Nirvāṇa (// neer-VAH-nə, /-/ -VAN-ə, /-/ nər-; Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāṇa [nirʋaːɳə]; Pali: निब्बान nibbāna; Prakrit: णिव्वाण ṇivvāṇa) literally means "blown out", as in an oil lamp. The term "nirvana" is most commonly associated with Buddhism, and represents its ultimate state of soteriological release and liberation from rebirths in saṃsāra.[web 1]
(mya ngan las 'das pa)
|Glossary of Buddhism|
In Indian religions, nirvana is synonymous with moksha and mukti.[note 1] All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.
However, Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions describe these terms for liberation differently. In the Buddhist context, nirvana refers to realization of non-self and emptiness, marking the end of rebirth by stilling the fires that keep the process of rebirth going. In Hindu philosophy, it is the union of or the realization of the identity of Atman with Brahman, depending on the Hindu tradition. In Jainism, it is also the soteriological goal, it represents the release of a soul from karmic bondage and samsara.
The word nirvāṇa, states Steven Collins, is from the verbal root vā "blow" in the form of past participle vāna "blown", prefixed with the preverb nis meaning "out". Hence the original meaning of the word is "blown out, extinguished". Sandhi changes the spelling: the v of vāna causes nis to become nir, and then the r of nir causes retroflexion of the following n: nis+vāna > nirvāṇa.
The term nirvana in the soteriological sense of "blown out, extinguished" state of liberation does not appear in the Vedas nor in the Upanishads. According to Collins, "the Buddhists seem to have been the first to call it nirvana." However, the ideas of spiritual liberation using different terminology, with the concept of soul and Brahman, appears in Vedic texts and Upanishads, such as in verse 4.4.6 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. This may have been deliberate use of words in early Buddhism, suggests Collins, since Atman and Brahman were described in Vedic texts and Upanishads with the imagery of fire, as something good, desirable and liberating.
Nirvāṇa is a term found in the texts of all major Indian religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. It refers to the profound peace of mind that is acquired with moksha, liberation from samsara, or release from a state of suffering, after respective spiritual practice or sādhanā.[note 2]
The idea of moksha is connected to the Vedic culture, where it conveyed a notion of amrtam, "immortality", and also a notion of a timeless, "unborn", or "the still point of the turning world of time". It was also its timeless structure, the whole underlying "the spokes of the invariable but incessant wheel of time".[note 3] The hope for life after death started with notions of going to the worlds of the Fathers or Ancestors and/or the world of the Gods or Heaven.[note 4]
The earliest Vedic texts incorporate the concept of life, followed by an afterlife in heaven and hell based on cumulative virtues (merit) or vices (demerit). However, the ancient Vedic Rishis challenged this idea of afterlife as simplistic, because people do not live an equally moral or immoral life. Between generally virtuous lives, some are more virtuous; while evil too has degrees, and either permanent heaven or permanent hell is disproportionate. The Vedic thinkers introduced the idea of an afterlife in heaven or hell in proportion to one's merit, and when this runs out, one returns and is reborn. The idea of rebirth following "running out of merit" appears in Buddhist texts as well. This idea appears in many ancient and medieval texts, as Saṃsāra, or the endless cycle of life, death, rebirth and redeath, such as section 6:31 of the Mahabharata and verse 9.21 of the Bhagavad Gita.[note 5] The Saṃsara, the life after death, and what impacts rebirth came to be seen as dependent on karma.
The liberation from Saṃsāra developed as an ultimate goal and soteriological value in the Indian culture, and called by different terms such as nirvana, moksha, mukti and kaivalya. This basic scheme underlies Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, where "the ultimate aim is the timeless state of moksa, or, as the Buddhists first seem to have called it, nirvana."
Although the term occurs in the literatures of a number of ancient Indian traditions, the concept is most commonly associated with Buddhism.[web 1] It was later adopted by other Indian religions, but with different meanings and description (Moksha), such as in the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita of the Mahabharata.
