Translating Nibbana as extinguishment


As far as the term ‘Nirvana’ is concerned this is not correct as far as I have researched. Maybe you mean the idea of a permanent liberation? In that case, yes, some ideas of immortality connected with atman and brahman were there.


I think Nibbana/Nirvana can sensibly be viewed as a type of Moksha, which has the general meaning of liberation in Indian traditions.


If we follow that path and come to vimutti it is at least a less problematic term. We just need to keep in mind that the suttas know several types of vimutti. E.g. the brahmaviharas are mettācetovimutti etc.

Which brings back the possibility of thinking of Nibbana as ‘ultime freedom’ - i.e. not coming from an attempted literal translation but more as what it signifies. I’m not sure if we were to loose much if we would neglect the connotations of ‘extinguishment’, but maybe I’m mistaken here.

(I’m aware it wouldn’t work well in translations, but more as an internal reference and understanding)


You would be surprised and confused at the same time when you read Upanishads. Read Indian Philosophy by S. Radhakrishnan and The Principal Upanishads by the same.
I don’t agree with some of his ideas, however, these books are good.

The Buddha takes up some of the thoughts of the Upanisads and gives to them a new orientation. The Buddha is not so much formulating a new scheme of metaphysics and morals as rediscovering an old norm and adapting it to the new conditions of thought and life (Radhakrishnan, 1957)

The goal of life in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism is essentially the same. Moksa (liberation) is the ultimate objective for Hinduism and Jainism, and nirvana is the goal in Buddhism. The precise meanings of liberation vary among the different schools, even among those within the framework of Buddhism and Hinduism, but the essential meaning of both moksa and nirvana is emancipation or liberation from turmoil and suffering and freedom from rebirth (Radhakrishnan, 1957).

My personal opinion is that Upanishads and other traditions absorbed ideas from Biddhism, in order to survive debates created by Buddhist monks such as Nagarjuna.


I read Vedic literature all the time. It would interest me if you could provide actual references for nirvana in these texts (I’m not talking about the later Upanisads like Katha, Svetasvatara, or Mundaka)


I am sorry, I have only read reviews, not actual scriptures. Lets not divert the topic as forum asks us not to. Its my bad quoting Encyclopedia.


I think it’s very much on topic. If pre-Buddhist scriptures had used Nirvana we would have had more contexts to figure out the meaning. But as it stands, the only old contexts we have are Buddhist. And it’s important to point out that whatever we can conclude about the original meaning has to come from Pali and Chinese sources, without the support of a usage in the Vedic setting.


There seem to be both “negative” and “positive” descriptions of Nibbana in the suttas. By negative descriptions I mean saying what Nibbana is not, or saying what has ceased when Nibbana is attained - extinguishment is an obvious example of this. But of course Nibbana can also be described in positive terms, eg liberation, or bliss. Personally I find the positive descriptions more inspiring.


I agree with your opinion.


When we build a fire, the flames arise as we feed more wood. As we withhold new wood, the flames slowly die down to embers and later become extinguished altogether. They are not quenched unless I toss water on the flames. Quenching is active. Becoming extinguished happens inevitably when the flames are not fed.

Becoming extinguished is neither positive nor negative. It is just an observation. However, it is the act of extinguish-ing that has positive or negative volition. Is Nibbana a noun or a verb? I’ve always thought of it as a noun.


It is both a noun and a verb :slight_smile:


Not in the Pāli language. In Pāli it is a Noun.
Nibbana (Ni + vāna)
Antonym of Vāna
Vāna means craving/ lust (tanhā), string, fire etc.

Nibbāti or Nibbāyati are the verbs.


I’m a little late to the discussion, but it’s interesting to look how the Chinese translators dealt with terms to see how they were read in ancient times as opposed to now.

Nirvana was a term that was usually transliterated, indicating that it wasn’t so simple a meaning to them. When they did translate it, some coined new words. Kumarajiva translated it with a word that literally means “liberative cessation” or “extinguished liberation” (滅度). It seems that it was a technical term to them, meaning the end of rebirth in particular, with the connotations of both cessation (nirodha) and liberation ( mokṣa).

Simple words can end up with technical and prosaic readings. Chinese Dao is like this: It means path, and it means Dao (the underlying way of the universe).

Is nibbana ever used in a prosaic fashion in the Pali canon?


What do you mean with ‘prosaic fashion’ - do you mean in a non-spiritual context?


In an ordinary context instead of this particular usage of people not being reborn anymore. Is the term used for fire going out, a lamp being doused, etc?


Ajahn Brahm recently said that it is still used to denote things cooling down, like hot food being left to ‘Nibbana’ - literally cool down.


Any examples from Pali canon?


He might refer here to nibbuta (Skt. nirvṛta, also not pre-Buddhist), which more often appears in a spiritual ‘nibbana’-sense, but a few times also in a more literal sense as ‘cooled down’ or ‘extinguished’. The root here is vṛ, no :

  • DN 23, as iron cooled down
  • AN 6.43, AN 6.62 coals cooled down
  • SN 11.20, MN 97, Snp 3.9, Dhp 276 v406 as soldiers who have ‘cooled down’?
  • MN 72, DN 23, Snp 1.2 v19 fire extinguished


The PTS English Pali dictionary might be helpful. If I’m reading it correctly, here are the four primary definitions of nibbana:

  1. the going out of a lamp or fire (popular meaning).
  2. health, the sense of bodily well – being (probably, at first, the passing away of feverishness, restlessness).
  3. The dying out in the heart of the threefold fire of rāga, dosa & moha : lust, ill – will & stupidity (Buddhistic meaning). <->
  4. the sense of spiritual well – being, of security, emancipation, victory and peace, salvation, bliss.

It seems like nibbana is used to describe the extinguishment of fires and negative states and also used to describe positive states, as in definitions 2 and 4 above.

Fortunately, Bhante @sujato and the other supporters of SC kindly incorporated the PTS dictionary into SC for easy reference and learning.
Nibbana definition: [SuttaCentral]

And as you can see, SC presentation of PTS dictionary entries are accurate and easier to follow than the one, for example, here:


I would translate Nibbana as cessation: cessation of suffering and birth/death, release from samsara, which is the ultimate goal of our practice. Following the Noble Eight-fold path, completely comprehending the Four Noble Truths, we’ll be released from samsara, the cycle of birth/dirth and associated suffering:

“Knowledge & vision arose in me: 'Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no further rebirth”. (SN 56.11)

May we all reach this stage of cessation. With metta,