Nirvana (Buddhism)

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Translations of
English blowing out,
Pali nibbāna (निब्बान)
Sanskrit nirvāṇa (निर्वाण)
Bengali নির্বাণ
Burmese နိဗ္ဗာန်
(IPA: [neɪʔbàɴ])
Chinese 涅槃
Japanese 涅槃
(rōmaji: nehan)
Khmer និពាន្វ (nik pean)
Korean 열반
(RR: yeolban)
Mon နဳဗာန်
Mongolian γasalang-aca nögcigsen
Shan ၼိၵ်ႈပၢၼ်ႇ
Sinhala නිවන
Tibetan མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ།
(mya ngan las 'das pa)
Thai นิพพาน
Vietnamese Niết bàn
Glossary of Buddhism

Nirvana (Sanskrit, also nirvāṇa; Pali: nibbana, nibbāna ) is the earliest and most common term used to describe the goal of the Buddhist path.[1] The term is ambiguous, and has several meanings.[2] The literal meaning is "blowing out" or "quenching."[3]

Within the Buddhist tradition, this term has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the "three fires",[4] or "three poisons",[5][1][note 1] passion, (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidyā).[1] When these fires are extinguished, release from the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra) is attained.

In time, with the development of Buddhist doctrine, other interpretations were given, such as the absence of the weaving (vana) of activity of the mind,[3] the elimination of desire, and escape from the woods, cq. the five skandhas or aggregates.

Buddhist tradition distinguishes between nirvana in this lifetime and nirvana after death. In "nirvana-in-this-lifetime" physical life continues, but with a state of mind that is free from negative mental states, peaceful, happy, and non-reactive. With "nirvana-after-death", parinirvana, the last remains of physical life vanish, and no further rebirth takes place.

Nirvana is the highest aim of the Theravada-tradition. In the Mahayana tradition, the highest goal is Buddhahood, in which there is no abiding in Nirvana, but a Buddha re-enters the world to work for the salvation of all sentient beings.

Although "non-self" and "impermanence" are accepted doctrines within most Buddhist schools, the teachings on nirvana reflect a strand of thought in which nirvana is seen as a transcendental, "deathless" realm, in which there is no time and no "re-death." This strand of thought may reflect pre-Buddhist influences, and has survived especially in Mahayana-Buddhism and the idea of the Buddha-nature.



The term nirvana describes a state of freedom from suffering and rebirth,[2] but its meaning is ambiguous, and several interpretations are possible.[2][quote 1] The origin is probably pre-Buddhist,[2][3] and its etymology may not be conclusive for its meaning.[3] The term was a more or less central concept among the Jains, the Ajivikas, the Buddhists, and certain Hindu strands,[2] and it may have been imported into Buddhism with much of its semantic range from other sramanic movements.[2] It has a wide range of meanings,[2] although the literal meaning is "blowing out" or "quenching".[3] It refers both to the act and the effect of blowing (at something) to put it out, but also the process and outcome of burning out, becoming extinguished.[2][quote 2]


In the Buddhist tradition, nirvana, "to blow out",[6] has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the "three fires",[4] or "three poisons",[5][1][note 1] passion, (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidyā).[1] Traditionally many Buddhists have preferred to explain it as the absence of the weaving (vana) of activity of the mind.[3]

The prevalent interpretation of nirvana as "extinction" is based on the etymology of nir√vā to "blow out".[7] Nir is a negative, while va is commonly taken to refer to "to blow",[7]

The term nirvana is part of an extensive metaphorical structure, which was probably established at a very early age in Buddhism. According to Gombrich, the number of three fires alludes to the three fires which a Brahmin had to keep alight, and thereby symbolise life in the world, as a family-man.[5][8] The meaning of this metaphor was lost in later Buddhism,[5][quote 3] and other explanations of the word nirvana were sought. Not only passion, hatred and delusion were to extinguished, but also all cankers (asava) or defilements (khlesa).[8][note 2] Later exegetical works developed a whole new set of etymological definitions of the word nirvana, taking vana not only to refer to "to blow", but also to "weaving, "desire" and "wood":[11]

  • vâna, derived from (root word) √vā:[web 1]
    • (to) blow (of wind); but also to emit (an odour), be wafted or diffused;[web 1] nirvana then means "to blow out";[6][note 3]
    • "sewing, weaving";[8] nirvana then means "abandoning the desire which weaves together life [after] life (by means of) action (karma) and its result."[8][note 4]
  • vāna,[8] derived from (root word) van:[8] [web 1]
    • "to desire";[8] nirvana then means "without desire,"[8] "the elimination of desire, craving, thirst and so on’ (all of which create bondage)."[web 1][quote 4]
    • "wood",[8][web 1] which refers to the five aggregates;[8] nirvana then means "escape from the aggregates".[8][note 5]

The "blowing out" does not mean total annihilation,[3] but the extinguishing of a flame, which is not annihilated but returns to the space where it came from, and exists in another way.[15] The term nirvana can also be used as a verb: "he or she nirvāṇa-s," or "he or she parinirvānṇa-s" (parinibbāyati).[16][quote 5]

To uncover

Matsumoto argues for the etymology of nir√vŗ, to "uncover":[7] According to Matsumoto, the original meaning of nirvana was not “extinction” but "to uncover." It is "the liberation of the atman from what is not atman." This is the liberation of the "spirit" (purusha) from the "body" (prakriti).[7][note 6]


Nirvana is used synonymously with moksha (Sanskrit), also vimoksha, or vimutti (Pali), "release, deliverance".[web 2][note 7] In the Pali-canon two kinds of vimutti are discerned:[web 2]

  • Pañña-vimutti, freedom through understanding; it is brought about by understanding (prajña), which develops from the practice of insight meditation (vipassanā).
  • Ceto-vimutti, freedom of mind; it arises out of the practice of concentration meditation (samādhi).

Ceto-vimutti is a partial release, while pañña-vimutti is final release. According to Gombrich, this difference is a later development within the canon, reflecting a growing emphasis in earliest Buddhism on prajña, instead of the liberating practice of dhyana.[17]

Nirvana is liberation

Release from samsara

Eightfold path

By following the Noble Eightfold Path, which culminates in the practice of dhyana, the mind is brought to rest and the three fires are extinguished .[18] In later Buddhism, this practice was deemed sufficient only for the extinguishing of passion and hatred, while delusion was extinguished by insight.[9]

End of rebirth

Samyutta Nikaya 31,1 states:

The extinction of greed, the extinction of hate, the extinction of delusion: this indeed is called Nirvana.[19]

When the fires of attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidya), are extinguished, liberation from rebirth is attained:

For as long as one is entangled by craving, one remains bound in saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death; but when all craving has been extirpated, one attains Nibbāna, deliverance from the cycle of birth and death.[20][quote 6][quote 7]

When the fires are extinguished, the formation of thee saṅkhāra is also ended. By uprooting the sanskara (volitional dispositions) one is no longer subject to further rebirth in samsāra.

