Nirvāṇa (Sanskrit: निर्वाण; Pali: निब्बान (nibbāna); Prakrit: णिव्वाण) is a central concept in Indian religions. In sramanic thought, it is the state of being free from suffering. In Hindu philosophy, it is the union with the Supreme being through moksha. The word literally means "blowing out"—referring in the Buddhist context, to the blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.[1]



Translations of


English: extinguishing
Pali: Nibbāna
Sanskrit: निर्वाण (Nirvāṇa)
Mon: နဳဗာန်
Burmese: နိဗ္ဗာန်
(IPA: [neiʔbàɴ])
Chinese: 涅槃
Japanese: 涅槃
(rōmaji: nehan)
Korean: 열반
(RR: yeolban)
Shan: ၼိၵ်ႈပၢၼ်ႇ
Sinhala: නිවන
Tibetan: མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ།
(mya ngan las 'das pa)
Mongolian: γasalang-aca nögcigsen
Thai: นิพพาน (nipphan)
Vietnamese: Niết bàn
Glossary of Buddhism
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Etymology has a rich tradition in the lands where the Indian religions and Hindu Philosophies gave grammar its first recorded history.


Nirvana is a composed of three phones ni and va and na:

  • ni (nir, nis, nih): out, away from, without, a term that is used to negate
  • va: blowing as in blowing of the wind and also as smelling[2]
  • na: nor, never, do not, did not, should not[3]

Vana is forest in/of the forest/forests; composed of flowers and other items of the forest.,[3] but vana has both phones van and va. Van has both an auspicious and ominous aspect:

  • van: like, love; wish, desire; gain, procure; conquer, win; possess; prepare;[4]
  • van:tree; forest; thicket, cluster, group; quantity; wood[4]
  • va: blow (of wind); emit (an odor), be wafted or diffused[4]
  • va: weave[4]

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The Buddha described nirvāna as the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger, and other afflicting states (kilesas). This peace is achieved when the existing volitional formations which have been firmly established in the course of countless incarnations (as the bases for worldly activity) are pacified and the conditions for the production of new ones eradicated. In nirvāṇa the deeply set roots of craving (Pali: tanha, raga, lobha) and aversion (Pali: dosa)—dispositions of the mind/brain apparatus considered in Buddhism the cause of human suffering (dukkha—the first noble truth according to the Buddha)—have been dissolved and uprooted. These underlying dispositions furthermore are the basis for the process of repeated incarnation so their uprooting means that one is no longer subject to further rebirth in samsāra. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says of nirvāna that it is "the highest happiness",[5] an enduring, transcendental happiness qualitatively different from the limited, transitory happiness derived from impermanent things.

Nirvana is also characterized by transcendental knowledge or bodhi a concept translated most commonly into English as 'enlightenment'. This knowledge is considered in terms of being fully awake to the true nature of reality (see bodhi). One who possesses or abides in bodhi is called a buddha or arahant. The Buddha explains the unique character of the enlightened mind as a result of it having become "unconditioned" (asankhata) which is to say free from the conditions formerly obscuring it by the volitional formations. This ultimate state is described by the Buddha as "deathlessness" (Pali: amata or amāravati) and naturally accrues in the fullness of time to one having lived a life committed to the threefold training (Noble Eightfold Path). Such a life is concerned with performing wholesome actions (Pali: kusala kamma) with positive results and finally allows the cessation of the origination of worldly activities altogether with the attainment of nibbāna. Until then beings forever wander through the impermanent and suffering-generating realms of desire, form, and formlessness; collectively termed: samsāra.

The Pāli Canon also contains other perspectives on nirvāna; for one, it is linked to seeing the empty nature of all phenomena. It is also presented as a radical reordering of consciousness and unleashing of awareness.[6] Scholar Herbert Guenther speculates that with nirvāṇa "the ideal personality, the true human being" becomes reality.[7]

A liberated (enlightened) individual performs neutral actions (Pali: kiriya kamma) producing no fruit (vipaka) but nonetheless preserves a particular individual personality which is the result of the traces of his or her karmic heritage. The very fact that there is a psycho-physical substrate during the remainder of an arahant's lifetime shows the continuing effect of karma.[8]

The stance of the early scriptures is that attaining nibbāna in either the current or some future birth depends on effort, and is not pre-determined.[9]

Nirvāṇa in the sutras is never conceived of as a place (such as one might conceive heaven), but rather the antinomy of samsāra (see below) which itself is synonymous with ignorance (avidyā, Pāli avijjā). This said:

"'the liberated mind (citta) that no longer clings' means nibbāna" (Majjhima Nikaya 2-Att. 4.68).

Nirvāna is meant specifically—as pertains gnosis—that which ends the identity of the mind (citta) with empirical phenomena. Doctrinally, nibbāna is said of the mind which "no longer is coming (bhava) and going (vibhava)" but which has attained a status in perpetuity, whereby "liberation (vimutta) can be said."

