“Nirvana is the way of life that is based on awakening to the reality of impermanence and lack of independent existence. It is not a special stage of practice, nor is it a certain condition of mind; it is simply the way to live one’s life in accordance with reality. When we truly see impermanence and lack of independent existence, we understand deeply that we cannot hold on to anything; nothing lasts forever. Seeing reality encourages us to stop clinging to our lives and their contents and gives us the chance to open the hand of thought before life forces us to open it. This [observing,] seeing, accepting, and letting go is Buddhist practice.
When we deeply understand this reality, and practice in accordance with it, we no longer believe we need to compete with others or with ourselves. We no longer struggle to be more important or powerful than others, and we no longer strive to be who we want to be. This practice of awakening, which is itself nirvana, allows us to settle into the reality of impermanence and lack of independent existence. We then begin to live more peacefully. Nirvana is not a fantastic state of mind like an LSD trip, and it is not a special trance or escape from life. Nor is nirvana a state in which a person no longer experiences pain and sorrow.
The Buddha, for example, was enlightened when he was thirty-six years old. At that time he entered nirvana, and yet his life was not an easy one; he traveled all over India in a time when travel was difficult, for instance, he experienced pain, and eventually he died. But because the Buddha had been released from egocentricity, his hard times were no longer transmigrations in samsara. Pain was simply pain, pleasure was simply pleasure; for him they were no longer part of the cycle of suffering.
Within nirvana we can appreciate both positive and negative experiences as simply the scenery of our lives. “The scenery of life” is another expression Uchiyama Rōshi used to explain our zazen practice. He said that even when we adopt the bodhisattva path and practice zazen, letting go of thought, we still experience many different conditions in all aspects of our lives: some are painful, some are pleasing, and some are neither. Yet all these different conditions are simply the scenery of our lives, and we should keep working and studying, regardless of the circumstances we encounter, so we can investigate the myriad dharmas (all beings and things). In nirvana we can accept all conditions and even enjoy them in a sense, but, of course, acceptance requires our effort in practice, and we must still work to develop ourselves and to relieve the suffering of others. If we open the hand of thought that grasps “this person” (that is, our self ) as the center of the world, then our lives broaden and our hearts open to all beings. This is the basic teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.”
Realizing Genjokoan, PP. 30f