A liberated person performs neutral actions (Pali: kiriya kamma), which don't produce karmic results or fruit (vipaka), but nonetheless preserves a particular individual personality. This is the result of the traces of his or her karmic heritage.[29]

Various goals

In early Buddhism, Nirvana is used as a synonym for vimutti, release (from samsara), as the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path.[quote 8] This goal is still prevalent in contemporary Theravada-Buddhism.[quote 9] In Mahayana-Buddhism, the attainment of nirvana is seen as a lesser goal; the highest goal is the attainment of Buddhahood.[33][34][35] According to Mahayana Buddhism, a Buddha does not abide in an isolated nirvana, but out of compassion engages in enlightened activity to liberate all sentient beings. [36][quote 10]

Nirvana with and without remainder of fuel

In the Buddhist tradition, a distinction is made between the extinguishing of the fires during life, and the final "blowing out" at the moment of death:[37][quote 11]

  • Sa-upādisesa-nibbāna (Pali; Sanskrit sopadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa), "nirvana with remainder", "nirvana with residue."[37] Nirvana is attained during one's life, when the fires are extinguished.[40] There is still the "residue" of the five skandhas, and a "residue of fuel", which however is not "burning".[37][quote 12] Nirvana-in-this-life is believed to result in a transformed mind with qualities such as happiness,[note 8] freedom of negative mental states,[quote 13] peacefulness[quote 14] and non-reactiveness.[quote 15]
  • An-up ādisesa-nibbāna (Pali; Sanskrit nir-upadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa), "nirvana without remainder," "nirvana without residue". This is the final nirvana, or parinirvana or "blowing out" at the moment of death, when there is no fuel left.[40][quote 16]

Gombrich explains that the five skandhas or aggregates are the bundles of firewood that fuel the three fires.[13] The Buddhist practitioner ought to "drop" these bundles, so that the fires are no longer fueled and "blow out".[14] When this is done, the bundles still remain as long as this life continues, but they are no longer "on fire."[40]

What happens with one who has reached nirvana after death is an unanswerable question.[51][quote 17] The five aggregates vanish, but there does not remain a mere "nothingness."[51] [quote 18][quote 19]


In Theravada the arahant abiding in nirvāṇa is "the ideal personality, the true human being".[54]


In the Theravada-tradition, nirvana is regarded as an uncompounded or unconditioned state of being which is "transmundane",[55][note 9] and which is beyond our normal dualistic conceptions.[57][quote 20]

O bhikkhus, what is the Absolute (Asaṃkhata, Unconditioned)? It is, O bhikkhus, the extinction of desire (rāgakkhayo) the extinction of hatred (dosakkhayo), the extinction of illusion (mohakkhayo). This, O bhikkhus, is called the Absolute.[58]

Levels of attainment

The Theravada tradition identifies four progressive stages culminating in full enlightenment as an Arahat.[note 10] The final stage, the arhat, is a fully awakened person. The arhat has abandoned all ten fetters and, upon death will never be reborn in any plane or world, having wholly escaped saṃsāra.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes that individuals up to the level of non-returning may experience nirvāna as an object of mental consciousness.[59][note 11] Certain contemplations with nibbana as an object of samādhi lead, if developed, to the level of non-returning.[60] 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.[61]



According to the Visuddhimagga, nirvana is achieved after a long process of committed application to the path of purification (Pali: Vissudhimagga). The Buddha explained that the disciplined way of life he recommended to his students (dhamma-vinaya) is a gradual training extending often over a number of years. To be committed to this path already requires that a seed of wisdom is present in the individual. This wisdom becomes manifest in the experience of awakening (bodhi). Attaining nibbāna, in either the current or some future birth, depends on effort, and is not pre-determined.[62]

Different paths

In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, v. 6 (Buddhaghosa and Ñāṇamoli, 1999, pp. 6–7.), Buddhaghosa identifies various options within the Pali canon for pursuing a path to nirvana.[note 12][note 13] According to Gombrich, this proliferation of possible paths to liberation reflects later doctrinal developments, and a growing emphasis on insight as the main liberative means, instead of the practice of dhyana.[68]



Wooden statue of Quan Âm (Avalokiteśvara, Guanyin) with 1000 eyes and 1000 hands.

The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition envisions an attainment beyond nirvana, namely Buddhahood.[quote 21][note 14] The Hinayana path only leads to one's own liberation, either as sravaka (listener, hearer, or disciple) or as pratyeka-buddha (solitary realizer).[note 15] The Mahayana path aims at a further realization, namely Buddhahood or nonabiding (apratiṣṭhita) nirvana. A Buddha does not dwell in nirvana, but engages actively in enlightened activity to liberate beings for as long as samsara remains.[36][quote 10]

Five paths and ten bhumis

The Mahayana commentary the Abhisamayalamkara presents the path of the bodhisattva as a progressive formula of Five Paths (pañcamārga). A practitioner on the Five Paths advances through a progression of ten stages, referred to as the bodhisattva bhūmis (grounds or levels).


The end stage practice of the Mahayana removes the imprints of delusions, the obstructions to omniscience, which prevent simultaneous and direct knowledge of all phenomena. Only Buddhas have overcome these obstructions, according to Mahayana Buddhism, and, therefore, only Buddhas have omniscience knowledge. From the Mahayana point of view, an arhat who has achieved the nirvana of the Lesser Vehicle will still have certain subtle obscurations that prevent the arhat from realizing complete omniscience. When these final obscurations are removed, the practitioner will attain nonabiding nirvana and achieve full omniscience.[quote 22]

Visible manifestations

Some Mahayana traditions see the Buddha in almost docetic terms, viewing his visible manifestations as projections from within the state of nirvana. According to 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.’[78]

Ontological status of nirvana

Non-Buddhist influences


Nirvana is described by the Buddha as "deathlessness" (Pali: amata or amāravati). Steven Collins:

Nirvana is most commonly presented in secondary sources as freedom from rebirth, as are other Indian ideas of liberation; but as the pre-Buddhist history of ideas sketched earlier makes clear, the first suggestions of what was later to become a theory of rebirth (punarjanman) were in fact fears of redeath (punarmrryu). "Deathless," or "death-free" (amata) , is both a predicate standardly applied to nirvana, and a substantive used as a synonym for it. It is the Pali form of the Sanskrit amrta, but unlike that term in Vedic literature it does not mean continuing life or vitality as opposed to death. It refers to a place (metaphorically), state or condition where there is no death, because there is also no birth, no coming into existence, nothing made by conditioning, and therefore no time.[79]

"Neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind" (Udana 8.1)

In a famous passage in the Nibbana Sutta (Udana 8.1), the Buddha states:

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 (dukkha; suffering).[web 9]

This passage may reflect brahmanical influences.[80]