It carries further connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. The realizing of nirvāṇa is compared to the ending of avidyā (ignorance) which perpetuates the will (Pali: cetana) into effecting the incarnation of mind into biological form passing on forever through life after life (samsāra). Samsāra is caused principally by craving and ignorance (see dependent origination). A person can attain nirvāna without dying. When a person who has realized nirvāṇa dies, his death is referred as parinirvāṇa (Pali: parinibbana), his fully passing away, as his life was his last link to the cycle of death and rebirth (samsāra), and he will not be reborn again. Buddhism holds that the ultimate goal and end of samsāric existence (of ever "becoming" and "dying" and never truly being) is realization of nirvāna. What happens to a person after his parinirvāṇa cannot be explained, as it is outside of all conceivable experience. Through a series of questions, Sariputta brings a monk to admit that he cannot pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life, so to speculate regarding the ontological status of an arahant after death is not proper.[10] See Tathagata#Inscrutable.

Individuals up to the level of non-returning may experience nirvāna as an object of mental consciousness.[11][12] Certain contemplations while nibbana is an object of samādhi lead, if developed, to the level of non-returning or the gnosis of the arahant.[13] At that point of contemplation, which is reached through a progression of insight, if the meditator realizes that even that state is constructed and therefore impermanent, the fetters are destroyed, arahantship is attained, and nibbāna is realized.[14]

Abhidharma (Buddhism)

The abhidharma-mahāvibhāsa-sāstra, a sarvastivādin commentary, 3rd century BCE and later, describes[15] the nature of nirvana. (See notes.[16])

Vana +Nir Nature of nirvana[17]
The path of rebirth Leaving off Being away from the path of rebirth permanently avoiding all paths of transmigration.
Forest Without To be in a state which has got rid of, for ever, of the dense forest of the three fires of lust, malice and delusion
Weaving Being free Freedom from the knot of the vexations of karmas and in which the texture of both birth and death is not to be woven
Stench or stink Without Being without and free from all stench of karmas

Each of the five aggregates is called a skandha, which means "tree trunk". Each skandha informs the study of one's every normal experience, but eventually leads away from nirvana. Skandha also means "heap" or "pile" or "mass", like an endless knot's path, or a forest.

Transcendent knowing

The mind is aware; it is conscious. In many places the Buddha describes his enlightenment in terms of "knowing:" such as in the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, "Knowing arose" (ñāṇa udapādi). With nirvāṇa the consciousness is released, and the mind becomes aware in a way that is totally unconstrained by anything in the conditioned world. The Buddha describes this in a variety of passages. One way is as follows:

Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around.[18][19]

Ajahns Pasanno and Amaro write that what is referred to with the use of the word "viññana" is the quality of awareness, and that the use of the term "viññana" must be in a broader way than it usually is meant: "The Buddha avoided the nit-picking pedantry of many philosophers contemporary with him and opted for a more broad-brush, colloquial style, geared to particular listeners in a language which they could understand. Thus ‘viññana’ here can be assumed to mean ‘knowing’ but not the partial, fragmented, discriminative (vi-) knowing (-ñana) which the word usually implies. Instead it must mean a knowing of a primordial, transcendent nature, otherwise the passage which contains it would be self-contradictory." They then give further context for why this choice of words may have been made; the passages may represent an example of the Buddha using his "skill in means" to teach Brahmins in terms they were familiar with.[20] This "non-manifestive consciousness" differs from the kinds of consciousness associated to the six sense media, which have a "surface" that they fall upon and arise in response to.[18] According to Peter Harvey, the early texts are ambivalent as to whether or not the term "consciousness" is accurate.[21] In a liberated individual, this is directly experienced, in a way that is free from any dependence on conditions at all.[18][22]

In one interpretation, the "luminous consciousness" is identical with nirvāṇa.[23][24] Others disagree, finding it to be not nirvāṇa itself, but instead to be a kind of consciousness accessible only to arahants.[25][26] A passage in the Majjhima Nikaya likens it to empty space.[27] For liberated ones the luminous, unsupported consciousness associated with nibbana is directly known without mediation of the mental consciousness factor in dependent co-arising, and is the transcending of all objects of mental consciousness.[11][14] It differs radically from the concept in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita of Self-realization, described as accessing the individual's inmost consciousness, in that it is not considered an aspect, even the deepest aspect, of the individual's personality, and is not to be confused in any way with a "Self".[28] Furthermore, it transcends the sphere of infinite consciousness, the sixth of the Buddhist jhanas, which is in itself not the ending of the conceit of "I".[29]

Nagarjuna alluded to a passage regarding this level of consciousness in the Dighanikaya[30] in two different works. He wrote:

The Sage has declared that earth, water, fire, and wind, long, short, fine and coarse, good, and so on are extinguished in consciousness ... Here long and short, fine and coarse, good and bad, here name and form all stop.[31]

A related idea, which finds support in the Pali Canon and the contemporary Theravada practice tradition despite its absence in the Theravada commentaries and Abhidhamma, is that the mind of the arahant is itself nibbana.[32]


In Mahāyāna Buddhism, nirvana and samsara are said to be not different when viewed from the ultimate nature of the Dharmakaya. An individual can attain nirvana by following the Buddhist path. If they were ultimately different this would be impossible. Thus, the duality between nirvana and samsara is only accurate on the conventional level. Another way to arrive at this conclusion is through the analysis that all phenomena are empty of an essential identity, and therefore suffering is never inherent in any situation. Thus liberation from suffering and its causes is not a metaphysical shift of any kind. For better explication of this thinking see two-truths doctrine.

