Nirvana (Buddhism)

This article is about Nirvana in Buddhism. For other uses, see Nirvana (disambiguation).
Translations of
English blowing out,
Pali nibbāna (निब्बान)
Sanskrit nirvāṇa (निर्वाण)
Bengali নির্বাণ
Burmese နိဗ္ဗာန်
(IPA: [neɪʔbàɴ])
Chinese 涅槃
(Pinyin: nièpán)
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
(rtgs: nipphan)
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 literal meaning is "blowing out" or "quenching."[2] It is the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism and marks the soteriological release from rebirths in saṃsāra.[1][3] Nirvana is part of the Third Truth on "cessation of dukkha" in the Four Noble Truths,[1] and the summum bonum destination of the Noble Eightfold Path.[3]

Within the Buddhist tradition, this term has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the "three fires",[4] or "three poisons",[5][6][note 1] passion, (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidyā).[6] When these fires are extinguished, release from the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra) is attained.

Nirvana has also been deemed in Buddhism to be identical with anatta (non-self) and sunyata (emptiness) states.[7][8] 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,[9] the elimination of desire, and escape from the woods, cq. the five skandhas or aggregates.

Buddhist scholastic tradition identifies two types of nirvana: sopadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana with a remainder), and parinirvana or anupadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana without remainder, or final nirvana).[10] The founder of Buddhism, the Buddha is believed to have reached both these states.[10] Nirvana, or the liberation from cycles of rebirth, 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 continues to take rebirths in the world to help liberate beings from saṃsāra by teaching the Buddhist path.


The term nirvana describes a state of freedom from suffering and rebirth,[11] but different Buddhist traditions have interpreted the concept in different ways.[11][quote 1] The origin is probably pre-Buddhist,[11][9] and its etymology may not be conclusive for its meaning.[9] The term was a more or less central concept among the Jains, the Ajivikas, the Buddhists, and certain Hindu traditions, and it may have been imported into Buddhism with much of its semantic range from other sramanic movements.[11]

Nirvana has a wide range of meanings,[11] although the literal meaning is "blowing out" or "quenching".[9] 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.[11][quote 2]

The term nirvana in the soteriological sense of "blown out, extinguished" state of liberation does not appear in the Vedas nor in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads. According to Collins, "the Buddhists seem to have been the first to call it nirvana."[12] However, the ideas of spiritual liberation using different terminology, is found in ancient texts of non-Buddhist Indian traditions, such as in verse 4.4.6 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Hinduism.[13]


The prevalent interpretation of nirvana as "extinction" is based on the etymology of nir√vā to "blow out".[14] Nir is a negative, while va is commonly taken to refer to "to blow",[14]

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][15] 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).[15][note 2] Later exegetical works developed a whole new set of folk etymological definitions of the word nirvana, using the root vana to refer to "to blow", but re-parsing the word to roots that mean "weaving, sewing", "desire" and "forest or woods":[18][19]

The "blowing out" does not mean total annihilation,[9] but the extinguishing of a flame, which returns, and exists in another way.[24] The term nirvana can also be used as a verb: "he or she nirvāṇa-s," or "he or she parinirvānṇa-s" (parinibbāyati).[25][quote 5]

The term nirvana, "to blow out",[26] has also been interpreted as the extinction of the "three fires",[4] or "three poisons",[5][6] namely of passion or sensuality (raga), aversion or hate (dvesha) and of delusion or ignorance (moha or avidyā).[6] Another explanation of nirvana is the absence of the weaving (vana) of activity of the mind.[9]

To uncover

Some contemporary Buddhism scholars, states Paul Swanson, have questioned the above etymologies and whether these are consistent with the core doctrines of Buddhism, particularly about anatman (non-self) and pratityasamutpada (causality).[27] Matsumoto Shirō, for example, states that the original etymological root of nirvana should not be considered as nir√vā which means "extinction", but should be considered to be nir√vŗ, to "uncover".[28] The problem with considering it as extinction or liberation, is that it presupposes a "self" to be extinguished or liberated.[28] According to Matsumoto, the original meaning of nirvana was therefore not “to extinguish” but "to uncover" the atman from that which is anatman (not atman).[29] Other Buddhist scholars such as Takasaki Jikidō disagree, states Swanson, and call the Matsumoto proposal as "too far and leaving nothing that can be called Buddhist".[28]

