Nirvāṇa (// neer-VAH-nə, /-/ -VAN-ə, /-/ nur-; Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāṇa [nɪɽʋaːɳɐ]; Pali: nibbāna; Prakrit: ṇivvāṇa; literally, "blown out", as in an oil lamp) is a concept in Indian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism) that represents the ultimate state of soteriological release, the liberation from duḥkha and saṃsāra.[web 1]
|English||lit. "blown out"; extinction of the three fires that cause rebirth|
|Mongolian||Нирваан дүр |
(mya ngan las 'das pa)
|Glossary of Buddhism|
|Glossary of Hinduism terms|
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 as well as the liberation from attachment and worldly suffering and the ending of samsara, the round of existence. However, non-Buddhist and Buddhist traditions describe these terms for liberation differently. 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, nirvana is also the soteriological goal, representing the release of a soul from karmic bondage and samsara. 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. To achieve this status, one has to get rid of three psychological evils – Raga (greed, desire), Dwesha (anger) and Moha (delusion).
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." 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. Collins says the word nirvāṇa 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 sounds: the v of vāna causes nis to become nir, and then the r of nir causes retroflexion of the following n: nis+vāna > nirvāṇa). However the Buddhist meaning of nirvana also has other interpretations.
L. S. Cousins said that in popular usage nirvana was "the goal of Buddhist discipline,... the final removal of the disturbing mental elements which obstruct a peaceful and clear state of mind, together with a state of awakening from the mental sleep which they induce."
Nirvāṇa is a term found in the texts of all major Indian religions – Hinduism, Jainism Buddhism, 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 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] Some writers believe the concept was adopted by other Indian religions after it became established in Buddhism, but with different meanings and description, for instance the use of (Moksha) in the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita of the Mahabharata.
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.
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 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 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 (Sanskrit: marga) to moksha: jnana-marga, the path of knowledge; bhakti-marga, the path of devotion; and karma-marga, the path of action.
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).However, in 1926, Gandhi delivered a series of discourses on the Gita in the Sabarmati ashram in which he explained that there was no difference between the nias stated by a Buddha and the nirvana of the Gita. They referred to the same state. He related how once the Buddha had fainted while fasting and a woman placed a few drops of milk on his lips... “Did the milk rouse his appetite? No; on the contrary, he realized God soon after.” The Buddha’s nirvana was only “a seeming inertness,” not shunya [nothingness]. It is “perfeinterestednessed s.”16[clarification needed] He had written in a letter earlier that he drew “no distinction between Buddhistic nirvana and the Bnrof ahama Shankara,” as he believed in the complete annihilation of one’s individually as being “an absolute condition of perfect joya and peace.”
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. In sikhism Nirvana is not an after life concept but a goal for the living. Furthermore Sikh nirvana/mukti is achieved thru devotion to satguru/truth who sets you free from reincarnation bharam/superstition/false belief.
Buddhism: the soteriological goal is nirvana, liberation from the wheel of samsara and extinction of all desires, cravings and suffering.
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.
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...
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] ...
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 ground 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.
[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.
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.
[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...
After enjoying the happiness of a celestial realm, when his merit runs out he will be reborn here.
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.
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.
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).,
Quote: 1. real self of the individual; 2. a person's soul
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.
Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon.,
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.
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]