Both the Theravāda and Mayāyāna schools makes the antithesis of samsara and nibbāna the starting point of the quest for deliverance. The Mahāyāna schools treat this polarity as a preparatory lesson tailored for those with blunt faculties, to be eventually superseded by some higher realization of non-duality[citation needed]. The Theravāda school, however, treats this antithesis as determinative of the final goal: the transcendence of samsara and the attainment of liberation in nibbāna. From the standpoint of the Pāli Suttas, even for the Buddha and the Arahants suffering and its cessation, samsara and nibbāna, remain distinct[citation needed].

Both schools agree that Shakyamuni Buddha appeared in saṃsāra while having attained nirvāṇa, in so far as he was seen by suffering beings, while himself being free of the cycle of suffering.

Paths to nirvana in the Pali canon

In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, v. 6 (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, pp. 6–7), Buddhaghosa identifies various options within the Pali canon for pursuing a path to nirvana,[33] including:

  1. by insight (vipassana) alone (see Dh. 277)[34]
  2. by jhana and understanding (see Dh. 372)[35]
  3. by deeds, vision and righteousness (see MN iii.262)[36]
  4. by virtue, consciousness and understanding (7SN i.13)[37]
  5. by virtue, understanding, concentration and effort (see SN i.53)[38]
  6. by the four foundations of mindfulness (see Satipatthana Sutta, DN ii.290)[39]

Depending on one's analysis, each of these options could be seen as a reframing of the Buddha's Threefold Training of virtue, mental development[40] and wisdom.

Mahayana perspectives

The idea of nirvana as purified, non-dualistic 'superior mind' can be found in some Mahayana/Tantric texts. The Samputa, for instance, states:

'Undefiled by lust and emotional impurities, unclouded by any dualistic perceptions, this superior mind is indeed the supreme nirvana.'[41]

Some Mahayana traditions see the Buddha in almost docetic terms, viewing his visible manifestations as projections from within the state of nirvana. According to Professor Etienne Lamotte, Buddhas are always and at all times in nirvana, and their corporeal displays of themselves and their Buddhic careers are ultimately illusory. Lamotte writes of the Buddhas: ‘they are born, reach enlightenment, set turning the Wheel of Dharma, and enter nirvana. However, all this is only illusion: the appearance of a Buddha is the absence of arising, duration and destruction; their nirvana is the fact that they are always and at all times in nirvana.’[42]

Some Mahayana sutras go further and attempt to characterize the nature of nirvana itself. The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which has as one of its main topics precisely the realm or dhatu of nirvana, has the Buddha speak of four essential elements which make up nirvana. One of these is ‘Self’ (atman), which is construed as the enduring Self of the Buddha. Writing on this Mahayana understanding of nirvana, William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous state:

‘The Nirvana Sutra claims for nirvana the ancient ideas of permanence, bliss, personality, purity in the transcendental realm. Mahayana declares that Hinayana, by denying personality in the transcendental realm, denies the existence of the Buddha. In Mahayana, final nirvana is both mundane and transcendental, and is also used as a term for the Absolute.’[43]

At the time this scripture was written, there was already a long tradition of positive language about nirvana and the Buddha.[44] While in early Buddhist thought nirvana is characterized by permanence, bliss, and purity, it is viewed as being the stopping of the breeding-ground for the "I am" attitude, and is beyond all possibility of the Self delusion.[45][46] The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, a long and highly composite Mahayana scripture,[47] refers to the Buddha's using the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics.[48] From this, it continues: "The Buddha-nature is in fact not the self. For the sake of [guiding] sentient beings, I describe it as the self."[49]

The Ratnagotravibhaga, a related text, points out that the teaching of the tathagatagarbha is intended to win sentient beings over to abandoning "affection for one's self" - one of the five defects caused by non-Buddhist teaching. Youru Wang notes similar language in the Lankavatara Sutra, then writes: "Noticing this context is important. It will help us to avoid jumping to the conclusion that tathagatagarbha thought is simply another case of metaphysical imagination."[49] However, some[who?] have objected to this reading regarding the Mahāparinirvāna Sutra in particular, and claim that the Buddha then caps his comments in this passage with an affirmation of the reality of the Self, declaring that he is in fact that Self:

'Due to various causes and conditions, I have also taught that that which is the self is devoid of self, for though there is truly the self, I have taught that there is no self, and yet there is no falsehood in that. The Buddha-dhātu is devoid of self. When the Tathagata teaches that there is no self, it is because of the Eternal. The Tathāgata is the Self, and his teaching that there is no self is because he has attained mastery/sovereignty [aisvarya].'[50]

In the Nirvāna Sutra, the Buddha states that he will now teach previously undisclosed doctrines (including on nirvana) and that his earlier teaching on non-Self was one of expediency only. Kosho Yamamoto writes:

