Gautama Buddha explained nirvana as a state of transcendental bliss, one that may be attained during life or at the end of it. Roughly translated, nirvana means “to snuff out”, in the way one extinguishes a fire. In Buddhism, this has no negative connotations; rather, it means moving to another plane of existence by extinguishing the flames of desire, delusion, anger and hatred. In Pali, nirvana is termed as nibbana.

Attaining nirvana is closely linked to the concept of karma, where the cumulative actions and attachments of life become the reason for the soul’s becoming trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation. Following the teachings of the Buddha (the Noble Eightfold Path) leads to release from rebirth and the attainment of nirvana. Aptly, His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes this experience as a “state beyond sorrows”.

Nirvana’s other attribute is Bodhi or enlightenment, a complete awareness of the true nature of reality. An individual who attains or lives in bodhi is a Buddha.

Some Buddhists celebrate Nirvana Day to commemorate the Buddha’s attainment of nirvana. Parinirvana Day is usually observed on February 18th. On this day, followers of Buddhism visit monasteries or temples. It is a day to reflect on one’s life and how to work towards gaining nirvana. Buddhists also recall recent deaths of family members and close friends – a way to reconcile themselves to the inevitability of death.