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Translations of
English salvation,
Pali Nibbāna[1]
Sanskrit निर्वाण (Nirvāṇa)
Bengali নির্বাণ
Burmese နိဗ္ဗာန်
(IPA: [neɪʔbàɴ])
Chinese 涅槃
Japanese 涅槃
(rōmaji: nehan)
Khmer និព្វាន
Korean 열반
(RR: yeolban)
Mon နဳဗာန်
Mongolian γasalang-aca nögcigsen
Shan ၼိၵ်ႈပၢၼ်ႇ
Sinhala නිර්වාණ
Tibetan མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ།
(mya ngan las 'das pa)
Thai นิพพาน (nibbana)
Vietnamese Niết bàn
Glossary of Buddhism

Nirvāṇa (/nɪərˈvɑːnə, -ˈvænə, nər-/;[2] Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāṇa  [nirʋaːɳə]; Pali: निब्बान nibbāna ; Prakrit: णिव्वाण ṇivvāṇa ) literally means "blown out", as in a candle.[3] It is most commonly associated with Buddhism.[web 1][4]

In the Buddhist context, nirvana refers to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.[3] In Hindu philosophy, it is the union with Brahman, the divine ground of existence, and the experience of blissful egolessness.[5]

In Indian religions, the attainment of nirvana is moksha,[note 1] liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.[7][8][note 2]


The word nirvāṇa is from the verbal root √ “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 is used in the sense of “dead” in the Mahābhārata (i.e. “life extinguished”). [Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary sv nirvāṇa]

Nirvāṇa is composed of the three phones ni and va and na:

  • ni (realized as nir, nis, nih): “out, away from, without”, used to negate
  • : “blowing” as in “blowing of the wind”, also as “smelling”[9]
  • na: a suffix that turns into a past participle.


The abhidharma-mahāvibhāsa-sāstra, a sarvastivādin commentary, 3rd century BCE and later, describes[10] the possible etymological interpretations of the word nirvana. [note 3][note 4]

Vana +Nir Nature of nirvana[11]
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, 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


Nirvāṇa is a term used in Hinduism,[12][13] Jainism,[14] Buddhism,[13][15] and Sikhism.[16] It refers to the profound peace of mind that is acquired with moksha, liberation from samsara, or release from a state of suffering, after an often lengthy period of bhāvanā[note 5] or sādhanā.

The idea of moksha is connected to the Vedic culture, where it conveyed a notion of amrtam, "immortality",[20][21] and also a notion of a timeless, "unborn", or "the still point of the turning world of time".[20] It was also its timeless structure, the whole underlying "the spokes of the invariable but incessant wheel of time".[20][note 6] 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.[20][note 7] The continuation of life after death came to be seen as dependent on sacrificial action, karma,[22] These ideas further developed into the notion of insight into the real nature of the timeless Brahman and the paramatman.[23] 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."[24]

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 in the Bhagavad Gita of the Mahabharata.[4]


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

The terms moksa and nirvana are often used interchangeably in the Jain texts.[25][26] In Jainism, moksha (liberation) follows nirvāṇa.[citation needed] Nirvana means final release from the karmic bondage. An arhat becomes a siddha ("one who is accomplished") after nirvāṇa.[citation needed] When an enlightened human, such as an arihant or a Tirthankara, extinguishes his remaining aghatiya karmas and thus ends his worldly existence, it is called nirvāṇa. Jains celebrate Diwali as the day of nirvāṇa of Mahavira.[note 8] Uttaradhyana Sutra provides an account of Gautama explaining the meaning of nirvāṇa to Kesi, a disciple of Parshva.[28]

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 the Buddhist tradition, nirvana is described as the extinguishing of the fires that cause suffering.[29] These fires are typically identified as the fires of attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidya). When the fires are extinguished, suffering (dukkha) comes to an end. The cessation of suffering is described as complete peace.[30][31]

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:[32]

