Polaroids, Hayley Lewis
In Buddhism, there are no definites. No definitions and no real lines, or labels explaining where you’re going and how to get there. Even the line between life and death is a blurry one. Buddhism is, in the most positive way, a religion about nothingness, and nothingness, as I have learned, is bliss. I’m not a nihilist and I am certainly not a pessimistic person, but during my extended stay at a Buddhist temple in Thailand where I was ordained as a nun underneath warm skies and the Himalayan Foothills, I finally realized, with the light of the Buddha shining in my eyes, that nothing existed. Not me, not the rainforest trees, not even the Buddha was real. I had finally taken my first leap towards enlightenment and understanding the true nature of oneness that surrounds us all. Even the idea of “I” started to fade away.
To be a Buddhist is to recognize all things that are not Nirvana (which is the ultimate state of enlightenment and liberation, but is unfortunately, not all that easy to come by), as suffering. This sounds negative, but I promise it’s not. Nirvana is like an ultimate truth in Buddhism, and everything that isn’t either Nirvana or striving to be Nirvana is considered an illusion, causing human drama and suffering. Buddhists attempt to transcend this suffering, otherwise known as samsara, by adhering to the Four Noble Truths and following the Eightfold Path that leads to Enlightenment based on Right Living and meditation.
Buddhism recognizes that nothing is permanent. Our physical bodies and the world around us will inevitably degrade and fall apart. Life isn’t forever, but then again, in Buddhism, neither is death – which is where the idea of a karmic cycle comes in. Karma is the result of action. Essentially, to every action there is a reaction, and the actions that sentient beings carry out very much affect what will happen next. I think it’s safe to say that John Lennon was definitely onto something…
For a lot of us on this side of the globe, the idea of reincarnation is a tough one to swallow. In most Eastern religions, it is simply a part of basic thought and everyday life. Our actions in this lifetime, by the laws of Karma, shape and inform our future reincarnated lives. Whether you look at the Karmic cycle on a very large scale of lifetimes to come, or on a smaller one that can be as tiny as the seconds between seconds, the notion of an everlasting death becomes a non-issue.
I remember starting my stay in the temple with feelings of great skepticism. Before I went to Thailand, Buddhism was just a word that I had heard and felt vaguely intrigued by. When I was introduced to the intricacy of the religion, I didn’t know how to react. The realities (or non-realities), of karma and reincarnation seemed obscure, out of reach and almost maddening. It wasn’t until about half way through my time as a Buddhist nun that I started to realize that Buddhism, and truth, are what you make of them. The ideas of the religion are open for discussion and are completely subjective.
Buddhists are faced with a tough decision: to seek Enlightenment and be liberated from the Karmic-cycle or, to simply live life as best as they can with respect to Buddhist morals, knowing that reincarnation awaits. However you slice it, death in Buddhism isn’t real, because nothing else is. Nothing and everything mean the same thing and death, like everything else, is simply an illusion. So go into your days and go into your nights with ease and positive feeling, because in fact, nothing is enough and life goes on for as long as you will it to.