Precanonical Buddhism

Stanislaw Schayer, a Polish scholar, argued in the 1930s that the Nikayas preserve elements of an archaic form of Buddhism which is close to Brahmanical beliefs,[80][81][82][83] and survived in the Mahayana tradition.[84][85] Contrary to popular opinion, the Theravada and Mahayana traditions may be "divergent, but equally reliable records of a pre-canonical Buddhism which is now lost forever."[84] The Mahayana tradition may have preserved a very old, "pre-Canonical" tradition, which was largely, but not completely, left out of the Theravada-canon.[85]

Regamy has identified four points which are central to Schayer's reconstruction of precanonical Buddhism:[86]

  1. The Buddha was considered as an extraordinary being, in whom ultimate reality was embodied, and who was an incarnation of the mythical figure of the tathagata;
  2. The Buddha's disciples were attracted to his spiritual charisma and supernatural authority;
  3. Nirvana was conceived as the attainment of immortality, and the gaining of a deathless sphere from which there would be no falling back. This nirvana, as a transmundane reality or state, is incarnated in the person of the Buddha;
  4. Nirvana can be reached because it already dwells as the inmost "consciousness" of the human being. It is a consciousness which is not subject to birth and death.

Schayer's methodology has been used by M. Falk.[87][note 16] Falk details the precanonical Buddhist conceptions of the cosmos, nirvana, the Buddha, the path, and the saint. According to Falk, in the precanonical tradition, there is a threefold division of reality:[87]

  1. The rupadhatu, the samsaric sphere of name and form (namarupa), in which ordinary beings live, die, and are reborn.
  2. The arupadhatu, the sphere of "sheer nama," produced by samadhi, an ethereal realm frequented by yogins who are not completely liberated;
  3. "Above" or "outside" these two realms is the realm of nirvana, the "amrta sphere," characterized by prajna. This nirvana is an "abode" or "place" which is gained by the enlightened holy man.[note 17]

According to Falk, this scheme is reflected in the precanonical conception of the path to liberation.[89] The nirvanic element, as an "essence" or pure consciousness, is immanent within samsara. The three bodies are concentric realities, which are stripped away or abandoned, leaving only the nirodhakaya of the liberated person.[89] Wynne notes that this pure consciousness was the central element in precanonical Buddhism:

Schayer referred to passages in which "consciousness" (vinnana) seems to be the ultimate reality or substratum (e.g. A I.10) 14 as well as the Saddhatu Sutra, which is not found in any canonical source but is cited in other Buddhist texts — it states that the personality (pudgala) consists of the six elements (dhatu) of earth, water, fire, wind, space and consciousness; Schayer noted that it related to other ancient Indian ideas. Keith’s argument is also based on the Saddhatu Sutra as well as "passages where we have explanations of Nirvana which echo the ideas of the Upanishads regarding the ultimate reality." He also refers to the doctrine of "a consciousness, originally pure, defiled by adventitious impurities."[90]

Conze mentions ideas like the "person" (pudgala), the assumption of an eternal "consciousness" in the saddhatusutra, the identification of the Absolute, of Nirvana, with an "invisible infinite consciousness, which shines everywhere" in Dighanikaya XI 85, and "traces of a belief in consciousness as the nonimpermanent centre of the personality which constitutes an absolute element in this contingent world."[85]

According to Lindtner, in precanonical Buddhism Nirvana is a physical place and the outer most realm of cosmos

... a place one can actually go to. It is called nirvanadhatu, has no border-signs (animitta), is localized somewhere beyond the other six dhatus (beginning with earth and ending with vijñana) but is closest to akasa and vijñana. One cannot visualize it, it is anidarsana, but it provides one with firm ground under one’s feet, it is dhruva; once there one will not slip back, it is acyutapada. As opposed to this world, it is a pleasant place to be in, it is sukha, things work well.[80][note 18][quote 23]

According to Lindtner, Canonical Buddhism was a reaction to this view, but also against the absolutist tendencies in Jainism and the Upanisads. Nirvana came to be seen as a state of mind, instead of a concrete place.[80]

Elements of this precanonical Buddhism may have survived the canonisation, and its subsequent filtering out of ideas, and re-appeared in Mahayana Buddhism.[80][82] According to Lindtner, the existence of multiple, and contradicting ideas, is also reflected in the works of Nagarjuna, who tried to harmonize these different ideas. According to Lindtner, this lead him to take a "paradoxical" stance, for instance regarding nirvana, rejecting any positive description.[80]


Luminous mind

"Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around"

The Mahayana-tradition developed the concept of the Buddha-nature, the innate presence of Buddha-hood.[91] 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 Pali canon describes this in a variety of passages. One way is as "Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around."[92][93]

According to Wayman, the idea of an innately pure luminous mind (prabhasvara citta[94]), "which is only adventitiously covered over by defilements (agantukaklesa)"[94] lead to the development of the concept of Buddha-nature, the idea that Buddha-hood is already innate, but not recognised.[95] This luminous mind is being mentioned in the Anguttara Nikaya:[96]

Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements".[97][note 19]

"Luminous consciousness" is nirvāṇa

In one interpretation, the "luminous consciousness" is identical with nirvāṇa.[98][99] Others disagree, finding it to be not nirvāṇa itself, but instead to be a kind of consciousness accessible only to arahants.[100][101] A passage in the Majjhima Nikaya likens it to empty space.[102]

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.[59][61] 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".[103] 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".[104]

Nagarjuna alluded to a passage regarding this level of consciousness in the Dighanikaya[105] in two different works. He wrote that

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.[106]

The mind of the Arahant is nirvana

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.[107][note 20]

Vijnana as "non-manifestive consciousness"

Ajahns Pasanno and Amaro, contemporary vipassana-teachers write that what is referred to with the use of the word "viññana" (consciousness) is the quality of awareness, and that the use of the term "viññana" must be in a broader way than it usually is meant.[112][quote 24]

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.[92] According to Peter Harvey, the early texts are ambivalent as to whether or not the term "consciousness" is accurate.[113] In a liberated individual, this is directly experienced, in a way that is free from any dependence on conditions at all.[92][114]

Purified mind

In some Mahayana/Tantric texts, nirvana is described as purified, non-dualistic 'superior mind'. For example, the Samputa Tantra states:

Undefiled by lust and emotional impurities, unclouded by any dualistic perceptions, this superior mind is indeed the supreme nirvana.'[115]


Positive language

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. 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.[116]

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.[117]

Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra

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 attributes which make up nirvana. 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.[118]

Kosho Yamamoto, translator of the full-length Nirvana Sutra, expresses the view that the non-Self doctrine of the Buddha's earlier teaching phase is an expedient only and that in the Nirvana Sutra a hidden teaching on the True Self is disclosed by the Buddha:

He [the Buddha] 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.[119]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 According to Gombrich, the use of the term "three fires" alludes to the three fires which a brahmin householder had to keep alight, and tend daily. In later Buddhism, the origin of this metaphor was forgotten, and the term was replaced with "the three poisons.[5] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Gombrichthreefires" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Not only the three fires, but also the extinction of the defilements and tanha are mentioned as nirvana:[10]
    • "Calming of all conditioned things, giving up of all defilements, extinction of “thirst”, detachment, cessation, Nibbāna." (Saṃyutta-nikāya I (PTS), p. 136)
    • "O Rādha, the extinction of 'thirst' (Taṇhakkhayo) is Nibbāna." (Saṃyutta-nikāya I (PTS), p. 190)
    • Majjhima Nikaya 2-Att. 4.68: "The liberated mind (citta) that no longer clings' means nibbāna."
  3. Smith and Novak: Etymologically [nirvana] means "to blow out" or "to extinguish," not transitively, but as a fire ceases to draw. Deprived of fuel, the fire goes out, and this is nirvana.[6]
  4. Even Buddhaghosa, the great Theravada commentator, ignored the original etymological meaning of the word, and presented an interpretation of nirvana based on the root √vā, "to weave."[8]
  5. Gombrich explains that the five skandhas or aggregates are the bundles of firewood that fuel the three fires.[13] The Buddhist practitioner ought to "drop" these bundles, so that the fires are no longer fueled and "blow out".[14]
  6. See also Samkhya
  7. "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, a state of perfect quietude, freedom, and deliverance."[web 3]
  8. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha describes nirvāṇa as "the highest happiness",[42] an enduring happiness qualitatively different from the limited, transitory happiness derived from impermanent things.
  9. According to Peter Harvey, the Theravada-tradition tends to minimalize mystical tendencies, but there is also a tendency to stress the complete otherness of nirvana from samsara. The Pāli Canon provides good grounds for this minimalistic approach, bit it also contains material suggestive of a Vijnavada-type interpretation of nirvāṇa, namely as a radical transformation of consciousness.[56]
  10. These four stages are:
    • Stream-enterer (Sotapanna)
    • Once returner (Sakadagami)
    • Non-returner (Anagami)
    • Arhat
  11. See for example the Jhana Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  12. 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.)
  13. These include:
    1. By insight (vipassana) alone [lower-alpha 1]
    2. By jhana and understanding (see Dh. 372)[64]
    3. by deeds, vision and righteousness (see MN iii.262)[lower-alpha 2]
    4. By virtue, consciousness and understanding (7SN i.13);[lower-alpha 3]
    5. by virtue, understanding, concentration and effort;[lower-alpha 4]
    6. By the four foundations of mindfulness.[67][lower-alpha 5]
  14. The Tibetan teacher Pabongka Rinpoche presents the path in three levels (or scopes. The first stage indicates a level of understanding or ethical conduct for non-Buddhists, and the second two stages are nirvana and Buddhahood. Pabongka Rinpoche: "The subject matter of these teachings can be included in the various paths of the three scopes. The small scope covers the causes to achieve the high rebirth states of the gods and humans: the ethics of abandoning the ten nonvirtues, etc. The medium scope includes the practices that will cause one to gain the definite excellence of liberation— such practices as abandoning [the first two of the] four truths, engaging in [the last two of these truths], and the practice of the three high trainings. The great scope contains the practices that bring about the definite excellence of omniscience— such practices as the development of bodhichitta, the six perfections, etc. Hence, all this subject matter forms a harmonious practice that will take a person to enlightenment and should be understood as being completely without contradiction."[70]
  15. The Hinayana path is sometimes equated with the modern day Theravada tradition, a classification which the Theravada-tradition rejects. Walpola Rahula: "We must not confuse Hinayana with Theravada because the terms are not synonymous. Theravada Buddhism went to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century B.C. when there was no Mahayana at all. Hinayana sects developed in India and had an existence independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka. Today there is no Hinayana sect in existence anywhere in the world. Therefore, in 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated in Colombo unanimously decided that the term Hinayana should be dropped when referring to Buddhism existing today in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, etc. This is the brief history of Theravada, Mahayana and Hinayana."[web 8]
  16. M. Falk (1943, Nama-rupa and Dharma-rupa
  17. See Digha Nikaya 15, Mahanidana Sutta, which describes a nine-fold chain of causation. Mind-and-body (nama-rupa) and consciousness (vijnana) do condition here each other (verse 2 & 3). In verse 21 and 22, it is stated that consciousness comes into the mother's womb, and finds a resting place in mind-and-body. [88]
  18. Cited in Wynne (2007) p.99.[90]
  19. Harvey mentions AN 1.10: "Monks, this mind (citta) is brightly shining (pabhassara), but it is defiled by defilements which arrive". AN 1.49-52 gives a similar statement
  20. There is a clear reference in the Anguttara Nikaya to a "luminous mind" present within all people, be they corrupt or pure, whether or not it itself is pure or impure.[108] The Canon does not support the identification of the "luminous mind" with nirvanic consciousness, though it plays a role in the realization of nirvāṇa.[109][110] Upon the destruction of the fetters, according to one scholar, "the shining nibbanic consciousness flashes out" of it, "being without object or support, so transcending all limitations."[111]

Further notes on "different paths"

  1. See Dh. 277, and dhp-277 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 [...] The 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".[63]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.[65] 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."[66]
  4. SN i.53)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.
  5. 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.""