The state of perfect peace that comes when craving is eliminated is Nibbāna (nirvāna), the unconditioned state experienced while alive with the extinguishing of the flames of greed, aversion, and delusion.[33]


According to Zaehner and "many commentators", nirvana is a Buddhist term rather than a Hindu term.[4] The term nirvana was not used in Hinduism prior to its use in the Bhagavad Gita, though according to van Buitenen the use of the term was not confined to Buddhism at the time the Bhagavad Gita was written.[4] According to Johnson the use of the term nirvana is borrowed from the Buddhists to link the Buddhist state of liberation with Brahman, the supreme or absolute principle of the Upanishads and the Vedic tradition.[4]


In Hinduism, moksha is the liberation from the cycle of birth and death and one's worldly conception of self. According to Hindson & Caner, when a person achieves moksha, they have reached nirvana;[34] while according to Flood, "The attainment of nirvana is thus moksa."[7]

Moksha is derived from the root mu(n)c (Sanskrit: मुच्), which means free, let go, release, liberate.[35][36] In Vedas and early Upanishads, the word mucyate (Sanskrit: मुच्यते)[35] appears, which means to be set free or release - such as of a horse from its harness.

According to Aurobindo, the last bondage is the passion for liberation itself, which must be renounced before the soul can be perfectly free, and the last knowledge is the realisation that there is none bound, none desirous of freedom, but the soul is for ever and perfectly free, that bondage is an illusion and the liberation from bondage is an illusion too.[37]

Brahmanirvana in the Bhagavad Gita

Brahma nirvana (nirvana in Brahman) is the state of release or liberation; the union with the divine ground of existence (Brahman) and the experience of blissful ego-lessness.[5] The term brahmanirvana is used 5 times in the Bhagavad Gita:[citation needed]

  • verse 2.72: sthitvāsyāmantakāle'pi brahmanirvāṇamṛcchati
  • 5.24 (and following 2 verses): sa yogī brahmanirvāṇaṃ brahmabhūto'dhigacchati
  • 6.15: śāntiṃ nirvāṇaparamāṃ matsaṃsthāmadhigacchati

According to Helena Blavatsky, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that Brahma nirvana 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.[38][39]

According to Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of nirvana are different:

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].[40]

According to Gavin Flood, the Bhagavad-gītā it seems to be contrasted deliberately with the Buddhist understanding, because it is described as the attainment of Brahman ('He who forsakes all objects of desire and goes about without cravings, desires or self-centredness attains serene peace.... Staying in this state, even in his last hour, he attains brahmanirvāṇa', 2. 71 f.), and the yogin is described not (as in Buddhism) as a candle blown out, but as 'a candle flame away from a draught which does not flicker' (6, 19) The attainment of nirvana is thus mokṣa.[7]

See also


  1. Also called vimoksha, vimukti and mukti. 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,[6] a state of perfect quietude, freedom, and deliverance.[web 2] See also Thiện Châu (Thích.) (1999), The Literature of the Personalists of Early Buddhism, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p.62
  2. Jain: "Technically, the death of an arhat is called enlightenment of Arhat, as he has ended his worldly existence and achieved nirvana. Moksh, that is to say, deliverance, follows enlightenment."[8]
  3. 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" are common in the literature. For example, the three roots can also refer to grace, accomplishment, and activity.
  4. The knot, is both auspicious and ominous. The prospect of another life is equivalent to the prospects of samsara
  5. Meaning development" or "cultivating" or "producing"[17][18] in the sense of "calling into existence",[19]
  6. 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.
  7. See also Heaven (Christianity) and Walhalla
  8. Kalpasutra gives an elaborate account of Mahavira’s nirvāṇa.:[27] "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)"


