Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

John Paraskevopoulos


Nirvana is probably the most important concept in Buddhism. Of course, it is more than just a concept - it is a living reality that lies at the heart of all things. Although we often speak about it as something that we may attain in the future, even after death, it is important to remember that its presence is manifested to us every day in ways to which we are often oblivious.

The literal meaning of the word Nirvana is 'extinction' or 'quenching' as in the extinguishing of a fire. In his famous 'Fire Sermon', the Buddha spoke of people 'burning' with the 'fires' of attachment, hatred and delusion. The attainment of Nirvana, therefore, represents the dousing of the existential fires which are the cause of our suffering in this world and rebirth in the next.

Nirvana is also the reality to which the Buddha attained in his Enlightenment. This reality was described by the Buddha as a realm of bliss, purity, peace and profound wisdom - the complete fulfilment of all our deepest hopes and aspirations. In the Mahayana sutras, it is taught that Nirvana, also known as the Buddha-Nature, comprises our true self to which we awaken when we become liberated from all our ignorance and blind passions.

In the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, Nirvana is presented in more concrete terms as the 'Pure Land' of utmost bliss and happiness - a realm into which we are born after we die. This is another way of referring to the attainment of Enlightenment. The Pure Land tradition also considers Amida Buddha as the 'dynamic' and 'personal' face of Nirvana reflecting its compassionate aspect in a form that we can relate to and embrace with trusting hearts. The awakening of shinjin, which is really the arising of Amida Buddha's mind within our own consciousness, is also the activity of Nirvana itself working towards making itself known to all sentient beings and carrying them to its liberating shores.

It is important, then, not to see Nirvana as a static or abstract reality that is lifeless and remote. It is the very essence of life, love and beauty which reaches out to all of us in the form of Amida Buddha and the Pure Land.

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