Nirvana (nibbana) literally means "blowing out" or "quenching". It is the most used as well as the earliest term to describe the soteriological goal in Buddhism: release from the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra). Nirvana is part of the Third Truth on "cessation of dukkha" in the Four Noble Truths doctrine of Buddhism. It is the goal of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Buddha is believed in the Buddhist scholastic tradition to have realized two types of nirvana, one at enlightenment, and another at his death. The first is called sopadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana with a remainder), the second parinirvana or anupadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana without remainder, or final nirvana).
In the Buddhist tradition, nirvana is described as the extinguishing of the fires that cause rebirths and associated suffering. The Buddhist texts identify these three "three fires" or "three poisons" as raga (greed, sensuality), dvesha (aversion, hate) and avidyā or moha (ignorance, delusion).
The state of nirvana is also described in Buddhism as cessation of all afflictions, cessation of all actions, cessation of rebirths and suffering that are a consequence of afflictions and actions. Liberation is described as identical to anatta (anatman, non-self, lack of any self). In Buddhism, liberation is achieved when all things and beings are understood to be with no Self. Nirvana is also described as identical to achieving sunyata (emptiness), where there is no essence or fundamental nature in anything, and everything is empty.
In time, with the development of Buddhist doctrine, other interpretations were given, such as being an unconditioned state, a fire going out for lack of fuel, abandoning weaving (vana) together of life after life, and the elimination of desire. However, Buddhist texts have asserted since ancient times that nirvana is more than "destruction of desire", it is "the object of the knowledge" of the Buddhist path.
The most ancient texts of Hinduism such as the Vedas and early Upanishads don't mention the soteriological term Nirvana. This term is found in texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Nirvana Upanishad, likely composed in the post-Buddha era. The concept of Nirvana is described differently in Buddhist and Hindu literature. Hinduism has the concept of Atman – the soul, self – asserted to exist in every living being, while Buddhism asserts through its anatman doctrine that there is no Atman in any being. Nirvana in Buddhism is "stilling mind, cessation of desires, and action" unto emptiness, states Jeaneane Fowler, while nirvana in post-Buddhist Hindu texts is also "stilling mind but not inaction" and "not emptiness", rather it is the knowledge of true Self (Atman) and the acceptance of its universality and unity with metaphysical Brahman.
The ancient soteriological concept in Hinduism is moksha, described as the liberation from the cycle of birth and death through self-knowledge and the eternal connection of Atman (soul, self) and metaphysical Brahman. Moksha is derived from the root muc* (Sanskrit: मुच्) which means free, let go, release, liberate; Moksha means "liberation, freedom, emancipation of the soul". In the Vedas and early Upanishads, the word mucyate (Sanskrit: मुच्यते) appears, which means to be set free or release - such as of a horse from its harness.
The traditions within Hinduism state that there are multiple paths (marga) to moksha: jnana-marga, the path of knowledge; bhakti-marga, the path of devotion; and karma-marga, the path of action.
Brahma-nirvana in the Bhagavad GitaEdit
The term Brahma-nirvana appears in verses 2.72 and 5.24-26 of the Bhagavad Gita. It is the state of release or liberation; the union with the Brahman. According to Easwaran, it is an experience of blissful egolessness.
According to Zaehner, Johnson and other scholars, nirvana in the Gita is a Buddhist term adopted by the Hindus. Zaehner states it was used in Hindu texts for the first time in the Bhagavad Gita, and that the idea therein in verse 2.71-72 to "suppress one's desires and ego" is also Buddhist. According to Johnson the term nirvana is borrowed from the Buddhists to confuse the Buddhists, by linking the Buddhist nirvana state to the pre-Buddhist Vedic tradition of metaphysical absolute called Brahman.
According to Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of nirvana are different because 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).
