Nibbāna 8: the Real Meaning of Nibbāna

In the previous section we discussed how scholastic monks, eager to showcase their exegetical skills, unnecessarily complicated and distorted the meaning of nāma-rūpa in the Buddha’s teachingSomething similar happened regarding the word Nibbāna. Here too the semantic developments in the commentaries are unsupported by the Suttas. We find needlessly complex explanations of the etymology of the word Nibbāna, such as vānasaṅkhātāya taṇhāya nikkhantattā: ‘Nibbāna is so called because it is an exit from craving, which is a form of weaving.’

Wait: what? Taking the element vāna to mean a form of weaving is as unnecessarily complex and misleading as taking nāma as some kind of bending. The commentaries define craving as a kind of weaving, in the sense that it connects one form of existence with another; and the prefix ni- is said to signify the exit from that weaving. This approach is straight out of Indian scholastic commentaries on Vedānta, which also employ obscure misinterpretation of word roots to twist the text into bizarre renderings. The resulting confusion blocks any attempt at realization.

But we do not see this kind of forced, indirect etymology and interpretation anywhere in the Suttas. The Suttas use the word Nibbāna in the sense of ‘extinction’ or ‘extinguishing’, as a fire that runs out of fuel. This direct sense brings out the true essence of the Dhamma.


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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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