excellent way of understanding some of the major differences between the two religions.

Consequently, there are very few qualities or beliefs you can attribute to Hinduism or Buddhism as a whole. But there are a number of ideas that broadly characterize the religions. When we talk about Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, we're referring to these general tenets that are common to most major sects.

Nirvana is mainly associated with Buddhism, which was born out of Hinduism back in the 5th century B.C. It began as a movement within Hinduism, based on the philosophy and life of a man named Siddhartha Gautama, and eventually diverged to form its own path.

Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha ("the awakened one"), was born to a rich, ruling family around 563 B.C. in what is now modern Nepal. According to Buddhist legend, he led a sheltered, pampered life for all of his childhood and well into his twenties.

As a young man, he began to question the spiritual worth of this luxurious life and decided to give up all his possessions and emotional attachments, including his wife and young son. He wanted to understand the true nature of life and saw all his attachments as distractions, in keeping with Hindu thought.

He became a shramana, a wandering, homeless ascetic dedicated to meditation. He hoped to find enlightenment by completely detaching himself from the world, swinging to the polar opposite of his earlier life. Over time, he removed himself farther and farther from the earthly world, to the point that he was close to starvation. But he still hadn't achieved enlightenment.

He decided that if he continued on that path, he would die without reaching any understanding, so he gave up the ascetic life and accepted a meal from a stranger. He decided to take the middle road, the life between the luxury he had known and the poverty he had known.

According to legend, soon after Siddhartha took this path, he finally achieved enlightenment. As he meditated under a tree, he saw all of his past lives, and then the past lives of others. Eventually he gained a perfect, omniscient knowledge of this world and the world beyond it.

In Buddhism, this state, which the Buddha couldn't relate in language, is called nirvana. The word is Sanskrit for "to extinguish." In this case, it means to extinguish ignorance, hatred and earthly suffering. The term is most closely associated with Buddhism, though it's applied to a similar concept in Hinduism (as we'll see later on).

By achieving nirvana, you can escape samsara, the cycle of reincarnation that characterizes both Hinduism and Buddhism. In each life, a soul is punished or rewarded based on its past actions, or karma, from the current life as well as earlier lives (which also include lives as animals). It's important to note that the law of karma isn't due to a god's judgment over a person's behavior; it's closer to Newtons law of motion -- every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It happens automatically, of its own accord.

When you achieve nirvana, you stop accumulating bad karma because you've transcended it. You spend the rest of your life and sometimes future lives "working off" the bad karma you've already accumulated.

Once you have fully escaped the karmic cycle, you achieve parinirvana -- final nirvana -- in the afterlife. As with Hindu nirvana, souls that have achieved parinirvana are free of the cycle of reincarnation. The Buddha never specified what parinirvana was like. In Buddhist thought, it is beyond normal human comprehension.

In the next section, we'll find out what the Buddha prescribed for achieving nirvana on earth and parinirvana in the afterlife.

4. Hindu Nirvana ...by Tom Harris


In Hindu tradition, nirvana (more commonly called moksha) is the reuniting with Brahman, the universal God or universal soul. In traditional Hinduism, a soul reaches this state after living many lives in which it climbs up through the varna, or caste system.

Humans accumulate good karma by performing the duties of the caste they were born in. If a person is born in a lower caste, his only hope is to behave properly in that caste so he will move up to a higher caste in the next life.

When a soul has reached the upper castes, it may escape the cycle of reincarnation by eliminating bad karma. This includes setting the scales right through good deeds (possibly over several lifetimes) and also removing oneself from all earthly distractions. When a soul finally escapes the karmic cycle, it becomes one with Brahman when the last bodily incarnation dies. This is a higher plane of existence that transcends the suffering of earthly life. Essentially, the soul rejoins the intangible energy that created the universe.

Buddhism arose out of Siddhartha's alternate understanding of samsara and transcendence of earthly life. In the Buddhist philosophy, the best path to enlightenment is somewhere in between the luxury of many in the upper castes and the poverty of the most devout Hindu holy men.

Siddhartha was also a social reformer of sorts. He taught that anybody might achieve higher enlightenment and escape from samsara if he followed the right path, completely rejecting the caste structure that defined traditional Hinduism. This is arguably the most important difference between the two religions, at least when Buddhism was born.

