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The Buddha attained Nirvana at the age of 35. He lived 45 years more after which his Parinirvana occurred. Is it not somewhat contradictory? If Nirvana means the end of rebirth and rebirth means the evolution of consciousness, did the Buddha possess no consciousness during the last 45 years of his life?

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The Buddha attained Nirvana at the age of 35.

Yes.

He lived 45 years more after which his Parinirvana occurred.

Yes.

Is it not somewhat contradictory?

No.

If Nirvana means the end of rebirth

Yes. However, the word "birth" here does not refer to physical birth but to the mental birth of the "self-view" or "egoism". Nirvana is the end of self-view, egoism, conceit, I-making & my-making, as explained in many suttas.

Rebirth means the evolution of consciousness

No. Rebirth is unrelated to consciousness. Rebirth means the re-birth of self-view.

Did the Buddha possess no consciousness during the last 45 years of his life?

No. The Buddha had consciousness. This question is not relevant to the matter of rebirth.

Please read the suttas carefully about what rebirth is. It is the rebirth of "a being" ("satta"). "A being" is a "self-view" rather than an meta-physical organism. To quote:

'A being,' lord. 'A being,' it's said. To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?"

Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling... perception... fabrications...

Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

SN 23.2 Satta Sutta: A Being


Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view? This is a heap of sheer constructions: Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word 'chariot' is used, So, when the aggregates are present, There's the [verbal] convention 'a being.'

SN 5.10

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What the Buddha experienced at 35 was called sa-upādisesa-nibbāna - nirvana with remainder. What he experienced at 80 was called anupādisesa-nibbāna - nirvana without remainder:

“dvemā, bhikkhave, nibbānadhātuyo. katame dve? saupādisesā ca nibbānadhātu, anupādisesā ca nibbānadhātu.

There are these two, monks, elements of nibbāna. What two? The element of nibbāna with remainder and the element of nibbāna without remainder.

-- Iti. 44

The difference is that after the former, there is still sequences of physical and mental formations that continue as a consequence of the birth of the being and have to work themselves out, which they do at the latter, signifying an end to all such physical and mental formations.

The actual experience of nirvana during the former (which can last from a few moments up to seven days) and the latter (which, due to there being no remaining sequence of formations and no craving to create new ones, is permanent) is the same.

  • Is there any source which would agree with that explaining, that this is meant in this sutta and anupādisesā means Parinirvana and saupādisesā means Nibbana, althought it sounds plausible at first glimpse? – Samana Johann May 19 '17 at 15:19
  • The answer here is not sutta but sounds like Burmese ideas. Buddha dwelt 45 years in Nibbana for every moment. The "fuel" remaining in sa-upādisesa-nibbāna probably is vedana/feeling, per MN 140, which states: "Just as an oil lamp burns in dependence on oil & wick; and from the termination of the oil & wick — and from not being provided any other sustenance — it goes out unnourished; even so, when sensing a feeling limited to the body, one discerns that 'I am sensing a feeling limited to the body... at the termination of life, all that is felt, not being relished, will grow cold right here.' – Dhammadhatu May 21 '17 at 10:15
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  • Is it not somewhat contradictory?

    Well I guess it's difficult to understand, partly because it's an uncommon experience (there are some people who live in the tropics, and to whom it would be difficult to explain "cold" or "snow").

  • If Nirvana means the end of rebirth ...

    I think of Nirvana as related to the 2nd and 3rd noble truths (i.e. that "suffering is caused by craving" and that "suffering and craving can end").

    Nirvāṇa (Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāna ; Pali: निब्बान nibbāna ; Prakrit: णिव्वाण ṇivvāṇa ) literally means "blown out", as in a candle. It is most commonly associated with Buddhism. In the Buddhist context nirvana refers to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.

    When you see a flame, the flame appears to 'cling to' or to be 'attached to' whatever is fuelling it.

    A fire "goes out" when it is "unbound" from its fuel.

