Is Nirvana Really Such a Good Thing?

Of late, it seems that Cosmic Unity is all the rage. Many westerners point at the Hindu/Buddhist concept of Nirvana and seek to achieve some kind of New Age state of Perfect Union with the Source of All. I’m a little skeptical that such an outcome is desirable.

Let’s start with one of the common (mis?)translations of Nirvana- “cooled”, as in relieved of the passions of misguided desire. That sounds kind of nice, not worrying about anything, just chillin’ with the spirits of everyone as one big happy family. Yet the common implication here is that by becoming “cooled”, I will cease to be individuated and return once again to Brahman, the first Source from which all things are said to spring.

Here’s where I start to get skeptical.

Science has a term (okay, several) for returning to a state of being “cooled” to the point where individuation ceases. At the largest scale, it’s called “Heat Death of the Universe”.

Yeah, what a downer…

Basically, the starting and ending points of our universe as we now know it are defined by “thermodynamic equilibrium” (hereinafter “T.E.”) meaning that the available energy in the universe was (and will again become) as dissipated and stable as possible. Such a state is also known as “maximum entropy” because no further change is possible without a significant game changer- say an outside source of energy or the emergence of a new “stable” particle native to the that state.

Okay, enough tedium. Suffice it to say that such a state of Cosmic Unity is cold, dark, and boring. In maximum entropy, I’m not hanging around debating philosophy with Einstein and Plato because there is no Me, no Einstein, and no Plato. Indeed, because T.E. is so stable and because without change there is effectively no time, such a state is effectively equivalent to complete, eternal oblivion. Let me reframe that- OBLIVION.

Once our universe returns to T.E., it will seem as if we had never been. There will be no trace of our physical matter, nor of our thought energy, not even the tiniest particles that wink in and out of existence will remain. There will be only darkness. Even if a new physical state of light and life emerges, it will not be the same as our own.

Now before you think I’m hating on Hinduism and Buddhism let me be clear that both religions do and have done a lot of good in our world. I also recognize that Nirvana has other meanings- for instance the notion of getting “out of the forest” of illusion and needless longing. That’s a good thing, right? In this article though, I’m only concerned with the forms of Nirvana that assume that the individual is “blown out” like a candle and returned wholly to the Unity from whence it came. Even more so, I’m addressing the Cosmic Oneness that is so popular in New Age thinking.

Caveats aside, I am now going to go down the rabbit hole.

If the beginning state and end state of our universe is T.E., then it seems to me that OUR PURPOSE– and that of all the energies, things, persons, life, and ideas of the current state of our universe IS TO EXIST.

We could not exist before the start of this state and we cannot exist after this state, provided that we are still confined to this universe. Thus, our job is to learn enough about ourselves and our universe to transcend it- to jump ship as it were.

Is this then where the Gods came from? Are They beings of such advanced awareness as to have come to us from another reality? Did Their entry into the eternal darkness that was our universe “ignite” the T.E. and make possible all that is?

While there is little doubt that some beings would prefer the darkness of Oblivion return, I believe that on some level our highest purpose is to continue. Yes, we must learn from the benevolent and benign Powers that understand this truth; but, we must also to continue in manners both pedestrian and prescient. We need to keep the lights on in our homes and keep the light of our world’s life shining in the universe. We need to feed ourselves. We need to return to right relationship with our fellow humans and the other beings around us. We need to protect life here on this world and carry it to others – because no other species on Earth can do so.  In this task, our diversity is our strength and we will need all the strength in numbers we can muster.

Because Oblivion is coming, first for our homeworld- and then for all the others.