‘He says that the non-Self which he once taught is none but of expediency ... He says that he is now ready to speak about the undisclosed teachings. Men abide in upside-down thoughts. So he will now speak of the affirmative attributes of nirvana, which are none other than the Eternal, Bliss, the Self and the Pure.’[51]

According to some scholars, the language used in the Tathāgatagarbha genre of sutras can be seen as an attempt to state orthodox Buddhist teachings of dependent origination using positive language instead, to prevent people from being turned away from Buddhism by a false impression of nihilism. For example, in some of these sutras the perfection of the wisdom of not-self is stated to be the true self; the ultimate goal of the path is then characterized using a range of positive language that had been used in Indian philosophy previously by essentialist philosophers, but which was now transmuted into a new Buddhist vocabulary to describe a being who has successfully completed the Buddhist path.[52]

Yamamoto points out that this ‘affirmative’ characterization of nirvana pertains to a supposedly higher form of nirvana—that of ‘Great Nirvana’. Speaking of the 'Bodhisattva Highly Virtuous King' chapter of the Nirvana Sutra, Yamamoto quotes the scripture itself: 'What is nirvana? ...this is as in the case in which one who has hunger has peace and bliss as he has taken a little food.'[53] Yamamoto continues with the quotation, adding his own comment:

"‘But such a nirvāna cannot be called “Great Nirvāna”". And it [i.e. the Buddha’s new revelation regarding nirvana] goes on to dwell on the “Great Self”, “Great Bliss”, and “Great Purity”, all of which, along with the Eternal, constitute the four attributes of Great Nirvana.’[54]

According to some scholars, the "Self" discussed in the and related sutras does not represent a substantial Self. Rather, it is a positive language expression of emptiness and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices. In this view, the intention of the teaching of 'tathāgatagarbha'/Buddha nature is soteriological rather than theoretical.[55]

However, this interpretation is contentious. Not all scholars share it. Writing on the diverse understandings of tathagatagarbha doctrine as found in the nirvana Sutra and similar scriptures, Jamie Hubbard comments on how some scholars see a tendency towards absolutism and monism in this Tathagatagarbha [a tendency which Japanese scholar Matsumoto castigates as non-Buddhist]. Hubbard comments:

'Matsumoto [calls] attention to the similarity between the extremely positive language and causal structure of enlightenment found in the tathagatagarbha literature and that of the substantial monism found in the atman/Brahman tradition. Matsumoto, of course, is not the only one to have noted this resemblance. Takasaki Jikido, for example, the preeminent scholar of the tathagatagarbha tradition, sees monism in the doctrine of the tathagatagarbha and the Mahayana in general ... Obermiller wedded this notion of a monistic Absolute to the tathagatagarbha literature in his translation and comments to the Ratnagotra, which he aptly subtitled “A Manual of Buddhist Monism” ... Lamotte and Frauwallner have seen the tathagatagarbha doctrine as diametrically opposed to the Madhyamika and representing something akin to the monism of the atman/Brahman strain, while yet others such as Nagao, Seyfort Ruegg, and Johnston (the editor of the Ratnagotra) simply voice their doubts and state that it seems similar to post-Vedic forms of monism. Yet another camp, represented by Yamaguchi Susumu and his student Ogawa Ichijo, is able to understand tathagatagarbha thought without recourse to Vedic notions by putting it squarely within the Buddhist tradition of conditioned causality and emptiness, which, of course, explicitly rejects monism of any sort. Obviously, the question of the monist or absolutist nature of the tathagatagarbha and Buddha-nature traditions is complex.[56]

Hubbard summarises his research on tathagatagarbha doctrines with the words:

'the teaching of the tathagatagarbha has always been debatable, for it is fundamentally an affirmative approach to truth and wisdom, offering descriptions of reality not in negative terms of what it is lacking or empty of (apophatic description, typical of the Pefection of Wisdom corpus and the Madhyhamika school) but rather in positive terms of what it is (cataphatic description, more typical of the devotional, tantric, Mahaparinirvana and Lotus Sutra traditions, and, it should be noted, the monistic terms of the orthodox Brahmanic systems)'[57]

According to Paul Williams, the similarity to the monism of atman/Brahman thought is explained when the Nirvana Sutra presents its Self teachings as an attempt to win over non-Buddhist ascetics:

It is tempting to speak of Hindu influence on Buddhism at this point, but simply to talk of influences is almost always too easy ... Having said that, of course the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra itself admits Hindu influence in a sense when it refers to the Buddha using the term 'Self' in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think in particular of the transcendental Self-Brahman of Advaita Vedanta as necessarily influencing Buddhism at this point. It is by no means clear that the Self which is really no-Self of the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra is at all comparably to the Advaita Brahman, and anyway these Tathagatagarbha sutras are earlier than Gaudapada (seventh century), the founder of the Hindu Advaita school ...[44]

The sutra also states that the Buddha-nature is really no-Self, but is said to be a Self in a manner of speaking.[58]

