If everything is impermanent and this is used as a reason why Buddhists do not believe in a creator and eternal God, how can Nirvana be permanent?
Did the Buddha ever explain this point?
There is a famous set of verses of the Buddha that go as follows:
“All conditioned things are impermanent” – when
one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from
suffering. This is the path to purification.
“All conditioned things are unsatisfactory” –
when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away
from suffering. This is the path to purification.
“All things are not-self” – when one sees this
with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.
This is the path to purification.
-- Dhp. 277-9 (Buddharakkhita, trans)
Do you see the difference?
Nowhere did the Buddha say that everything is impermanent, because it is not true. All things that arise must cease (SN 56.11), and that is the key to answering this question, because nibbaana is unarisen:
And what is the noble search? Here someone being himself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, seeks the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna;
-- MN 26 (Bodhi, trans.)
The logical conclusion of not being born is not dying, and so:
being himself subject to death, having understood the danger in what is subject to death, he seeks the deathless supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna;
This very point is a subject of doctrinal disagreement between Mahayana and Theravada. According to Theravada, Nibbana has svabhava (self-nature) that is unconditioned, deathless and totally transcendent to the conditioned world. But according to Mahayana (specifically Madhyamika), the fact that Nirvana is called shunyata means it does not have svabhava, just like everything else. In other words, according to Mahayana, Nirvana is permanent because it does not exist, or to quote Chogyam Trungpa it is "completely indestructible because it is not existent".
As my current teacher says, "Nothing is permanent, everything changes -- except one thing. Which one thing? The fact that everything changes." This is a hint ;) What we call Nirvana is not something "transcendent to the conditioned world", it is the self-existing nature of everything.
According to Mahayana, Nirvana is the very nature of Samsara. The three marks of existence are non-escapable. Any attempts to run away from them are part of the wanderings in Samsara. Only when this escape is brought to an end, when we clearly see that our hope to reach Enlightenment was a hope to escape the three marks of existence, then we can finally loose the ground under our feet, fall through space, open our eyes and look around, and see unarisen Nirvana and self-existing Enlightenment. I hope it's clear now.
Let me try a simple answer.
"Everything" is impermanent because everything is a "compound thing" which has no "independent existence". For example, here we are on a planet: sometime in the astronomical future there will no longer be a planet (because of the lifecycle of our solar system's sun) therefore "things" which depend on the existence of the planet will be not continue to exist: these things are impermanent.
Similarly each human body, each mountain, each city, each relationship is a "compound thing" which is not permanent.
But Nirvana is not a "compound thing". It can be described as an ending which does not begin again.
Forgetting what I said above above the planet ending, there's another (perhaps non-Buddhist) tradition which says that "Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky".
Seen in that light, I once saw a movie which was set in probably the lower hills of Nepal. A character is walking and comes to a kind of cairn that is a pile of face-down slates, on which people have written messages.
He picks one up in his hand and turns it over to read its message, which says,
How do you make a drop of water last forever?
Put it in the ocean.
- It's by loosening the attachments it has to/within itself that the drop spreads through the ocean
- Having dissolved its self that drop will never reappear (there's no such thing as the same drop)
- The 'ocean' is also used for various metaphors: including for Dhamma, for Freedom, for Unbinding, for Heedfulness; but it's also used as a metaphor for forms, including forms of the mind i.e. Dhamma.
Beware that samsara might be endless? So that some attempts to describe the permanence of nirvana might be describing, instead, the endlessness of samsara?
Maybe samsara is not endless, though; it is perhaps beginningless (Assu Sutta and Timsa Sutta), however it has (or can have) an end; or at least dukka if not samsara can have an end: that is the Third Noble Truth.
There seems to be some debate about what causes (is at the root of) samsara.
If you accept the view that it's caused by the three poisons, apparently you can gain "non-returning" by thoroughly abandoning any one them (except that, I don't know, some say that 'non-returning' requires you to abandon other 'fetters' too).
If you accept that it's caused by ignorance perhaps the antidote is knowing (knowing continuously? knowing endlessly?) the four noble truths.
