Is Nirvana the journey or the end?

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that life is a process. That it is a lengthy journey full of hardships and struggles that one must embark on to be granted life’s greatest treasure: happiness. That if I keep trying hard enough, one day that happiness would be mine. And that of course to achieve happiness I must first have a college degree and get a high paying job and so on and so forth. But by rushing headlong into this goal, would I even be able to find that elusive happiness?

White pawn to D4. Black pawn to C4. White pawn to D5. A standard chess opening. Like chess, life is an accumulation of decisions. Of course in chess, the ultimate goal is victory. But who do you triumph over? What does it even mean to win? Why would anyone care to play the metaphorical chess match? Going along with this chess metaphor, the only distinction between each chess match is a period of time called the “novelty.”

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

From this perspective, you could say the vast majority of people’s lives are spent within this so-called “novelty”. However, this is the only segment that makes provides meaning to the game. If you look at Chess, you can tell it has a very binary ending. You either win or lose. The same applies to life, but this time there is only one outcome: death. It is only during the novelty in which people live, that players play. It is what separates chess match #134872 from chess match #134871, and what separates your life from mine. In short, the only reason to play chess, the only reason to live, is to experience the freedom that the novelty provides from the dull, predictable ending of existence.

Like a film reel, life is a series of moments strung together, frame by frame. Like characters in the script, everyone follows a pattern to develop. It starts with a buildup to explain one’s motivations and psyche. A glimpse into what makes someone’s personality unique, followed by the conflicts, the rising action, the climax, and the resolution. Each section of the plot plays an equally important role in the overall movie. If we were to fast-forward through all the scenes in a film just to see the conclusion, to view the final epic battle, it would feel empty and hollow.

Wishing to jump ahead into all the “happiness” and attempting to find a shortcut to nirvana negates the whole experience. Although your path may be difficult or near impossible, there is no other choice than to push through it. So as much as we wish to simply feel happy immediately, it is important to recognize that the journey is what provides the meaning to happiness. The satisfaction that comes with fulfillment, can only be felt when one has been thoroughly challenged. It is the journey that shapes the reward

As with most material items in this world, we strive to obtain happiness as if it were a concrete and physical object. We think that by completing a certain amount of steps, we would be able to feel happy. We assume that taking a certain path would guarantee us happiness. Siddhartha faces this conflict repeatedly throughout the novel. From ascetic to a wealthy merchant to ferryman, it is undeniable that Siddhartha has walked many paths in life. However, in every path, Siddhartha always felt that something was missing. He was always expectant that by sticking to a strict routine, somewhere down the line, he would reach enlightenment. But just like the common saying, “water doesn’t boil when it is being watched,” constantly looking to the end hoping for a release from the constant search for nirvana will only leave you disappointed.

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