Supposing mahayana nirvana is permanent (and I believe it is called this) does it have substance? I'm just asking due to some completely trivial insights: it seems that a quality of my experience of time doesn't change, perhaps even arise or end.

And I'm wondering what that permanent quality is, or might be.


2 Answers 2


Nothing that is substantial can be permanent. Only absences (including cessations) are permanent. This is Buddhism 101.

In the Mahayana, Nirvana is the cessation (a permanent absence, never to arise again) of suffering and the causes of suffering.

What does not cease (in the Mahayana) is the continuum of consciousness, which has flowed from beginningless time, and will continue to do so after nirvana; It is a continuum uncontaminated by suffering and it's causes.

The continuum itself is not permanent in that it changes momentarily, just as it does while in Samsara.

Within the scope of the Asanga Mahayana, and the Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and Zen/Chan traditions especially, the continuum of mind is what persists - the base nature of awareness. When we; through choosing to use the mind as both the subject and object of our meditation; become aware of the conceptual narratives that determine our identities, and then strip them away, we are left with just the mirror-like awareness of the mental continuum. It is then that the opportunities of recognising that the narratives of time and being are mere constructs arise. Within the scope of Nagarjuna's Mahayana (the Madhyamaka) we also use anti-philosophy to guide us to an understanding of the essence-lessness of all phenomena, which we believe to be the definitive meaning of Anatta. Himalayan traditions use both Asanga and Nagarjuna together to provide both a conceptual and an experiential approach to achieving the path of insight.

  • I wonder why you call it 'anti-philosophy'. It seems excellent philosophy to me. I would also question your reification of mind. The usual teaching is that stripped of thoughts there is no such thing as mind. Not so much arguing, just raising potential issues. .
    – user14119
    Apr 30, 2020 at 10:29
  • @PeterJ, in Madhyamaka there cannot be any a priori assertions as there are no objective truths for said assertions to be grounded. Both Nagarjuna and Candrakirti acknowledge the resonance of philosophical language, but in the end it is a boat, a necessary boat, but merely a boat. When you say "usual teaching" I recommend that you qualify your assertion. Gelug/Sakya/Kargu/Nyingma:,The two qualifiers for 'mind' are that 1: it's clear, and 2: it's knowing. what are thoughts?
    – Konchog
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:20
  • Oh yes, definitely only a boat. But Nagarjuna endorses a neutral or nondual metaphysical scheme, This is not anti-philosophy. It's the rejection of all extreme theories for being false. I'd call it the only plausible philosophy. It's truth (and N;s argument) would exlain why nobody has ever found another plausible philosophy. I feel there is much unnecessary confusion on this issue but can't say much here. . .
    – user14119
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:25
  • This is not the place to have a discussion. But you must do your best to source your assertions, @PeterJ. Show me where Nagarjuna says "I endorse a neutral or non dual metaphysical scheme". We should agree to disagree before this becomes a slinging match.
    – Konchog
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:27
  • No need for a slanging match I hope. Here's my justification at length. bernardokastrup.com/2017/05/…
    – user14119
    Apr 30, 2020 at 12:14

There is nothing that is called as Mahayana Nirvana. Nirvana, as conceptualised by Mahayana is certainly different from Nirvana as conceptualized by Theravadins. Even within Mahayana, as Konchog above has answered well, it is understood differently by Yogacara school or Madhyamaka school. But only the conceptualization is different. Nirvana- as cessation of all reaction (out of craving, aversion and ignorance), as a conceptual diffusion (prapanca) is the same for all schools of Buddhism. There are quite a few ways in which one can conceptualize nirvana- but none of them will talk of substance (in the ultimate sense).

There is no substance to begin with- but we think and believe there is- for example, an 'I'. When one realises that there is no substance as such, at the subtlest experiential level- one is said to attain Nirvana.

  • what do you mean "There is nothing that is called as Mahayana Nirvana": only that it lacks substance?
    – user2512
    May 2, 2020 at 9:26
  • I mean that the category 'mahayana' nirvana is superfluous. Think of Nirvana as a destination (a common analogy associated with Nirvana). Whether you reach the destination by this route ir that route, doesn't change what the ddestination is called. May 2, 2020 at 19:48
  • i'm not sure that is universally held by all buddhists so maybe include which buddhists agree
    – user2512
    May 3, 2020 at 22:00
  • Mahayana nirvana is not held by all Buddhists. Theravadin Nirvana is not held by all buddhists. Nirvana is held by all buddhists. That is the point I am making. That is why I said Mahayana Nirvana as a category is superfluous. And a question arising out of a superfluous category, such as who holds what, also renders itself superfluous. Your intial question is about a permanent substance. All Buddhists hold impermanence. All buddhists hold a lack of substance. But of course you may pursue this matter of this or that 'yana' nirvana. May 4, 2020 at 5:51

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