Moksha, Mukti

Nirvana is used synonymously with moksha (Sanskrit), also vimoksha, or vimutti (Pali), "release, deliverance from suffering".[30][web 2][note 5] In the Pali-canon two kinds of vimutti are discerned:[web 2]

Ceto-vimutti becomes permanent, only with the attainment of pañña-vimutti.[web 2] According to Gombrich and other scholars, these may be a later development within the canon, reflecting a growing emphasis in earliest Buddhism on prajña, instead of the liberating practice of dhyana; it may also reflect a successful assimilation of non-Buddhist meditation practices in ancient India into the Buddhist canon.[32][31]


Release from samsara

By following the Noble Eightfold Path, which culminates in the practice of four dhyana, which starts with extinction of the three fires (passion, hate, delusion), proceeds to ceasing all discursive thoughts and apperceptions, then ceasing all feelings (happiness and sadness) unto nothingness, which leads to nirvana of the Arhats.[33][34] In later Buddhism, this practice was deemed sufficient only for the extinguishing of passion and hatred, while delusion was extinguished by insight.[16]

The cycle of rebirth and suffering continues until a being attains nirvana. One requirement for ending this cycle is to extinguish the fires of attachment (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha or avidya):

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.[35][quote 6] 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.[25][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."[41]
  • 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."[41]
  • 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."[42]</ref>

There are two stages in nirvana, one in life, the second is final nirvana upon death; the former is imprecise and general, the latter is precise and specific.[43] The nirvana-in-life marks the life of a monk who has attained complete release from desire and suffering but still has a body, name and life. The nirvana-after-death, also called nirvana-without-substrate, is the complete cessation of everything, including consciousness and rebirth.[43]


In early Buddhism, Nirvana is used as a synonym for vimutti, release from samsara, as the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path.[quote 7] It remains the highest goal in contemporary Theravada tradition.[quote 8] According to the Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana tradition, the attainment of nirvana is a lesser goal; the highest goal is the attainment of Buddhahood.[46][47][48] A being who has attained the Buddhahood does not abide in an isolated nirvana, but out of compassion seeks to liberate all sentient beings by teaching the Buddhist path.[49][quote 9] Most other sutras of the Mahayana tradition, states Jan Nattier, present three alternate goals of the path: Arhatship, Pratyekabuddhahood, and Buddhahood, in which "extinction is forever" is a dictum.[50]

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:[51][quote 10]

Gombrich explains that the five skandhas or aggregates are the bundles of firewood that fuel the three fires.[22] The Buddhist practitioner ought to "drop" these bundles, so that the fires are no longer fueled and "blow out".[23] When this is done, the bundles still remain as long as this life continues, but they are no longer "on fire."[54]

What happens with one who has reached nirvana after death is an unanswerable question.[64][quote 16] According to Walpola Rahula, the five aggregates vanish but there does not remain a mere "nothingness."[64] [quote 17] Rahula's view, states Gombrich, is not accurate summary of the Buddhist thought, and mirrors the Upanishadic thought.[quote 18][quote 19]

Anatta, Sunyata

Nirvana is also described in Buddhist texts as identical to anatta (anatman, non-self, lack of any self).[67][68][69] Anatta means there is no abiding self or soul in any being or a permanent essence in any thing.[70][71] This interpretation asserts that all reality is of dependent origination and a worldly construction of each human mind, therefore ultimately a delusion or ignorance.[70][72] In Buddhist thought, this must be overcome, states Martin Southwold, through "the realization of anatta, which is nirvana".[72]

Nirvana in some Buddhist traditions is described as the realization of sunyata (emptiness or nothingness).[8] Madhyamika Buddhist texts call this as the middle point of all dualities (Middle Way), where all subject-object discrimination and polarities disappear, there is no conventional reality, and the only ultimate reality of emptiness is all that remains.[73]


The Four planes of liberation
(according to the Sutta Piaka[74])



until suffering's end


1. identity view (Anatman)
2. doubt in Buddha
3. ascetic or ritual rules


up to seven rebirths in
human or heavenly realms


once more as
a human


4. sensual desire
5. ill will

once more in
a heavenly realm
(Pure Abodes)


6. material-rebirth desire
7. immaterial-rebirth desire
8. conceit
9. restlessness
10. ignorance


no rebirth

Source: Ñāamoli & Bodhi (2001), Middle-Length Discourses, pp. 41-43.