  1. "The Signless Nibbana (Nirvana)". Sayalay Susila Organisation Network. Appamada Vihari Meditation Center. Retrieved 22 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "nirvana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benāres to Modern Colombo. Routledge
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Fowler 2012, p. 48.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Easwaran 2007, p. 268.
  6. "IN THE PRESENCE OF NIBBANA:Developing Faith in the Buddhist Path to Enlightenment". Retrieved 22 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Gavin Flood, Nirvana. In: John Bowker (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jain 2009, p. 67.
  9. "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”<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. T K Parthasarathy (February 8, 2011). "Working Towards nirvANa and New Humanity (1 of 2)". Advaita Academy. Retrieved 6 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Direct quotes
  12. Hindson 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 World History: To 1800 By William J. Duiker, Jackson J. Spielvogel. 2008. pp. 52, 53.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Jain 2009, p. 7.
  15. Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide By Kevin Trainor. 2004. p. 68.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Sikhism And Indian Civilization By R.K. Pruthi. 2004. p. 200.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 503, entry for "Bhāvanā," retrieved 9 Dec 2008 from "U. Chicago" at
  18. Monier-Williams (1899), p. 755, see "Bhāvana" and "Bhāvanā," retrieved 9 Dec 2008 from "U. Cologne" at
  19. Nyanatiloka 1980, p. 67.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Collins 2010, p. 29.
  21. Collins 1998, p. 136.
  22. Collins 2010, p. 30.
  23. Collins 2010, p. 30-31.
  24. Collins 2010, p. 31.
  25. Jaini, Padmanabh (2000). Collected Papers on Jaina Studies. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 81-208-1691-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>: "Moksa and Nirvana are synonymous in Jainism". p.168
  26. Michael Carrithers, Caroline Humphrey (1991) The Assembly of listeners: Jains in society Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521365058: "Nirvana: A synonym for liberation, release, moksa." p.297
  27. Jacobi, Hermann; Ed. F. Max Müller (1884). Kalpa Sutra, Jain Sutras Part I, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 22. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Jacobi, Hermann; Ed. F. Max Müller (1895). Uttaradhyayana Sutra, Jain Sutras Part II, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 45. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "nirvana". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Nibbana". Access to Insight. Retrieved 22 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Mind Like Fire Unbound". Access to Insight. Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2011, p. 25.
  33. "Dhamma Talks for attaining Peacefrom Knowing and Seeing a Handful of Leaves". Retrieved 22 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Hindson, Ed; Caner, Ergun (2008). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. Harvest House Publishers. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-7369-2084-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. 35.0 35.1 मुच Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary, Germany (2008)
  36. Sten Rohde, Deliver us from Evil: studies on the Vedic ideas of salvation, Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen, pp 25-35
  37. Aurobindo Ghosh, sri (1990), The life divine, Lotus Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Bhagavad Gita 5.24, 5,25, 5.26
  39. H. P. Blavatsky, Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, March to August 1893, p. 11<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. 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]<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Online references


  • Collins, Steven (1998), Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities, Cambridge University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Collins, Steven (2004), Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative, Cambridge University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Duiker, William J.; Spielvogel, Jackson J. (2008). World History: To 1800.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Easwaran, Eknath (2007), The Bhagavad Gita – Classics of Indian Spirituality, Nilgiri Press, p. 268<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Book can be accessed at [1] or [2]
  • Fowler, Jeaneane D. (2012), The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students, Sussex Academic Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hindson, Ed (2008). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nyanatiloka Mahathera (1980), Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Terms And Doctrines (4th ed.), Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pruthi, R.K. (2004). Sikhism And Indian Civilization.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Trainor, Kevin (2004). Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Ajahn Brahm, "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook" (Wisdom Publications 2006) Part II.
  • Lindtner, Christian (1997). "Problems of Pre-Canonical Buddhism" (PDF). Buddhist Studies Review. 14 (2).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Katukurunde Nanananda, "Nibbana - The Mind Stilled (Vol. I-VII)" (Dharma Grantha Mudrana Bharaya, 2012).
  • Kawamura, Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1981, pp. 11.
  • Yogi Kanna, "Nirvana: Absolute Freedom" (Kamath Publishing; 2011) 198 pages.
  • Steven Collins. Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative (Cambridge University Press; 2010) 204 page.

External links