Today is the day many Buddhist celebrate Nirvana Day (sometimes referred to as Parinirvana Day). This holiday is the day many Buddhists observe the death of Siddhartha Gautama, and consequently his transition into Nirvana. Siddhartha is more commonly known as Buddha, he died approximately 500 hundred years before the common error at the age of 80 in front of many of his followers. On his deathbed the Buddha’s last words were, “All conditioned things are subject to decay. Strive for your liberation with diligence.” On Nirvana Day, many Buddhist contemplate his final words and the nature of enlightenment in their own individual way. Many practitioners will be spending this day meditating on the teachings of Buddha, the four noble truths, and the eight-fold path.
I am a lay-practitioner Buddhist; I am not a monk who has the ability to spend a whole day in deep meditation and contemplation of the Buddhist’s path. I lack both the time and the personal discipline for such endeavors. However, Nirvana Day is a significant holiday and an important opportunity for even the lay-practitioner to strengthen his mindfulness and resolve. In an effort to become more mindful of my physical body and my spiritual focus, I am planning on fasting this Nirvana Day. In this way my physical hunger will help ground me in the moment, help remind me of the nature of my existence. My fast will help me contemplate the Buddha’s teachings and how I apply them to my life. It will connect me to the suffering that is a part of life and help me see the tools that I have at my disposal to free myself from these sufferings. As Siddhartha embarked on his journey to enlightenment he spent a great deal of time practicing ascetic life, starving himself and taking himself to the extremes of deprivation. He later learned that this path was incomplete and that enlightenment is more easily found on the middle path between the lush life of his upbringing and the ascetic practices he was following. When gauging the middle way path against my own, I find that I am often closer to the side of excess than the side of moderation. It is my intention to help spiritually and literally zero out the scales of my life towards the middle road by taking a day to embrace a little depravation.
You don’t have to be Buddhist to spend a day contemplating your path, to evaluate and audit your actions and your motives. I think everyone could benefit from observing Nirvana Day just a little, and maybe use this opportunity to take actions to set your own life back on track. Buddhists aren’t the only people that could benefit from the occasional respite from extremes in favor of increased balance. Give it a try, what could it hurt?
(Pearce Fujiura writes for Spokane Faith & Values.)