The Theravada tradition identifies four progressive stages.[note 7][77] The first three lead to favorable rebirths in more pleasant realms of existence, while the last culminates in nirvana as an Arahat who is a fully awakened person. The first three are reborn because they still have some of the fetters, while arhat has abandoned all ten fetters and, upon death will never be reborn in any realm or world, having wholly escaped saṃsāra.[78]

At the start, a monk's mind treats nirvana as an object (nirvanadhatu). This is followed by realizing the insight of three universal lakshana (marks): impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and nonself (anatman). Thereafter the monastic practice aims at eliminating the ten fetters that lead to rebirth.[79]


In the Theravada-tradition, nirvana is regarded as an uncompounded or unconditioned state of being which is "transmundane",[80][note 8] and which is beyond our normal dualistic conceptions.[82][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.[83]


According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, individuals up to the level of non-returning may experience nirvāna as an object of consciousness.[84][note 9] Certain contemplations with nibbana as an object of samādhi lead, if developed, to the level of non-returning.[85] 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.[86]


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.[87]

In the Visuddhimagga, chapter I.v.6, Buddhaghosa identifies various options within the Pali canon for pursuing a path to nirvana.[note 10][note 11]

  1. By jhana and understanding (see Dh. 372)[88]
  2. by deeds, vision and righteousness (see MN iii.262)[lower-alpha 2]
  3. By virtue, consciousness and understanding (7SN i.13);[lower-alpha 3]
  4. by virtue, understanding, concentration and effort;[lower-alpha 4]
  5. By the four foundations of mindfulness.[91][lower-alpha 5]</ref> 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.[92]

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.[93][note 12]



The Buddha's quest for nirvana, a relief in Vietnam.
Main article: Buddhahood

The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition envisions an attainment beyond nirvana, namely Buddhahood.[quote 21][note 13] The Hinayana path only leads to one's own liberation, either as sravaka (listener, hearer, or disciple) or as pratyeka-buddha (solitary realizer).[note 14] 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.[49][quote 9]

Five paths and ten bhumis

Main articles: Bodhisattva and Bhūmi (Buddhism)

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.’[107]

Buddha-nature, luminuous consciousness

The Mahayana-tradition discussed nirvana with its concept of the Buddha-nature, the innate presence of Buddha-hood.[108] With nirvāṇa the consciousness is released, and the mind becomes aware in a way that is totally unconstrained by anything in the conditioned world.[109]

According to Wayman, the idea of an innately pure luminous mind (prabhasvara citta[110]), "which is only adventitiously covered over by defilements (agantukaklesa)"[110] lead to the development of the concept of Buddha-nature, the idea that Buddha-hood is already innate, but not recognised.[111] The same idea is also mentioned in the Theravada tradition, such as in Anguttara Nikaya.[112][note 15]

In one interpretation, the "luminous consciousness" is identical with nirvāṇa.[114] Others disagree, finding it to be not nirvāṇa itself, but instead to be a kind of consciousness accessible only to arahants.[115][116] A passage in the Majjhima Nikaya likens it to empty space.[117]

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.[84][86]

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.[118][quote 23]

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.[119] According to Peter Harvey, the early texts are ambivalent as to whether or not the term "consciousness" is accurate.[120] In a liberated individual, this is directly experienced, in a way that is free from any dependence on conditions at all.[119][121]

Purified mind
See also: Dharmakaya

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.'[122]


An alternative ideas of nirvana is found in the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras. The title itself means a garbha (womb, matrix, seed) containing Tathagata (Buddha). These Sutras suggest, states Paul Williams, that 'all sentient beings contain a Tathagata' as their 'essence, core or essential inner nature'.[123] The Tathagatagarbha doctrine, at its earliest probably appeared about the later part of the 3rd century CE, and is verifiable in Chinese translations of 1st millennium CE.[123] Most scholars consider the Tathagatagarbha doctrine of an 'essential nature' in every living being is equivalent to 'Self',[note 17] and it contradicts the "no self" (or no soul, no atman, anatta) doctrines in a vast majority of Buddhist texts, leading scholars to posit that the Tathagatagarbha Sutras were written to promote Buddhism to non-Buddhists.[125][126]