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, it is stated that there are three ways for a person to "have" something; to have it in the past, to have it in the present, and to have it in the future. It states that what it means by "all beings have Buddha-nature" is that all beings will in the future become Buddhas.[59] Dogen however explicitly says that the Buddha-Nature is had in some sense in the present even by non Buddhas: actually equating the reality of the present moment (or "That without constancy") with the Buddha-Nature, including that of grass and trees as well as mind and body. For Dogen, to look at anything is to see the Buddha-Nature, whereas Chinul argues that it is in the body right now as smelling and vision and so on. The important Lankavatara Sutra states that all actions are actions of the Buddha-Nature, that it is their cause and the root of all karmic destiny,

As indicated above, the Japanese Zen master, Dogen, has a distinctive interpretation of the Buddha-nature, in which 'whole-being' is viewed as Buddha-nature, and nothing (even inanimate objects) is separate or distinct from it. Buddha-nature is not a 'potential' for Buddhahood, but is the very nature of all things. All things in their impermanence are seen as Buddha-nature,[60] and do not constitute a seed of 'potential' for Buddha-nature. Masao Abe writes on this understanding:

'... in Dogen's understanding, the Buddha-nature is not a potentiality, like a seed, that exists within all sentient beings. Instead, all sentient beings, or more exactly, all beings, living and nonliving, are originally Buddha-nature. It is not a potentiality to be actualized sometime in the future, but the original, fundamental naure of all beings.'[61]

Dogen thus expands the notion of Buddha-nature and that of 'sentient beings' to embrace absolutely all things, which are seen to be alive, possessed of mind and to be the Buddha-nature itself. Masao Abe elucidates:

'... Dogen broadens not only the meaning of the term Buddha-nature, but also that of the term, sentient beings (shujo). In the "Bussho" fascicle, immediately after saying "Whole-being is the Buddha-nature", he continues, "I call one integral entity of whole-being 'sentient beings'" ... This means that Dogen broadens the meaning of shujo [sentient being], which traditionally referred to living or sentient beings, to include nonliving or nonsentient beings. In other words, he ascribes life to nonliving beings, sentiments to nonsentient beings, and ultimately mind and the Buddha-nature to all of them.'[62]


  • Gautama Buddha:
    • "Nirvāna is the highest happiness." [Dp 204]
    • "Where there is nothing; where naught is grasped, there is the Isle of No-Beyond. Nirvāṇa do I call it—the utter extinction of aging and dying."
    • "There is, monks, an unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated. If there were not that unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born–become–made–fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated, emancipation from the born–become–made–fabricated is discerned." [Udana VIII.3]
    • This said: ‘the liberated mind/will (citta) which does not cling’ means nibbāna” [MN2-Att. 4.68]
    • “'The subjugation of becoming means nirvāṇa'; this means the subjugation of the five aggregates means nirvāṇa.” [SN-Att. 2.123]
    • In Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta the Buddha likens nibbana to the cessation and extinguishing of a fire where the materials for sustenance has been removed: "Profound, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise."
    • "There is that dimension where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor stasis; neither passing away nor arising: without stance, without foundation, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress."
  • Said immediately after the physical death of Gotama Buddha wherein his mind (citta) is =parinirvāṇa=the essence of liberation:
    • [DN 2.157] “No longer with (subsists by) in-breath nor out-breath, so is him (Gotama) who is steadfast in mind (citta), inherently quelled from all desires the mighty sage has passed beyond. With mind (citta) limitless he no longer bears sensations; illumined and unbound (nibbana), his mind (citta) is definitely (ahu) liberated.”[dubious ]
    • "And what is the nibbana property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the nibbana property with no fuel remaining." [Itivuttaka 2.17]
    • Parinibbana description:

"The body disintegrated, perception ceased, pain & rapture were entirely consumed, fabrications were stilled: consciousness has come to its end". [Udana 8.9]

  • Sutta Nipāta, tr. Rune Johansson:
    • accī yathā vātavegena khitto
      atthaṁ paleti na upeti sankhaṁ
      evaṁ muni nāmakāyā kimutto
      atthaṁ paleti na upeti sankhaṁ
    • atthan gatassa na pamāṇam atthi
      ynea naṁ vajju taṁ tassan atthi
      sabbesu dhammesu samūhatesu
      samūhatā vādapathāpi sabbe
    • Like a flame that has been blown out by a strong wind goes to rest and cannot be defined, just so the sage who is freed from name and body goes to rest and cannot be defined.
      For him who has gone to rest there is no measure by means of which one could describe him; that is not for him. When all (dharmas) have gone, all signs of recognition have also gone.[63]
  • Venerable Sariputta:
    • The destruction of greed, hatred and delusion is nirvāṇa.

In Jainism

In Jainism, it means final release from the karmic bondage. When an enlightened human, such as, an Arhat or a Tirthankara extinguishes his remaining aghatiya karmas and thus ends his worldly existence, it is called nirvāṇa. Technically, end of lifespan of an Arhat is called nirvāṇa, as he has ended his worldly existence and attained liberation. Moksha, that is to say, liberation follows nirvāṇa. An Arhat becomes a Siddha, the liberated one, after nirvāṇa.

