AskDefine | Define nirvana

Dictionary Definition



1 (Hinduism and Buddhism) the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness [syn: enlightenment]
2 any place of complete bliss and delight and peace [syn: eden, paradise, heaven, promised land, Shangri-la]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Sanskrit निर्वाण, "eternal", "absolution","eternal", "final liberation"


  • /nɪəˈvɑːnə/ (British English), /nɪrˈvɑːnə/ (American English)
  • Rhymes: -ɑːnə


  1. In the context of "Buddhism": The absence of all attachment to longing.
  2. In the context of "Buddhism": A blissful state attained through recognition of no-self; enlightenment.
  3. In non-Buddhist usage, state of paradise; heightened or great pleasure.


absence of longing
state of pleasure
Buddhist state of bliss



  1. nirvana

Extensive Definition

Nirvana (, ; , ; Prakrit: णिव्वाण, ; ; , Mandarin: nièpán, Cantonese: nihppùhn; , nehan; , yeolban; , nibpan; ; ; lang-my nate ban edAmef); is a Sanskrit word that literally means "to cease blowing" (as when a candle flame ceases to flicker) and/or extinguishing (that is, of the passions). It is a sramana philosophical concept, used by the Jains and the Buddhists, to describe the enlightenment and liberation of their respective teachers.
Nibbāna is a word used by the Buddha to describe the perfect peace of the mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states (kilesa). This peace, which is in reality the fundamental nature of the mind, is revealed when the root causes of the afflictive states are dissolved. The causes themselves (see sankhara) lie deep within the mind (that part of the mind that Western psychology calls the subconscious) but their undoing is gradually achieved by living a disciplined life (see eightfold path). In Nibbana the root causes of craving and aversion have been extinguished such that one is no longer subject to human suffering (dukkha) or further states of rebirths in samsara. Buddhist scholar, Prof. Herbert Guenther, states of Nirvana: "The notion of Nirvana is a transcendental postulate, which can only be proven psychologically/subjectively, not scientifically. Yet all highest and final goals lead towards it; indeed, it appears even to constitute the very commencement of the entire spiritual life ...With the reaching of Nirvana the Path has come to its end and reached its goal. The Self-realisation which was striven after and which here becomes Reality, signifies the ideal personality, the true human being." (Guenther, The Problem of the Soul in Early Buddhism, Curt Weller Verlag, Constanz, 1949, pp. 156-157). The Buddha in the Dhammapada says of nirvana that it is "the highest happiness". This happiness is rather an enduring, transcendental happiness integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment or bodhi, than the happiness of blindful entertainment. The knowledge accompanying nirvana is expressed through the word bodhi. 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 nirvana. Technically, the death of an Arhat is called nirvana of Arhat, as he has ended his wordly existence and attained liberation. Moksa, that is to say, liberation follows nirvana. An Arhat becomes a siddha, the liberated one, after attaining nirvana.

Nirvana in Buddhism

The Buddha explains nirvana as "the unconditioned" (asankhata) mind, a mind that has come to a point of perfect lucidity and clarity due to the absence of volitional formations. This being is described by the Buddha as "deathlessness" (Pali: amata or amaravati) and as the highest spiritual attainment, the natural result that accrues to one who lives a life of virtuous conduct and practise in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path. Such a life dissolves the causes for future becoming (Skt, karma; Pali, kamma) that otherwise keep beings forever wandering through the impermanent and suffering-generating realms of desire, form, and formlessness, termed samsara.


Nirvana in sutra is never conceived of as a place (such as one might conceive heaven), but rather the antinomy of samsara (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 nirvana is compared to the ending of avidyā (ignorance) which perpetuates the will (cetana) into effecting the incarnation of mind into biological or other form passing on forever through life after life (samsara).Samsara is caused principally by craving and ignorance (see dependent origination). nirvana, then, is not a place nor a state, it is an absolute truth to be realized, and a person can do so without dying. When a person who has realized nirvana dies, his death is referred as his (Pali: parinibbana), his fully passing away, as his life was his last link to the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara), and he will not be reborn again. Buddhism holds that the ultimate goal and end of samsaric existence (of ever "becoming" and "dying" and never truly being) is realization of nirvana; what happens to a person after his cannot be explained, as it is outside of all conceivable experience.
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.

