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Do enlightened people "know" what nirvana is like? Obviously, they can't express it to anyone else, so the question isn't super helpful. I just wondered whether nirvana is a thing that we can know as well as experience or taste.

One response, one I don't (personally) want to hear about (at least without some in depth quotation) is that nirvana isn't "like" anything. And, of course, nirvana isn't similar to anything.

I'm asking whether Buddhas of any sort "know" the qualities (e.g. bliss) of nirvana.

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Ud 8.1 says Nibbana is a sense object (ayatana) therefore it is obviously something known.

MN 26 says:

Then the thought occurred to me, 'This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced (vedanīya) by the wise.

SN 56.11 says:

‘This noble truth of the cessation of suffering has been realized (sacchikata).’


Concise Pali English Dictionary sacchikata pp. of sacchikaroti realised; experienced for oneself.

PTS Pali English Dictionary sacchikata seen with one’s own eyes, realized experienced

The Dhammapada says:

205. Having savored the taste of solitude and peace (of Nibbana), pain-free and stainless he becomes, drinking deep the taste of the bliss of the Truth.

Nibbana is the dropping of all burdens; like the experience of relief when urgently urinating or dropping a heavy backpack or drinking cool fresh water on a hot day.

Read more here: SN 43.14-43 and Nibbana For Everyone

  • thanks, i accepted this answer due to the use of 'Truth', which is easily understood. – user3293056 Jun 20 at 23:20
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Nirvana is an application of the fire-metaphor (a fire going out) used to point at certain aspects of The Goal.

What aspects?

  • dispassion, disenchantment
  • the finality (no state subtler than this, nothing further to be attained, no realization that is more fundamental, no fuel to burn, no further becoming)

There are other aspects of The Goal not covered by the metaphor of Nirvana, and to indicate these aspects we use other concepts, namely

  • liberation
  • peace
  • suchness
  • Enlightenment, Awakening, Knowledge
  • bliss, happiness
  • the emptiness
  • the other shore
  • the deathless
  • the unconditional
  • one's true nature
  • the unborn

These describe various other aspects of The Goal (not of Nirvana, which is just one concept among many).

It is therefore incorrect to say that Buddha knows Nirvana or experiences Nirvana. Buddha experiences what Buddha experiences, and he can invent various ways to talk about it, including the metaphors like Nirvana. Buddha knows and experiences The Truth, and Nirvana is only a didactic device used to talk about attainment of Truth and its personal implications.

All these terms and descriptions remain in the conceptual field, as qualities or aspects that try to characterize The Goal by relating it with something the listener knows from his own unenlightened experience.

In one important sense, attainment of Nirvana is a personal transformation. As you change, reality you perceive changes as well, so all these concepts are attempts to describe both the change as well as the new reality, in contrast with old.

  • Is that hearsaying, or where does it origin from? – Samana Johann Jun 20 at 23:36
  • This originates from 2600 years of study and practice of Buddha-Dharma, including 25 years in this life. – Andrei Volkov Jun 20 at 23:58
  • "It is therefore incorrect to say that Buddha knows Nirvana or experiences Nirvana."... ! .... Mahayana's Taoist non-conceptuality is not 2600 years old, although Taoism is – Dhammadhatu Jun 21 at 0:24
  • No, it's not about nonconceptuality. Just about not confusing the concepts with reality. Buddha knows and experiences The Truth, and Nirvana is only a didactic device used to talk about attainment of Truth. – Andrei Volkov Jun 21 at 0:29
  • When a fire is extinguished, are you saying the transformation from heat to coolness is a "didactic device"? Thanks – Dhammadhatu Jun 21 at 0:49
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Bhikkhu Sujato translated part of MN 49 as:

Consciousness that is invisible, infinite, radiant all round—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.
Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, ...

This translation is problematic because there is no such thing as infinite consciousness in Buddhism. Equating Nirvana with infinite consciousness would be more of Advaita Vedanta rather than Buddhism.

However, in this answer, Bonn explained that this is a wrong translation.

It should rather be:

That which could be known (Nibbana), is invisible, infinite, radiant all round—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.
Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, ...

So, Nirvana is something knowable, but it is not within the normal scope of physical and mental experience. It is not even within the normal scope of the experience of gods.

How do the enlightened ones know and experience Nirvana as?

From AN 3.32:

‘This is peaceful (santaṃ), this is sublime (paṇītaṃ), that is, the stilling of all activities, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna.’

From Dhammapada 204:

... Nibbana is the greatest bliss. (nibbanam paramam sukham)

They know and experience Nirvana as the greatest bliss, that is peaceful and sublime, and free from all suffering.

The ending of AN 3.32:

‘Having surveyed the world high and low,
they’re not shaken by anything in the world.
Peaceful, unclouded, untroubled, with no need for hope—
they’ve crossed over birth and old age, I declare.’”

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As the Buddha told his monks to abound the perception of Nibbana, they have been not satisfied, so how could someone holding on stand, home and house be, holding still on everything, not seeing the danger in the world?

This path hasn't knowing, discerning or sensing as it's end but ceto-vimutti & panna-vimutti, awareness- & knowing-release, Unbond doesn't hold and nourish on anything.

Culavedalla Sutta:..."What lies on the other side of ignorance?"

"Clear knowing lies on the other side of ignorance."

"What lies on the other side of clear knowing?"

"Release lies on the other side of clear knowing."

"What lies on the other side of release?"

"Unbinding lies on the other side of release."

"What lies on the other side of Unbinding?"

"You've gone too far, friend Visakha. You can't keep holding on up to the limit of questions. For the holy life gains a footing in Unbinding, culminates in Unbinding, has Unbinding as its final end. If you wish, go to the Blessed One and ask him the meaning of these things. Whatever he says, that's how you should remember it."

Then Visakha the lay follower, delighting & rejoicing in what Dhammadinna the nun had said, bowed down to her and, keeping her to his right, went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he told the Blessed One the full extent of the conversation he had had with Dhammadinna the nun. When this was said, the Blessed One said to him, "Dhammadinna the nun is wise, Visakha, a woman of great discernment. If you had asked me those things, I would have answered you in the same way she did. That is the meaning of those things. That is how you should remember it."

A new Essay might be helpful for clarification:

Talking about Nirvana, by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu. Although the Buddha refused to describe the arahant after death, he did provide descriptions of nibbāña (nirvāṇa) to show how it differed from the ordinary dimensions of the six senses. This essay explores the reasons for why he treated these two related issues in very different ways—and the implications that this differing treatment has for anyone who seriously practices.

Including dealing with Nāgārjuna approaches.

"'All phenomena have Unbinding as their final end.' Mula Sutta

With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'

(Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks, entertainment and akusala deeds, but as a share of merits and continue such for release)

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