The worlds of Hinduism and Buddhism, and the concept of nirvana, are rich and multi-faceted. As in most religions, you can summarize the fundamental ideas quickly, but you could easily spend your whole life studying the details.

5. How Buddhist Nirvana Works ...by Tom Harris


Achieving Buddhist Nirvana

The Buddha couldn't fully relate his new understanding of the universe, but he could spread the essential message of his enlightenment and guide people toward achieving the same understanding. He traveled from place to place teaching the four noble truths:

1. Life is suffering.

2. This suffering is caused by ignorance of the true nature of the universe.

3. You can only end this suffering by overcoming ignorance and attachment to earthly things.

4. You can overcome ignorance and attachment by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path is a list of eight ideals that guide a person toward greater understanding of the universe. The eight ideals are:

* Right views
* Right intention
* Right speech
* Right action
* Right livelihood
* Right effort
* Right mindedness
* Right contemplation

On the surface, the eight ideals are incredibly vague -- they're open to almost any interpretation. Buddhist sects do view them differently, but generally speaking, Buddhists follow the path by approaching the world with compassion, patience and joy, and contemplating the universe through meditation. The fundamental goals are to cultivate morality (shila), meditation (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna).

Buddhists who achieve nirvana on their own become buddhas, awakened ones (this is different from "the Buddha," the specific buddha who was incarnated as Siddhartha). Like the Buddha, other buddhas gain omniscience when they are enlightened. Buddhists who achieve nirvana with the help of a buddha guide become arhats, people who are enlightened but not omniscient.

While nirvana is possible for any person, in most Buddhist sects only monks attempt to achieve it. Lay Buddhists -- Buddhists outside the monastic community -- strive instead for a higher existence in their next life. They follow the Noble Eightfold Path and help others, trying to accumulate good Karma. In this sense, they're working toward nirvana because they're setting up a future life in which they might achieve nirvana.

6. Buddhist Enlightenment vs Nirvana ...by Rev. Kusala Bhikshu


Disclaimer - Buddhist Enlightenment vs Nirvana... Is not an academic article, but simply a personal reflection on the unity and diversity found in Buddhism. My interpretation of Enlightenment and Nirvana is only a finger pointing, and not the moon.


When I first started reading books on Buddhism back in the late 1970’s, I had trouble understanding *Nirvana and Enlightenment. These two words were often used interchangeably by authors writing on the *Theravada and *Mahayana traditions. Sometimes though, the meaning seemed to change depending on who was doing the writing.

I couldn’t understand why, for instance... In some Zen and Mahayana texts folks didn’t want Nirvana. Why did some choose one, and not the other? If they were not the same... What was the difference?

The first thing I did was define Enlightenment and Nirvana myself, in a way that made sense to me. My definition of Nirvana became- "The end of suffering"... and Enlightenment became- "The Wisdom of Emptiness."

Nirvana- The End of Suffering... In this lifetime and all future lifetimes.

The Buddha once said, “I teach the path to immortality.” As it turns out, he didn’t mean, not having to die, even Christ had to die. The Buddha was saying... Samsara, the perpetual cycle of birth and death ended in Nirvana, I could never be reborn again... I would exist and not exist at the very same time, forever. I would abide in Nirvana.

Enlightenment- The Wisdom of Emptiness... The wisdom that arises from the direct experience of all phenomena being empty of independent existence.

Knowing through personal experience (for example, meditation) that all things are interconnected and interdependent. That nothing in this world exists independently. All things are connected and conditional... In other words... All things exist because of other things.

I am here because my parents had sex, and I had Karma. If both conditions hadn't come together in a very special way years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here today, but that’s only half the story.

In order for me to live in this world, the Buddha said I need... “Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Medicine.” These are the four major conditions necessary for me to subsist. Some conditions were necessary for me to be born, other conditions are important for me to stay alive.

The whole story is... Certain conditions got me here, other conditions keep me here, and when all the necessary conditions come to an end, so do I. I do not live independent of conditions.

Enlightenment is a direct result, of the direct experience, of conditional and interconnected reality. Enlightenment is more than an intellectual understanding though, it’s also an intuitive knowing. It is a total transformation of the heart.