Nirvana and samsara

In Mahāyāna Buddhism, calling nirvana the "opposite" of samsara or implying that it is apart from samsara is doctrinally problematic. According to early Mahāyāna Buddhism, they can be considered to be two aspects of the same perceived reality. By the time of Nāgārjuna, there are teachings of the identity of nirvana and samsara. However, even here it is assumed that the natural man suffers from at the very least a confusion regarding the nature of samsara.
In Burton Watson's most recent translation of the Lotus Sutra, Nirvana is described in the "Expedient Means Chapter" as an expedient means teaching, which was meant "For those of dull capacities/Who delight in a little Law/...are perplexed and confused/By a host of troubles."
Shakyamuni says in this chapter:
"Shariputra, listen carefully for the Law the Buddhas have attained, Through the power of Countless Expedient means They preach for the Benefit of living beings. The thoughts that are in the minds Of living beings, The different types of paths They follow, Their various desires and natures, The good and bad deeds They have done in previous existences – All these the Buddha Takes cognizance of, And then he employs causes, Similes, and parables, Words that embody the power Of expedient means, In order to gladden and Please them all. Sometimes he preaches sutras, Verses, stories of the Previous lives of disciples, Stories of the previous lives Of the Buddha, Of unheard-of things. At other times he preaches Regarding cause and conditions, Uses similes, parables, Passages of poetry or discourses. For those of dull capacities Who delight in a little Law, Who greedily cling to Birth and death, Who, despite the Innumerable Buddhas, Fail to practice the Profound and wonderful way But are perplexed and confused By a host of troubles – For these I preach nirvana. I devise these expedient means and So cause them to enter into the Buddha wisdom (Lotus Sutra P. 34)."
The Theravāda school makes the antithesis of samsara and Nibbāna the starting point of the entire quest for deliverance. Even more, it treats this antithesis as determinative of the final goal, which is precisely the transcendence of samsara and the attainment of liberation in Nibbāna. Where Theravada differs significantly from the Mahāyāna schools, which also start with the duality of samsara and nirvana, is in not regarding this polarity as a mere preparatory lesson tailored for those with blunt faculties, to be eventually superseded by some higher realization of non-duality. From the standpoint of the Pāli Suttas, even for the Buddha and the Arahants suffering and its cessation, samsara and Nibbāna, remain distinct.
In the experience of all, nirvana is a state which all six bases (Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body and Mind) cannot feel.
It is probably best to understand the relationship between nirvana and samsara in terms of the Buddha while on earth. Buddha was both in saṃsāra while having attained to Nirvāṇa so that he was seen by all, and simultaneously free from samsara.

Nirvana in Buddhist commentaries

Sarvastivādin commentary, Abhidharma-mahavibhāsa-sāstra, gives the complete context of the possible meanings from its Sanskrit roots:
  • Vāna, implying the path of rebirth, + nir, meaning leaving off' or "being away from the path of rebirth."
  • Vāna, meaning 'stench', + nir, meaning "freedom": "freedom from the stench of distressing kamma."
  • Vāna, meaning "dense forests", + nir, meaning "to get rid of" = "to be permanently rid of the dense forest of the five aggregates" (panca skandha), or the "three roots of greed, hate and delusion" (lobha, dosa, moha) or "three characteristics of existence" (impermanence, anitya; unsatisfactoriness, dukkha, soullessness, anàtma).
  • Vāna, meaning "weaving", + nir, meaning "knot" = "freedom from the knot of the distressful thread of kamma."

