What Is Nirvana?

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Nirvāṇa (‘extinction’, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth)

Nirvana Definition

Nirvana is the ultimate goal of spiritual practice. It is the state of liberation from suffering and the cycle of birth and death (samsara). It represents the cessation of craving, ignorance, and the illusion of a separate self.

Nirvana is often described as the extinguishing of the flames of desire, attachment, and delusion. It is a state of profound peace, clarity, and freedom. Attaining nirvana ends the cycle of rebirth and leads to complete freedom from suffering.

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Nirvana Deep Dive

Nirvana is predominantly a Buddhist concept, although it also appears in yogic traditions.

Nirvana in Buddhism

The path to Nirvana in Buddhism is outlined in The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths state that:

  1. Suffering exists (dukkha)
  2. Suffering arises from attachment and ignorance (samudaya)
  3. Suffering can be ended (nirodha)
  4. There is a path to end suffering (marga)

The Noble Eightfold Path encompasses:

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

By following this path and cultivating qualities such as wisdom, ethical conduct, and mindfulness, one can gradually transcend the causes of suffering and attain Nirvana.

a colourful drawing of the buddha surrounded by deities

Nirvana in Yoga

Yoga traditions have some differences from Buddhist traditions. However, it is believed that The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, were likely to have been inspired by the Buddhist Eightfold Path, as they hold many similarities.

The final limb of yoga, Samadhi, can be viewed as comparable to Nirvana. Samadhi is a state of deep absorption and meditative union where the practitioner experiences a profound sense of oneness and transcendence.

Samadhi is characterized by the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind and the realization of one’s true nature.

In this state, the practitioner merges with the object of meditation, transcending the boundaries of the individual self and experiencing a state of pure consciousness.

Nirvana vs. Samadhi

While Nirvana and Samadhi share similarities in terms of their emphasis on transcendence and liberation, they differ in some respects.

Nirvana, as understood in Buddhism, is seen as a permanent state of liberation from suffering.

However, in yoga, Samadhi is a temporary state that can be attained through deep meditative absorption but does not necessarily imply complete liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

a woman with hands in prayer in a green park

Nirvana In Your Life

While traditionally associated with spiritual attainment, the essence of nirvana can be integrated into our modern lives, enriching our yoga practice and guiding us towards a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.

Below are five ways in which the concept of nirvana can be brought into your life:

1. Cultivate Present-Moment Awareness

Nirvana calls for us to anchor our consciousness in the present moment. As you embark on your yoga journey, focus on developing mindfulness. During asana (posture) practice, observe the sensations, the rise and fall of your breath, and the subtle shifts in your body.

Allow yourself to fully experience each moment without judgment or attachment to outcomes. By embracing present-moment awareness, you open the gateway towards experiencing the peace and tranquility of nirvana.

2. Learn to Surrender and Let Go

Nirvana thrives in the realm of surrender, inviting us to release attachment to desires and outcomes. In your yoga practice, cultivate a sense of non-attachment and surrender to the flow of each pose.

Let go of the need to achieve perfection and embrace the beauty of imperfection. Allow the practice to unfold naturally, honoring your body’s limitations while maintaining a sense of gentle determination.

By surrendering and letting go, you create space for the grace of nirvana to permeate your being.

upturned hands on a yoga mat

3. Embrace Stillness and Silence

Nirvana succeeds in moments of stillness and silence. Dedicate time to incorporate meditation and pranayama (breathwork) into your practice. Through these practices, you invite a profound sense of calmness, introspection, and connection with your inner self.

Create a sanctuary of silence within your daily routine, whether it be through dedicated meditation sessions or finding moments of quiet reflection in nature. By embracing stillness and silence, you pave the path towards the uncharted realms of nirvana.

4. Practice Ahimsa (Non-violence) Towards Yourself

Nirvana encompasses compassion and love, beginning with oneself. Cultivate self-compassion and practice ahimsa towards your own being. Approach your yoga practice with gentleness, honoring your body’s needs and limitations.

Release self-judgment and self-criticism, embracing self-acceptance and self-love. By practicing ahimsa towards yourself, you create a nurturing space for the seeds of nirvana to develop and flourish.

5. Connect with the Interconnectedness of All Beings

Nirvana reminds us of our profound interconnectedness with all beings and the universe. Engage in acts of service and kindness, both on and off the mat. Cultivate compassion and empathy towards others, recognizing their inherent divinity.

Foster a sense of unity and harmony in your interactions, embracing the shared journey towards liberation. By connecting with the interconnectedness of all, you align yourself with the expansive energy of nirvana.

Final Thoughts

Nirvana does not need to be a distant and unattainable concept, it can be a living reality that can be woven into our everyday lives.

Through the integration of present-moment awareness, surrender, stillness, self-compassion, and interconnectedness, we can invite the essence of nirvana into our yoga practice and, ultimately, our lives.

Embrace these principles with dedication and patience, and allow the transformative power of nirvana to illuminate your path toward peace, joy, and liberation.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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