    When an arahant or Buddha attains nirvana in this life, then they remain "unbound" for the rest of their life and are not subject to further rebirth. So it's true that after nirvanna there is no further rebirth, but nirvanna doesn't mean "no rebirth", it means "unbinding" (i.e. "no rebirth" is a consequence of nirvanna, not the meaning of it).

  • ... and rebirth means the evolution of consciousness ...

    Well I think that "rebirth" literally means physical "birth": i.e. a consciousness embodied in an embryo that's subsequently born as an infant etc. Assuming you're already human, being born again is not a prerequisite to consciousness.

  • ... did the Buddha possess no consciousness during the last 45 years of his life?

    That's not so:

    • For example the Buddha remained able to see (mundane sight) which implies "eye-consciousness"; and the same for the various other senses.
    • The Buddha is also said to have developed extraordinary powers of consciousness (e.g. being able to remember previous lives, being aware of the karmic state of other people, etc.).
    • The Buddha attained meditative states, called "The Jhanas" (which were also a type of meditation which he used while his body was dying)

    Apart from the above there's something else unusual about his consciousness: which is that it's described as having no effluent (no āsava)

  • What is the relation between Nirvana and Parinirvana?

    I think pari means "total": Parinirvana means "total nirvana" or "total unbinding". It implies the unbinding of the body, physical death.

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Parinirvana is the nirvana that occurs after death. You are no longer reborn in any of the 31 Planes of Existence Parinirvana is not a place. The Buddha said what nibbana is not

There is that dimension where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor stasis; neither passing away nor arising: without stance, without foundation, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress. - (Udana 80)

Here is what the Buddha said it is

This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana. - (Anguttara Nikaya 3.32)

Entering Parinirvana after death is not a rebirth, nor a place.

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Nirvana = ending all rebirths by attaining enlightenment

Parinirwana = physical death of a person who has achieved Nirvana

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We all are combination of the body, the mind and the self. Total liberation from the death and the rebirth is attained when the self manifests as supreme happiness, the mind manifests as light of knowlidge, and the body manifests as a positive namkarma. This is moksha. Nirvana is attained when the body self destructs itself into pure matter after a predetermined life span. If transformation of the human mind into light of knowledge is called nirvana, then self destruction of the body or the sense mind would be called parinirvana. There is lot of similarity between jainism and buddhism.

  • I'm not sure this answers the question. It might be off-topic. See related question regarding Nirvana & Moksha. – Lanka May 14 '17 at 11:35
  • Well, I thought it was useful. Welcome to Buddhism.SE, I look forward to reading more from you! – user2341 May 14 '17 at 20:57
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Just as the light and heat of the sunlight are inseparable, liberation or moksha and nirvana are inseparable. The delusion that I exist, and the ignorance that I am this bodily existence are inseparable. The NOBLE TRUTH that all beings are without independent self existence, and the NOBLE WISDOM that all things are without self nature are inseparable. Buddha talks about the ONE VEHICLE, which transcends both the small and big vehicles. If viewed from the right perspective, both jainism and buddhism talk about NIRVANA while alive. Parinirvana is attained when the human body self disintegrates by itself when the last breath is exhausted.

  • What is that One vehicle you are speaking of? Also are saying that Jainism and Buddhism are the same? – Lanka May 21 '17 at 11:18
  • The answer isn't clear but I think that when Buddhists "talks about the ONE VEHICLE, which transcends both the small and big vehicles", I think that might be meant to refer Ekayāna transcending or including both Mahayana and Hinayana. – ChrisW May 21 '17 at 15:32
  • @ChrisW this answer is not from Buddhist view clearly. Moksha is Hinduism, the mixing of all terms sprinkled with Buddhist tags are confusing. One Vehicle is a metaphor Buddha used in Lotus Sutra for teaching, not related to Ekayana as u suggested. – Mishu 米殊 May 26 '17 at 18:00
  • @Bhumishu米殊 Yes I too find the answer unorthodox. – ChrisW May 26 '17 at 18:07

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