Nirvana in the Sūtra

The nature of nirvana assumes a differently aspected Mahāyāna focus in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra or Nirvana Sutra, which alleges to be the final of all Mahāyāna sutras, delivered - the sutra indicates - by the Buddha on his last day of life on earth. Here, as well as in a number of related "tathagatagarbha" sutras, in which the Tathagatagarbha is equated with the Buddha's eternal Self or eternal nature, nirvana is spoken of by the Mahāyāna Buddha in very "cataphatic", positive terms. Nirvana, or "Great Nirvana", is indicated to be the sphere or domain (vishaya) of the True Self. It is seen as the state which constitutes the attainment of what is "Eternal, the Self, Bliss, and the Pure". ("Great Nirvana") thus becomes equivalent to the ineffable, unshakeable, blissful, all-pervading and deathless Selfhood of the Buddha himself - a mystery which no words can adequately reach and which, according to the Sutra, can only be fully known by an Awakened Being - a perfect Buddha - directly.
The Buddha of the Sutra gives the following definition of the attributes of nirvana, which includes the ultimate reality of the Self (not to be confused with the "worldly ego" of the five skandhas):
The attributes of nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation (nirodha), loveliness/wholesomeness (subha), Truth (satya), Reality (tattva), eternity (nitya), bliss (sukha), the Self (atman), and complete purity (parisuddhi): that is nirvana.
He further states: "Non-Self is samsara (the cycle of rebirth); the Self (atman) is ."
An important facet of nirvana in general is that it is not something that comes about from a concatenation of causes, that springs into existence as a result of an act of creation or an agglomeration of causative factors: it was never created; it always was, is and will be. But due to the moral and mental darkness of ordinary, samsarically benighted sentient beings, it remains hidden from unawakened perception. The Buddha of the insists on its eternal nature and affirms its identity with the enduring, blissful Self, saying:
It is not the case that the inherent nature of nirvana did not primordially exist but now exists. If the inherent nature of nirvana did not primordially exist but does now exist, then it would not be free from taints (āsravas) nor would it be eternally (nitya) present in nature. Regardless of whether there are Buddhas or not, its intrinsic nature and attributes are eternally present ... Because of the obscuring darkness of the mental afflictions (kileśas), beings do not see it. The Tathāgata, endowed with omniscient awareness (sarvajñā-jñāna), lights the lamp of insight with his skill-in-means (upāya-kauśalya) and causes Bodhisattvas to perceive the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure of nirvana.
Vitally, according to these Mahāyāna teachings, any being who has reached nirvana is not blotted out or extinguished: there is the extinction of the impermanent and suffering-prone "worldly self" or ego, comprised of the five changeful skandhas, but not of the immortal "supramundane" Self of the indwelling Buddha Principle [Buddha-dhatu]. Spiritual death for such a nirvana-ed being becomes an utter impossibility. The Buddha states in the "" (Tibetan version): "Nirvana is deathless ... Those who have passed into nirvana are deathless. I say that anybody who is endowed with careful assiduity is not compounded and, even though they involve themselves in compounded things, they do not age, they do not die, they do not perish."

Paths to nirvana in the Pali canon

In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, v. 6 (Buddhaghosa & , 1999, pp. 6-7), Buddhaghosa identifies various options within the Pali canon for pursuing a path to nirvana, including:
  1. by insight (vipassana) alone (see Dh. 277)
  2. by jhana and understanding (see Dh. 372)
  3. by deeds, vision and righteousness (see MN iii.262)
  4. by virtue, consciousness and understanding (7SN i.13)
  5. by virtue, understanding, concentration and effort (see SN i.53)
  6. by the four foundations of mindfulness (see Satipatthana Sutta, DN ii.290)
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 and wisdom.


  • Gautama Buddha:
    • "Nirvana is the highest happiness." [Dp 204]
    • "Where there is nothing; where naught is grasped, there is the Isle of No-Beyond. Nirvana 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 nirvana'; this means the subjugation of the five aggregates means nirvana.” [SN-Att. 2.123]
    • "Parinibbuto thitatto" -" is to be fixed in the Soul" [Sn 372]
  • Said immediately after the physical death of Gotama Buddha wherein his mind (citta) is ==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 (Brahman) he no longer bears sensations; illumined and unbound (nibbana), his mind (citta) is definitely (ahu) liberated.”
    • [SN 3.45] “The mind (citta) being so liberated and arisen from defilements, one is fixed in the Soul as liberation, one is quelled in fixation upon the Soul. Quelled in the Soul one is unshakable. So being unshakable, the very Soul is thoroughly unbound ().”
  • Sutta Nipāta, tr. Rune Johansson:
    • 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.
  • Venerable Sariputta:
    • The destruction of greed, hatred and delusion is nirvana.