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) – Translated by Hermann Jacobi, 1895
The concept of liberation as "extinction of suffering", along with the idea of sansara as the "cycle of rebirth" is also part of Sikhism. Nirvana appears in Sikh texts as the term Nirban. However, the more common term is Mukti or Moksh, a salvation concept wherein loving devotion to God is emphasized for liberation from endless cycle of rebirths.
- Also called vimoksha, vimukti. The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: "Vimoksha [解脱] (Skt; Jpn gedatsu ). Emancipation, release, or liberation. The Sanskrit words vimukti, mukti, and moksha also have the same meaning. Vimoksha means release from the bonds of earthly desires, delusion, suffering and transmigration. While Buddhism sets forth various kinds and stages of emancipation, or enlightenment, the supreme emancipation is nirvana,[web 2]
- It is sometimes referred to as bhavana, which refers to spiritual "development" or "cultivating" or "producing" in the sense of "calling into existence",
- The wheel is a typical Vedic, or Indo-European, symbol, which is manifested in various symbols of the Vedic religion and of Buddhism and Hinduism. See, for examples, Dharmacakra, Chakra, Chakravartin, Kalachakra, Dukkha and Mandala.
- See also Heaven (Christianity) and Walhalla
- Many texts discuss this theory of rebirth with the concepts of Devayana (path of gods) and Pitryana (path of fathers).
- The authenticity of this text is in doubt because Parshva, in Jain tradition, lived about 250 years before Mahavira, and his disciple Kesi would have been a few hundred years old when he met the disciple of Mahavira. See Jacobi (1895), footnotes.
- "nirvana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benāres to Modern Colombo. Routledge
- Chad Meister (2009). Introducing Philosophy of Religion. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-134-14179-1.
Buddhism: the soteriological goal is nirvana, liberation from the wheel of samsara and extinction of all desires, cravings and suffering.
- Kristin Johnston Largen. What Christians Can Learn from Buddhism: Rethinking Salvation. Fortress Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-1-4514-1267-3.
One important caveat must be noted: for many lay Buddhists all over the world, rebirth in a higher realm - rather than realizing nirvana - has been the primary religious goal. [...] while many Buddhists strongly emphasize the soteriological value of the Buddha's teaching on nirvana [escape from samsara], many other Buddhists focus their practice on more tangible goals, in particular on the propitious rebirth in one's next life.
- "IN THE PRESENCE OF NIBBANA:Developing Faith in the Buddhist Path to Enlightenment". What-Buddha-Taught.net. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
- Gavin Flood, Nirvana. In: John Bowker (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
- Anindita N. Balslev (2014). On World Religions: Diversity, Not Dissension. SAGE Publications. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-93-5150-405-4.
- Loy, David (1982). "Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta". International Philosophical Quarterly. Philosophy Documentation Center. 22 (1): 65–74. doi:10.5840/ipq19822217.
What most distinguishes Indian from Western philosophy is that all the important Indian systems point to the same phenomenon: Enlightenment or Liberation. Enlightenment has different names in the various systems – kaivalya, nirvana, moksha, etc. – and is described in different ways...
- Steven Collins (1990). Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 81–84. ISBN 978-0-521-39726-1.
- Peter Harvey (2001). Buddhism. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-1-4411-4726-4.
[Nirvana is] beyond the processes involved in dying and reborn. [...] Nirvana is emptiness in being void of any grounds for the delusion of a permanent, substantial Self, and because it cannot be conceptualized in any view which links it to 'I' or 'mine' or 'Self'. It is known in this respect by one with deep insight into everything as not-Self (anatta), empty of Self.
- Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8.
There has been some dispute as to the exact meaning of nirvana, but clearly the Buddhist theory of no soul seems to imply quite a different perspective from that of Vedantist philosophy, in which the individual soul or self [atman] is seen as identical with the world soul or Brahman [god] (on the doctrine of anatta[no soul] ...
- Gwinyai H. Muzorewa (2000). The Great Being. Wipf. pp. 52–54. ISBN 978-1-57910-453-5.
