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Nirvana or Nirvana ( Sanskrit निर्वाण nirvāṇa n .; nis, nir 'from' , 'blow' ) or Nibbana ( Pali : nibbāna ) is a key Buddhist term that denotes the exit from samsara , the cycle of suffering and rebirths ( Reincarnation ) referred to by awakening ( bodhi ). The word means "extinction" (literally "blow away", also understood by some Buddhists as "grasp" in the sense of understanding) in the sense of the end of all factors associated with false personal conceptions of existence, such as ego addiction, greed, attachment ( upadana ) .

Nirvana from the perspective of various Buddhist schools

Nirvana in early Buddhist schools

Methods for achieving nirvana in Theravada Buddhism

Nirvana is achieved by letting go of all attachments to the conditions of samsara. Consequently, according to some opinions, nirvana does not mean something that only occurs with death, but can - provided that the appropriate mental or spiritual development is reached - already in life (state of arhat ). Nirvana is called “the highest happiness” by the historical Buddha in several places in the Suttapitaka . This well-being, which is not subject to emergence, fading and becoming different, is, however, not a pleasant feeling, but happiness independent and beyond all feelings, conditions and designs. Nirvana is synonymous with inner peace and consists in being free from all restlessness of the mind, all wishes and prerequisites for thinking. Nirvana describes a specific but unusual state of mind that is largely unknown in samsara. It is also described as imageless (animitta), directionless (apranihita) and indistinguishable (ekalakshana).

By intensely contemplating one of the three characteristics of existence (“inconstancy”, “suffering”, “emptiness”) the meditator goes through different levels of knowledge ( vipassanâ-ñâna ). The continuous neutral observation of all phenomena of existence (feelings, sensory objects, thoughts) leads to a gradual detachment and culminates in the so-called experience of Maggaphala (“moment of fruit”). This event, which in Theravada is considered the actual experience of nirvana, changes the meditator and leads to a “break with the world”. The urgency and strength of this experience also determines the degree of "redemption" of a person.

Stages of enlightenment

In the Pali Canon , four levels of "enlightenment" are distinguished:

  1. the stage of stream entry (Pali: sotapatti )
  2. the level of one-time return (Pali: ekadagami )
  3. the stage of non- return (Pali: anagami )
  4. the level of arhatship (Pali: arahatta )

The stream-entered person who “experiences” nirvana for the first time is freed through de-identification with his world (the “pattering” of all sensory perceptions) and should be able to be reborn a maximum of seven times, since the process of world detachment becomes independent from now on. Within these remaining seven rebirths , he cannot return below human existence. The one-time returnee (who experiences nirvana a second time more deeply) only has (at most) one single rebirth in the world of gods or humans before him. The non-returnee is also only reborn one more time - albeit in a certain very finely designed world, the realm of the “Brahmas”.

Arhatschaft is considered to be the ultimate realization of nirvana. An arhat has no further rebirth before it. Although he is still in life with his body, he is internally liberated and, as it were, outside the world. In the Pali Canon there are innumerable parables that try to describe the condition of such a saint in the form of images. The comparison with a lotus leaf is famous: just as a drop of water that touches a lotus leaf hits it but does not get stuck on it, so the saint is affected by all perception as long as his body still exists, but this does not remain hang on to it (does not create attachments).

Nirvana from the perspective of different schools of Mahayana Buddhism

Nirvana from the perspective of the Madhyamaka school

In the Madhyamaka school, nirvana has a positive character, since with it the lower aspects of the self fall away (go out). Nagarjuna understands the really real as Shunyata (emptiness). Accordingly, nirvana is the knowledge of the void, from which and in which everything transient lives, based on a unified feeling and insight into the unity of the world (samsara), body, soul and spirit. It can be understood as freedom from attachment to states of unhappiness, contentment, and happiness. At the same time it is the experience of bliss in the intense perception of one's own identity with an absolute awareness.

Reception in Western Europe and background

The term is difficult to define and has led to misunderstandings in the history of the reception of Buddhism in the West . In the course of a long history of translation from Sanskrit to Thai, the word was initially transferred from there to the Western European-speaking area with “ nothing ”. This misleading translation has brought Buddhism, from the perspective of Western European philosophy, the charge that it is a nihilistic doctrine.

Non-canonical and modern statements about nirvana

In the interpretation of Nyanatiloka Mahathera, nirvana is synonymous with a life of calm and happiness: “A Buddha lives meekly in a world of struggle. He lingers without addiction in a world of addictions. He rests, free from suffering, in a world of suffering. Nirvana is the highest happiness. It is good to meet an enlightened one. Its light illuminates the world. His wisdom shows the way to happiness. "

Rolf Elberfeld states two levels of nirvana: On the first level “man is free from all desire and has reduced his karmic powers to a minimum. At this stage a person still has to eat, breathe and move. The second stage of liberation or nirvana is characterized by the complete annihilation of all changes. At this second level of nirvana, which can only be reached with physical death , all five groups of existence come to absolute rest . This absolute peace also implies that no karmic effects are no longer present, which could lead to a new rebirth. "The state of absolute tranquility is the liberation from the cycle of life and by the Anupadishesha nirvana ( Nikaya reached), an event" after death “, Through which re-embodiment can be overcome (Shozen Kumoi, quoted from Elberfeld, p. 75). In Central India, Parinirvana only means the death of a monk or a nun .

See also


  • Paul Debes : Can we “lead us back” to the absolute (nirvana)? In: The Buddha and his teaching. Eleven contributions to right view. Verlag Beyerlein & Steinschulte, Stammbach 2002, ISBN 3-931095-26-6 .
  • Rolf Elberfeld : Phenomenology of Time in Buddhism. Methods of intercultural philosophizing. Vol. 1, Stuttgart / Bad Cannstatt 2004, p. 75.
  • Shinjo Ito: Shinjo: Reflections. Boston 2009.
  • Nyanaponika Mahathera: Anatta and Nibbana. In: In the light of the Dhamma. Verlag Beyerlein & Steinschulte, Stammbach 1989, ISBN 3-931095-01-0 .
  • Shozen Kumoi: The term nirvāna in the canonical texts of early Buddhism. Vienna 1968/69.
  • Bernhard Weber-Brosamer, Dieter M. Back: The philosophy of the void. Nāgārjunas Mulamadhyamaka-Karikas. 2nd revised edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05250-3 . (Translation of the Buddhist basic text with commentary introductions).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Thus to the Pali etymologist the main reference is to the root vṛ (to cover), and not to vā (to blow) ” and “ […] one has to bear in mind that native commentators themselves never thought of explaining nibbāna by anything like blowing (vāta), but always by nis + vana (see nibbana = without cravings) ”, see nibbāna  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as broken. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. and nibbana  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  @1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  2. example Dhammapada 202 and Majjhima Nikaya 75
  3. Anguttara-Nikaya III, 48
  4. ^ Anguttara-Nikaya IX, 34
  5. Sangīti Sutta (Digha Nikaya 33) on; accessed August 13, 2014
  6. Tatiyasikkhā Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya III.89) on; accessed August 13, 2014
  7. Vāhana Sutta (A X.81) on; accessed August 13, 2014
  8. Bernhard Weber-Brosamer, Dieter M. Back: The philosophy of emptiness. Nāgārjunas Mulamadhyamaka-Karikas. 2nd revised edition. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005.
  9. ^ After Nyanatiloka Mahathera: Dhammapada. Words of the Buddha. Jhana Verlag, Uttenbühl 1995, ISBN 3-931274-01-2 , p. 57 ff.
  10. a b Elberfeld, Rolf