Nirvana in Jainism

Nirvana in Jainism means :-
  1. Death of an Arhat, who becomes liberated thereafter, and
  2. Moksa (Jainism)

Description of nirvana of a Tirthankara in Jain Texts

Jains celebrate Diwali as the day of Nirvana of Mahavira. Kalpasutra gives an elaborate account of Mahavira’s nirvana.

Nirvana as Moksa

Uttaradhyana Sutra provides an account of Gautama explaining the meaning of nirvana to Kesi a disciple of Parsva.
nirvana in Bulgarian: Нирвана
nirvana in Catalan: Nirvana
nirvana in Czech: Nirvána (buddhismus)
nirvana in Danish: Nirvana
nirvana in German: Nirwana
nirvana in Estonian: Nirvaana
nirvana in Modern Greek (1453-): Νιρβάνα
nirvana in Spanish: Nirvana
nirvana in Esperanto: Nirvano
nirvana in Persian: نیروانا
nirvana in French: Nirvāna
nirvana in Galician: Nirvana
nirvana in Korean: 열반
nirvana in Croatian: Nirvana
nirvana in Indonesian: Nirwana
nirvana in Italian: Nirvana (religione)
nirvana in Hebrew: נירוואנה
nirvana in Lithuanian: Nirvana (religija)
nirvana in Dutch: Nirwana
nirvana in Japanese: 涅槃
nirvana in Norwegian: Nirvana
nirvana in Norwegian Nynorsk: Nirvana
nirvana in Uzbek: Nirvana
nirvana in Pushto: نېروانا
nirvana in Polish: Nirwana
nirvana in Portuguese: Nirvana
nirvana in Romanian: Nirvana
nirvana in Russian: Нирвана
nirvana in Sinhala: නිර්වාණය
nirvana in Simple English: Nirvana
nirvana in Slovak: Nirvána
nirvana in Slovenian: Nirvana
nirvana in Serbian: Нирвана
nirvana in Serbo-Croatian: Nirvana
nirvana in Finnish: Nirvana
nirvana in Swedish: Nirvana
nirvana in Tagalog: Nirvana
nirvana in Thai: นิพพาน
nirvana in Vietnamese: Niết-bàn
nirvana in Turkish: Nirvana (Budizm)
nirvana in Ukrainian: Нірвана
nirvana in Samogitian: Nirvana
nirvana in Chinese: 涅槃

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Buddha-field, Canaan, Civitas Dei, KO, Lethe, New Jerusalem, Zion, absentmindedness, anorexia, anorexia nervosa, ataraxia, ataraxy, blackout, blank mind, blankmindedness, blankness, bliss, calm of mind, calmness, catalepsy, catatonia, catatony, coma, composure, contemplation, decay of memory, desirelessness, devachan, devaloka, elysium, emptiness of mind, empty-headedness, empyrean, faint, fallow mind, fatuity, foolishness, forgetfulness, forgetting, forgiveness, grayout, happy hunting ground, hazy recollection, heedlessness, imperturbability, inanity, inappetence, kamaloka, kamavachara, kayo, knockout, lack of appetite, lipothymia, lipothymy, lovelessness, lucid stillness, marmoreal repose, mental blankness, nepenthe, nirvana principle, nothingness, obliteration, oblivion, obliviousness, paradise, passionlessness, passivity, peace, peacefulness, placidity, placidness, quiescence, quiescency, quiet, quietism, quietness, quietude, repose, rest, restfulness, satori, semiconsciousness, senselessness, serenity, short memory, silence, silken repose, sleep, slumber, stillness, stupor, swoon, syncope, tabula rasa, thoughtfreeness, thoughtlessness, tranquillity, unambitiousness, unconsciousness, undesirousness, uneagerness, unintelligence, unmindfulness, vacancy, vacuity, waters of oblivion, wise passiveness
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