Nirvāṇa in Jainism means :

  1. End of worldly existence of an Arhat, who becomes liberated thereafter, and
  2. Moksa (Jainism)


Kalpasutra folio on Mahavira Nirvana. Note the crescent shaped Siddhashila, a place where all siddhas reside after nirvana.

Jains celebrate Diwali as the day of nirvāṇa of Mahavira. Kalpasutra gives an elaborate account of Mahavira’s nirvāṇa.[64]

The aghatiya Karma’s of venerable Ascetic Mahavira got exhausted, when in this Avasarpini era the greater part of the Duhshamasushama period had elapsed and only three years and eight and a half months were left. Mahavira had recited the fifty-five lectures which detail the results of Karma, and the thirty-six unasked questions (the Uttaradhyana Sutra). The moon was in conjunction with the asterism Svati, at the time of early morning, in the town of Papa, and in king Hastipala's office of the writers, (Mahivira) single and alone, sitting in the Samparyahka posture, left his body and attained nirvāṇa, freed from all pains.” (147)

In the fourth month of that rainy season, in the seventh fortnight, in the dark (fortnight) of Karttika, on its fifteenth day, in the last night, in the town of Papa, in king Hastipala's office of the writers, the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira died, went off, cut asunder the ties of birth, old age, and death; became a Siddha, a Buddha, a Mukta, a maker of the end (to all misery), finally liberated, freed from all pains. (123)

That night in which the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira died, freed from all pains, was lighted up by many descending and ascending gods. (125)

In that night in which the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira, died, freed from all pains, the eighteen confederate kings of Kasi and Kosala, the nine Mallakis and nine Licchavis, on the day of new moon, instituted an illuminations on the Poshadha, which was a fasting day; for they said: 'Since the light of intelligence is gone, let us make an illumination of material matter!'(128)

As Moksha

Uttaradhyana Sutra provides an account of Gautama explaining the meaning of nirvāṇa to Kesi a disciple of Parsva.[65]

There is a safe place in view of all, but difficult of approach, where there is no old age nor death, no pain nor disease. It is what is called nirvāṇa, or freedom from pain, or perfection, which is in view of all; it is the safe, happy, and quiet place which the great sages reach. That is the eternal place, in view of all, but difficult of approach. Those sages who reach it are free from sorrows, they have put an end to the stream of existence. (81-4)

In Hinduism

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In Hinduism, moksha is the liberation from the cycle of birth and death and one's worldly conception of self. A person reaches the state of nirvana only when moksha is attained.[66] The Union with the supreme being and this experience of blissful ego-lessness is termed nirvana.

Bhagavad Gita

In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that Brahma nirvana (nirvana in Brahman) can be attained by one who is capable of cognizing the essence of Brahman; by getting rid of vices, becoming free from duality, free from the worldly attractions and anger, dedicated to spiritual pursuits, having subdued thoughts and cognized Atman, and dedicating oneself to the good of all.[67][68] Brahma nirvana is the state of release or liberation; the union with the divine ground of existence (Brahman) and this experience of blissful ego-lessness.[69]

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The nirvana of the Buddhists is shunyata, emptiness, but the nirvana of the Gita means peace and that is why it is described as brahma-nirvana [oneness with Brahman]."[70]

K. N. Upadhaya in his books say that the term nirvana, even though found very well in the Vedic period, seems to have been used for the first time in a strict technical sense in Buddhism .[71][72]

Advaita Vedanta

In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, however the concepts of moksha and nirvana are nearly analogous with certain views overlapping.[73]

In Falun Gong (Falun Dafa)

In Falun Gong,[74] the characteristic of the universe is described in three words: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. During one's cultivation process, a Falun Gong practitioner continuously improve his/her xinxing (mind nature) level by assimilating to this characteristic. A practitioner's enlightenment can occur gradually or suddenly, depending upon one's inborn quality (genji). The level of cultivation is indicated by the height of gong (energy) level. In the book 'The Great Consummation Way of Falun Dafa', Mr. Li Hongzhi mentioned, "Falun Buddha Fa aims directly at people’s hearts and makes it clear that cultivation of xinxing is the key to increasing gong. A person’s gong level is as high as his or her xinxing level, and this is an absolute truth of the universe. “Xinxing” includes the transformation of virtue (de) (a white substance) and karma (a black substance), the abandonment of ordinary human desires and attachments, and the ability to endure the toughest hardships of all. It also encompasses many types of things that a person must cultivate to raise his or her level." When one achieves Consummation at the end of cultivation, the practitioner will have become an enlightened being. Eight-tenth of the gong level will substantiate the enlightened being's heavenly paradise.

In Brahma Kumaris

In Brahma Kumaris religion, nirvana is called paramdham (supreme abode) or shantidham (abode of peace) and is highest of three world, original home of the soul and Supreme Soul Shiva.

