Buddhist Buzzwords: Nirvana

I’ll end any and all confusion right now, NO I’m not talking about the Kurt Cobain led trio. So now that’s out there, it should be pretty clear what nirvana I am referring to now, right? While it is clear which one, the confusion I’m sure will not be expounded, as I say once again, I am no expert and these “Buzzwords” columns are my interpretation of things and how I understand them. And, I could very much be confusing my view as well, but so far, this is where I’m at with nirvana.

I’ll let an expert define the term here for me, this was taking from The Berzin Archives

Nirvana (mya-ngan ‘das, myang-‘das, Skt. nirvana, Pali:nibbana) in Sanskrit and Pali means, literally, an “extinguished state.” The image is that of a fire that has been extinguished due to there being no more fuel. In its most common usage, the fire represents the sufferings of uncontrollably recurring existence(samsara); while the fuel represents the disturbing emotions (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, Pali: kilesa) and karma represents the fuel. The Tibetan term for “nirvana” has a different connotation. It means, literally, a “state beyond sorrow,” referring to a state of release from suffering.

I searched around for an expert definition and that one really laid it out the way I understood “nirvana”. Delving a bit deeper, I guess what I’ll say here is what nirvana is not.

Nirvana is not some city in the clouds, where angels and deities hang out singing beautiful songs all day. Nirvana is not a place where a numberless amount of virgins are there at your beckon call.

Nirvana is not anything, nirvana is nowhere, nirvana is non-existent.

Nirvana is emptiness, in the sense that it is the lack of any disturbing thoughts, no attachments. I’ll get into emptiness at another point, as soon as I fully comprehend it enough to confidently post an opinion. But we are talking about nirvana here.

I’m sure some will consider this idea wrong, but I don’t necessarily believe nirvana is the end either. For some nirvana may be the end, but in the Tibetan tradition in particular, some vow to continue coming back over and over for the benefit of sentient beings. These folks, bodhisattvas, I believe can reach a sense of nirvana. While it is other’s wish to break the cycle of samsara, of birth and death, a bodhisattva makes a vow in one’s life to return over and over as long as other’s need them.

One of the greatestest examples of a walking, talking bodhisattva is the Dalai Lama himself. Other teachers and lamas make this same vow. Shantideva’s words here sum up what a bodhisattva aspire to be…

May I be a guard for all those who are protector-less,
A guide for those who journey on the road,
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.

Getting a bit off topic here, maybe bodhisattva should be a column in itself.

What I am trying to say with all this though is, nirvana does not have to be the end, it is not the end. BUT it is not some pie in the sky “heaven”, for lack of a better word. Nirvana is the very path we follow, and not to be all cryptic, nirvana is also the path we don’t follow.


  1. Fair words…

    I normally am led to think that there are at least two main senses in which we can interpret (to avoid the very specific academic word “define”) Nirvana: one is ethical, the other metaphysical.

    Ethically one could say that, even though knowing (or not) that Nirvana, as a such state of total release and “freedom” from earthly sufferings and miseries, is actually unachievable – in a strict sense, meaning that we, as corporeal, subjective, human individuals cannot “experience” this state -, even though knowing that, we can, or better, “ought” to act “as if” it was possible, and further, as if it was “already” our present state; in a way it would not only be any kind of “goal” of our values or beliefs, but as if we were actually living it, “practicing” it, “thinking” it… i.e. practicing the unpractable, thinking the unthinkable and ultimately living the unlivable… which only could be then possible in terms of morals, perhaps.

    Then, metaphysically one could state Nirvana as the unreachable “plain” or state, which one cannot properly relate to the “mind” or the “soul”, the “intellect” or whatsoever, since Nirvana would be “beyond” all that, and yet “beyond the beyond” and on… (and this is just what shows the metaphysical sense of the concept, in a way). It forces us to a kind of “ontology of nothingness” or something in this sense, dealing with the “non-existent”… but this “non-existent” must always be derived, as it seems, from the existent, the present, the finite corruptible beings which we are! And there once more comes the metaphysical meaning of the concept “Nirvana”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s