Is the word nirvana a noun or a verb?

Is the word nirvana a noun or a verb?  Modern English dictionaries always classify the word nirvana as a noun, e.g., a state of heavenly bliss.
However, as Pali translator Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out, “back in the days of the Buddha, nirvana (nibbana) had a verb of its own: nibbuti. It meant to ‘go out,’ like a flame. Because fire was thought to be in a state of entrapment as it burned — both clinging to and trapped by the fuel on which it fed — its going out was seen as an unbinding. To go out was to be unbound.”
Notice that nirvana (a Sanskrit term) is a compound word. The prefix ‘nir’ means ‘out.’ The root ‘vana’ means ‘to blow.’ Put them together and you get ‘to blow out.’ 
Nirvana is a verb!
Defining and classifying ancient words, such as the word nirvana, is a bit arbitrary. For example, if we define nirvana as ‘blown out,’ then the word becomes an adjective. And if we define it as ‘the state of being blown out,’ then it is a noun again. It’s all just semantics – sleight of hand with words!
It is curious and telling that we only use nirvana as a noun. We need nirvana to be a place or a thing, or at least a state. We need it to be some-thing that we can hold onto. (And a Buddhist might say that trying to hold onto nirvana is the fundamental error of existence.) Of course, you cannot really make the error of holding onto nirvana, for that is impossible; rather, the error one might make is holding onto the idea of nirvana. Nouns are a little easier to hold onto than verbs and for that reason I propose that we begin using the word nirvana as a verb, i.e., a verb that means ‘to blow or put out.’ What do you think?
The next time you ask someone to blow out a candle or put out a fire, try saying, “Will you nirvana that for me, thanks?”
It might start an interesting conversation.


  1. Thanks for this. It brings to mind the metaphor that our lives are on fire. Our minds are burning with thought.

    I think of that moment of pause after a flame has been blown out from a candle but befor the smoke rushes out of the wick.

    Is nirvana that act in our mind where we extinguish thought but before the in rush of thinking comes on how glad we are to have extinguished thought? the smoke of thought obscures as much as the flame of thought. The trick is to hold nirvana, I think. That state of having just blown thought out.


  2. Lauren, that is a beautiful metaphor - thank you for sharing it. I like your idea of comparing smoke to thought. I also like to notice the difference between a silent mind (not thinking) and a transcended mind. Tell me what you think of the following idea. If the mind is transcended then it means, for me, that dropping thinking (not thinking) in any given moment will be effortless. It would be as effortless as dropping the body in a chair when you need a rest. When your body needs a rest you don’t have to force it still – all you do is let it relax. We can do this with our bodies because we are trans-physical. That is to say, we have minds that can let the muscles in our bodies relax. Meditation is the process of transcending the mind. When you have transcended the mind it means that you can let the thoughts in your mind relax (become still and quiet) just as you can let your body relax. You don’t have to force them still. You just let them fade away . . . like smoke you might say. You are fully alert and aware – you are just not thinking (no words, images, or concepts are arising). When resting your thoughts, if the mind is transcended, then there is no worry that thoughts may return - just as when resting your body in a chair you have no worry that your body will get up and walk out of the room. I've written more about this somewhere else . . . oh, here it is, see part two of this post (click here). Interested in your thoughts, Tallis

  3. Tallis,

    I posted a reply yesterday, but it looks like something went wrong. I'll give it another go when I get time to re-write.


  4. Hi Lauren, sorry your comment went missing . . . I've noticed that I have no time.  I would love to spend hours reading blogs, leaving comments on others' posts and really getting involved in the online community.  But life is crazy busy, probably just like yours, so thanks for taking the time to write and read.  Tallis

  5. Hi Tallis,
    A well-educated post! It reminds us of that we beings are all dazzling fires (our senses incessantly burning with feelings and thoughts) rather than our false views of burning states as I, my and they and theirs.

    To think a little more, those dazzling fires themselves might be neither nouns nor verbs: burning things or processes which are burning. They themselves are just reflections of consciousness thus whatever we tend to define those unknowable reflections into "some-thing" or "somehappening" are the start of unsatisfactory existence of our lives.

  6. Perhaps Nirvana is like opening a window at the dawn of a new day, and as the wind rushes in, it blows out the lamp of mental thought that is no longer necessary, due to the enlightenment of the Sun.