Reaching the state of nirvana, in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, is the ultimate goal of existence. But what is nirvana? According to teachings, it is impossible to define directly. It’s easier to say what it is not. It is not the clinging to existence that is our daily life. It is not something that you become. It is not something that has a beginning or end. It is not a subjective state of consciousness. It is not something that can be described in words.
A literal translation of the word nirvana is “extinction” and/or “extinguishing” – and that is what reaching it does to the cycle of life. In the eastern religious teachings, life is experienced through the concept of reincarnation. All living beings, from plants to gods, live in a cycle of death and rebirth. The life you live today is determined by the moral behavior of your previous life, and the ultimate challenge is to liberate oneself from this cycle. In traditional Hinduism, a soul reaches this state after living many lives in which it climbs up through the varna, or caste system. Buddhism arose out of Siddhartha's alternate understanding of the transcendence of earthly life. In the Buddhist philosophy, anybody might achieve higher enlightenment and escape rebirth if he followed the right path, completely rejecting the caste structure that defined traditional Hinduism.
In either case, the basic premise is that our bondage to the cycle of rebirth is caused by ignorance. According to the predominant view among those committed to this way, our ignorance consists of the mistaken belief that we are individual selves, and not one with the ultimate divine reality – Brahman. It is this same ignorance that gives rise to our bad actions, which result in bad karma. Salvation is achieved through attaining a state of consciousness in which we realize our identity with Brahman.
So God, in this view, is not a being to pray to or spend eternity with – but an ultimate reality that one becomes a part of during their final lifetime in this world. What happens to a person after the cycle of life ends is not known. The Buddha himself discouraged speculation on the state of an enlightened being after death, as it was outside of all conceivable experience.