Nirvana in Indian traditions

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Template:Clone Template:Buddhist term

For Nirvana in Buddhism, see Nirvana.

Template:IAST (Template:Lang-sa; Template:Lang-pi nibbāna ; Template:Lang-pra) literally means "blown out", as in a candle.[1] It is most commonly associated with Buddhism.[web 1]Template:Sfn In Indian religions, the attainment of nirvana is moksha,Template:Refn liberation from the repeating cycle of birth, life and death (reincarnation).[2]Template:SfnTemplate:Refn

In the Buddhist context nirvana refers to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.[1] In Hindu philosophy, it is the union with the divine ground of existence Brahman (Supreme Being) and the experience of blissful egolessness.Template:Sfn


The word nirvāṇa is from the verbal root √ 'blow' in the form of past participle vāna 'blown'; prefixed with the preverb nis which means '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 It is used in the sense of 'dead' in the Mahābhārata (i.e. life extinguished). [Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary sv nirvāṇa]

Folk etymologies

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

  • ni (nir, nis, nih): out, away from, without, a term that is used to negate
  • vā: blowing as in blowing of the wind and also as smelling[3]
  • na: nor, never, do not, did not, should not[4]

Vana is forest in/of the forest/forests; composed of flowers and other items of the forest.,[4] but vana has both phones van and va. Van has both an auspicious and ominous aspect:

  • van: like, love; wish, desire; gain, procure; conquer, win; possess; prepare;[5]
  • van:tree; forest; thicket, cluster, group; quantity; wood[5]
  • va: blow (of wind); emit (an odor), be wafted or diffused[5]
  • va: weave[5]

However note that though Prabhupada associates the two vana, 'forest' derives from a different root than vāna 'blown' and the two words are not cognate.


The abhidharma-mahāvibhāsa-sāstra, a sarvastivādin commentary, 3rd century BCE and later, describes[6] the possible etymological interpretations of the word nirvana. Template:RefnTemplate:Refn

Vana +Nir Nature of nirvana[7]
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, of 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

Each of the five aggregates is called a skandha, which means "tree trunk." All five skandha serve to inform the study of experience. Missing their causal relations leads away from the path to nirvana. Skandha also means "heap" or "pile" or "mass," which is the nature of their interdependence, like an endless knot's path, or a forest.


Nirvāṇa is a term used in Hinduism,Template:Sfn[8] Jainism,Template:Sfn Buddhism,[8][9] and Sikhism.[10] 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 bhāvanāTemplate:Refn or sādhanā.

The idea of moksha is connected to the Vedic culture, which had notion of amrtam, "immortality",Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn and also a notion of a timeless, an "unborn", "the still point of the turning world of time".Template:Sfn It was also its timeless structure, the whole underlying "the spokes of the invariable but incessant wheel of time".Template:SfnTemplate:Refn 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.Template:SfnTemplate:Refn The continuation of life after death came to be seen as dependent on sacrificial action, karma,Template:Sfn These ideas further developed into the notion of insight into the real nature of the timeless Brahman and the paramatman.Template:Sfn 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."Template:Sfn

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.Template:Sfn


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

Template:See also The terms moksa and nirvana are often used interchangeably in the Jain texts.[11][12] In Jainism, moksha (liberation) follows nirvāṇa. Nirvana means final release from the karmic bondage. An arhat becomes a siddha ("one who is accomplished") after nirvāṇa.Template: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.Template:Refn Uttaradhyana Sutra provides an account of Gautama explaining the meaning of nirvāṇa to Kesi, a disciple of Parshva.[13]



In the Buddhist tradition, nirvana is described as the extinguishing of the fires that cause suffering.[14] 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.[15][16]

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:Template:Sfn

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.[17]



According to Zaehner and "many commentators",Template:Sfn nirvana is a Buddhist term rather than a Hindu term.Template:Sfn The term nirvana was not used in Hinduism prior to its use in the Bhagavad Gita,Template:Sfn though according to van Buitenen the use of the term was not confined to Buddhism at the time the Bhagavad Gita was written.Template:Sfn 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.Template:Sfn


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;[18] while according to Flood, "The attainment of nirvana is thus moksa."[2]

Moksha is derived from the root mu(n)c (Template:Lang-sa), which means free, let go, release, liberate.[19][20] In Vedas and early Upanishads, the word mucyate (Template:Lang-sa)[19] 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.[21]

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.Template:Sfn The term brahmanirvana is used 5 times in the Bhagavad Gita:Template: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.[22][23]

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

According to Gavin Flood, Template:Quote

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benāres to Modern Colombo. Routledge
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gavin Flood, Nirvana. In: John Bowker (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  3. Template:Cite web
  4. 4.0 4.1 Template:Cite web Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "vedanet" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Direct quotes
  8. 8.0 8.1 Template:Cite book
  9. Template:Cite book
  10. Template:Cite book
  11. Template:Cite book: "Moksa and Nirvana are synonymous in Jainism". p.168
  12. 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
  13. Template:Cite book
  14. Template:Cite web
  15. Template:Cite web
  16. Template:Cite web
  17. Template:Cite web
  18. Template:Cite book
  19. 19.0 19.1 मुच Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary, Germany (2008)
  20. Sten Rohde, Deliver us from Evil: studies on the Vedic ideas of salvation, Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen, pp 25-35
  21. Template:Citation
  22. Bhagavad Gita 5.24, 5,25, 5.26
  23. Template:Citation

Online references




Further reading

  • Ajahn Brahm, "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook" (Wisdom Publications 2006) Part II.
  • Template:Cite journal
  • 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


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