A Karmic Blowout

"Nirvana can only arise unintentionally, spontaneously, when the impossibility of self-grasping has been thoroughly perceived."
Alan Watts in The Way of Zen

The experience of nirvana is the state of liberation from the grasping and self-frustration that is at the root of suffering. It is the end of the effects of karma, which move the wheel of birth and death. Nirvana is the experience of awakening that is Buddhahood. In trying to define nirvana in The Way of Zen, Alan Watts says, it is “a word of such dubious etymology that a simple translation is exceedingly difficult. It has been variously connected with Sanskrit roots which would make it mean the blowing out of a flame, or simply blowing out (ex- or de-spiration), or with the cessation of waves, turnings, or circlings (vritti) of the mind.”

If we take the meaning of nirvana to suggest blowing out the ego as one blows out a candle, we can practice a meditation that focuses on the outbreath and reminds us of the importance of releasing our grasp on the causes of suffering.

Sitting in meditation, assume your upright posture and focus on your breath. Especially focus on the out-breath. Give your attention to the outwardness of it. Breathe gently, but with a slightly stronger emphasis on exhaling than inhaling. Sense the breath leaving the confines of your body. Your breath goes out and you have released it. You no longer control it, and it is no longer your concern. The molecules of air you have sent off on a journey may wind up thousands of miles away. Other people whom you don’t know may breathe them again. It is not your worry.

Just as you let go of your breath, let go of your mental constructs. Let go of your ego activities. With your exhalation, breathe out your worries, your thoughts about things, and your reflections upon yourself. Sit in the void that is like the space between breaths. Sit empty of unnecessary churning of the mind. Let the breath carry away distraction. Sit in awareness, wakefulness and peace. When mental turbulence drifts into your mind, breathe it out. Let the air take it away.  

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© 2003 Tom Barrett