Wisdom Quarterly (Photo: 123rf.com)
The Buddha rested between two Sal trees in the midst of countless devas and members of the Sangha. He greeted well wishers, answered questions, and gave his last instructions, passing in joy through the jhanas ("meditative absorptions") with one final exhortation.
When the Buddha was passing away --that is, irreversibly entering parinirvana -- his final words were: "All conditioned things are hurtling towards destruction; work out your liberation with diligence!"
It is not enough to have faith (confidence in the Teacher, Teaching, and well Taught disciples). The value of faith is that it inspires one to investigate.
The purpose of investigation is to set off on a quest to make an end of all suffering.
Drugs do not "end" suffering. Death does not end suffering. Rebirth does not end suffering. What ends suffering?
This one possibility is the final end of all suffering -- nirvana.
- To experience nirvana directly, one must practice (not believe, debate, memorize, study, preach...) the Path of Awakening. The power is in the practice. Ananda knew the more sutras than any monk in the Buddha's time. But he was not enlightened until after the Buddha was gone. Why? Because he had not practiced even though he spent more time with the Buddha than anyone else.
What is the the Path? It combines serenity and insight as the marriage of compassion and wisdom. It is called the Middle Way to complete liberation.
A summary of the Noble Eightfold Path could describe it as cultivating virtue, concentration (samadhi), and wisdom -- all of which support one another. Realizing (not memorizing) the Four Noble Truths is the gateway to the deathless. It establishes one on the supramundane Path.
The world as a whole will not be ending. But "the world" for the individual will end, even now as it passes from this moment. No one will get out alive, which is to say that every personality will undergo transformation into something else. Clinging to identity is painful because one is not anything that can be clung to. There is no use in accepting these things on "faith." Realization is the way to happiness. The bliss of nirvana is within reach. But this is not it.
And whether one strives for wisdom and freedom or sinks into delusion and slavery, the Buddha's last words ring true:
"All conditioned things are hurtling toward destruction; work out your liberation with diligence [mindfulness and clear comprehension]!"
Fully enlightened beings (arhats) are the only beings who do not die. They enter nirvana, which is completely different than death and rebirth. Buddhas point the way, and humans and light beings (devas) are in the best position to reach this ultimate goal (salagram.net).