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I feel the word enlightenment conveys the wrong meaning if used in context of nibbana. For example, Buddha says that nibbana is similar to a lighted lamp, having taken away the oil and the wick, will not light ("as though a lamp was extinguished" Rathana Sutta - Sutta Nipatha, Chulla Waggo, 2-1, 237). I'm interested in knowing how this word was associated with Theravada Buddhism if anyone knows early references of such usage.

Thanks in advance.

  • It seems to me you're asking why and when the English-language word "enlightenment" came to be used in English-language descriptions/translations of Buddhism. – ChrisW Apr 10 '17 at 16:22
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    It Tibetan, the same word (Jangchub) is used to qualify the Arhatship of a Sravaka, that of a Pratyekabuddha, and the enlightenment of a Buddha. We speak of "three types of enlightenment." This shows that it is not a case of English translation messing things up. – Tenzin Dorje Apr 10 '17 at 17:36
  • great question! – Thiago Apr 10 '17 at 21:45
  • @ChrisW yes. Actually I'm curious why didn't people use a more adequate word. – Ravindranath Akila Apr 10 '17 at 22:46
  • Please quote exactly from the Rathana Sutta what you are referring to. Thanks – Dhammadhatu Apr 11 '17 at 1:21
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One place where I know "enlightenment" is used is in this version (which was published in 1894):

A middle path, O bhikkhus avoiding the two extremes, has been discovered by the Tathagata-a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana!

Wikipedia's Buddhism in the West suggests that's one of the early references (that there's nothing earlier than the 19th century).

It's word with a history of meaning in the West (see e.g. Age of Enlightenment).

Bhikkhu Bodhi uses the word "enlightenment" a lot, e.g. in his book In the Buddha's Words. He uses it to translate words like sambodhi:

sambodhi: [sam+bodhi] complete awakening, perfect knowledge, complete enlightenment. Designates the awakening of the Buddha and the arahants.

Some other translators choose variations on the word "awake" (e.g. "self-awakened") instead of enlightened; which (awakened) is apparently a more literal translation.

According to Wikipedia ("Enlightenment in Buddhism"),

The English term enlightenment is the western translation of the term bodhi, "awakening", which was popularised in the Western world through the 19th century translations of Max Müller. It has the western connotation of a sudden insight into a transcendental truth.

The term is also being used to translate several other Buddhist terms and concepts used to denote insight (prajna, kensho and satori);[1] knowledge (vidhya); the "blowing out" (Nirvana) of disturbing emotions and desires and the subsequent freedom or release (vimutti); and the attainment of Buddhahood, as exemplified by Gautama Buddha.

Very occasionally in Pali the Buddha is praised as ukkādhāraṃ translated "torch-bearer".

  • As you mention, it seems the Seven Factors of Enlightenment is a direct translation of Bodhi to Enlightenment en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Factors_of_Enlightenment – Ravindranath Akila Apr 10 '17 at 23:01
  • There's more, about the history of the translation, here on Wikipedia. – ChrisW Apr 10 '17 at 23:07
  • That 'sambodhāya' is translated as 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' is irrelevant to the question because the question wrongly assumes 'Nibbana' is darkness & death. Regards. – Dhammadhatu Apr 11 '17 at 1:46
  • @Dhammadhatu I think the "nirvana" metaphor is of a flame being blown out or extinguished; and so the question was, why "become enlightened", which is a metaphor with the opposite meaning. – ChrisW Apr 11 '17 at 15:22
  • There are two kinds of flames: the flames of defilements & the flame of life. Thus, there are two kinds of Nibbana. Regards – Dhammadhatu Apr 11 '17 at 20:18
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There are two kinds of Nibbana, namely: (i) Nibbana that can be experienced & (ii) Nibbana that is the ending of sense experience which can only be inferred. To quote:

Bhikkhus, there are these two Nibbāna-elements. What are the two? The Nibbāna-element with residue left and the Nibbāna-element with no residue left.

What, bhikkhus, is the Nibbāna-element with residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, the holy life fulfilled, who has done what had to be done, laid down the burden, attained the goal, destroyed the fetters of being, completely released through final knowledge (enlightenment). However, his five sense faculties remain unimpaired, by which he still experiences what is agreeable and disagreeable and feels pleasure and pain. It is the extinction of attachment, hate and delusion in him that is called the Nibbāna-element with residue left.

Now what, bhikkhus, is the Nibbāna-element with no residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant … completely released through final knowledge. For him, here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished. That, bhikkhus, is called the Nibbāna-element with no residue left.

Iti 44

The inferred Nibbana cannot occur without experiencing the known enlightened Nibbana.

The Nibbana that can be known occurs after/with enlightenment.

The Nibbana that occurs when a lighted lamp, having taken away the oil and the wick, will not light again, is only inferred & not the primary goal of Buddhism because it cannot occur without the Nibbana of enlightenment.

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.' When sensing a feeling limited to life, one discerns that 'I am sensing a feeling limited to life.' One discerns that 'With the break-up of the body, after the termination of life, all that is sensed, not being relished, will grow cold right here.'

MN 140

In summary, the question is inferring there is a destination (i.e. Nibbana) without a path (i.e. enlightenment). The question ignores the special teaching of the Buddha, namely, the Four Noble Truths:

Ete kho, bhikkhave, ubho ante anupagamma majjhimā paṭipadā tathāgatena abhisambuddhā cakkhukaraṇī ñāṇakaraṇī upasamāya abhiññāya sambodhāya nibbānāya saṃvattati.

A middle path, O bhikkhus avoiding the two extremes, has been discovered by the Tathagata-a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana!

SN 56.11

That 'sambodhāya' is translated as 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' is irrelevant to the question because the question wrongly assumes 'Nibbana' is darkness, death & annihilation.

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