Mahaparinirvana Sutra

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. Kosho Yamamoto, translator of the full-length Nirvana Sutra, translates the explanation of nirvana in Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra as follows:

"O good man! We speak of "Nirvana". But this is not "Great” “Nirvana". Why is it "Nirvana", but not "Great Nirvana"? This is so when one cuts away defilement without seeing the Buddha-Nature. That is why we say Nirvana, but not Great Nirvana. When one does not see the Buddha-Nature, what there is is the non-Eternal and the non-Self. All that there is is but Bliss and Purity. Because of this, we cannot have Mahaparinirvana, although defilement has been done away with. When one sees well the Buddha-Nature and cuts away defilement, we then have Mahaparinirvana. Seeing the Buddha-Nature, we have the Eternal, Bliss, the Self, and the Pure. Because of this, we can have Mahaparinirvana, as we cut away defilement."

"O good man! "Nir" means "not"; "va" means "to extinguish". Nirvana means "non- extinction". Also, "va" means "to cover". Nirvana also means "not covered". "Not covered" is Nirvana. "Va" means "to go and come". "Not to go and come" is Nirvana. "Va" means "to take". "Not to take" is Nirvana." "Va" means "not fixed". When there is no unfixedness, there is Nirvana. "Va" means "new and old". What is not new and old is Nirvana.
"O good man! The disciples of Uluka [i.e. the founder of the Vaishesika school of philosophy] and Kapila [founder of the Samkhya school of philosophy] say: "Va means characterisitic". "Characteristiclessness" is Nirvana.”
"O good man! Va means "is". What is not "is" is Nirvana. Va means harmony. What has nothing to be harmonised is Nirvana. Va means suffering. What has no suffering is Nirvana.
"O good man! What has cut away defilement is no Nirvana. What calls forth no defilement is Nirvana. O good man! The All-Buddha-Tathagata calls forth no defilement. This is Nirvana.

Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Chapter 31, Translated by Kōshō Yamamoto[127][128][note 18]

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, 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.[130]

History and influences

Non-Buddhist influences

The early Buddhist texts and Nagarjuna exegesis of canonical texts, states Lindtner, suggest that there were competing views throughout the history of Buddhism, on what nirvana is, and how one attains it.[131] All these views were partly similar and likely influenced by various theories of soteriological liberation that are found in the oldest Upanishads of Hinduism and in Shramana movements such as Jainism.[132] The difference, adds Lindtner, is that Buddhism abandoned the concept of Brahman, and coined the term nirvana instead, a concept whose scope and meaning developed over time.[133]

According to Lindtner, the original and early Buddhist concepts of nirvana was similar to those found in competing Sramana traditions such as Jainism and Vedic. It was not a psychological idea or purely related to a being's inner world, but a concept described in terms of the world surrounding the being, cosmology and consciousness.[134] All Indian religions, over time, states Lindtner evolved these ideas, internalizing the state but in different ways because early and later Vedanta continued with the metaphysical idea of Brahman and soul, but Buddhism did not.[135] The canonical Buddhism views on Nirvana was a reaction against early (precanonical) Buddhism, along with the assumptions of Jainism and the Upanishadic thought on the idea of personal liberation.[136]

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,[137][138][139][140] and survived in the Mahayana tradition.[141][142] 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."[141] The Mahayana tradition may have preserved a very old, "pre-Canonical" and oral Buddhist tradition, which was largely, but not completely, left out of the Theravada-canon.[142]

Nirvana as consciousness

Regamy has identified four points which are central to Schayer's reconstruction of precanonical Buddhism:[143]

  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.