Permanence is something we use to describe something that is created but lasts for ever.
Buddha clearly states in many places that things that are created are perished.
Hence the definition of permanence is not usable in this context.
Furthermore, assuming Nirvana is me, or mine, or my souls, is also a false view according to Buddha.
Nibbana is not composed of name-&-form, feeling, seems to be associated with the cessation of feeling & perception.
"There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support.This, just this, is the end of stress." (Ud 8.1)
"There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned." (Ud 8.3)
Nibbana is outside of the realm where concepts like "permanent" and "impermanent" exist.
The Creator (Brahma) exists but is temporary (even if His existence is for an extremely extremely long time-period) and is subject to the laws of kamma.
Those that follow the Buddha's teaching don't try to really believe anything, instead they try to see the exact truth of what is coming through the senses and mind in every moment, moment by moment.
There is no Creator God in the Buddha's teaching because the concept never came up when the Buddha discovered the Dhamma.
Nibbana is technically not permanent because there is nothing to be permanent. What is permanent in Nibbana is "nothing" so if nothing arises in Nibbana, suffering is permanently ceased, see? Nibbana is the ultimate abode of those that become disenchanted by Samsara
There's a great 41-part podcast series about Nibbana (Nirvana) here: The Island – Amaravati Buddhist Monastery
It's by Ajahn Amaro, commenting & expanding upon the book The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha's Teachings on Nibbana
The first episode is here: https://overcast.fm/+KQCmffrKU
Some episode topics include:
One meaning of nirvana is "snuffing out" or extinguishing. Extinguishing what? Whether nirvana is permanent can partially be answered by an explanation given of sunyata, the greatest wisdom, as signifying the "great void", and calmness and extinction. It (sunyata) can be considered as the endpoints of the rising and falling of phenomena. "All existences exhibit void-nature and nirvana-nature. These natures are the reality of all existence." Sunyata (Emptiness) in the Mahayana Context It has been my experience that nirvana is not static and "achieved", otherwise it would/could not dynamically respond to manifestations of phenomena by revealing itself as a transformative "reality". I have found that nirvana is a state closely related to sunyata in that they both exist beyond time/space, but they are nonetheless inherent in its fabric.
However, the essential question being asked in the current exchange is "How can Nirvana (Nibbana) be permanent?" Perhaps discerning between static and non-abiding nirvana can partially answer the question. Here is an excerpt that speaks of non-abiding nirvana..."An important concept of Mahayana Buddhism which is not there in Theravada is that of “non-abiding nirvana” or apraḍiṣṭhita nirvāṇa in Sanskrit. The word ‘apraḍiṣṭhita’ actually means ‘non-stationary’ or ‘not fixed in one place’ or something like that, so the translation as ‘non-abiding’ seems quite appropriate. Many Theravada followers, when they hear about non-abiding nirvana have a hard time understanding what it is really about."
The article goes on to say..."The main difference between static and non-abiding nirvana is that those who attain the latter actually speaking reside neither in samsara or nirvana. For them the distinction between samsara and nirvana breaks down completely. The arhats believe that there is such a distinction and they forever remain on the side of the static nirvana. The Buddhas and highly realized Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, do not remain in this static condition, for they are always motivated by their bodhicitta vows to help ferry sentient beings across to the other shore. So they cannot remain completely still and static."Non-abiding Nirvana
In the holy text, the Buddha never say whether nibbana is permanent or not. Nibbana is permanent as regard to the atta-entity. Note: At nibbana, it is zero self. The atta-entity is still present, and is at a certain energy level. Over infinite time, the energy will reduce toward zero but never touch zero. In this context, Nirvana is permanent.
However the Buddha never say so. This can only be possible if the Buddha detect the difference between the atta-entity energy level over time.
To answer truthfully, The Buddha need to monitor the atta-entity energy level for infinite time. Such task is impossible over the Buddha lifespan.
Note: SOEL-entity in the above web reference is equivalent to atta-entity.