Nirvana is Within You

A friend was telling me about a recent visit to Turkey which included the ancient monastic cells of monks in the caves of Cappadocia. As he considers himself a “typical engineering type,” he was trying to understand why people would adopt such a reclusive lifestyle. I agreed with him, but not for any mathematical formulas or benefit of mechanical drawings.

While I do believe everyone has their own path and I am hopefully not being too judgmental, I think they are mistaken. Once you believe there is some divine realm with some divine intent, it doesn’t follow–for me–that one is born into this existence only to isolate oneself from every part of that existence possible. In this context, I think the Zen people have it right–“Samsara (the apparent world) is Nirvana and Nirvana is Samsara.” While most Buddhists believe that Nirvana is an escape from what is called “reality,” the Zen Buddhists claim that true enlightenment is not an “escape,” but an experience “through” reality. It may be that Jesus had the same idea in mind when he taught that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” For that matter, one of my own teachers, Rabbi Max Kadushin, z’l, coined the phrase “normal mysticism”–that one communes with the divine through the apparently commonplace work of helping others. Hindus call that approach “karma yoga”–which illustrates the idea that there are more commonalities between religious teachings than many would have us believe.

Having said all that, the Zen people would say that’s fine (and Rabbi Kadushin would shake his head yet one more time)–but way too intellectual. What is it that prompts this …well…”soul searching,” as it were? Miss Peggy Lee may provide a clue:

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