Is there a difference between Enlightenment and Nibbana?


3 Answers 3


Enlightenment is the insight knowledge that cuts through & extinguishes the mind's defilements (cravings) of greed, hatred or delusion.

Nibbana is final peace or coolness that is experienced after the 'fires' of greed, hatred & delusion have been extinguished.

Enlightenment is the cause which allows (the pre-existing but hidden) Nibbana to be experienced.

This process is described in the Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta

Seeing (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self) thus , the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.'

The 'seeing thus' is enlightenment. 'Becoming dispassionate' (end of craving) is Nibbana. 'Fully released' is liberation (which is also Nibbana). The knowedge 'fully released' is enlightenment, in clearly knowing the end of craving is Nibbana.


The real problem is that both concepts are poorly defined in the Pali Canon. If you are a Westerner, then you want a more psychologically sophisticated answer. After 50 years of mindfulness practice, I only offer the following answer: Enlightenment or nibbana can be viewed as that fullest possible attunement with the Bodhicitta, which is an innate and ancient intelligence that has developed within you and is the product of a long evolution of intelligent consciousness that is deeply loving. Complicated? Absolutely. But an intellectual definition won't help much anyway. However, the mindfulness of breathing allows your Bodhicitta to function (if only unconsciously at first). More advanced forms of mindfulness meditation are somewhat like "focusing" as defined Eugene Gendlin.


Enlightenment is a translation of the Pali word Nibbana. They are supposed to mean the same thing.

  • From my understanding, they are different. eg The history Buddha comes to Englighted on 8 Dec, while goes to Nibbana on 15 Feb, which are different dates :)
    – SIDU
    Aug 11, 2016 at 2:49
  • The Pali word for enlightenment is 'bodhi' and not 'nibbana'. 'Nibbana' means 'cool' or 'flame blown out'. The 8 Dec is Mahayana. In Theravada, the Buddha attained enlightenment & nibbana on the same day (Vesak). Aug 11, 2016 at 3:07
  • Ok but can't enlightenment also mean Nibbana?
    – Lowbrow
    Aug 11, 2016 at 6:37
  • Nibbana & enlightenment certainly go together because when there is enlightenment there will be Nirvana. Your sentiment is certainly correct but the meaning of the words is just an issue of semantics or language. Aug 11, 2016 at 18:11

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