After the Buddha realised the Truth about suffering and its causes, he spent six years committed to discovering a realization about the end of suffering — that, and his achievement of Nirvana, were his ultimate achievements. In those six years, the Buddha tried all the methods available to end suffering without success. Eventually He found his own solution to the problems of life and they are now the core of Buddhist thought, teachings and practice.
This is what he discovered: there is an end to suffering; it can happen to anybody, anywhere, here and now; and the key to ending all suffering is to remove all desire, ill will and ignorance
After suffering, the Buddha taught, there is supreme happiness. Every step of the way to removing the causes of unhappiness brings more joy. On the path to the end of suffering, which is a path that Buddhists may spend their whole lifetimes practicing, there are levels of happiness and freedom from craving and ignorance that can be achieved. In the beginning the happiness might be through better material conditions: like more contentment, or better spiritual conditions; more peace and enjoyment of life. These are the reasons Buddhists can live happily without greed — even among people in cities overcome with craving and desire. They can live happily without anger even among people harbouring ill will. These kinds of happiness make life more rewarding and bring a sense of freedom and joy.
The Buddhist teachings say that the more people free themselves from desire, ill will and ignorance, the greater their happiness is — no matter what is going on around them. When they have completely removed desire, ill will and ignorance the Buddha says they will experience the same supreme happiness he discovered.
The second fruit of the end of suffering is what Buddhists call supreme Enlightenment. Enlightenment can be called liberation — a total, absolute and permanent end of all suffering. It is the ultimate and final goal of Buddhism.
There are many, many qualities to enlightenment, but the most important are perfect wisdom and great compassion. These are the extraordinary qualities that only the Buddha perfected. They are the result of complete freedom from craving and from ignorance and the tremendous transformations from ordinary life that Buddha’s teachings exemplified. Through perfect wisdom He understands the real nature of all things. Through great compassion He is able to help countless beings overcome their suffering.
The experience of Enlightenment or Nirvana, as it is also called, is very difficult to explain. Even when Buddhists describe it as supreme happiness and perfect wisdom, they are not really explaining it completely. Nirvana cannot be put into words — imagine explaining the colour blue to a person who has always been blind, or the sound of a bird to a deaf man. Enlightenment is an experience that a person has to have for themselves to understand. Buddhists believe that the Buddha’s teachings will lead them to Nirvana and trust his teachings of the Four Noble Truths to take them to their goal.
The Buddha has described Nirvana in different ways. He has called it supreme happiness, peace, immortality. He also described Nirvana as uncreated, unformed, as beyond the earth, as beyond water, fire, air, beyond the sun and moon, unfathomable, immeasurable. It is also described as freedom from conflict and selfishness, the eradication of craving, hatred and delusion.
The Buddha said, and demonstrated through his own life, that Nirvana can be achieved in our lives, while living — it is not a place to which we go after death. Buddhists believe that we can eradicate all the causes of suffering in this life, and achieve enlightenment — live in bliss, if we follow the Buddha’s teachings.
Buddhists have confidence that the Buddha did find an end to suffering, and that His teachings can bring them the same experience. The key to ending suffering is to remove all desire, ill will and ignorance. Without these causes of suffering we can experience absolute happiness, perfect wisdom, peace and all the qualities of Enlightenment. Nirvana cannot be described, it is only understood truly by a person who has experienced it.