Buddhism originated in ancient India and spread across Asia owing to its practical approach to life. It consists of many beliefs, traditions, and philosophies that are mainly based on the preachings of Gautam Buddha. The primary purpose of Buddhism is to reduce the suffering of living using different practices. Most of the Buddhist traditions believe in achieving Nirvana or following the path of Buddhahood to reduce the suffering. 

Understanding the term

Buddha in Nirvana state

Nirvana means to ‘put out’, ‘quench’ or ‘extinguish’. According to Buddhism, this state is part of the third truth on “termination of pain” of the Four Noble Truths, taught by Buddha. It is the decisive spiritual goal and symbolizes salvation from the cycle of rebirth. The term in Buddhism refers to the elimination of desires, hatred, precisely, sufferings faced by a living and renaissance. Nirvana is a Sanskrit term and is also called as ‘Nibbana’ in Pali. Buddhist Traditions commonly interpret it as the disappearance of the “three venoms”– raga, dvesha, and moha. According to Buddha, the existence of human beings is distinguished by different forms of pain or sufferings, faced on the journey of many lives in the sequence of rebirths or reincarnation referred to as ‘samsara’ (meaning restless or wandering). And when the three venoms vanish, the state of nirvana is attained. 

Some Buddhist scholars have claimed Nirvana in Buddhism to be similar to ‘anatta’ (non –self) and sunyata (void or emptiness). But over time, more interpretations regarding the state have been given by many scholars. However, different traditions have different beliefs, like the Theravada tradition believes in freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, as the sole purpose. In contrast, the Mahayana traditions believe in Buddhahood as their ultimate goal. Buddhahood in Buddhism is the rank given to the ‘awakened’ Buddha or monk.   

Origin of Nirvana

The term has been found in the literature of several ancient Indian traditions and was somewhat the spiritual concept of the Jains and some Hindu traditions. Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, guided the path to attain Nirvana in his teachings. The fundamental purpose of Buddha’s teachings was to help in getting rid of suffering which according to Buddha can be divided into five categories – sorrow, grief, despair, moaning, and pain.

As already said, over the period, many Buddhist traditions have interpreted the meaning of Nirvana in Buddhism in different ways. However, there are some contradictions regarding the origin of it. 

Nirvana is considered as the state of absence, absence from pain, and sufferings that human beings have to go through in the journey of life and rebirth. But what stimulus led to the state of Nirvana, has been a subject of debate over the history of traditions, though described as consistent, reliable, and unconditioned. 

Types of Nirvana 

The Buddhist traditions recognize two types of Nirvana: sopadhishesa- Nirvana (the state of Nirvana with a residue) and parinirvana also called as anupadhishesa (state of final Nirvana without any residue). The Buddhist monks believe that the state of Nirvana with residue is the one achieved before death, i.e. during life. The latter, the land without residue is made upon death, where all the reasons, the desires for rebirth have vanished. Gautama Buddha attained the state of Nirvana when he got enlightenment and Parinirvana where he finally left the world. 

How to achieve Nirvana?

Nirvana is the third truth of the Four Noble Truths, taught by Gautama Buddha. According to Gautama Buddha, there are four truths in the journey of life which are- 

  • Life is full of pain and sufferings
  • The cause of suffering is negligence towards the real universe
  • The pain can only be eliminated by defeating indifference and attachment to materialism
  • One can conquer neglect and affection by following the Noble Eightfold path (the guidance towards a better understanding of the universe with the help of eight ideals)
Gautam Buddha Statue : Borobudur  Indonesia
Gautam Buddha in meditating pose at Borobudur Temple in Indonesia

The noble eightfold way contains eight principles that help to destroy negligence, as mentioned in the noble four truths. 

  • When the negligence or ignorance is wholly extinguished, the feelings of greed and anger are also devastated.
  • When there is no greed, there will be no adverse actions
  • When there is no anger, there will be no bad speech
  • There will be no desire for making a livelihood through the wrong means
  • A person must consistently practice
  • Be mindful
  • Be concentrated
  • Be exploratory

To attain Nirvana in the present life, the seeker must have a clear and in-depth understanding of the four noble truths and follow according to the ideals mentioned in the noble eightfold path, correctly and consistently. The four noble truths deal with the ‘truth or realities of the existing world that is ‘truly noble’. They are the truths concerning everything and its existence. Following the four noble truths and consistent practice will lead to the attainment of Nirvana.

When a person is unable to understand the true meaning of Nirvana, as specified by Buddha, it is evident that the path to attainment to Nirvana will become difficult for that person. The Buddhists who attain Nirvana by self-practice become Buddha meaning the awakened soul. And the Buddhists who follow Buddha’s guide to attaining Nirvana become Arhats. In Hindu traditions, Nirvana is commonly referred to as moksha, reuniting with God. 

To conclude, the Buddhists and the general people need to understand and have in-depth knowledge of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, to practice Nirvana correctly, consistently, and thoroughly.

Practicing Nirvana in Singapore

To achieve Nirvana, its necessary foundation must be well understood. The four noble truths taught by Buddha consist of four components which are connected directly to each other. These components are suffering, samudaya, or the cause of suffering, Nirvana or termination of pain and magga, or the ways to remove the purpose of the suffering. All the forms of suffering are connected with the four noble truths connected to toxic or unhealthy thoughts. It is, therefore, necessary to cultivate mindfulness or concentration. Cultivation of attention consists of examining the four noble truths – carefully, correctly, and adequately to create information based on facts in one’s memory. When concentration is cultivated, the destructive thoughts are prevented from rising again and disappear, thus leading one step closer to achieve Nirvana. 

There are many centers worldwide that are offer insight into Buddhism. Its philosophy and teachings have spread in many parts of Asia. Buddhism in Singapore ranks as the most widely practiced religion. Various organizations are working towards the spread of Buddhism in Singapore. The meditator can either join a Buddhism school or avail online courses for practicing Nirvana and attain peace and spiritual joy.