In Meher Baba's teachings

Meher Baba differentiated between the closely connected states of nirvana and nirvikalpa:

Before the soul loses its human state and gains the divine state of nirvikalpa, it has to experience the vacuum state of nirvana. Nirvana is the infinite vacuum, a state in which the soul is fully conscious of real Nothing, and if in the state of nirvana the human body is dropped, one passes into a state of the infinite bliss of God. In some cases nirvana is immediately and inevitably followed by nirvikalpa or fana-fillah, where the soul is fully conscious of real Everything. Nirvana and nirvikalpa are so closely linked that each can be said to be the divine goal....[75]

See also

Further reading

  • Steven Collins. Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative (Cambridge University Press; 2010) 204 pages
  • Kawamura, Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1981, pp. 11.


  1. ^ Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benāres to Modern Colombo. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, page 63: "Nibbāna means 'blowing out.' What must be blown out is the triple fire of greed, hatred, and ignorance."
  2. ^ "Overview of Buddhist Philosophy: Nirvana". Myoko-in Temple "Wondrous Light Temple" Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage, Alaska: White Lotus Center for Shin Buddhism. Archived from the original on April 20, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2011. "nirvana is a compound of the prefix ni[r]- (ni, nis, nih) which means "out, away from, without", and the root vâ[na] (P. vâti) which can be translated as "blowing" as in "blowing of the wind", but also as "smelling, etc"" 
  3. ^ a b A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (30 April 2005). "MBhaktivedanta VedaBase Network". The Official BBT Editions of Prabhupada's Books Online. International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d Victor Langheld (5 April 2011). "Possible ancient meanings of nirvana". The Pilgrim Site. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Verse 204, nibbanam paramam sukham
  6. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness mysticism in the discourses of the Buddha in Karel Werner, The Yogi and the Mystic; Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism." Routledge, 1995, page 82;
  7. ^ Guenther, The Problem of the Soul in Early Buddhism, Curt Weller Verlag, Constanz, 1949, pp. 156-157.
  8. ^ Steven Collins, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1982, page 207.
  9. ^ Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press 1995, page 87.
  10. ^ Yamaka Sutta, SN 22.85.
  11. ^ a b Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Brahma-nimantantika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  12. ^ See for example the Jhana Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  13. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 91.
  14. ^ a b Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 93.
  15. ^ About T K Parthasarathy (Tuesday, February 08, 2011 06:35 AM). "Working Towards nirvANa and New Humanity (1 of 2)". Advaita Academy. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  16. ^ Notes: 1) concerning the term three roots in the table:
    • Today the majority of Buddhists class nirvana as eliminating only greed and hate, and bodhi now supersedes it. Bodhi eliminates all three. (See Buddhism#Nirvana.)
    • The terms "three" and "[[root (linguistic)|]]" are common in the literature. For example, the three roots can also refer to grace, accomplishment, and activity.
    2)The knot, is both auspicious and ominous. The prospect of another life is equivalent to the prospects of samsara.
  17. ^ Direct quotes
  18. ^ a b c Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  19. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness mysticism in the discourses of the Buddha. in Karel Werner, The Yogi and the Mystic; Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism." Routledge, 1995, page 82;
  20. ^ Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro, The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on nibbāna, page 131. Available online at
  21. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, pages 87, 90.
  22. ^ Thanissaro Bhukkhu's commentary on the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  23. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  24. ^ See also Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind.
  25. ^ Ajahn Brahmali,
  26. ^ Rupert Gethin objects to parts of Harvey's argument;
  27. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 88. The quote is MN I, 127-128.
  28. ^ Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, page 355. ISBN 978-81-208-0880-5
  29. ^ Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, pages 354-356. ISBN 978-81-208-0880-5
  30. ^ See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, DN 11
  31. ^ Christian Lindtner, Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing, 1997, page 322. Lindtner says that Nagarjuna is referencing the DN.
  32. ^ Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 100.
  33. ^ A number of the suttas referenced below as well as Buddhaghosa himself refer not explicitly to nirvana but to "the path of purification" (Pali: Visuddhimagga). In Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, v. 5, Buddhaghosa notes: "Herein, purification should be understood as nibbana, which being devoid of all stains, is utterly pure" (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 6).
  34. ^ See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Buddharakkhita (1996a). In the Paramattha-mañjūsā (the Visuddhimagga commentary), vv. 9-10, it adds the following caveat regarding this option of "insight alone":
    The words 'insight alone' are meant to exclude, not virtue, etc., but serenity (i.e., jhana), ... [as typically reflected] in the pair, serenity and insight.... [T]he word 'alone' actually excludes only that concentration with distinction [of jhanic absorption]; for concentration is classed as both access [or momentary] and absorption.... Taking this stanza as the teaching for one whose vehicle is insight does not imply that there is no concentration; for no insight comes about with momentary concentration. And again, insight should be understood as the three contemplations of impermanence, pain and not-self [see tilakkhana]; not contemplation of impermanence alone (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 750, n. 3).
