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Nirvana is an English transliteration/spelling of a Sanskrit term meaning extinction or "blowing out" (like a candle). Nirvana is a frequently used term in BuddhIsm--very roughly it is the state of being when ego-centered/craving consciousness is extinguished. See the EncyclopaediaBritannica? [entry for nirvana] for a more detailed definition.

Many of the Pali language Buddhist scriptures use a word translated as "nibbana", which appears to describe the same word/concept. See [this article] for a (Therevada) Buddhist's commentary on "nibbana/nirvana".

Do "nirvana" and "nibbana" actually denote the same thing? In English, "nirvana" seems to have won out. But what about the words in other forms of Buddhist text in many other languages, in different alphabets yet again? Do the standard transliterations of these terms in Chinese translations of earlier Pali and Sanskrit texts use the same transliteration for each, for example?

From [notes of a World Philosophy class]: "The Mahayana scriptures were written in Sanskrit not Pali (which is the language of the Theravada scriptures). This accounts for the differences in spellings: Nirvana instead of Nibbana, Sutra instead of Sutta, etc." Many sources equate the two terms, as in this [Google search].

The use of "nirvana" in English may have occurred because of the greater popularity of Sanskrit over Pali in early Western accounts of "Eastern religions/philosophy". (Sanskrit is also important in Hindu scriptures.) Some of the most popular early books on Buddhism had a strong bias towards the Mahayana school. (For instance, some books used the pejorative term "Hinayana" to refer to the Theravada school.)

Old text, to be deleted:

Serious students of Buddhist texts seem to prefer "nibbana"... [remaining text deleted by author]

The sources listed above are all from a site that explicitly deals only with Theravada Buddhism, which is a very particular branch of Buddhism that is based on the Pali Canon. That is why they use the phrase "nibbana"; it is not because "serious students of Buddhist texts seem to prefer" that word. The question of whether "nibbana" and "nirvana" really denote the same thing is best considered as a question regarding the differing conceptions Theravada and other branches (Mahayana and Vajrayana, to name the main ones) posses of the single concept nirvana.

My apologies. Further study revealed that you are correct.

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Last edited January 29, 2001 12:04 am by CliffordAdams (diff)