  1. Buswell and Lopez: "It is found in dictionaries as an English word, nirvana, and has acquired a patina that makes many assume its meaning is obvious. Yet, it is a word about which Buddhists themselves have never reached agreement [...] It may be that when we ask: "What is nirvana?" we seek to answer the wrong question. Instead we need to ask: How have Buddhists used the term? With what polemical or apologetic purposes? What human aspirations might these uses reveal? The word’s etymology already reveals the concept’s ambiguity and polysemy."[2]
  2. Buswell and Lopez: "The Sanskrit term nirvana is an action noun signifying the act and effect of blowing (at something) to put it out, to blow out, or to extinguish, but the noun also signifies the process and outcome of burning out, becoming extinguished, cooling down, and hence, allaying, calming down, and also taming, making docile. Technically, in the religious traditions of India, the term denotes the process of accomplishing and experiencing freedom from the unquenchable thirst of desire and the pains of repeated births, lives, and deaths.[2]
  3. Gombrich: "I hope it is not too farfetched to suggest that this may have contributed to an important development in the Mahayana: that it came to separate nirvana from bodhi, ‘awakening’ to the truth, Enlightenment, and to put a lower value on the former (Gombrich, 1992d). Originally nirvana and bodhi refer to the same thing; they merely use different metaphors for the experience. But the Mahayana tradition separated them and considered that nirvana referred only to the extinction of craving (= passion and hatred), with the resultant escape from the cycle of rebirth. This interpretation ignores the third fire, delusion: the extinction of delusion is of course in the early texts identical with what can be positively expressed as gnosis, Enlightenment.[9]
  4. Bhikkhu Bodhi: "Etymologically, the word nibbāna — the Pali form of the better known Sanskrit nirvāṇa — is derived from a verb nibbāti meaning "to be blown out" or "to be extinguished." It thus signifies the extinguishing of the worldly "fires" of greed, hatred, and delusion. But the Pali commentators prefer to treat it as the negation of, or "departure from" (nikkhantatta), the entanglement (vāna) of craving, the derivation which is offered here. For as long as one is entangled by craving, one remains bound in saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death; but when all craving has been extirpated, one attains Nibbāna, deliverance from the cycle of birth and death.[12]
  5. Rupert Gethin: "Literally nirvāṇa means ‘blowing out’ or ‘extinguishing’, although Buddhist commentarial writings, by a play on words, like to explain it as ‘the absence of craving’. But where English translations of Buddhist texts have ‘he attains nirvāṇa/parinirvāṇa’, the more characteristic Pali or Sanskrit idiom is a simple verb: ‘he or she nirvāṇa-s’ or more often ‘he or she parinirvānṇa-s’ (parinibbāyati). What the Pali and Sanskrit expression primarily indicates is the event or process of the extinction of the ‘fires’ of greed, aversion, and delusion."[16]
  6. See also:Extinction and liberation:
    • Rupert Gethin: "Literally nirvāṇa means ‘blowing out’ or ‘extinguishing’ [...] What the Pali and Sanskrit expression primarily indicates is the event or process of the extinction of the ‘fires’ of greed, aversion, and delusion. At the moment the Buddha understood suffering, its arising, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation, these fires were extinguished. This process is the same for all who reach awakening,[lower-roman 1] and the early texts term it either nirvāṇa or parinirvāṇa, the complete ‘blowing out’ or ‘extinguishing’ of the ‘fires’ of greed, aversion, and delusion. This is not a ‘thing’ but an event or experience.[16][lower-roman 2]
    • Paul Williams: "[Nirvana] means 'extinguishing', as in 'the extinguishing of a flame', and it signifies soteriologically the complete extinguishing of greed, hatred, and fundamentally delusion (i.e. ignorance), the forces which power samsara."[25]
    • Paul Williams: "Nirvana is broadly speaking the result of letting-go, letting-go the very forces of craving which power continued experiences of pleasure and inevitably suffering throughout this life, death, rebirth, and redeath. That, in a nutshell, is what nirvana is. It is the complete and permanent cessation of samsara, thence the cessation of all types of suffering, resulting from letting-go the forces which power samsara, due to overcoming ignorance (thence also hatred and delusion, the 'three root poisons') through seeing things the way they really are."[25]
    • Donald Lopez: "[Nirvana] is used to refer to the extinction of desire, hatred, and ignorance and, ultimately, of suffering and rebirth."[web 4]
    • Damien Keown states: "When the flame of craving is extinguished, rebirth ceases, and an enlightened person is not reborn."[26]
  7. The attainment of nirvana has also been given a more worldy interpretation, emphasising its effect in present life:
    • Ajahn Sucitto: "By the extinguishing of the “three fires” of greed, hatred, and delusion, nibbāna gives tangible results in terms of other people’s welfare."[27]
    • Ajahn Sucitto: "The metaphors associated with nibbāna often liken it to the blowing out of a fire. When it is no longer burning, the fire has “nibbāna’d”—the elements on which it was based are no longer in a state of combustion. This may seem like sterility and lifelessness from the viewpoint of the fire, but from the perspective of the elements it means life and potential. That is, when the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion are extinguished, the mind is free to operate in terms of its fullest capacity."[27]
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi: "The state of perfect peace that comes when craving is eliminated is Nibbāna (nirvāṇa), the unconditioned state experienced while alive with the extinguishing of the flames of greed, aversion, and delusion."[28]
    • Smith and Novak: "Nirvana is the highest destiny of the human spirit and its literal meaning is “extinction,” but what is to be extinguished are the boundaries of the finite self and the three poisons that feed that self: “The extinction of greed, the extinction of hate, the extinction of delusion: this indeed is called Nirvana.”"[6]
  8. Vimutti:
    • Joseph Goldstein: "It is Nibbana that the Buddha declared to be the final goal of the spiritual journey: 'This holy life [...] does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of virtue for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable deliverance of mind[lower-roman 3] that is the goal of this holy life, its heartwood and its end.'[30][lower-roman 4]
    • Smith and Novak: "Nirvana [is] the word the Buddha used to name life’s goal as he saw it. [...] Nirvana is the highest destiny of the human spirit and its literal meaning is “extinction,” but what is to be extinguished are the boundaries of the finite self [...]"[6]
    • Donald Lopez: "Nirvana is [...] the oldest and most common designation for the goal of the Buddhist path "[web 4]
  9. Nirvana is the highest goal in Theravada:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi: "Nibbana is the ultimate goal of the Buddha's path. The Buddha says 'Just as the water of a river plunges into the ocean and merges with the ocean, so the spiritual path, the Noble Eightfold Path, plunges into Nibbana and merges with Nibbana.'"[web 5]
    • Ajahn Pasano and Ajahn Amaro: "From the Buddhist viewpoint, the realization of Nibbana is the fulfillment of the highest human potential – a potential that exists in all of us, regardless of nationality or creed."[31]
    • Ajahn Sucitto states: "Nibbāna is held to be the ultimate goal in Buddhism. [...] It is the ending of sorrow and delusion, and it is supremely peaceful."[32]
  10. 10.0 10.1 From the Mahayana point of view, the nonabiding (apratiṣṭhita) nirvana is superior to the nirvana of the Lesser Vehicle:
    • Thubten Thardo (Gareth Sparham) states: "The term “non-abiding nirvāṇa” indicates that a fully awakened buddha is utterly free from saṃsāra, yet due to compassion has not entered into a more restricted form of nirvāṇa that precludes continued activity within the world."[71]
    • Erik Pema Kunsang states (based on teachings by Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche): "The lesser nirvana refers to the liberation from cyclic existence attained by a hinayana practitioner. When referring to a buddha, nirvana is the great nondwelling state of enlightenment which falls neither into the extreme of samsaric existence nor into the passive state of cessation attained by an arhant."[72]
    • Thrangu Rinpoche states: "The samadhi with the union of samatha and vipasyana fully developed will free one from the bondage of samsara so one attains a state of nonabiding nirvana, which is Buddhahood.[73]
    • The Padmakara Translation Group states: "It is important to realize that the term [nirvana] is understood differently by the different vehicles: the nirvana of the Basic Vehicle, the peace of cessation that an Arhat attains, is very different from a Buddha’s “nondwelling” nirvana, the state of perfect enlightenment that transcends both samsara and nirvana."[74]
    • Peter Harvey states: "An advanced Bodhisattva who has experienced Nirvana does not rest content with this. He turns again to samsara in the service of others, which the Mahayana-samgraha calls his ‘non-abiding’ (apratiṣṭhita) Nirvana, not clinging either to samsara or to Nirvana as something supposedly separate from this (Nagao, 1991)."[75]
    • Rupert Gethin states: "For the Mahayana becoming a Buddha generally involves attaining what is characterized as the ‘unestablished’ or ‘non-abiding’ (apratiṣṭhita) nirvāṇa: on the one hand the knowledge of a buddha that sees emptiness, is not ‘established’ in saṃsāra (by seizing on birth as an individual being, for example), on the other hand the great compassion of a buddha prevents the complete turning away from saṃsāra. So ultimately he abides neither in saṃsāra nor in nirvāṇa."[76]
