Stephen Batchelor offered a dharma talk on 5 July 2020 at an online meeting of the Community Meditation Center (CMC), which is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York City, USA. CMC offers instruction and practice in Vipassana (Insight) meditation and in-depth explorations into the teachings of the Buddha.
Stephen’s talk was on ‘Everyday Nirvana.’ In contrast to most traditional Buddhists, who conceive of nirvana as an end state or experience of the unconditioned, of complete and ultimate freedom from the poisons of greed, hatred, and confusion, Stephen emphasized that nirvana should be understood instead as an experience of the cessation of reactivity. At these times, whether for a moment or for longer periods, the three poisons don’t dominate our minds and we are able to experience a sense of freedom, stillness, and stability. From this dharmic ground, we are then able to respond to life’s 10,000 joys and sorrows in a skillful and compassionate way.
Rather than view nirvana as the goal of practice, Stephen believes it should be the center of our practice, a crucial dimension of the fourfold task to 1) Embrace life, 2) Let go of what arises, 3) See its ceasing (this is the nirvanic dimension), and 4) Act!, i.e. live one’s life in a mindful, wise, compassionate, and caring way based on recognizing the conditionality of life and the potential to be free of reactivity.
The goal of the fourfold task is to awaken ourselves and others in order to promote human flourishing in this world. By freeing us from the three poisons and freeing us to live skillfully, the experience of nirvana allows us to contribute to a process of individual awakening and, as Stephen has termed it, a ‘culture of awakening’.