Even the Atman depends on the Brahman. In fact, the two are essentially the same. [...] Hindu theology believes that the Atman ultimately becomes one with the Brahman. One's true identity lies in realizing that the Atman in me and the Brahman - the groud of all existence - are similar. [...] The closest kin of Atman is the Atman of all living things, which is grounded in the Brahman. When the Atman strives to be like Brahman it is only because it realizes that that is its origin - God. [...] Separation between the Atman and the Brahman is proved to be impermanent. What is ultimately permanent is the union between the Atman and the Brahman. [...] Thus, life's struggle is for the Atman to be released from the body, which is impermanent, to unite with Brahman, which is permanent - this doctrine is known as Moksha.
- Fowler 2012, p. 46: "Shankara interpreted the whole of the Gita as extolling the path of knowledge as the best means to moksha, and a total identity of the atman with Brahman...,
- John E. Cort (1990), MODELS OF AND FOR THE STUDY OF THE JAINS, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 2, No. 1, Brill Academic, pages 42-71
- Collins 2010, pp. 63-64.
- Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
- Max Müller (2011). Theosophy Or Psychological Religion. Cambridge University Press. pp. 307–310. ISBN 978-1-108-07326-4.
- Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. pp. 216–217. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
- Trainor 2004, p. 68.
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- Helmuth von Glasenapp (1999). Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 234, 492. ISBN 978-81-208-1376-2.
- Sikhism And Indian Civilization By R.K. Pruthi. 2004. p. 200.
- World History: To 1800 By William J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel. 2008. pp. 52, 53.
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 503, entry for "Bhāvanā," retrieved 9 Dec 2008 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.2:1:3558.pali[permanent dead link].
- Monier-Williams (1899), p. 755, see "Bhāvana" and "Bhāvanā," retrieved 9 Dec 2008 from "U. Cologne" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0755-bhAvodaya.pdf.
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The concept of punarmrtyu appeared, which conveys that even those who participated in rituals die again in the life after death when the merit of the ritual runs out.
- Krishan, Yuvraj (1997). The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. pp. 17–27. ISBN 9788120812338.;
The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Volume 8. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1998. p. 533. ISBN 978-0-85229-633-2.
[These Upanishadic texts] record the traditions of sages (Rishis) of the period, notably Yajnavalkya, who was a pioneer of new religious ideas. [...] Throughout the Vedic period, the idea that the world of heaven was not the end – and that even in heaven death was inevitable – had been growing. [...] This doctrine of samsara (reincarnation) is attributed to sage Uddalaka Aruni, [...] In the same text, the doctrine of karma (actions) is attributed to Yajnavalkya...
- Patrul Rinpoche (1998). The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Boston: Shambhala. pp. 95–96. ISBN 978-0-7619-9027-7. Lay summary (PDF).
After enjoying the happiness of a celestial realm, when his merit runs out he will be reborn here.
- Frazier 2011, pp. 84-86, Quote: "They reach the holy world of Indra and enjoy the celestial pleasures of the gods in heaven; but having enjoyed the vast world of heaven, they come back to the world of mortals when their merit runs out. So, by following the injunctions of the three Vedas with a desire for pleasures, they get to travel to and fro. (Mahābhārata 6.31:20–1)".
- Winthrop Sargeant (Translator) (2010). Christopher Key Chapple, ed. The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition. State University of New York Press. p. 397. ISBN 978-1-4384-2840-6.
Having enjoyed the vast world of heaven, they enter the world of mortals when their merit is exhausted. Thus conforming to the law of the three Vedas, Desiring enjoyments, they obtain the state of going and returning.
- Yuvraj Krishan (1988), Is Karma Evolutionary?, Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Volume 6, pages 24-26
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- Collins 2010, p. 31.
- Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
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- Buswell & Lopez 2014, p. 590.
- "nirvana". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
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- Steven Collins (1990). Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 82, 84. ISBN 978-0-521-39726-1.
