The State of Nirvana

Mukesh Srivastava

Joined February 2009

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Series: Annual World Peace Ceremony at Bodhgaya

Camera: Nikon D700, f-6, S-1/100s, ISO-200, Tamron 18-270mm

Nirvāna (Sanskrit: निर्वाण; Pali: निब्बान (nibbāna); Prakrit: णिव्वाण) is a central concept in Indian religions. In sramanic thought, it is the state of being free from suffering (or dukkha). In Hindu philosophy, it is the union with the Supreme being through moksha. The word literally means “blowing out” — referring, in the Hindu context, to the supreme state free of suffering and individual existence[citation needed], and in the Buddhist context, to the blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

The Buddha described nirvāna as the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger, and other afflicting states (kilesas). It is also the “end of the world;” there is no identity left and no boundaries for the mind. The subject is at peace with the world, has compassion for all, and gives up obsessions and fixations. This peace is achieved when the existing volitional formations are pacified and the conditions for the production of new ones are eradicated. In nirvāṇa, the root causes of craving and aversion have been extinguished, so that one is no longer subject to human suffering (Pali: dukkha) or further rebirth in samsāra.

The Pāli Canon also contains other perspectives on nirvāna; for one, it is linked to seeing the empty nature of all phenomena. It is also presented as a radical reordering of consciousness and unleashing of awareness.2 Scholar Herbert Guenther states that with nirvāṇa “the ideal personality, the true human being” becomes reality.3

In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says of nirvāna that it is “the highest happiness.” This happiness is an enduring, transcendental happiness integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment or bodhi, rather than the happiness derived from impermanent things. The knowledge accompanying nirvāṇa is expressed through the word bodhi.

The Buddha explains nirvāna as “the unconditioned” (asankhata) mind: a mind that has come to a point of perfect lucidity and clarity due to the cessation of the production of volitional formations. This is described by the Buddha as “deathlessness” (Pali: amata or amāravati) and as the highest spiritual attainment—the natural result that accrues to one who lives a life of virtuous conduct and practice in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path. Such a life engenders increasing control over the generation of karma (Skt; Pali, kamma). It produces wholesome karma with positive results and finally allows the cessation of the origination of karma altogether with the attainment of nibbāna. Otherwise, beings forever wander through the impermanent and suffering-generating realms of desire, form, and formlessness; collectively termed: samsāra.

Each liberated individual produces no new karma but preserves a particular individual personality which is the result of the traces of his or her karmic heritage. The very fact that there is a psycho-physical substrate during the remainder of an arahant’s lifetime shows the continuing effect of karma.

The stance of the early scriptures is that attaining nibbāna in either the current or some future birth depends on effort, and is not pre-determined.

Artwork Comments

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