Conze mentions ideas like the "person" (pudgala), the assumption of an eternal "consciousness" in the saddhatusutra, the identification of the Absolute, as descriptors of Nirvana to mean 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."[142]

Nirvana as a location

Schayer's methodology has been used by M. Falk.[144][note 19] 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:[144]

  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 20]

According to Falk, this scheme is reflected in the precanonical conception of the path to liberation.[146] 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.[146] 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."[147]

According to Lindtner, in precanonical Buddhism Nirvana is a physical place and the outer most realm of cosmos.[148] This is a place, states Lindtner, referred to as nirvanadhatu, without border-signs (animitta), it cannot be visualized (anidarsana), it is past the other six dhatus (beginning with earth and ending with vijñana) but is closest to akasa and vijñana. Once there in this is place of nirvana, one does not slip back, it is acyutapada. As opposed to this world, adds Lindtner, nirvana in early Buddhism is a pleasant place to be in, "it is sukha, things work well".[149][note 21]

Elements of this precanonical Buddhism may have survived the canonisation, and its subsequent filtering out of ideas, and re-appeared in Mahayana Buddhism.[137][139] According to Lindtner, the existence of multiple, and contradicting ideas, is also reflected in the works of 2nd-century Nagarjuna, who tried to harmonize these different and conflicting ideas in Buddhist literature that preceded him. According to Lindtner, this lead him to take a "paradoxical" stance, on nirvana, where he rejects any positive description and rejects any absolute, while paradoxically accepting all sides within the Buddhist traditions.[150]

See also


  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]
  2. Not only the three fires, but also the extinction of the defilements and tanha are mentioned as nirvana:[17]
    • "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)
    • Sutta-nipata: "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."
    • Majjhima Nikaya 2-Att. 4.68: "The liberated mind (citta) that no longer clings' means nibbāna."
  3. 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."[15]
  4. Gombrich explains that the five skandhas or aggregates are the bundles of firewood that fuel the three fires.[22] The Buddhist practitioner ought to "drop" these bundles, so that the fires are no longer fueled and "blow out".[23]
  5. "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]
  6. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha describes nirvāṇa as "the highest happiness",[56] an enduring happiness qualitatively different from the limited, transitory happiness derived from impermanent things.
  7. These four stages are: Stream-enterer (Sotapanna), Once returner (Sakadagami), Non-returner (Anagami), Worthy one (Arhat)
  8. 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.[81]
  9. See for example the Jhana Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  10. 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.)
  11. These include:
    1. By insight (vipassana) alone [lower-alpha 1]
  12. 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.[94] The Canon does not support the identification of the "luminous mind" with nirvanic consciousness, though it plays a role in the realization of nirvāṇa.[95][96] 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."[97]
  13. 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."[99]
  14. 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]
  15. Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements".[113][note 16]
  16. 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
  17. Wayman and Wayman have disagreed with this view, and they state that the Tathagatagarbha is neither self nor sentient being, nor soul, nor personality.[124]
  18. The names of the founders of Hindu philosophy, along with Rishaba of Jainism, as well as Shiva and Vishnu, are found in the Chinese versions of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.[129]
  19. M. Falk (1943, Nama-rupa and Dharma-rupa
  20. 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. [145]
  21. Cited in Wynne (2007) p.99.[147]

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".<ref>Buddhaghosa andÑāṇamoli, 1999, p. 750, n. 3.
  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.[89] 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."[90]
  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: "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.[11]
  2. Buswell: "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.[11]
  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, 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.[16]
  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.[20]
  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."[25]
  6. See:
    • 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]
  7. 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.'[44][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 [...]"[26]
    • Donald Lopez: "Nirvana is [...] the oldest and most common designation for the goal of the Buddhist path "[web 4]
  8. 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 Sucitto states: "Nibbāna is held to be the ultimate goal in Buddhism."[45]
  9. 1 2 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."[100]
    • 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."[101]
    • 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.[102]
    • 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."[103]
    • 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)."[104]
    • 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."[105]
    • 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.[49]
  10. 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."[52]
    • 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).[53]
  11. 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."[55]
  12. 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."[57]
    • Damien Keown: "Nirvana [...] involves a radically transformed state of consciousness which is free of the obsession with ‘me and mine’."[58]
    • 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.[55]
  13. Peacefulness:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The state of perfect peace that comes when craving is eliminated is Nibbāna (nirvāṇa)."[59]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "It is also described as the deathless, absolute peace, freedom, and so forth."[44]
    • Lama Surya Das states: "Nirvana is inconceivable inner peace, the cessation of craving and clinging."[60]
    • Walpola Rahula states:[57] "He who has realized the Truth, Nirvāṇa, is (...) joyful, exultant, enjoying the pure life, his faculties pleased, free from anxiety, serene and peaceful."[lower-roman 6]
    • Damien Keown states:[58] "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."
  14. Non-reactiveness:
    • Phillip Moffitt states:[61] "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:[62] "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."
  15. 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."[63]
  16. 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]."[64]
  17. 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.[64]
  18. Richard Gombrich, who studied with Walpola Rahula, 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.[65]
  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."[66][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’."[82]
  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 7] The fact that the Buddha taught them is an example of his ‘skill in means’ (upaya-kauśalya) as a teacher.[lower-roman 8] 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.[98]
  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."[106]
  23. 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.[118]

