• Any state or place of pure joy and contentment
  • The most transcendent, ideal state one can reach in Buddhism, as well as in Hinduism and Jainism, wherein one has achieved complete inner peace and contentment and is freed from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth and from all associated suffering.


Many Westerners use the term nirvana as an improper noun to refer to a state of paradise or bliss. This term can be used reverently but is also commonly given an unserious, almost joking, connotation. For example, a huge science fiction fan might describe a Star Trek convention as his "nirvana." However, this understanding of nirvana is actually a corruption of the Buddhist concept of the beatific state Nirvana; likely, the Western usage derived as a result of trying to relate the idea with Heaven and other concepts of paradise commonly found in Occidental belief systems.

In Buddhism, one is subjected to a constant cycle of birth, life, and rebirth. This cycle of existence is characterized by ineluctable suffering, which is itself caused by the desire of worldly, material objects. Buddhism teaches that, by following the guidelines of the eightfold path, one can free oneself from these worldly desires and attain a state of inner peace and harmony marked by the absence of suffering: Nirvana. Nirvana is not a physical space, as is sometimes misunderstood, but more accurately described as a state of enlightenment, a transcendental presence of mind where one experiences true happiness and tranquility. To learn more about Buddhism, visit, or, better yet, visit a Buddhist temple!

Nirvana is also sometimes used in other Eastern philosophies, but with slightly different meanings. For instance, Nirvana in Jainism exists as a very similar concept to that found in Buddhism with the exception that one who reaches it retains his or her individualism (whereas in Buddhism, it might be said that one who reaches Nirvana loses his or her sense of self and is in unity with all things). Another usage is seen in Hinduism, where the dual states of "being" and "nonbeing" (or "secular" existence versus "Nirvana") are two sides of the concept of the supreme Brahman. Some schools of Indian religions consider Nirvana to be synonymous with Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).

Example: "Getting into Johns-Hopkins would be nirvana for me!" said the young medical student.

Example: Followers of Buddhism believe that reaching Nirvana implies a settling of all karmic debts.

Derivative Words

Nirvanic: This is an adjectival form of nirvana used to describe something as beatific, tranquil, or completely harmonious.

Example: With the help of a cold iced-tea and a good book, Jane enjoyed a nirvanic summer afternoon.

Similar Words

Some similar words to Nirvana are Heaven and Jannah, which are, respectively, Christian and Muslim conceptions of paradise that one can attain in the afterlife. In contrast to Nirvana, wherein it is one's mind that has been released, these are often described as physical places where one maintains one's own mindset and where all of one's desires are met.


Nirvana comes from the Sanskrit word nirvana-s, which can be literally translated as "extinction" or "extinguishment." This refers to the Buddhist idea that reaching Nirvana entails letting-go of the Self and all the worldly desires and sufferings associated with it. Coming from the roots nis or nir (out) and va (to blow), one can easily picture the image of quenching the Self as one might blow out a candle. Although Buddhism dates back 2,500 years, Nirvana in this sense is traced back to the early 1800s. The use of nirvana to refer to an arbitrary state of bliss can be traced to the end of the 19th century.

In Literature

From Herman Hesse's Siddhartha:

Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find.

Here, Siddhartha is explaining to his friend Govinda that living as Samanas - ascetics of ancient India who lived in the forests and survived on as little as possible - will not lead them to enlightenment. This reflects the Buddhist idea that simple denial of the senses is not an effective way to end suffering.

From Jeffrey Horowitz' My First 100 Marathons:

I found myself gliding along the path, lost in runner's nirvana.

Here the author is referring to a perfect path for a run.


Nirvana is also the name of an American grunge-rock band whose popularity reached its zenith during the 1990s.


  • To find your bliss, you gotta get to nirvana!
  • Want Cigar Nirvana? Go to Havana!


Buddhism, Hinduism, Heaven, Philosophy

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of nirvana. Did you use nirvana in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.