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(nērvä`nə), in BuddhismBuddhism
, religion and philosophy founded in India c.525 B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. There are over 300 million Buddhists worldwide. One of the great world religions, it is divided into two main schools: the Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, and
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, JainismJainism
[i.e., the religion of Jina], religious system of India practiced by about 5,000,000 persons. Jainism, Ajivika, and Buddhism arose in the 6th cent. B.C. as protests against the overdeveloped ritualism of Hinduism, particularly its sacrificial cults, and the authority of
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, and HinduismHinduism
, Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the vast majority of the people of India. One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in
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, a state of supreme liberation and bliss, contrasted to samsara or bondage in the repeating cycle of death and rebirth. The word in Sanskrit refers to the going out of a flame once its fuel has been consumed; it thus suggests both the end of suffering and the cessation of desires that perpetuate bondage. Epithets of nirvana in Buddhism include "the free," "the immortal," and "the unconditioned." Nirvana is attainable in life, and the death of one who has attained it is termed parinirvana, or complete nirvana. This has often been interpreted as annihilation, but in fact the Buddhist scriptures say that the state of the enlightened man beyond death cannot be described. Nirvana in the different Indian traditions is achieved by moral discipline and the practice of yogayoga
[Skt.,=union], general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth.
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 leading to the extinction of all attachment and ignorance. See also karmakarma
or karman
, [Skt.,=action, work, or ritual], basic concept common to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The doctrine of karma states that one's state in this life is a result of actions (both physical and mental) in past incarnations, and action in this life can
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the central concept of the religious philosophy of Buddhism (as well as Jainism), signifying the highest state and ultimate goal of human spiritual strivings.

In Buddhist texts, Nirvana is characterized as something unfathomable and inexpressible, the opposite to that which can be “in this world and the other world,” representing essentially a condition of inner fullness and absolute detachment from external being. Psychologically, the state of Nirvana is described negatively as the absence of passion and of the thirst for life in general; it is described positively as a state of perfection, contentment, and self-sufficiency. The self-absorption that excludes the need for turning outward in Nirvana is characterized by a certain indivisible “activity” of intellect, feeling, and will, which may be defined as a state of meditative concentration. The Buddhist ideal—the absence of thoughts about happiness and unhappiness and good and evil, and an apparent indifference to basic human aspirations—may even be interpreted as an absence of any definite goal. In the state of Nirvana the only distinguishable sensation is that of disentanglement, independence, freedom. However, this is not a freedom that has “overcome” the world but a freedom that has “removed” the world, for in Buddhism, the world is not considered to be in opposition to the human personality, and, therefore, it does not have to be overcome.

Although the attainment of Nirvana presupposes a rejection of the idea of happiness in general, Buddhist texts describe Nirvana as a state of bliss, as well as a state of peace. In the 20th century, Nirvana ceased to be identified with a state of absolute nothingness (R. Childers of Great Britain and F. I. Shcherbatskoi of the USSR). However, the identification of Nirvana with a state of superbeing that begins in this life and continues after death is scarcely justifiable (the works of T. W. Rhys Davids of Great Britain and H. Glasenapp of the Federal Republic of Germany, for example). In principle, the state of complete contentment eliminates any question of the continuity of satisfaction and, consequently, any question of a future life. In view of this and the Buddhist refusal to recognize death as annihilation, one may assume that Nirvana has no relationship whatsoever to the category of time.

As Buddhism developed, the ethical and psychological concept of Nirvana was supplemented by hypotheses that Nirvana is absolute reality. Attempts were made to ontologize the psychological state (for example, the concept of the Sarvastivadins in Hinayana and the doctrine of Madhyamika in Mahayana, which equates Nirvana with sunyata, or “emptiness”). In Jainism, Nirvana is interpreted as a perfect state enjoyed by the soul when it is freed from the coils of matter and the endless play of births and deaths.

The concept of Nirvana is one of the many mystical ideas about the attainment of a perfect state of the soul or psyche, the construction within man of a “kingdom not of this world.” A special feature of the Buddhist and, to some extent, the Jain idea of Nirvana distinguishes them from the ideas of Christian mysticism, as well as from Manichaeism, Sufism, and Hindu concepts of “liberation.” (The Mahayana concept of Nirvana, however, is somewhat similar to these forms of mysticism and asceticism.) This distinguishing feature of the Buddhist and Jain ideas of Nirvana is their reliance on the individual’s own powers and their total dissociation of the attainment of Nirvana from the idea of the transcendent (god or the good). Thus, the postulate of the divine nature of the human being is affirmed. Absolute separation from everything external and the undeniable egocen-trism of many followers of Nirvana leads to their withdrawal from participation in the life of society.


Vallée Poussin, L. de la. Nirvana. Paris, 1925.
Stcherbatsky, T. The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana. Leningrad, 1927.
Frauwallner, E. Die Philosophie des Buddhismus, 3rd ed. Berlin, 1969.
Conze, E. Buddhist Thought in India. London [1962].
Welbon, G. R. The Buddhist Nirvana and Its Western Interpreters. Chicago-London, 1968.
Johansson, R. The Psychology of Nirvana. New York, 1970.
See also references under BUDDHISM.



eternal bliss and the end of all earthly suffering. [Indian Religion: Jobes, 1175]


Buddhism Hinduism final release from the cycle of reincarnation attained by extinction of all desires and individual existence, culminating (in Buddhism) in absolute blessedness, or (in Hinduism) in absorption into Brahman