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What is the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism?

Nirvana in Buddhism
Question: "What is the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism?"

Nirvana, according to Buddhism, is a complex conceptual state of being in which a person escapes the suffering of the world and realizes his or her oneness with the universe. The person whose consciousness enters Nirvana can eventually leave behind the cycle of reincarnation to exist spiritually, albeit impersonally. The word Nirvana literally means “blowing out” or “quenching,” but the meaning, when applied to a person’s spiritual life, is more complicated. Nirvana can refer to the act of quenching—either gradually being extinguished or rapidly (like blowing out a candle). The final goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, when the “quenching” of all desire is complete, and the person is transformed into another state. Imagine a candle burning and then being extinguished. Its energy is not destroyed, but it turns into another type of energy. This is a basic illustration of what happens when a soul reaches Nirvana.

There are three “fires” that the Buddhist seeks to extinguish in order to find Nirvana. These are passion, aversion (hatred), and ignorance (delusion). On the surface, this quenching sounds biblical. The Bible warns against being consumed by or led by lust/passion (Romans 6:12) and commands that we “put to death” anything earthly inside ourselves, including sinful passion (Colossians 3:5). Hatred and willful ignorance are also denounced in Scripture. There are no less than 71 different proverbs that speak of “the fool,” and none of them are positive. Hatred is also a negative state, biblically. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).

However, Buddhism’s quenching of “passion” is far different from the Bible’s directive to “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22, ESV). Buddhism does not see sin as the violation of a divine moral code; rather, it recommends the elimination of all desires, which of course is self-defeating—in order to get rid of all desire, one must desire to have it gone. And it’s not a biblical idea, anyway—God promises to give us the desires of our hearts as we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4), and the biblical heaven, as opposed to Nirvana, is a place where pleasures abound and desires are fulfilled (Psalm 16).

The concept of Nirvana is opposed to the Bible’s teaching of heaven. Scripture says there is no way to work out our own path to heaven (Romans 3:20). No amount of meditation, self-denial, or enlightenment can make one righteous before a holy God. Also, Buddhism teaches that a person who arrives at the state of Nirvana loses all personal identity, all desire, and even his or her body. The Bible teaches that heaven is an actual place, not a state of mind, in which we retain our personal identities and inhabit resurrected bodies. We will not exist in a nebulous state of perpetual apathy; rather, we will enjoy the consummation of our most basic desire—fellowship with God: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

Recommended Resource: Encountering World Religions by Irving Hexham

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