Like all other things or concepts (dhammā) it is anattā, 'not-self. Whereas all 'conditioned things' (samkhāra - that is, all things produced by karma) are 'unsatisfactory and impermanent' (sabbe samkhāra dukkhā . . . aniccā) all dhammā whatsoever, whether conditioned things or the unconditioned nibbāna, are 'not-self (sabbe dhammā anattā). [...] The absolute indescribability of nirvana, along with its classification as anattā, 'not-self, has helped to keep the separation intact, precisely because of the impossibility of mutual discourse.
- Sue Hamilton (2000). Early Buddhism: A New Approach : the I of the Beholder. Routledge. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-0-7007-1280-9. Quote: "The corrected interpretation they offered, widely accepted to his day, still associated anatta with nirvana. What it means, it was now states, is that in order to achieve liberation you need to understand that you are not, and nor do you have, and nor have you ever been or had, an abiding self."
- Paul Williams; Anthony Tribe (2000). Buddhist Thought. Routledge. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-415-20701-0.
He makes no mention of discovering the True Self in the Anattalakkhana Sutta. As we have seen, the Buddha explains how liberation comes from letting-go of all craving and attachment simply through seeing that things are not Self anatta. That is all there is to it. One cuts the force that leads to rebirth and suffering. There is no need to postulate a Self beyond all this. Indeed any postulated Self would lead to attachment, for it seems that for the Buddha a Self fitting the description could legitimately be a suitable subject of attachment. There is absolutely no suggestion that the Buddha thought there is some additional factor called the Self (or with any other name, but fitting the Self-description) beyond the five aggregates.
- Mun-Keat Choong (1999). The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–4, 85–88. ISBN 978-81-208-1649-7.
Emptiness is a characteristically Buddhist teaching. The present study is concerned with this teaching of emptiness (P. sunnata, Skt. sunyata) as presented in the texts of early Buddhism. [...] The teaching of emptiness is recognized as the central philosophy of early Mahayana. However, this teaching exists in both early Buddhism and early Mahayana Buddhism, where it is connected with the meaning of conditioned genesis, the middle way, nirvana and not-self (P. anatta, Skt. anatman).,
- Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 58–60, 136. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8., Quote (p 59-60): "We may better understand what anatman implies if we examine Nagarjuna's concept of the void: shunyata or emptiness. Nagarjuna argued that there is no such thing as the fundamental nature, or essence, of anything. (...) In a word, all is emptiness, shunyata; instead of essence, there is a void. (...) everything is empty."; Quote (p 136): "What we can say, whichever branch of Buddhism we may have in mind, is that the state of nirvana, to which all Buddhists aspire, is like samadhi, a non-dual state. (...) the Buddhist concept of enlightened mind - bodhichitta - refers to a state beyond desire (dukkha) whereby the one who seeks nirvana has achieved shunyata, the emptiness or void described on pages 58-9."
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Quote: 1. real self of the individual; 2. a person's soul
- Constance Jones; James D. Ryan (2006). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Infobase. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8160-7564-5.; Quote: The atman is the self or soul.
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Advaita and nirguni movements, on the other hand, stress an interior mysticism in which the devotee seeks to discover the identity of individual soul (atman) with the universal ground of being (brahman) or to find god within himself.
- [a] Anatta, Encyclopædia Britannica (2013), Quote: "Anatta in Buddhism, the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying soul. The concept of anatta, or anatman, is a departure from the Hindu belief in atman ("the self").";
[b] Steven Collins (1994), Religion and Practical Reason (Editors: Frank Reynolds, David Tracy), State Univ of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791422175, page 64; "Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman, the opposed doctrine of ātman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence.";
[c] John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism";
[d] Katie Javanaud (2013), Is The Buddhist ‘No-Self’ Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?, Philosophy Now;
[e] David Loy (1982), Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65-74
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Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon.,
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Moksa, from the root muc, "to loose, set free, let go, release, liberate, deliver" [...] means "liberation, escape, freedom, release, rescue, deliverance, final emancipation of the soul.
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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]
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