It has been said that nibbana (nirvana, enlightenment) is the absence of desire and attachment and that dissatisfaction ends when we cease all attachment and all desire.

The turtle and the fish

Once a turtle living among fish suddenly disappeared. When he returned, the fish asked where he had been.

“I went to the land,” the turtle told them.

They asked him, “What is the water there like?”

He replied, “There is no water on the land.”

“How did you swim?”

“I didn’t swim, I walked.”

“Walked? What do you mean, walked? And did you find many fish there?”

When the turtle tried to explain, the fish said skeptically, “No water, no fish, you can’t swim and you say you “walked”. How can this be?”

The turtle answered, “You seem satisfied with your speculations. Let me go back to the land.” And with that he disappeared.

The idea behind the story is, just as the fish could never conceive of the idea of land, a person who suffers from greed, hatred and delusion cannot make sense of nibbana. To understand, one must transcend all negative states of mind and experience nibbana. Until then the nearest one can come to experiencing the happiness of enlightenment is the bliss sometimes achieved when momentarily letting go of one’s burdens.

Is it possible to imagine what total happiness might feel like?

The Buddha taught that suffering can be stopped and this can be obtained through right effort and right action. When we understand the causes and consequences of our thoughts, words and actions and accept responsibility for them, we see the important part we play in ending our own unhappiness. What might total happiness feel like? What would it be like never to experience desire or hatred?

The Venerable Sariputta, an enlightened teacher and one of the Buddha’s two chief-disciples was asked: “This state of permanent happiness, which the Buddha called Nibbana is said not to be experiential happiness. How can something that is not experienced be called happiness?” Sariputta answered: “That is why it is called happiness”.

The conditions for suffering are external but the causes of suffering are internal.

The third truth teaches us that happiness is wiping out all negative states of mind – all desire, hatred and ignorance. When we succeed in putting out the internal fires that burn our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, then we experience total happiness and peace. It may be hard to imagine, but the only way to find out is by following the path toward this goal. We practice meditation to become more aware of what our cravings are, which allows us to see where we need to make changes. It is important to note that the Buddha taught that we can attain nibbana in this life. Practicing meditation trains the mind to see what causes suffering and to extinguish what is causing the suffering: desire, craving and attachment.

Contentment in moment to moment experience

Recognizing the unsatisfactoriness in our moment to moment experience is where we feel a certain kind of freedom. If suffering ends with the cessation of clinging, our contribution to our pain or difficulty also ends there. We experience this in meditation – things appear and disappear in our experience – thereby seeing the general unsatisfactory nature of life.

Whenever there is craving or clinging to the impermanent or inconstant things around us there is suffering. If we clench our fist for sometime it hurts and the release of it brings freedom. The way out is to see the impermanent nature of things and be in relationship with life in a new way.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” -Marcus Aurelius