    • Duckworth: The Lesser Vehicle does not result in the practitioner becoming a complete buddha; rather, the aim is to achieve a personal nirvana that is the total extinction of existence. The Great Vehicle, however, does result in becoming a complete buddha. A buddha remains actively engaged in enlightened activity to liberate beings for as long as samsara remains. Thus, those who accomplish the Great Vehicle do not abide in samsara due to their wisdom that sees its empty, illusory nature. Further, unlike those who attain the nirvana of the Lesser Vehicle to escape samsara, they do not abide in an isolated nirvana due to their compassion. For these reasons, in the Great Vehicle, nirvana is said to be “unlocated” or “nonabiding” (apratiṣṭhita), staying in neither samsara nor nirvana.[36]
  11. Nirvana during life and beyond death:
    • Donald Lopez states: "Two types of nirvana are [...] described. The first is called 'nirvana with remainder.' [...] The second type is called 'nirvana without remainder', or final nirvana."[38]
    • Peter Harvey states: "The first aspect of Nibbana is described as 'with remainder of what is grasped at' (sa-updadi-sesa), meaning that the khandas, the result of past grasping, still remain for him; the second is described as 'without remainder of what is grasped at' (an-upadi-sesa) (It.38-39).[39]
  12. Rupert Gethin: "Like the Buddha, any person who attains nirvāṇa does not remain thereafter forever absorbed in some transcendental state of mind. On the contrary he or she continues to live in the world; he or she continues to think, speak, and act as other people do—with the difference that all his or her thoughts, words, and deeds are completely free of the motivations of greed, aversion, and delusion, and motivated instead entirely by generosity, friendliness, and wisdom. This condition of having extinguished the defilements can be termed ‘nirvāṇa with the remainder [of life]’ (sopadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa/sa-upādisesa-nibbāna): the nirvāṇa that comes from ending the occurrence of the defilements (kleśa/kilesa) of the mind; what the Pali commentaries call for short kilesa-parinibbāna.[lower-roman 5] And this is what the Buddha achieved on the night of his awakening."[41]
  13. Freedom from negative states:
    • Walpola Rahula: [one who has achieved nirvana is] "free from all ‘complexes’ and obsessions, the worries and troubles that torment others."[43]
    • Damien Keown: "Nirvana [...] involves a radically transformed state of consciousness which is free of the obsession with ‘me and mine’."[44]
    • Rupert Gethin: "Any person who attains nirvāṇa [...] continues to think, speak, and act as other people do—with the difference that all his or her thoughts, words, and deeds are completely free of the motivations of greed, aversion, and delusion, and motivated instead entirely by generosity, friendliness, and wisdom.[41]
    • Ajahn Sucitto: "When the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion are extinguished, the mind is free to operate in terms of its fullest capacity."[27]
    • Anam Thubten: "Nirvana or whatever you want to call it means the complete deconstruction of all of our rigid mental patterns and habits as well the deconstruction of all of our limiting beliefs. This deconstruction creates a space for true inquiry. When we open our hearts and our minds completely, we are in a place where we can experience something new, a new truth, a new reality, a miracle that we haven't experienced in the past. We can see things differently and they present new, expanded opportunities, new horizons."[45]
  14. Peacefulness:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The state of perfect peace that comes when craving is eliminated is Nibbāna (nirvāṇa)."[28]
    • Ajahn Sucitto states: "Nibbāna [...] is the ending of sorrow and delusion, and it is supremely peaceful."[27]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "It is also described as the deathless, absolute peace, freedom, and so forth."[30]
    • Lama Surya Das states: "Nirvana is inconceivable inner peace, the cessation of craving and clinging."[46]
    • Ringu Tulku states: "We can have inner peace, strength, and clarity, almost independent from circumstances and situations."[47]
    • Thich Naht Hahn states:[48] "Nirvana teaches that we already are what we want to become. We don't have to run after anything anymore. We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature. When we do, we have real peace and joy."
    • Walpola Rahula states:[43] "He who has realized the Truth, Nirvāṇa, is the happiest being in the world. He is free from all ‘complexes’ and obsessions, the worries and troubles that torment others. His mental health is perfect. He does not repent the past, nor does he brood over the future. He lives fully in the present.[lower-roman 6] Therefore he appreciates and enjoys things in the purest sense without self-projections. He is joyful, exultant, enjoying the pure life, his faculties pleased, free from anxiety, serene and peaceful."[lower-roman 7]
    • Damien Keown states:[44] "It is clear that nirvana-in-this-life is a psychological and ethical reality, a transformed state of personality characterized by peace, deep spiritual joy, compassion, and a refined and subtle awareness. Negative mental states and emotions such as doubt, worry, anxiety, and fear are absent from the enlightened mind. Saints in many religious traditions exhibit some or all of these qualities, and ordinary people also possess them to some degree, although imperfectly developed. An enlightened person, however, such as a Buddha or an Arhat, possesses them all completely."
  15. Non-reactiveness:
    • Phillip Moffitt states:[49] "Nibbana literally means "cooled" and is analogous to a fire that's no longer burning. Thus, when there is cessation, your mind no longer burns in response to the arising of pleasant and unpleasant in your life; it isn't reactive or controlled by what you like or dislike."
    • Ringu Tulku explains:[47] "Someone who has attained [...] the state of nirvana, will no longer react within the pattern of aversion and attachment. The way such a person sees things will be nondualistic and therefore non-conceptual. [...] When this dual reaction is gone, nothing is haunting or fearful anymore. We see clearly, and nothing seems imposing, since nothing is imposed from our part. When there is nothing we do not like, there is nothing to fear. Being free from fear, we are peaceful. There is no need to run away from anything, and therefore no need to run after anything either. In this way there is no burden. We can have inner peace, strength, and clarity, almost independent from circumstances and situations. This is complete freedom of mind without any circumstantial entanglement; the state is called "nirvana" [...]. Someone who has reached this state has gone beyond our usual way of being imprisoned in habitual patterns and distorted ways of seeing these things."
    • Ajahn Sucitto states: "qualities like calm, clarity, and kindness are all enhanced [...] the tinder and the sparkiness of the heart are removed."[27]
  16. Rupert Gethin: "Eventually ‘the remainder of life’ will be exhausted and, like all beings, such a person must die. But unlike other beings, who have not experienced ‘nirvāṇa’, he or she will not be reborn into some new life, the physical and mental constituents of being will not come together in some new existence, there will be no new being or person. Instead of being reborn, the person ‘parinirvāṇa-s’, meaning in this context that the five aggregates of physical and mental phenomena that constitute a being cease to occur. This is the condition of ‘nirvāṇa without remainder [of life]’ (nir-upadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa/an-up ādisesa-nibbāna): nirvāṇa that comes from ending the occurrence of the aggregates (skandha/khandha) of physical and mental phenomena that constitute a being; or, for short, khandha-parinibbāna.[lower-roman 5] Modern Buddhist usage tends to restrict ‘nirvāṇa’ to the awakening experience and reserve ‘parinirvāṇa’ for the death experience."[50]
  17. Walpola Rahula: "Now another question arises: What happens to the Buddha or an Arahant after his death, parinirvāṇa? This comes under the category of unanswered questions (avyākata). [Samyutta Nikaya IV (PTS), p. 375 f.] Even when the Buddha spoke about this, he indicated that no words in our vocabulary could express what happens to an Arahant after his death. In reply to a Parivrājaka named Vaccha, the Buddha said that terms like ‘born’ or ‘not born’ do not apply in the case of an Arahant, because those things—matter, sensation, perception, mental activities, consciousness—with which the terms like ‘born’ and ‘not born’ are associated, are completely destroyed and uprooted, never to rise again after his death. [Majjhima Nikaya I (PTS), p. 486]."[51]
  18. Walpola Rahula: "An Arahant after his death is often compared to a fire gone out when the supply of wood is over, or to the flame of a lamp gone out when the wick and oil are finished.[Majjhima Nikaya I (PTS), p. 487] Here it should be clearly and distinctly understood, without any confusion, that what is compared to a flame or a fire gone out is not Nirvāṇa, but the ‘being’ composed of the Five Aggregates who realized Nirvāṇa. This point has to be emphasized because many people, even some great scholars, have misunderstood and misinterpreted this simile as referring to Nirvāṇa. Nirvāṇa is never compared to a fire or a lamp gone out.[51]
    Richard Gombrich, who studied with Walhola Rapula, notes: "[T]here is one point where the great scholar monk has let us down: his account of nirvana, in Chapter IV, is unclear and, to my mind, even at points self-contradictory [...] In proclaiming (in block capitals) that 'Truth is', Rahula has for a moment fallen into Upanisadic mode.[52]
  19. In the Yamaka Sutta (SN 22.58), the monk Sariputta teaches that to state that a person who attains nirvana "does not exist" after death is not the correct view; the correct view is that nirvana-after-death is outside of all conceivable experience. The only accurate statement that can be made about nirvana-after-death is "That which is stressful (dukkha; suffering) has ceased and gone to its end."[web 6]