Further notes on quotes

  1. Vetter, Gombrich, and Bronkhorst, among others, notes that the emphasis on "liberating insight" is a later development.[36][37][38] 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.<ref name='FOOTNOTEVetter1988'>Vetter 1988.
  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".[39][40]
  3. Ceto-vimutti
  4. Goldstein is quoting from the final paragraph of the Maha Saropama Sutta; see Maha Saropama Sutta.
  5. 1 2 Gethin cites: Dhammapada-atthakathā ii. 163; Vibhaṇga-atthakatha 433.
  6. Rahula cites: Majjhima-nikāya II (PTS), p. 121
  7. Gethin footnote: Also Śrīmālādevī 78–94; and Lankāvatāra Sūtra 63; cf. Herbert V. Guenther (trans.), The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (London, 1970), 4–6.
  8. Gethin footnote: On the notion of ‘skill in means’ see Michael Pye, Skilful Means (London, 1978); Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism, 143–50.


  1. 1 2 3 Buswell & Lopez 2013, pp. 589-590.
  2. Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
  3. 1 2 Keown 2004, pp. 194-195.
  4. 1 2 Gombrich 2006, p. 65.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Gombrich 2006, p. 66.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Buswell & Lopez 2013, Kindle loc. 44535.
  7. Steven Collins (1990). Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-0-521-39726-1.;
    Genjun Sasaki (1986). Linguistic Approach to Buddhist Thought. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-81-208-0038-0.;
    Sue Hamilton (2000). Early Buddhism: A New Approach : the I of the Beholder. Routledge. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-0-7007-1280-9.
  8. 1 2 Mun-Keat Choong (1999). The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–4, 85–88. ISBN 978-81-208-1649-7.;
    Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 58–60. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8.;
    David Loy (2009). Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays. State University of New York Press. pp. 35–39. ISBN 978-1-4384-2680-8.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cousins 1998, p. 9.
  10. 1 2 Buswell & Lopez 2013, p. 590.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Buswell 2004, p. 600.
  12. Steven Collins (1998). Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge University Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-0-521-57054-1.
  13. Max Müller (2011). Theosophy Or Psychological Religion. Cambridge University Press. pp. 307–310. ISBN 978-1-108-07326-4.
  14. 1 2 Swanson 1997, p. 10.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Hwang 2006, p. 12.
  16. 1 2 Gombrich 2006, p. 66-67.
  17. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 934-953.
  18. Hwang 2006, p. 12-13.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Collins 2010, p. 64.
  20. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 5193-5198.
  21. Smith & Novak 2009, pp. 51-52, Quote: 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..
  22. 1 2 Gombrich 2006, p. 67.
  23. 1 2 Gombrich 2006, p. 67-68.
  24. Schreiber, Ehrhard & Diener 2008, p. 262.
  25. 1 2 3 Gethin 1998, p. 75.
  26. 1 2 Smith & Novak 2009, pp. 51-52.
  27. Swanson 1997, pp. 119-124.
  28. 1 2 3 Swanson 1997, p. 124.
  29. Swanson 1997, pp. 123-124, Swanson cites Matsumoto Shiro (1989), Engi to ku-Nyoraizo shiso hihan [Causality and emptiness – A critique of tathagata-garbha thought], Tokyo Daizo Shuppan, pages 191-192, 195-219.
  30. Buswell 2013, p. 547.
  31. 1 2 Vetter 1988, pp. 63-65 with footnotes.
  32. Gombrich 2006, p. 96-134.
  33. Vetter 1988, pp. 68-69.
  34. Trainor 2004, pp. 80-81.
  35. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Kindle Locations 5188-5193.
  36. Vetter 1988.
  37. Bronkhorst 1993.
  38. Gombrich 1996.
  39. Sharf 1995-B.
  40. Sharf 2000.
  41. 1 2 Williams 2002, pp. 47-48.
  42. Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 1025-1032.
  43. 1 2 Steven Collins, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press, 1982, pages 206-208.
  44. 1 2 Goldstein 2011, pp. 158-159.
  45. Ajahn Sucitto 2010, pp. 162-163.
  46. Clarke 2004, p. 540.
  47. Baroni 2002, p. 36.
  48. Kornberg Greenberg 2008, p. 88.
  49. 1 2 3 Duckworth 2011, Kindle loc. 430-436.
  50. Jan Nattier (2007). The Bodhisattva Path: Based on the Ugraparipṛcchā, a Mahāyāna Sūtra. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-81-208-2048-7.
