Indian and Christian religions have different goals. The goal of Christian religions is to go to Heaven. The goal of Indian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism is to attain Nirvana. Heaven is a place. Nirvana is a state of mind.
The word Nirvana comes from the root meaning ‘to blow out’ and refers to the extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. When these bad emotional and psychological things are destroyed by wisdom, the mind becomes free, radiant and joyful and at death a person is no longer subject to rebirth.
Buddha said “One thing and only one thing do I teach, suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Cessation means ‘a temporary or final ceasing’. Buddha also said that “Nirvana is ultimate happiness.” (nibbanam paramam sukham). Some people have asked “If desire, wanting, and craving, causes rebirth, then how could one ever attain Nirvana because in wanting to attain it one would be strengthening the very thing that prevents it from being attained?” Johnansson , The Psychology of Nirvana, Garden City, 1970.
This question does not recognize the fact that Nirvana is not something that a person gets by wanting and then pursuing, rather it is the state of being utterly without wanting.
Another criticism is that Nirvana takes so long to accomplish, that very few people can do it. The Buddha did not agree with this view. He said that anyone can attain Nirvana. If the person follows his instructions sincerely and carefully, a person could attain Nirvana in this lifetime.
Nirvana is beyond the world of mind and body. Nirvana is composed of ‘ni’ and ‘vana’. In Sanskrit ‘ni’ implies ‘to be free from’ and ‘vana’ means ‘weaving or craving’. When a person manages to extinguish all his desires, he escapes from the cycle of birth and death and attains Nirvana. Now the person is free from lust, hatred and ignorance and has reached supreme peace.
Nirvana is different from the Christian belief of Heaven. Nirvana is a state of desirelessness; Heaven is a state of an person reaching his most fundamental desire. Christians believe that Heaven is a place where a person meets God face to face. Nirvana is a place of ultimate lack of emotion and indifference. Heaven is a place of ultimate joy and fulfillment. Nirvana also differs from Heaven because it suggests a person will loose his body and identity forever. Christians believe they will keep both of them eternally.
As a Catholic person, I have always thought of Heaven as a very difficult place to get to. If I was to die today I would probably go to Hell. This is not because I am a bad person, but because the rules are so strict that it seems as if only nuns living in a monastery, a newly baptized infant, or someone who went to confession very recently would be free of sins and would go to Heaven. The people who I know that go to confession at all, only go once every year or two. If a person dies with a mortal sin on their soul, they go to Hell. There are a lot of very simple things that are mortal sins, such as not going to church on Sunday, coveting thy neighbor’s wife or thy neighbor’s goods. It seems to me as if 99.99% of the human race would go to Hell. Hopefully I am wrong.
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