Samsara is the confused experience of sentient beings.
However, no matter how immersed in confusion and suffering any sentient
being might be, the unmoving core of their being is at all times
an innate undeluded cognitive ground. Sentient beings posses the
capacity for cultivating and awakening this nature, but it generally
requires a number of favourable circumstances for a sentient being
to have the opportunity to awaken. The primary conditions for awakening
include being reborn as a human, to meet the teaching of a fully
awakened Buddha, and to have the personal faculties and resources
to pursue such a path. For this reason the opportunity to practice
the path should not be taken for granted. There is no certainty
how long one will be alive, and there is no certainty where one’s
karma will lead one to take rebirth again. While the innate ground
of awakening is basic to all life, and the experience of samsara
is a temporary fleeting state of confusion, the Buddhist teachings
explain that it is extremely rare to have the opportunity to follow
the path to awakening, and hence practising Buddhists give only
little concern to the affairs of this life.
Nirvana is the extinguishing of the causes for samsaric
existence. It is peace in the sense that the constant flux of samsara’s
changing conditions has ceased. There are two kinds of nirvana.
A lesser nirvana of individual peace may be attained when the poisons
of the mind have been completely pacified and there is the cessation
of suffering, but some notion of reality still remains to be purified.
Nirvana can also refer to complete enlightenment. This is attained
upon the ultimate elimination of confusion, and it manifests as
continually benefiting sentient beings. Such enlightenment is beyond
the duality of confusion and passive cessation. However, in Mahayana
Buddhism, the bodhisattvas vow to abstain from entering nirvana
until all sentient life has been liberated, renouncing dwelling
in samsara's confusion - through their wisdom, as well as renouncing
dwelling in nirvana's peace - through their compassion. The passing
away of the historical Buddha is referred to as his parinirvana,
or maha-parinirvana, his ‘passing on to great peace’.
The Buddha attained complete nirvana on attainment of enlightenment,
but his followers see the gesture of relinquishing his body as his
last teaching on impermanence. Later generations of masters, even
up until the present day, have displayed great signs of enlightenment
when passing on.