by Marinus Jan Marijs
Nirvana is a central concept in Buddhism. The word nirvana means ‘blowing out’, ‘extinction’. The Buddha explained that nirvana cannot be explained, but has to be experienced, realized.
Any description of nirvana and enlightenment will contain paradoxical elements. The existence of non-existence, the deathless, the realization of what always was. It is the same as its opposite, the ultimate goal, which is not a goal.
However, nirvana (which means blowing out) is the extinction of self-indulgence, greed, craving, delusion, desires, attachment and ignorance.
Ego-consciousness is replaced by enlightenment, Bodhi, a state of supreme liberation, illumination and wisdom.
There is an important distinction to be made between nirvana (emptiness) and enlightenment (non-dual). With nirvana, the consciousness is empty of thought processes, and with enlightenment, the pressure of the subconscious is absent. Of course, there are still memory patterns, but they are free of psychological pressure. The pressure exerted on consciousness by the contents of the subconscious is what generates dreams. A person who has attained nirvana can still have dreams. But a person who is enlightened and goes into turiya for a period of eight hours will not dream, not even for a second.
In Hinduism, we find the concept of Mukti. The word Mukti means released. It denotes spiritual liberation. The word “jivanmukti” denotes the person who has reached Mukti while in a physical body: liberation in life. Such a person is in the world, but not of the world, beyond desire, fear, attachment; lives in the eternal now. Such a person no longer possesses a personal consciousness but a witnessing consciousness.
In Sufism we find the concepts of Fana and Baqa. The word “Fana” means extinction and is the equivalent of the Buddhist nirvana. Fana is the annihilation of the self, the extinction of lower passions. After Fana, comes the stage of Baqa, continuous, permanence of the divine essence. In Baqa there is no fear or grief.
Fana is the negative aspect as nirvana, extinction. Baqa is the positive aspect as bodhi, awakening.
The Japanese have the concept of Buji. Bu means ‘without’ or ‘no’.
Ji means ‘action’ or ‘happening’. Meaning tranquility, peace and security.
In the Kabbalah we find the concepts of Ein Sof and Ayin, which is Hebrew for ‘no-thing’ the indescribable.
Spelled aleph-yod-nun. The nothingness of Ayin is similar to the Absolute.
It is the ultimate reality. According to Gershom Scholem, the Ein Sof is the emanator of the ten sefirot.
Sefirot are energy emanations found on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Ein Sof, the Atik Yomin (“Ancient of Days”), emanates the sefirot into the cosmic womb of the Ayin in a manner that results in the created universe.
The three letters composing the word “Ayin,” (אי״ן) indicate the first three purely intellectual sefirot, which precede any emotion or action. The order of devolution can be described as:
- Ayin (Nothing; אין)
- Ein Sof (Limitlessness; אין סוף)
In Jainism we find the concept of Moksha, meaning liberation, having overcome desire, attachment and ignorance. It is the transcendence of all goals, the final release of the egoic self. In Jainism Moksha is the same as enlightenment. The transcendence of time, space and causation. The attainment of enlightenment.
In the yogic tradition we find the concept of Kaivalya, which means standing totally on oneself and/or going up in unity. It is being in a continuous state of samadhi, standing apart from the world, not being influenced by it, while remaining in it. It is identical with Moksha.
Meister Eckhart, the German Dominican theologian and mystic had the concept of ‘vergessen’.
A non-conceptual awareness: “Hie muoz komen in ein vergezzen un in ein nihtwissen”;
“One should come in a forgetting and in a not-knowing”.
This is similar to the Buddhist nirvana.
In Taoism we find the concept of Wù. Wù is a Chinese word for illumination.
It means not-being, emptiness of attributes, absence of qualities.
In Christianity we find the concept of Salvation. The primary goal of Buddhism is to attain nirvana, that of Christianity is to attain salvation. Nirvana and salvation can be seen as synonymous, as a state of liberation. Bodhi within Buddhism means being free of karma. Salvation in Christianity is being free of sin.
The Christian term for Nirvana is Kenosis.
The Christian term for Enlightenment is Theosis.
Cross-cultural comparison makes clear that the concepts of nirvana and enlightenment is found with more or less the same meaning in different cultures. Not only that, it is central to religious philosophy.
In Zen Buddhism we find the concept of Satori, which is sometimes seen as an equivalent of Nirvana. However, the descriptions of Satori are identical to descriptions of nature mysticism with perhaps some non-dual peak experiences:
Satori is descripted as a sudden peak experience, while Nirvana and enlightenment both are permanent and continuous.
While the descriptions given in the different traditions may not always differentiate between nirvana and enlightenment, these concepts are in found in different cultures.