A favorite Mahayana sutra on emptiness is the Heart Sutra.

The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, when practicing deeply the Perfect Wisdom clearly saw that all five Skandhas are empty and passed beyond all suffering.

Sariputra, form does not differ from emptiness: Emptiness does not differ from form. Form then is emptiness. Emptiness then is form. Sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness, are also like this.

Sariputra, all Dharmas are marked with emptiness: not born and not dying, not stained and not pure, not gaining and not losing. Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, perception, volition or consciousness. No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; nor form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or Dharmas; no realm of sight ‘til we come to no realm of consciousness; no ignorance and no ending of ignorance, ‘til we come to no old age and death, and no ending of old age and death. No suffering, origination, extinction, or path. No wisdom, and no attainment, with nothing to attain.

Because the Bodhisattva is the Perfect Wisdom of emptiness, his mind has no hindrance. Having no hindrance, there is no fear and far from all fantasy, he is dwelling in Nirvana.

Because all Buddhas of the three times practice the wisdom of emptiness, they gain complete and perfect enlightenment.

Therefore know, that Perfect Wisdom, is the great holy mantram, the great bright mantram, the wisdom mantram, the unequaled mantram, which can destroy all suffering---truly real and not false. So he gave the Perfect Wisdom mantram, which goes;

Ga te Ga te, Pa ra Ga te,
Pa ra sam Ga te,
Bodhi Swaha.

When a Buddhist realizes Enlightenment... The “Great Compassion” cannot but arise in his or her heart. He is no longer able to view the world in the same way he did before his Enlightenment. He can now see, feel, know, and understand... If one person is sick, hungry, homeless, or dying in the world... There is a part of him that is sick, hungry, homeless, or dying. He no longer feels separate and safe. He views the world as a sea of suffering and is directly connected to each and every suffering being, in the same way the ocean connects to each and every wave.

It’s really a choice all Buddhist practitioners make... To change themselves in a way that is of benefit to all living beings, and not just their ‘Self.' This transformation is founded on the direct experience of “Enlightenment" in Mahayana Buddhism. The path that leads to “Enlightenment” is called the ‘Path of the *Bodhisattva.’

Reconnecting to the world in this very special way, does not end the Bodhisattva’s suffering, however... In some ways Bodhisattva's may suffer more, but each time they help end the suffering of another being, their suffering is also eased. Each time they feed someone, clothe someone, shelter someone, comfort someone... Their suffering is transformed.

The path of the Bodhisattva is very difficult... There is no time out, they never take a vacation. Where would they go? Where is the place, no one suffers?

In the Theravada tradition, the Buddha was a Bodhisattva numerous times in his past lives and seemed to achieve Enlightenment many times before his Nirvana. The story of the Buddha's life as a Bodhisattva is found in an Early Buddhist text called the ‘Jataka Tales.'

In the Mahayana Tradition, the focus is on ‘Enlightenment,’ not Nirvana. The goal is to become a Bodhisattva, and then a Buddha. The Bodhisattva ends his/her suffering only in Buddhahood, and not before. In the Mahayana, it’s not so much... Do what the Buddha says... But, do what the Buddha did.

In the Theravada tradition, the focus is on Nirvana... Here and now. By following the teachings of the Buddha, he/she can become an *Arahant. Having crossed over the sea of suffering and landed on the other shore... The Arahant not only ends his suffering, but gains the ‘Compassion and Wisdom' of a Buddha

But again, as with the Bodhisattva, the Arahant’s life is fully dedicated to the end of suffering. Again, there is no rest so long as one person suffers. Again, there is no place to go, and nothing to do, other than be of service. The activity of the Bodhisattva and the Arahant is not determined by Self or ego, but by compassion and wisdom for the other.

When all is said and done, are the path's of the Bodhisattva and Arahant the same? I don't think so, they appear to be different... But they both end and/or reduce suffering in the world.

Is Enlightenment the same as Nirvana? I think they mean different things to different people. In my mind, the future Bodhisattva strives towards Enlightenment, and the future Arahant towards Nirvana.

In the Theravada tradition, the focus is on Nirvana, doing what the Buddha taught, and following the path of the Arahant to the ‘End of Suffering.’

