The early formulations of Nirvana hinges upon primary ideations of what constitutes life after death. Materialists would not even consider notions of what happens to the corporeal frame after the life cycle ended. For them all life simply ceases to exist in any form since the “Material Substance” is hereafter disbanded altogether. Eternalists emphasized the notion that the “individual soul” lingers on after death into some form of heavenly paradise. This idea continues today in Christianity and other mainline religions. Other spiritual schools insist that the “person” dissolves away after the earthly sojourn and now merges with and enjoys some impersonal embrace of an all-encompassing Absolute. Others, like Hinduism, believed that the individual soul would return to its earliest primal state after many rebirths.
The Buddha adopted a more modest and measured approach. He agreed with the Eternalists that some degree of merit was obtained after gradual advancements through many existences, but he denied their doctrine that One Spiritual Principle was behind such efforts. Furthermore, he rejected that there was any form of Eternal Principle; matter and mind were simply evanescent elements, such as the Five Skandhas that constituted the apparent personhood, and upon their dissolution there was nothing more to be found. For him the problem was to be solved via a transcendent approach, involving an escape from the wheel of samsara into an Absolute Quiescence in which all manner of defiled dharmata was forever stilled:
The Buddhist Saint (ārya) regards the life of the worldling as an unhappy existence of constant turmoil. His aim is to escape from the movement of phenomenal life into a state of absolute Quiescence, a condition in which all emotion and all concrete thought is stopped for ever. The means of attaining this Quiescence is profound meditation (yoga), the technique of which was developed in India at a very early date.
The picture of the universe which suggested itself to the mental eye of the Buddha, represented thus an infinite number of separate evanescent entities in a state of beginningless commotion, but gradually steering to Quiescence and to an absolute annihilation of all life, when all its elements have been, one after another, brought to a standstill. This ideal received a multitude of designations among whom the name of Nirvana was the most appropriate to express annihilation. The term was probably prebuddhistic and was formerly applied to the brahmanical ideal of the dissolution of the individual in the universal whole (brama-nirvāṇa). Fyodor Shcherbatskoy, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana, pg.3-4)
We can see how the early roots of historical Buddhism had only the rudimentary notions of what would later blossom into what has come to be known as The Light of the Mahayana. But there was one central-factor that cemented all the schools: Yoga. Early scholars used to refer to the term as a form of vulgar magic. But the greater measured mystic-way soon won out and it became considered the crux of what brought about that necessary quiescent spirit that is required before full union with the Absolute could occur.
Yoga is defined as concentrated thought (samādhi) or fixing the attention on a single point (ekāgratā) and doing it persistently (punah punah cetasi nievśaṇam). It is synonymous with dhyāna and samāpatti which mean the same. According to a peculiarity of the Sanskrit language all these terms can be used in an objective sense (karma-sādhana), in an instrumental sense (karaṇa sādhana) or in a locative sense (adhikaraṇa-sādhana). It is usual to apply in the latter sense, as a designation of the mystic worlds, where the denizens are eternally merged in trance, the term samāpatti (or total composure—inclusion mine). It is applicable to all the eight planes of mystic existence (Physical plane, Astral plane, Mental plane, Buddhic plane, Spiritual plane, Divine plane, Logoic plane, Monadic plane) of whom the denizens are, so to say, born mystics. In this sense the term is contrasted with the worlds of gross bodies and carnal desire (kāma—dhātu) where the denizens possess thoughts non-concentrated, disturbed. This is its more general acceptation. In a more special sense it is applicable to the four highest planes of existence alone, the immaterial worlds (arūpa dhātu). It then is contrasted with the four lower mystic worlds which are specially called the four dhyānas. The word samādhi has also a general and a special sense. It can mean the usual faculty of concentrated attention, or it may mean cultivated, developed concentration. It then becomes a mystical power which can transfer the meditator into higher worlds and change life altogether. (ibid, pg. 7)
It is pertinent to note that those advanced Mind Adepts who have spent their time well in deep samadhis have mastered the higher mystic planes, being able to enter into any of them at will. As stated above, this is truly a life-changing event. One becomes multidimensional in scope and is no longer bound to samsaric-interference. And what of these higher planes in relation to Nirvana? A swiftly moving Buddhaic-current is engaged wherein the mind sojourner sees and experiences it as part and parcel of the Nirvanic-Mind Itself. This will be developed in more detail when we reach the blogs on the Lanka input and beyond.