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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

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  • thanks, i accepted this answer due to the use of 'Truth', which is easily understood. – user2512 Jun 20 '19 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.

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  • Is that hearsaying, or where does it origin from? – user11235 Jun 20 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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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