  35. ^ See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism , Buddharakkhita (1996b).
  36. ^ See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Thanissaro (2003). Verse 262 of this sutta is translated by Thanissaro as:
    Action, clear-knowing, & mental qualities,
    virtue, the highest [way of] life:
    through this are mortals purified,
    not through clan or wealth.
  37. ^ The option expressed by SN i.13 is the basis for the entire rest of the Visuddhimagga's exposition. It is the very first paragraph of the Visuddhimagga and states:
    When a wise man, established well in virtue,
    Develops consciousness and understanding,
    Then as a bhikku ardent and sagacious
    He succeeds in disentangling this tangle. (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 1)
    In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, verse 2, Buddhaghosa comments that this tangle refers to "the network of craving." In verse 7, Buddhaghosa states that develops consciousness and understanding means "develops both concentration and insight." (Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, pp. 1, 7)
  38. ^ Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), p. 7, translate SN i.53 as:
    He who is possessed of constant virtue,
    Who has understanding, and is concentrated,
    Who is strenuous and diligent as well,
    Will cross the flood so difficult to cross.
  39. ^ See Thanissaro (2000). Verse 290 of this sutta is translated by Thanissaro as:
    The Blessed One said this: "This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding—in other words, the four frames of reference....
  40. ^ In the Nikayas mental development generally suggests the attainment of jhanic absorption; however, as indicated above in the note regarding the "insight alone" option, in some contexts it can refer to attaining "access" or "momentary" concentration without full absorption.
  41. ^ Takpo Tashi Namgyal, Mahamudra Shambhala, Boston and London, 1986, p.219
  42. ^ Professor Etienne Lamotte, tr. Sara Boin-Webb, Suramgamasamadhisutra, Curzon, London, 1998, p.4
  43. ^ William Edward Soothill, Lewis Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1997, p. 328
  44. ^ a b Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 100.
  45. ^ Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology. Routledge, 2002, page 126, and note 7, page 154.
  46. ^ Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press, 1995, page 53.
  47. ^ Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 98, see also page 99.
  48. ^ Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 100. "... it refers to the Buddha's using the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics."
  49. ^ a b Youru Wang, Linguistic Strategies in Daoist Zhuangzi and Chan Buddhism: The Other Way of Speaking. Routledge, 2003, page 58.
  50. ^ Kosho Yamamoto, The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāna Sutra in 3 Volumes, Vol, 3, p. 660, Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1975
  51. ^ Kosho Yamamoto, Mahayanism: A Critical Exposition of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāna Sutra, Karinbunko, Ube City, Japan, 1975, pp. 141, 142
  52. ^ Sallie B. King, The Doctrine of Buddha-Nature is impeccably Buddhist., pages 1-6.
  53. ^ Yamamoto, Mahāyānism op. cit., p. 165
  54. ^ Yamamoto, Mahāyānism, ibid
  55. ^ Heng-Ching Shih, "The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' -- A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata.'" at ZEN Computer Systems
  56. ^ Jamie Hubbard, Jamie. Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood,University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100
  57. ^ Jamie Hubbard, op. cit., pp. 120-121
  58. ^ Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 99. "Here the Buddha-nature is really no-Self, but it is said to be a Self in a manner of speaking."
  59. ^ Heng-Ching Shih, "The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha', A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata'"., at ZEN Computer Systems
  60. ^ A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, by Masao Abe, ed. by Steven Heine, SUNY, Albany, 1992, p. 57
  61. ^ A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, by Masao Abe, ed. by Steven Heine, SUNY, Albany, 1992, p. 42
  62. ^ A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, by Masao Abe, ed. by Steven Heine, SUNY, Albany, 1992, p. 54
  63. ^ The Buddha's use of the metaphor of the extinguished flame should not be taken either in the sense of the Vedas, where fire is immortal, or the modern sense, where an extinguished fire ceases to exist. Instead he discusses a situation beyond questions of existence or non-existence. See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  64. ^ Jacobi, Hermann; Ed. F. Max Müller (1884). Kalpa Sutra, Jain Sutras Part I, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 22. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 
  65. ^ Jacobi, Hermann; Ed. F. Max Müller (1895). Uttaradhyayana Sutra, Jain Sutras Part II, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 45. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 
  66. ^ Hindson, Ergun; Caner (2008). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. Harvest House Publishers. p. 264. ISBN 9780736920841. 
  67. ^ Bhagavad Gita 5.24, 5,25, 5.26
  68. ^ H. P. Blavatsky, Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, March to August 1893, p. 11 
  69. ^ Easwaran, Eknath (2007), The Bhagavad Gita – Classics of Indian Spirituality, Nilgiri Press, p. 268 . Book can be accessed at [1] or [2]
  70. ^ Mahatma Gandhi (2009), John Strohmeier, ed., The Bhagavad Gita – According to Gandhi, North Atlantic Books, p. 34, "The nirvana of the Buddhists is shunyata, emptiness, but the nirvana of the Gita means peace and that is why it is described as brahma-nirvana [oneness with Brahman]" 
  71. ^ Kashi Nath Upadhyaya (1998), Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p. 128, ISBN 9788120808805, "The term 'nirvana', even though its verbal form (nis+va)is found in the Vedic period,1 seems to have been used for the first time in it? strict technical sense in Buddhism" 
  72. ^ K.N. Upadhaya, The Impact of Early Buddhism on Hindu Thought. Philosophy East and West Vol.18(1968) pp.163–173, accessed at
  73. ^ moksha
  74. ^ ^ a b Li Hongzhi, ‘’Zhuan Falun
  75. ^ Meher Baba, God Speaks, San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented, 1997, p. 239.

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