In my quest to find out how to be our happiest for myself and others, hence get rid of our sufferings, I am called again and again to achieve nirvana, or liberation. Nirvana would be the final goal of Zen, to achieve a state of transcendence where there is no suffering, desire, sense of self, effect of karma, cycle of death, nor rebirth.
In this reality, even when we achieve great happiness with a life we love or status of demi-gods, be it Hollywood stars or peaceful monks, there is still inherent suffering. Most of us get sick, hurt, cry, despair, get angry, at times, at various levels. Some individuals more than others.
Liberation, or attainment of nirvana by way of enlightenment, is said to be possible in one’s life, as the Buddha would have attained with enlightenment and taught for the remaining of his life. A life of constant inner serenity could be attained in our mundane existence, as the Dalai Lama said, “Even when we have physical hardships, we can be very happy.”
Other experts say liberation is possible only at death, with the right conditions by a life cautiously prepared, as with the steps to enlightenment, the 8-fold path, or knowledge of the Tibetan Book of the Dead kind.
The Zen tradition explains if we don’t achieve liberation, we would be bound again and again to rebirth, in more or less fortunate ways depending on the karma we cause, the results of our actions. Times and times again, not reaching liberation, we would shed tons of tears, and endure all kinds of sufferings.
It also is mostly indifferent to believing in Gods. So far as I know, the Buddhist texts say they exist but we should go beyond the upper levels of existence. Those levels engage us in living in cycles of rebirths, even if we would attain higher status, and still feel some levels of pain, even if less so than now. Buddhism wouldn’t also support atheism in the form of negating any God (therefore having a belief of no Gods), because doing so would oblige us to live in formless realms.
When confronted with these teachings of rebirth and beyond, since I don’t want to be forced to believe as with Christianity in the past (I ran from church literally when I was young, wandering in the neighborhood to miss Sunday Church Time, because I couldn’t believe without seeing), I run to what is observed in our reality. The psychologist Ian Stevenson used careful analysis of over 2 000 cases to bring proof of reincarnation, with individuals having birth marks of said previous tragic deaths and saying what are convincing proofs of rebirth. Deepak Chopra also analyzed such claims, in Life after Death: The burden of proof, such as analyzing cases of near-death experiences that support the continuity of existence after death, and the continuity of the soul as to one’s beliefs.
This is why I intend to know what is beyond all those beliefs and get rid of suffering. I can’t say for sure how we can get the right answer to that, if I can achieve it soon, or later.
And this is why I’m on the Zen journey to liberation. The most satisfying way to find that out for me so far is with Zen Buddhism, cross-analyzed for myself with the help of what science can do. Happy, at peace, the best that I can.