    The Aggivacchagotta Sutta states that the state of being after death cannot be described as either being reborn after death, not being reborn, being and not being reborn, or neither being nor not being reborn. The sutra concludes: "Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber, being unnourished — from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other — is classified simply as 'out' (unbound).
    Even so [...] any physical form by which one describing the Tathagata [the Buddha] would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form [...] the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. 'Reappears' doesn't apply. 'Does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Both does & does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Neither reappears nor does not reappear' doesn't apply."[53][web 7]
  20. Walpola Rahula: "Nirvāṇa is beyond all terms of duality and relativity. It is therefore beyond our conceptions of good and evil, right and wrong, existence and non-existence. Even the word ‘happiness’ (sukha) which is used to describe Nirvāṇa has an entirely different sense here. Sāriputta once said: ‘O friend, Nirvāṇa is happiness! Nirvāṇa is happiness!’ Then Udāyi asked: ‘But, friend Sāriputta, what happiness can it be if there is no sensation?’ Sāriputta’s reply was highly philosophical and beyond ordinary comprehension: “That there is no sensation itself is happiness’."[57]
  21. Rupert Gethin: The Mahāyāna sūtras express two basic attitudes towards [the nirvana of the Lesser Vehicle]. The first [attitude] is that the path of the disciple [sravaka] and the path of the pratyeka-buddha do lead to a kind of awakening, a release from suffering, nirvāna, and as such are real goals. These goals are, however, inferior and should be renounced for the superior attainment of buddhahood. The second attitude, classically articulated by the Lotus Sūtra, sees the goal of the disciple and the pratyeka-buddha as not true goals at all.[lower-roman 8] The fact that the Buddha taught them is an example of his ‘skill in means’ (upaya-kauśalya) as a teacher.[lower-roman 9] These goals are thus merely clever devices (upāya) employed by the Buddha in order to get beings to at least begin the practice of the path; eventually their practice must lead on to the one and only vehicle (eka-yāna) that is the mahāyāna, the vehicle ending in perfect buddhahood.[69]
  22. Contemporary translator Jeffrey Hopkins provides the following analogy:"If you put garlic in a vessel, it deposits some of its odor in the vessel itself; Thus when you seek to clean the vessel, it is necessary to first remove the garlic.
    Similarly, a consciousness conceiving inherent existence, like garlic, deposits predispositions in the mind that produce the appearance of inherent existence; Thus,there is no way to cleanse the mind of those predispositions, which are like the flavor of garlic left in the vessel of the mind,until one removes all consciousnesses conceiving of inherent existence from the mind. First, the garlic must be removed; then, its odor can be removed.
    For this reason, according to the Consequence School, until one has utterly removed all the afflictive obstructions, one cannot begin to remove the obstructions to omniscience. Since this is the case, a practitioner cannot begin overcoming the obstructions to omniscience on any of the seven first bodhisattva grounds, which are called "impure" because one still has afflictive obstructions to be abandoned.
    Rather, one begins abandoning the obstructions to omniscience on the eighth bodhisattva ground, and continues to do so on the ninth and tenth, these three being called the 'three pure grounds" because the afflictive obstructions have been abandoned."[77]
  23. The Sutta-nipata states: "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."
  24. Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro: "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.[112]

