Yoga-sutras (Ancient and Modern Interpretations)

by Makarand Gopal Newalkar | 2017 | 82,851 words | ISBN-13: 9780893890926

This page relates ‘Nastika Darshana (1): Concept Of Nirvana According To Buddhism’ of the English translation of the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali: an ancient Indian tradition spanning over 5000 years old dealing with Yoga:—Meditating the mind on the Atma leading to the realization of self. This study interprets the Yogasutras in light of both ancient and modern commentaries (e.g., Vyasa and Osho) while supporting both Sankhya and Vedanta philosophies.

Part 4a - Nāstika Darśana (1): Concept Of Nirvāṇa According To Buddhism

In Buddhist literature, the word Nirvāṇa is used instead of Mokṣa. Gautama Buddha experienced the state of enlightenment at the age of 35. When he was asked about his concept of Nirvāṇa, he always remained silent. He told the noble eight-fold path for attainment of nirvāṇa. He however said nothing about nirvāṇa itself. His followers therefore interpreted his silence in different ways.

Some Buddha followers (Hīnayāna tradition) accepted the literal meaning of Nirvāṇa as being “blown out” (as in a candle). In Buddhist texts, the example is given of blown candle many times to the imperturbable stillness of the mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished. When the candle is blown out, the flame is lost. Similarly, after Nirvāṇa, the flames of pains, sorrow, desire etc. recede. Some Buddhists accepted that after Nirvāṇa, there would be cessation of existence.

According to another opinion, if Nirvāṇa is accepted as cessation of existence, there would be no possibility of Nirvāṇa during lifetime. However, Gautama Buddha was enlightened at the age of 35 and lived a further period of about 45 years thereafter. So, Nirvāṇa cannot be accepted as cessation of existence. According to this view (Mahāyāna tradition), the meaning of Nirvāṇa is ‘cooling’. In the state of Nirvāṇa, the flames of anger, desire, pain, sorrow, ignorance are destructed, so it can be taken as ‘cooling’. This is the state of ‘bliss’ in Dhammapada.

Some people also accept that Gautama Buddha remained silent as he was trying to suggest that the state of Nirvāṇa cannot be explained in words. It is indescribable, inexpressible. As it is very difficult to explain colors to a blind person, similarly it is very difficult to explain what Nirvāṇa is to common people.

Though Gautama Buddha did not discuss Nirvāṇa; he explained the four noble truths (catvāri āryasatyāni)[1] in his first discourse.

The four noble truths are–

1. Duḥkha: (Pain, suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction) -Life is full of misery. Every soul on this earth faces pain and sorrow. To destroy the suffering, one has to know the cause of it, which is the second noble truth.

2. Duḥkhasamudāya [2] : Buddhism explains dvādaśa nidamas -twelvefold chain of causes. Ignorance is the root cause, which creates the chain of other causes of suffering.

This is known as wheel of causation in Buddhism.

  1. Ignorance (avidyā)
  2. Fabrications/Impressions (saṃskāra)
  3. Consciousness (vijñāna-caitanya)
  4. Name and form (nāmarūpa-śarīra-manas)
  5. Six sense media (Sadayaban)
  6. Contact (sparśa)
  7. Feeling / Sensation (vedanā)
  8. Craving (tṛṣṇā)
  9. Clinging (upādāna)
  10. Becoming (bhava)
  11. Birth (jāti)
  12. Aging and death (jarāmaraṇa)

3. Duḥkhanirodha - After the annihilation of avidyā, rest eleven causes of suffering also get destroyed, which results to nirvāṇa according to Buddhism.

4) Duḥkhanirodha mārga. The noble Eight-fold path (aṣṭāṅga marga) is a practice said to lead its practitioner towards self-awakening and liberation.

Noble Eight-fold path is:

  1. samyakdṛṣṭi - Right Understanding
  2. samyak saṅkalpa–Right thought
  3. samyak vāc -Right Speech
  4. smayak karmānta -Right Action
  5. samayak ājīva -Right Livelihood
  6. samyak vyāyāma -Right effort
  7. samyak smṛti -Right mindfulness
  8. samyak Samādhi -Right Concentration

There are some differences between Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna sects of Buddhism. The goal of Hīnayāna is to be Arhat and the goal of Mahāyāna is Bodhisattva. The difference between them is– Arhat always thinks for his attainment of nirvāṇa. He practices different types of sādhanās to attain his own nirvāṇa, but Bodhisattva always tries for the liberation of all the jīvas. They establish the statute of Gautama Buddha in their vihāras, and worship it.

Having impact of Advaita Vedānta, Buddhism also accept two types of salvations -

  1. Nirvāṇa (same as jīvanmukti)
  2. Parinirvāṇa (same as videhamukti)

Footnotes and references:


Majjhima Nikāya, Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, 1.1.105, Vipassana Vishodhan Vinyas, Igatpuri, 1995.


Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

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