Does Buddhism teach annihilation? A Discussion in the light of Buddhist concept of Nirvana

Academic Paper, 2016
14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Index of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical principles
2.1 The concept of Nirvana and its embedment in Buddhism
2.2 The term annihilation

3. Analysis: Does Buddhism teach annihilation?
3.1 Description ofthe misconception
3.2 Human Language and philosophical dualism
3.3 Law of Cause and Effect, Impermanence and non-self
3.4 Consequences for the understanding of Nirvana
3.5 What is there after Nirvana?

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In comparison to e.g. Christianity and its concept of Heaven and Hell, Buddhism does not give a concrete positive description of Nirvana, since it lies beyond what human language is able to explain. Buddhism mostly circumscribes Nirvana by saying that it is the absence ofsuffering and the exit ofthe cycle of rebirths. Therefore, by interpreting Nirvana, the final goal of Buddhism, without further knowledge, one could tend to believe that Buddhism aims for the annihilation of oneself.

In order to analyse whether this statement is correct, I will provide a more in depth understanding of what Nirvana is, how Buddhism deals with the identity or the "self" (Anatta) of an individual and in what way this is linked to the cycle of rebirths.

This goal of the essay with regards to content will be achieved by firstly clarifying the underlying principle of Nirvana and how it is imbedded into Buddhist teaching. Secondly, by taking into account various literature and reflecting on these, I will elaborate on the human language, the typical philosophical dualism of possible states after death, and finally, as the main part of this paper, I will discuss the law of cause and effect, the impermanence and the Buddhist concept of non-self (Anatta). Focusing on the last three subtopics, I will then transfer these ideas on the essay question to reason a justified conclusion.

2. Theoretical principles

In order to provide a full understanding and conformability of this essay's logical argumentation I will shortly elaborate on the main theoretical principles the further discussion builds on.

2.1 The concept of Nirvana and its embedment in Buddhism

Before the term "Nirvana" is analysed in more detail, it is important to mention the impossibility to answer the question "What is Nirvana?" correctly. The reason for this inevitable problem lies in the nature of human words, expressions, and sensory experiences. Human language does very poor in describing feelings or experiences that are beyond the listeners' direct experience. One can simply display this incompleteness by trying to explain sweetness to someone who never tasted it or colours to a blind person. Applying this to Nirvana makes clear, that "Nirvana is the untranslatable expression of the unspeakable, of that for which [...] is no word"[1]. Therefore, the following explanations rather focus on how Buddhists use the term Nirvana than giving a concrete definition.[2]

To interpret the common conception of Nirvana and its embedment in Buddhism correctly, Nirvana's role in the Four NobleTruths-an expression of the fundamental direction of Buddhism - needs to be explained. These are:

1. Dukkha is an inherent aspect of saisara.
2. The cause of dukkha is taoha, or misdirected pleasure seeking
3. It is possible to realize an end of dukkha.
4. This end is achieved by means of the Eightfold Path, which is the multidimensional Buddhist practice ofspiritual and psychological maturation.[3]

Dukkha describes the universal "suffering" or "unsatisfactoriness"[4] that is inherent to all forms of existence, as the first of the Noble Truths states. Secondly, Dukkha is caused by "craving, hatred and delusion"[5] - self-centred desires and attachment to impermanent things. These demands can never be entirely satisfied, since they are of relative and dynamic nature. By always adapting to new conditions and trying to temporary satisfy these demands, the suffering as a consequence of of "craving, hatred and delusion" will not be eliminated as long as humans still have these intrinsic tendencies as part of their emotional and mental conditions. Referring to the third Noble Truth it is possible to put an end to this suffering by extincting the self-centred craving and ignorance that are the sources of Dukkha. The last truth describes the way this goal - the end of Dukkha - can be achieved through practicing the Noble Eightfold Path.[6] However, this paper will mainly focus on the second and the third NobleTruths.

