The Buddhist holiday of Nirvana Day is coming on February 15th, according to the Solar Calendar. This is a holiday in Mahayana Buddhism (Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, Japan and Vietnam) that remembers the death, or final Unbinding of the Buddha. What we call pari-nirvana. Nirvana, as the Buddha taught was a secure, peaceful state of mind (translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu):1
[202-204] There’s no fire like passion, no loss like anger, no pain like the aggregates, no ease other than peace. Hunger: the foremost illness. Fabrications: the foremost pain. For one knowing this truth as it actually is, Unbinding is the foremost ease. Freedom from illness: the foremost good fortune. Contentment: the foremost wealth. Trust: the foremost kinship. Unbinding: the foremost ease.
But if one experiences Nirvana in this body, they still have residual karma that has to burn itself out, and thus in the Buddha’s case, he lived another 50 years preaching and setting the Wheel of the Dharma in motion. Once the Buddha’s life came to an end, he went beyond birth and death to what he described as the “deathless” state of Nirvana.
For those still living in this fluctuating, conditional existence, the loss of the Buddha was a great loss. According to the legend, when the Buddha died, the disciples of the Buddha, the animals and the gods sobbed and grieved.
But there is one sutra in the Pali Canon I always think about at times like this. This is the Vakkali Sutta (SN 22.87). In the sutra, a disciple named Vakkali is ill and dying, and the Buddha pays a visit. The Buddha asks about Vakkali’s health and if Vakkali has any concerns, and then Vakkali tells the Buddha that he was afraid he would never set eyes upon the Buddha again. But the Buddha’s answer is important:
Vakkali: “For a long time, Lord, I have wanted to come and set eyes on the Blessed One, but I had not the strength in this body to come and see the Blessed One.”
The Buddha: “Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body? He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.”
So, I think the Buddha’s words are very important. This is reflected in the verses of the 16th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra as well (Gene Reeves translation):
And when the living have become faithful,
Honest and upright and gentle,
And wholeheartedly want to see the Buddha,
Even at the cost of their own lives,
Then, together with the assembly of monks
I appear on Holy Eagle Peak.
By putting the Dharma/Dhamma into practice, by living a clean and wholesome life, by being gentle and kind to others, and by having faith in the Buddha’s disposition, one draws closer to the Buddha. 2,500 years have passed, but one can still see the Buddha in one’s own life if you know how to look. 🙂
So, February 15th is a good day to put the Dharma/Dhamma into practice through wholesome conduct, such as the Eight Precepts, or the Five Precepts, or eating vegetarian, and/or trying to be kindler and more patient with those around you. Good conduct in Buddhism isn’t just “behaving”, but also learning not to feed craving or aversion either, and you can’t do that unless you’re being alert.
Anyhow, a peaceful Nirvana Day to all!
P.S. For this week, I have some exciting (I hope) Buddhist-historical posts among other good finds. Hope you enjoy. 🙂 It’ll be a “full” week.
1 Also see the famous “Iroha” poem attributed to famous Japanese monk, Kukai:
Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.