In the Mahayana tradition, the focus is on Enlightenment, doing what the Buddha did, and following the path of the Bodhisattva to the ‘Wisdom of Emptiness.’

Before I end this portion of the presentation... One last point needs to be made... I have tried to share with you how Enlightenment and Nirvana may be different... But they are very much the same in this sense.

That in the end... In the Ultimate reality of Buddhism... Both the path of the Bodhisattva and the Arahant lead to the end of suffering. Just as the Buddha’s many past lives as a Bodhisattva finished in Buddhahood. Every path found in Buddhism will ultimately end in Nirvana!

I hope my explanation of Enlightenment and Nirvana will help you read the teaching’s of the Buddha with more clarity and insight.

Bodhisattva... Arahant... Enlightenment... Nirvana... The Wisdom of Emptiness... The End of Suffering... The choice is up to you!


* Mahayana

The Great Vehicle. This form of Buddhism emerged somewhere between 150 BCE and 100CE. Its distinctive features include the new emphasis given to compassion and the Bodhisattva ideal, the three-bodies of the Buddha doctrine, emptiness and skill in means.

* Bodhisattva

Enlightenment Being. This is a being whose Buddhahood is assured but who postpones his/her own entry into Nirvana to help all other sentient beings attain to it first. The Buddha himself was described as a Bodhisattva in stories of his previous lives.

* Theravada

The Theravada school of Buddhism was the first one to emerge after the Buddha's parinirvana (Death). Over the centuries, it has retained its unique approach to the search for Nirvana, relying closely on the word of the Buddha as it appears in the Pali Canon.

* Arahant

Noble one. An arahant is an individual who has realized Nirvana, brought an end to his own suffering and the cycle of birth and death.

* Nirvana

To cease blowing. Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhism, the third noble truth. In nirvana, the suffering and the desire that causes suffering have come to an end, as has the cycle of birth and death. Sometimes nirvana is referred to by the Buddha as 'unborn' and 'unconditioned', in contrast to the phenomenal world we experience in our unenlightened state.

7. Nirvana Day


Nirvana Day is an annual Buddhist festival. It is also known as Parinirvana and is celebrated by some Buddhists on February 15th. Nirvana Day is one of many Buddhist festivals which also include Wesak and Uposatha days. Nirvana Day is the celebration of Buddha's death when he reached total Nirvana, at the age of 80.

On Nirvana Day, Buddhists think about their lives and how they can work towards gaining the perfect peace of nirvana. Nirvana is believed to be the end of rebirth and is the ultimate aim of buddhism. It is reached when all want and suffering is gone.

Buddhists celebrate Nirvana by meditating or by going to Buddhist temples or monasteries. Celebrations vary throughout the world. In monasteries Nirvana Day is treated as a social occasion. Food is prepared and some people bring presents such as money, household goods or clothes. Some Buddhists will read passages from the The Paranibbana Sutta which describes the last days of Buddha, while others may reflect on those who have recently passed away.

8. Ekoji Buddhist Temple


Ekoji Buddhist Temple Information - Reverend Shojo Honda, Minister


6500 Lake Haven Lane

Fairfax Station, VA 22039-1879


P.O. Box 2337

Springfield, VA 22152-0337

Ekoji, Buddhist Temple of the Gift of Light: A Vision of the Future

We envision our temple as housing a warm and supportive sangha for the national capital area. The temple and its minister support the practice of Shin Buddhists throughout the area. The accessibility of our new Burke Road location near the Fairfax County Parkway makes this possible.

Activities for adults of all ages can build on the foundations of our study groups, taiko drum ensemble, and other activities that we support. The Dharma school offers Buddhist education for children and related social activities.

We envision our temple as the location for regional and national seminars on the development of Buddhism in America. The Ekoji temple recently hosted the 1998 Eastern Buddhist League Conference. As an Ekoji temple, historically supported by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and other Shin Buddhist philanthropists, we have an obligation to act as a source of education and contemplation in Buddhism for people who are not necessarily regular members of our sangha.


The Ekoji Buddhist Temple of the greater Washington, D.C. area was founded in 1981 by the late industrialist and philanthropist Reverend Dr. Yehan Numata and the Reverend Kenryu T. Tsuji.

