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Q: What is nirvana? Is it just acceptance?
Nirvana is much more than mere acceptance. Shakyamuni Buddha himself said that “nirvana is the ultimate happiness” and is the ultimate goal of practice in the Buddhist tradition. The Sanskrit word nirvana is derived from the root meaning “to blow out,” meaning to extinguish the fires of the afflictions that defile our mind: mainly attachment (or craving), hatred, and ignorance. Nirvana, therefore, is a state of mind that is completely free of all wrong ideas and troubling emotions and, instead, is infused with pure wisdom, universal love, and great compassion.
How is this possible?
From the Buddhist view, the basic nature of the mind is pure and clear like water. No matter how much sediment is in a body of water, the dirt and other particles never enter into the actual nature of the water. Therefore they can be purified or removed from the water.
Similarly, the adventitious afflictions may accompany the mind, but they never enter into the very nature of the mind. When afflictions are purified or destroyed by the development of wisdom, the naturally pure, free, luminous, and joyful nature of the mind becomes apparent. One is no longer controlled by the afflictions and polluted karma to repeatedly cycle through birth, aging, sickness, and death.
Within Buddhism, there are different tenet systems that have slightly different presentations or interpretations of the subtle meaning of liberation and nirvana, which requires a longer discussion. But all agree that nirvana is an irreversible separation from the afflictions that cause cyclic existence through the application of antidotes.
Accepting our challenges and difficulties may help to reduce our immediate suffering. Such acceptance only leads to the state of nirvana, however, if we use those challenges to help cultivate the wisdom that frees the mind from all wrong conceptions.