Stuff You Should Know | Podcast Review | September 1, 2015 | By

Stuff You Should Know “Buddhism: Nirvana (Not The Band)”

I think we all want a guidebook—or at least a little direction—for how to live our lives the right way. Maybe Stuff You Should Know: Buddhism can help.

The episode:

In their usual conversational mode, Josh and Chuck jump into chatting about the origins of Buddhism. Basically, Siddartha Gautama (Sid-Dar-Tah Gaw-Tah-Muh—Chuck did his pronunciation homework this week), a member of the idle (but “thinking idle”) rich class of 5th century BC India, founded Buddhism.

Gautama left his wife and child, and his excellent job among the “idle rich,” which certainly had great benefits (I think it covered optical and dental). He lived in poverty and, inevitably, began to beg for food. After a good bit of time wandering, learning what was clearly not the path to enlightenment, something clicked. (I’m not saying it was all trial and error, but it sounds like it was a lot of trial and error.) Anyway, he emerged in an enlightened state and henceforth was known as The Buddha. He began spreading the word on how to follow in his footsteps.

I’ll leave the bulk of it to Josh and Chuck but, in short, there are Four Noble Truths, the last of which entails following The Eightfold Path. These guidelines form the central tenets of Buddhism. Following the Eightfold Path leads toward this enlightened state of Nirvana; at this point, one ceases to accrue bad karma. Nirvana represents the end of the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. It is the final stage and goal of being, upon which one truly understands herself and the universe. So that’s cool.

Unfortunately, most Buddhists agree that only bona fide monks can attain Nirvana. It requires relentless dedication and consistent meditation, etc. Don’t get too down, though: Buddhist monks sacrifice a lot of their time (i.e. all of it) to have a shot. Luckily though, they tend not to have an 8-6 corporate office job that gets in the way (Buddha doesn’t offer a lot of slack if you say that you “only have lunch break and weekends to work with”).

That said, maybe our challenge this week is to ask your boss if you can have some time off to follow the Eightfold Path. See what happens, and let me know in the comments.

(Hopefully mild) blaspheming aside, there’s a few different thoughts I left this episode with. First, what should I take away from the Buddha’s main teachings? At a minimum, I’d like to learn more about some of the more practical applications of the Buddhist religions (e.g. Meditation, Yoga). Second, I found it interesting how The Buddha’s story quite clearly parallels that of Jesus of Nazareth and the origin of Christianity. Both emerged from an older and quite widespread religion. Both founders practiced what they preached, serving as the model for perfect adherence to their respective religions. Despite my preconceptions, Buddhism may actually (conceptually) be the simpler and more accessible of the two. It may help that main storyline of Buddhism condenses a little better into SparkNotes form.

Which appeals to me: I think we all want a guidebook—or at least a little direction—for how to live our lives the right way.

Finally, I’d love a sort of religious dating game/reality TV show. I envision this going two ways: one involves a very tasteful series of discussions, but the format is a head-to-head, bracket-style tournament, featuring contrasted, TED Talk-esque ideas. The second is a bit like The Bachelor: basically, throw the most committed adherents of various religions into a house with a lone agnostic person and see who creates the convert first. I think know which version would make for better TV.

Check out Stuff You Should Know: NirvanaStuff You Should Know is a podcast (and now television series) designed to educate the public about common things and how they work; it is hosted by Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark.

About the Author

Nick Wade is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he writes about The Sporkful and Stuff  You Should Know. You can find him at

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