In Buddhism, it is said that there are more than 88,000 different paths to enlightenment. Amongst these paths, Ekoji shares the teaching of Shinran, a 12th Century Japanese Buddhist whose path is based on the Nembutsu Teaching of the Amida Buddha [the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light].

Master Shinran. Outcast by the older sects of Japanese Buddhism and the government as well, Shinran nonetheless continued to share his beliefs about the Amida Buddha [the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light] with the masses. For more than 50 years, Shinran shared the "Life of Nembutsu," claiming no followers and proclaiming that all people were "the children of Amida." The basis teaching of Amida Buddha is his Primal Vow which promises Universal Enlightenment for not only humans but for all living beings. The compassionate activity of Amida Buddha will never cease as long as beings are lost, forlorn, suffering, or wandering in a meaningless existence.

The Meaning of Life. While the ultimate objective of life for all Buddhists lies in the achievement of Buddhahood, life's immediate purpose is realized in the awakening of faith.

Ekoji Programs. Ekoji offers various programs and activities which will help one to walk the path of a Buddhist.

At this time, the regular schedule of religious activities is as follows:

Adult Service. Held weekly Sundays at 11:00 a.m, this service and the Dharma message is intended for adult followers.

Adult Dharma School. Held on a regular basis, these classes are open to anyone, of any background, who wants to learn more about Buddhism in general and Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in particular. Classes are led by Ekoji's Director of Buddhist Education. Check the web page for class schedules.

Children's Service and Dharma School. Programs for children, youth and their parents are held on the second Sunday of every month beginning at 10:00 a.m. and the fourth Saturday at 6:00 p.m.

Meditation Classes. 'Sitting' [seiza] sessions are held on Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m.

Weddings, Funerals, and other Services. Ekoji and the resident minister are available to conduct private and public religious observances. Please consult with the minister to set up a schedule and arrangements.

Temple Description. A 5-foot statue of the Buddha overlooks the seating for 150 Sangha members and friends. An overflow area provides additional seating for 50 people. A columbarium is also part of this structure.

Adjacent to the temple is an education center, which includes a library, classrooms, assembly room/social hall, recreation room, and a kitchen facility. Parking for more than 50 cars is available.

9. Psychoanalysis & Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue ...by Jeremy D. Safran


Book Description


Neil Altman • Joseph Bobrow • Jack Engler • Mark Finn • James Grotstein • Robert Langan • Barry Magid • Stephen A. Mitchell • Raul Moncayo • Stuart Pizer • Owen Renik • Philip A. Ringstrom • Jeffrey B. Rubin • Jeremy D. Safran • Charles Spezzano • Neville Symington • M. Guy Thompson • Sara Weber • Polly Young-Eisendrath

In this groundbreaking book Jeremy Safran assembles an extraordinary array of contributors who engage in an unprecedented dialogue about the relationship between psychoanalysis and Buddhism. Some are psychoanalysts who have been steeped in Buddhist practice over many years. Others are leading figures in contemporary psychoanalysis, who have an interest in examining similarities and differences between the two worlds as well as areas of potential synergy. The dialogical format of the book dramatically enlivens the text for the reader who is thereby afforded the opportunity to hear some of his or her most pressing questions asked and commented on by a discussant and then responded to by the first author. The contributors cover a wide territory in the examination of Buddhism from a psychoanalytic point of view–including the concept that is so difficult for the Western mind, the question of no self. Safran has provided us with a trail-blazing book that will be deeply rewarding to both psychoanalysts and Buddhists; it will extend the horizons of both. - Emmanuel Ghent, M.D., Supervisor and Faculty, NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis

Amazon.com - Reviewer: Oregon, WI USA ...Compiled and edited by Jeremy D. Safran, Psychoanalysis And Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue brings together dialogues from a group of nineteen talented writers who focus on concerns respecting the intersection of Buddhism and the science of psychoanalysis. Contemplating the complexities of the human mind, will, and spirit, these informed and informative writings meditate upon the depths of transformation possible in the individual. A profound and recommended addition to Buddhist studies shelves, Psychoanalysis And Buddhism will prove of immense interest and value to students of Eastern Philosophy and Western Psychology.


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