Short Essay on the Concept of Nirvana in Buddhism

Although the state of perfection attained by following the Path is said to be ineffable, it is referred to in the Scriptures by a bewilderingly rich variety of names.

The best known of these in the West is Nirvana (Pali, Nibbana), from the root, meaning to blow, and the prefix nir, out or off hence the tradi­tional explanations of Nirvana as the ‘blowing out’ of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion and as the state wherein the thirst for sensuous ex­perience, for continued existence, and even for non-existence, is altogether absent.

Notwithstanding these etymologies, however, the goal of Buddhism is far from being a purely negative state, a metaphysical and psychological zero wherein individuality disappears, as some of the older Orient lists maintained that .the Buddhists believed.

What does not in reality exist cannot be said to cease to exist: all that is extinguished is the false assumption of an individual being distinct from and independent of the psychophysical processes of which it is composed.

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Positive descriptions of Nirvana are in fact of no less frequent occurrence in the Scriptures than negative ones, though in both cases it must be borne in mind that these are not so much definitions in the logical sense as conceptual and verbal signposts pointing in the direction of a realization which leaves them far behind.

No necessary connection exists between the word ‘orange’ and the fruit of that name; but one who has been told that it is a golden, nearly globose fruit belonging to the genus Citrus may be able, with the help of this description, to identify experience its unique and indefinable flavour for himself.

Psychologically, Nirvana is a state of absolute illumina­tion, supreme bliss, infinite love and compassion, unshakable serenity, and unrestricted spiritual freedom.


Ontologically, it is for the Hinayana an eternal, unchanging, extra-mental spiritual entity, wholly unconnected with the cos­mic process, and for the Mahayana the Absolute Reality transcending all oppositions including that between itself and Samsara.

As the supreme object of the spiritual consciousness, or Dharmakaya, it is the embodiment of Great Wisdom and Great Compassion and embraces all possible virtues and per­fections. It is the Infinite Light (Amitabha) and the Boundless Life (Amitayus), which has nothing to do with personal immortality.

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