How Can the Buddhist Goal of Personal Extinction Be Attractive for Anyone?


Dear friends, I read in some book that according to Buddhist belief, the buddhas (those who have reached the highest inner stage) after death lose consciousness of their independent existence, uniting with the eternal spirit. I know this is not what Yogananda says. I have problem understanding why people would want freedom at all, if that goal implies death, or what worldly people would describe as being dead: no existence at all. How could this be something to look forward to, for Buddhists?

—J.K., Here


Dear J.K.,

I have not deeply studied Buddhism, but I know that there are many schools, each interpreting Buddha’s teachings differently. One interpretation is indeed that in the highest state of nirvana there is total extinction, not only of desires, attachments, and the ego, but also of consciousness (one’s existence) itself. That would be like death, as you say: almost a suicide mission. This is in fact not an appealing goal for most people.

The thing is, followers of every religion, being unenlightened, often fail to understand what their founders actually taught. Many Buddhists, for example, insist that the Buddha denied the existence of God. Yogananda explains that he didn’t. Buddha just emphasized self-effort, which was the need of that time.

In the same way, when some Buddhists speak about the utter and permanent extinction of everything, even of one’s consciousness, attaining an eternal nothingness, they might simply have misunderstood the Buddha. Such “nothingness” is by no means—so Yogananda asserted—what the Buddha meant his followers to accept as the goal of life. Belief in unconsciousness as the highest truth—and this has to be what total nothingness means—is simply an error.

The nothingness of ego results in the supreme bliss of the soul, and in absolutely blissful oneness with God: that is what our soul is yearning for. We will never be truly happy as long as we haven’t found that supreme heavenly joy. Yoga teachings are bliss-oriented. Bliss – unending joy – in fact what our human heart desires, whether we call ourselves Buddhists, Hindu, Christian, yogis, or anything else.

All the best,