Further notes on quotes

  1. Vetter, Gombrich, and Bronkhorst, among others, notes that the emphasis on "liberating insight" is a later development.[18][21][22] In the earliest Buddhism, the practice of dhyana may have been the sole liberating practice, with bodhi denoting the insight that dhyana is an affective means to still the fires.[18]
  2. Robert Sharf notices that "experience" is a typical modern, western word. In the 19th century, "experience" came to be seen as a means to "prove" religious "realities".[23][24]
  3. Ceto-vimutti
  4. Goldstein is quoting from the final paragraph of the Maha Saropama Sutta; see Maha Saropama Sutta.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gethin cites: Dhammapada-atthakathā ii. 163; Vibhaṇga-atthakatha 433.
  6. Rahula cites: Saṃyutta-nikāya I (PTS), p. 5
  7. Rahula cites: Majjhima-nikāya II (PTS), p. 121
  8. Gethin footnote: Also Śrīmālādevī 78–94; and Lankāvatāra Sūtra 63; cf. Herbert V. Guenther (trans.), The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (London, 1970), 4–6.
  9. Gethin footnote: On the notion of ‘skill in means’ see Michael Pye, Skilful Means (London, 1978); Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism, 143–50.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Buswell & Lopez 2013, Kindle loc. 44535.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Buswell & Lopez 2004, p. 600.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Cousins 1998, p. 9.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gombrich 2006, p. 65.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Gombrich 2006, p. 66.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Smith & Novak 2009, pp. 51-52.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Swanson 1997, p. 10.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 Hwang 2006, p. 12.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Gombrich 2006, p. 66-67.
  10. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 934-953.
  11. Hwang 2006, p. 12-13.
  12. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 5193-5198.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Gombrich 2006, p. 67.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Gombrich 2006, p. 67-68.
  15. Schreiber, Ehrhard & Diener 2008, p. 262.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Gethin 1998, p. 75.
  17. Gombrich 2006, p. 96-134.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Vetter 1988.
  19. Smith & Novak 2009, p. 51.
  20. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 5188-5193.
  21. Bronkhorst 1993.
  22. Gombrich 1996.
  23. Sharf 1995-B.
  24. Sharf 2000.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Williams 2002, pp. 47-48.
  26. Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 1025-1032.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 27.4 Ajahn Sucitto 2010, p. 163.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Bhikkhu Bodhi 2011, p. 25.
  29. Steven Collins, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1982, page 207.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Goldstein 2011, pp. 158-159.
  31. Ajahn Pasano & Ajahn Amaro 2008, p. 25.
  32. Ajahn Sucitto 2010, pp. 162-163.
  33. Clarke 2004, p. 381.
  34. Baroni 2002, p. 36.
  35. Kornberg Greenberg 2008, p. 88.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Duckworth 2011, Kindle loc. 430-436.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Gombrich 2006, p. 68-69.
  38. Lopez 2001, p. 47.
  39. Harvey 1990, p. 61.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Gombrich 2006, p. 68.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Gethin 1998, pp. 75-76.
  42. Verse 204, nibbanam paramam sukham
  43. 43.0 43.1 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1095-1104.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 1016-1025.
  45. Anam Thubten 2009, Kindle loc. 362-365.
  46. Lama Surya Das 1997, p. 76.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Ringu Tulku 2005, pp. 34-35.
  48. Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, p. 140.
  49. Moffitt 2008, Kindle Locations 1654-1656.
  50. Gethin 1998, p. 76.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 51.3 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1059-1073.
  52. Gombrich 2009, p. 155-156.
  53. Aggivacchagotta Sutta; In the Buddha's Words, p367-369. Bhikku Bodhi
  54. Guenther, The Problem of the Soul in Early Buddhism, Curt Weller Verlag, Constanz, 1949, pp. 156-157.
  55. Choong 1999, p. 21.
  56. 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;
  57. 57.0 57.1 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1105-1113.
  58. Saṃyutta-nikāya I (PTS), p. 359
  59. 59.0 59.1 Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Brahma-nimantantika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  60. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 91.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 93.
  62. Harvey 1995, p. 87.
  63. Buddhaghosa andÑāṇamoli, 1999, p. 750, n. 3.[full citation needed]
  64. See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism , Buddharakkhita (1996b).
  65. Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 1.
  66. Buddhaghosa and Ñāṇamoli, 1999, pp. 1,7.)
  67. Satipatthana Sutta, DN ii.290
  68. Gombrich 2006.
  69. Gethin 1998, pp. 228-229.
  70. Pabongka Rinpoche 2006, Kindle loc. 1790-1796.
  71. Khunu Rinpoche 2012, Kindle loc. 1480-1482.
  72. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol 1987, p. 114.
  73. Thrangu Rinpoche 1993, p. 125.
  74. Dudjom Rinpoche 2011, Kindle loc. 8211-8215.
  75. Harvey 2012, p. 137.
  76. Gethin 1998, p. 232.
  77. Jeffery Hopkins (author). "The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace." Snow Lion Publications.
  78. Etienne Lamotte, tr. Sara Boin-Webb, Suramgamasamadhisutra, Curzon, London, 1998, p.4
  79. Collins 1998, p. 146-147.
  80. 80.0 80.1 80.2 80.3 80.4 80.5 Lindtner 1997.
  81. Lindtner 1999.
  82. 82.0 82.1 Akizuki 1990, p. 25-27.
  83. Ray 1999.
  84. 84.0 84.1 Reat 1998, p. xi.
  85. 85.0 85.1 85.2 Conze 1967, p. 10.
  86. Ray 1999, p. 374-377.
  87. 87.0 87.1 Ray 1999, p. 375.
  88. Walshe 1995, p. 223, 226.
  89. 89.0 89.1 Ray, p. 375.
  90. 90.0 90.1 Wynne 2007, p. 99.
  91. Wayman 1990.
  92. 92.0 92.1 92.2 Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  93. 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;
  94. 94.0 94.1 Gregory 1991, p. 288-289.
  95. Wayman 1990, p. 42.
  96. Harvey 1995-B, p. 56.
  97. Pabhassara Soetra, Anguttara Nikaya 1.49-52
  98. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  99. See also Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind.
  100. Ajahn Brahmali, Archived August 6, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  101. Rupert Gethin objects to parts of Harvey's argument; Archived June 16, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  102. 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.
  103. Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, page 355. ISBN 978-81-208-0880-5
  104. Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, pages 354-356. ISBN 978-81-208-0880-5
  105. See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, DN 11
  106. Christian Lindtner, Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing, 1997, page 322. Lindtner says that Nagarjuna is referencing the DN.
  107. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 100.
  108. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 94. The reference is at A I, 8-10.
  109. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, pages 94, 97.
  110. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  111. Harvey, page 99.
  112. 112.0 112.1 Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro, The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on nibbāna, page 131. Available online at
  113. 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.
  114. Thanissaro Bhukkhu's commentary on the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  115. Takpo Tashi Namgyal, Mahamudra Shambhala, Boston and London, 1986, p.219
  116. Yamamoto, Mahāyānism, p. 165
  117. Yamamoto, Mahāyānism
  118. William Edward Soothill, Lewis Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1997, p. 328. Digital version
  119. Yamamoto, Mahayanism, pp. 141, 142


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Further reading

  • Ajahn Brahm, "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook" (Wisdom Publications 2006) Part II.
  • 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.
  • Lindtner, Christian (1997). "Problems of Pre-Canonical Buddhism" (PDF). Buddhist Studies Review. 14 (2).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yogi Kanna, "Nirvana: Absolute Freedom" (Kamath Publishing; 2011) 198 pages.
  • Steven Collins. Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative (Cambridge University Press; 2010) 204 pages.

External links