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What is Buddhist Nirvana?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Buddhist nirvana is a major concept in the Buddhist faith, and the eventual goal of all Buddhists. Unfortunately, according to many Buddhists, it is something which cannot be described without experiencing it, and people who have attained nirvana have ascended above earthly concerns such as telling other people what nirvana is like. A number of philosophers and religious practitioners have explored the concept of Buddhist nirvana and what it may entail, and there have in fact been some lively debates about this idea in the Buddhist community.

When someone reaches nirvana, it means that he or she has broken free of samsara, the cycle of reincarnation and suffering which characterizes all life on Earth. In addition to being free from suffering, the individual is also beyond obsessions and earthly concerns. He or she has a high level of wisdom and compassion, and has reached a state of perfect peace with all life. For Buddhists, nirvana is the highest state one can attain, and it can take a very long time to reach this state.

Buddhists distinguish between a state of nirvana reached during life, and the state which emerges after death. People such as the Buddha allegedly achieved nirvana during their lifetimes through intense asceticism, prayer, and faith, and they were in turn rewarded with the “final nirvana” which occurs in the afterlife. When someone attains nirvana in life, he or she is supposed to be easy to identify, as this spiritual state tends to make one stand out.

The term “nirvana” literally means “to extinguish,” although the term refers to the extinction of life as one knows it, not to a final end. Buddhists strive to attain Buddhist nirvana by following the Eightfold Path and other precepts of their faith, and many believe that they have no way of knowing how long they have been on Earth, working towards eventual nirvana. It is also believed that people must achieve enlightenment in order to reach Buddhist nirvana, but that enlightenment is not necessarily an automatic ticket to nirvana.

Buddhism is practiced in a number of different sects all over the world, and some Buddhists have a very distinctive approach to the concept of nirvana which may not be accepted or believed by other Buddhists. Buddhist nirvana is also distinct from the nirvana which is included in many Hindu sects. Although the concepts are similar in many ways, they are achieved differently, and they have a different end result.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon941765 — On Mar 24, 2014

I have attained Nirvana. When I say I, I am communicating from the state of the physical realm. In reality, there is no "I". Nirvana is a sort of peace that you reach by realizing that experience in the physical realm is not attached to the true nature of what you consider you. When you realize that life is a separate thing, then you are not tied down to fear and pain any longer. It's like watching a movie. You identify with the characters in the movie and even play it out in your own mind but you know not to be afraid of the scary parts because they aren't "real". They can't change your existence. So you watch and enjoy even the parts that are negative. Why not enjoy them? They can't touch you; they can't harm you. When you realize life is no different and that it can't harm you, that is Nirvana.

By anon275201 — On Jun 16, 2012

The common consciousness is helpful for people to make their life prosperous. --Amitava

By anon145080 — On Jan 21, 2011

I believe that buddha was wrong about how he achieved nirvana, it's not the whole 8 thing path or whatever, it's simply overdosing on positive emotions day in and day out until you achieve nirvana.

Buddha himself said that love was a good emotion, and jesus himself said love was a good emotion, i believe jesus achieved nirvana too. I myself have been testing out my theory for some months now. i've been overdosing on happiness, joy, love, and fun, and what i have discovered is that after you stop overdosing, sometime later a drug like peace does come over you, a peace that keeps growing as the weeks and months of overdosing pass by.

By hangugeo112 — On Jan 20, 2011

Buddhist cosmology sees the universe in various spheres or dimensions, much like older European religious cosmology. There are realms in which we dwell as well as different levels of heaven. We also have the phrase "seventh heaven" to describe the highest state of mental attainment and cosmos. Being united with the divine life-force in peaceful contentment is the goal of Buddhist nirvana and most peace-seeking religions.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 19, 2011

I have heard reports and it seems that there is solid evidence to support the fact that certain buddhists in deep meditation have no need to eat and drink to support themselves, but are sustained spiritually and enabled to go on living in good health.

By BostonIrish — On Jan 19, 2011


I think that you are misunderstanding, but nevertheless this is an important question. The ultimate goal comes with a perfect elimination of desire, but this is not the end in itself. It is a desire which transcends all desires and makes them as nothing. This also makes one stand out, but not because one wants to stand out.

By FitzMaurice — On Jan 19, 2011

It never made sense to me that Buddhism was striving to eliminate desire. If you desire to attain nirvana, isn't that also a desire? To have a want to "make oneself stand out" is also a rather selfish goal. How would one desire this and simultaneously eliminate desire?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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