  51. 1 2 3 Gombrich 2006, p. 68-69.
  52. Lopez 2001, p. 47.
  53. Harvey 1990, p. 61.
  54. 1 2 3 Gombrich 2006, p. 68.
  55. 1 2 Gethin 1998, pp. 75-76.
  56. Verse 204, nibbanam paramam sukham
  57. 1 2 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1095-1104.
  58. 1 2 Keown 2000, Kindle Locations 1016-1025.
  59. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2011, p. 25.
  60. Lama Surya Das 1997, p. 76.
  61. Moffitt 2008, Kindle Locations 1654-1656.
  62. Ringu Tulku 2005, pp. 34-35.
  63. Gethin 1998, p. 76.
  64. 1 2 3 4 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1059-1073.
  65. Gombrich 2009, p. 155-156.
  66. Aggivacchagotta Sutta; In the Buddha's Words, p367-369. Bhikku Bodhi
  67. Steven Collins (1990). Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-0-521-39726-1.
  68. Genjun Sasaki (1986). Linguistic Approach to Buddhist Thought. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-81-208-0038-0.
  69. Sue Hamilton (2000). Early Buddhism: A New Approach : the I of the Beholder. Routledge. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-0-7007-1280-9.
  70. 1 2 Sue Hamilton-Blyth (2013). Early Buddhism: A New Approach: The I of the Beholder. Routledge. pp. 19–28. ISBN 978-1-136-84293-1.
  71. [a] Christmas Humphreys (2012). Exploring Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-136-22877-3.
    [b] Brian Morris (2006). Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-521-85241-8., Quote: "(...) anatta is the doctrine of non-self, and is an exteme empiricist doctrine that holds that the notion of an unchanging permanent self is a fiction and has no reality. According to Buddhist doctrine, the individual person consists of five skandhas or heaps - the body, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. The belief in a self or soul, over these five skandhas, is illusory and the cause of suffering."
    [c] Richard Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-134-90352-8., Quote: "(...) Buddha's teaching that beings have no soul, no abiding essence. This 'no-soul doctrine' (anatta-vada) he expounded in his second sermon."
  72. 1 2 Martin Southwold (1983). Buddhism in Life: The Anthropological Study of Religion and the Sinhalese Practice of Buddhism. Manchester University Press. pp. 209–210. ISBN 978-0-7190-0971-6.
  73. Merv Fowler (1999). Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-1-898723-66-0.
  74. See, for instance, the "Snake-Simile Discourse" (MN 22), where the Buddha states:
    "Monks, this Teaching so well proclaimed by me, is plain, open, explicit, free of patchwork. In this Teaching that is so well proclaimed by me and is plain, open, explicit and free of patchwork; for those who are arahants, free of taints, who have accomplished and completed their task, have laid down the burden, achieved their aim, severed the fetters binding to existence, who are liberated by full knowledge, there is no (future) round of existence that can be ascribed to them. – Majjhima Nikaya i.130 ¶ 42, Translated by Nyanaponika Thera (Nyanaponika, 2006)
  75. The "fruit" (Pali: phala) is the culmination of the "path" (magga). Thus, for example, the "stream-enterer" is the fruit for one on the "stream-entry" path; more specifically, the stream-enterer has abandoned the first three fetters, while one on the path of stream-entry strives to abandon these fetters.
  76. Both the stream-enterer and the once-returner abandon the first three fetters. What distinguishes these stages is that the once-returner additionally attenuates lust, hate and delusion, and will necessarily be reborn only once more.
  77. Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8.
  78. Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. pp. 37–38, 62, 850, 854. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8.
  79. Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. pp. 37–38, 62, 65. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8.
  80. Choong 1999, p. 21.
  81. 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;
  82. 1 2 Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 1105-1113.
  83. Saṃyutta-nikāya I (PTS), p. 359
  84. 1 2 Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Brahma-nimantantika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  85. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 91.