Conditioned on the acceptance of Buddhist statement, that the suffering, or Dukkha, is rooted in the "selfcentered desires and egocentric impulses"[7], we can reason two possible (partly overlapping) solutions to end or satisfy this thirst:

Firstly, one could continually strive for satisfying the inherent impulse for attaching to impermanent things and craving for self-centred desires. However, it can easily be seen that this is is neither a sustainable, nor - from a rational perspective - a desirable solution, since human's nature and its immanent "thirst"[8] will create new desires, as soon as the existing ones are fulfilled. Secondly, and of larger significance for the rest of this paper, one can try to extinct the "craving, hatred and delusion" and therefore cease the initial origin of Dukkha. This results in the permanent cessation of the suffering[9]. This is exactly the approach described by the pursuit of Nirvana - a state of freedom and absence respectively cessation of suffering - as the ultimate goal of Buddhism's striving for happiness.[10]

In order to elaborate further on the explanation of Nirvana, I will analyse the literal meaning of its native origin, Nibbana: to blow ("in application to the extinguishing of fire"[11] ). This fire refers to the craving for lust, hatred and delusion and is the cause and cornerstone of dukkha. Therefore, Nirvana, or Nibbana, figuratively is the state in which this fire is extinguished. To link this metaphor to the solutions to liberate oneself from dukkha discussed before, it is an essential necessity not to extinguish this fire externally, but to take away the fuel that provides the internal basis for the fire's existence, if we aim for a long-lasting a continually satisfying solution. If this state of cessation of the threefold striving for craving, hatred and delusion is accomplished as a mental conviction within a human being, the "ethical statecalled nibbana"[12] isachieved.

In order to be able to follow the formation of the misconception about Nirvana being annihilation, a short introduction into Buddhist belief in rebirth is necessary. As long as the human has not reached Nirvana, but is still driven by and victim of craving, hatred and delusion, he or she will be reborn in any form or mode of existence / living after their death. By achieving Buddhist's ultimate goal of the mental, emotional and intellectual state of Nirvana, this cycle of rebirths is ended; there will be no more "reincarnation"[13].

As stated in the beginning of this chapter, we mostly focused on describing Nirvana by using negative terms (namely the absence of craving, hatred and delusion etc.), due to the lacking ability of human; we do not have a precise linguistic measure for what Nirvana is.

Because it is of no great relevance for the understanding of the paper's major discussion and due to the required limited extent of this work, I will not elaborate further on the role of Karma and the Five Aggregates in the context of rebirths, Nirvana, and identity.


[1] Guang Xing, Buddhist Concept ofHappiness - Nirvana (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong, 2016).

[2] Luis O. Gómez, "Nirväna,"Encyclopedia ofBuddhism (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2013), 600-605.

[3] Douglas M. Burns, Nirväna, Nihilism andSatori (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983), 9 et sec.

[4] Nyanatiloka Mahathera, Fundamentals ofBuddhism - Four Lectures (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1994), 4 et sec.

[5] Guang Xing, „The Historical Buddha: A Personality Analysis," Journal ofBuddhistStudies Vol. XII (2014-2015): 257.

[6] 14th Dalai Lama, „Happiness from a Buddhistic Perspective," Journal ofLaw and Religion 29 (2014): 5-9, doi: 10.1017/jlr.2013.13.

[7] Xing, Buddhist Concept ofHappiness - Nirvana.

[8] Gómez, "Nirväna."EncyclopediaofBuddhism, 600-605.

[9] Lily de Silva, „Nibbana as Living Experience," Sri LankaJournal ofBuddhistStudies, Vol I (1987): 3-6.

[10] Matthieu Ricard, „A Buddhist View of Happiness," Journal ofLaw and Religion 29, no. I (2014): 14, doi: 10.1017/jlr.2013-09.

[11] Xing, Buddhist Concept ofHappiness - Nirvana.

[12] Nyanaponika Thera, „Egolessness and Deliverance," The Light ofthe Dhamma Vol. IV, No. 3 (1957): 2.

[13] Steven Collins, „Nirvana, Time, and Narrative," HistoryofReligions, Vol. 31 (1992): 216

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Does Buddhism teach annihilation? A Discussion in the light of Buddhist concept of Nirvana
The University of Hong Kong
Life and Buddhism
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Buddhist, Buddhism, annihilation, nirvana, Buddhismus, destruction, destroy, annihilate, self
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Frederik Frank (Author), 2016, Does Buddhism teach annihilation? A Discussion in the light of Buddhist concept of Nirvana, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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