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nirvana (nērväˈnə) [key], in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, a state of supreme liberation and bliss, contrasted to samsara or bondage in the repeating cycle of death and rebirth. The word in Sanskrit refers to the going out of a flame once its fuel has been consumed; it thus suggests both the end of suffering and the cessation of desires that perpetuate bondage. Epithets of nirvana in Buddhism include "the free,""the immortal," and "the unconditioned." Nirvana is attainable in life, and the death of one who has attained it is termed parinirvana, or complete nirvana. This has often been interpreted as annihilation, but in fact the Buddhist scriptures say that the state of the enlightened man beyond death cannot be described. Nirvana in the different Indian traditions is achieved by moral discipline and the practice of yoga leading to the extinction of all attachment and ignorance. See also karma.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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