  86. 1 2 Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 93.
  87. Harvey 1995, p. 87.
  88. See Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism , Buddharakkhita (1996b).
  89. Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli, 1999, p. 1.
  90. Buddhaghosa and Ñāṇamoli, 1999, pp. 1,7.)
  91. Satipatthana Sutta, DN ii.290
  92. Gombrich 2006.
  93. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 100.
  94. 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.
  95. 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.
  96. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  97. Harvey, page 99.
  98. Gethin 1998, pp. 228-229.
  99. Pabongka Rinpoche 2006, Kindle loc. 1790-1796.
  100. Khunu Rinpoche 2012, Kindle loc. 1480-1482.
  101. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol 1987, p. 114.
  102. Thrangu Rinpoche 1993, p. 125.
  103. Dudjom Rinpoche 2011, Kindle loc. 8211-8215.
  104. Harvey 2012, p. 137.
  105. Gethin 1998, p. 232.
  106. Jeffery Hopkins (author). "The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace." Snow Lion Publications.
  107. Etienne Lamotte, tr. Sara Boin-Webb, Suramgamasamadhisutra, Curzon, London, 1998, p.4
  108. Wayman 1990.
  109. 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;
  110. 1 2 Gregory 1991, p. 288-289.
  111. Wayman 1990, p. 42.
  112. Harvey 1995-B, p. 56.
  113. Pabhassara Soetra, Anguttara Nikaya 1.49-52
  114. See also Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind.
  115. Ajahn Brahmali, Archived August 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  116. Rupert Gethin objects to parts of Harvey's argument; Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  117. 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.
  118. 1 2 Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro, The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on nibbāna, page 131. Available online at
  119. 1 2 Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  120. 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.
  121. Thanissaro Bhukkhu's commentary on the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta, Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism.
  122. Takpo Tashi Namgyal, Mahamudra Shambhala, Boston and London, 1986, p.219
  123. 1 2 Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
  124. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
  125. Paul Williams (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Routledge. pp. 104–105, 108. ISBN 978-1-134-25056-1.
  126. Merv Fowler (1999). Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-898723-66-0., Quote: "Some texts of the tathagatagarbha literature, such as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra actually refer to an atman, though other texts are careful to avoid the term. This would be in direct opposition to the general teachings of Buddhism on anatta. Indeed, the distinctions between the general Indian concept of atman and the popular Buddhist concept of Buddha-nature are often blurred to the point that writers consider them to be synonymous."
  127. Kosho Yamamoto (1973), The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 12, No. 374, page 346
  128. Kōshō Yamamoto (1974). The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana-sutra: a complete translation from the classical Chinese language in 3 volumes. Karinbunko. pp. 504–505.
  129. Lewis Hodous; William E. Soothill (18 December 2003). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-135-79123-0.
  130. William Edward Soothill, Lewis Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1997, p. 328. Digital version
  131. Lindtner 1997, pp. 109-133.
  132. Lindtner 1997, pp. 116, 129-133.
  133. Lindtner 1997, p. 132.
  134. Lindtner 1997, pp. 112-113, 118-119.
  135. Lindtner 1997, pp. 131-132, 110-112, 122-123.
  136. Lindtner 1997, p. 129.
  137. 1 2 Lindtner 1997.
  138. Lindtner 1999.
  139. 1 2 Akizuki 1990, p. 25-27.
  140. Ray 1999.
  141. 1 2 Reat 1998, p. xi.
  142. 1 2 3 Conze 1967, p. 10.
  143. Ray 1999, p. 374-377.
  144. 1 2 Ray 1999, p. 375.
  145. Walshe 1995, p. 223, 226.
  146. 1 2 Ray, p. 375.
  147. 1 2 Wynne 2007, p. 99.
  148. Lindtner 1997, pp. 114-117.
  149. Lindtner 1997, pp. 116-117.
  150. Lindtner 1997, pp. 122-129.


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