How does a Christian explain away the phenomenon of 'Nirvana'?

There have been many people in history in the Eastern religions that have achieved a state of eternal bliss, a complete destruction of the concept of ‘self’, and the experience is something no mortal man can put into words…but this was achieved by meditation without the grace of God and reveals very contradictory things to the Catholic faith.

So I was wondering, since nirvana can’t a a perfect state of mind for a Catholic, how else would they explain this phenomenon.

(Assuming those who say they experienced it actually experienced it)

The human mind is very powerful ,particularly in the capacity of autosuggestion.

A person cannot experience “eternal bliss” while outside of eternity I.e. naturally alive. And “annihilation of the sense of self” should not even be desirable. But in a state of meditation, one can convince themself of almost anything.


If we have grant that they have destroyed their sense of self and have rendered everything in their personality to some sort of force or being or perhaps their imagination, Christianity doesn’t seem affected. On the contrary, Christianity sees the danger any such “enlightenment” whether real or imagined heaps on the supposed enlightened individual.

Perfection within Christianity isn’t giving up ourselves, but is truly being ourselves, being faithful to God, loving one another as individuals (not loving another individual because he in reality is myself) and ultimately it is to die and be risen from the dead.

Enlightened individuals (going by the definition in the original post) do not have this, thus the promises to Christians has not been fulfilled in them or given to them. Something else, natural or supernatural has been given to them.

There are some extremely interesting comments on this page:

Which are comments to a commentary by Justin Whitaker to a piece Peter Kreeft had written on Buddhism as contrasting with Chrisianity. The links to both pieces were given in a recent thread here at CAF on Peter Kreeft’s piece and the reactions to it. Kreeft had commended Buddha but said Christ went significantly further.

Whilst a few commenters were shaky on Christianity, what most struck me was how rather a lot of them pointed out that the “Buddhism as promoting the destruction of self” line espoused by some Buddhists (and Hindus) and by Kreeft takes what the Buddha said too literally. Even Jesus said “die to self” which has been misunderstood by some CAF members.

Jesus said He came to give life more abundantly (Jn 10:10), to be ourselves more, to get much better sustenance and balance. Insofar as Buddha couldn’t offer a lot of the substance that Jesus did, his philosophy doesn’t reach us so strongly. Also Jesus’ will for us only becomes clear when it is demonstrated by other individuals personally whereas Buddha’s is largely propagated intellectually. These were probaby things Kreeft had in mind but didn’t spell out, another weakness in his very brief piece.

Is nirvana a phenomenon? I don’t think so. I would call it a concept.

The Buddha attained nirvana at age 35. He died age 80. Nirvana is more then just a concept. For 45 years the Buddha was living in the ordinary world, while at the same time living in nirvana.


Not just in the Eastern religions, though Thomas Merton had studied Eastern religions:

[At Polonnaruwa] I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything – without refutation – without establishing some argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening.

I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures, the clarity and fluidity of shape and line, the design of the monumental bodies composed into the rock shape and landscape, figure rock and tree. And the sweep of bare rock slopping away on the other side of the hollow, where you can go back and see different aspects of the figures. Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. The queer evidence of the reclining figure, the smile, the sad smile of Ananda standing with arms folded (much more “imperative” than Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa because completely simple and straightforward).

The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem and really no “mystery.” All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life is charged with dharmakaya … everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. … I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains, but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise. …

It says everything, it needs nothing. And because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we who need to discover it.

From: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton


*I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. … *

As he clearly and unambiguously states, Thomas Merton is here describing an aesthetic experience.

I prefer: I don’t know what else remains, but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.

All too much of what we think we know is shadow and disguise. Seeing through the shadows is enlightenment.


Merton’s observations come off sounding quite intellectual in the end. In any case, those who’ve “experienced God”, even as a “glimpse”, recognized it as solely a gift, totally unnapproacble and unachievable on their own, beyond any natural human capacity, resulting in an ineffable degree of peace, joy, happiness, enthralldom. An experience given totally by an Other, with the knowledge of being in the presence of an unspeakably superior being Who is unspeakably beautiful, kind-Who is love and with Whom that love is known, experienced, on a level we can’t begin to imagine.

buddhism offers little to those ordinary human beings for whom even surviving is a full time job.

buddhism is a “what can you make of yourself” kind of philosophy whereas christianity is a “what will God make of me” kind of religion.

christianity centers itself around God the Father. buddhism centers itself around the efforts of the individual.

christianity offers divine assistance to the believer. budhhism offers only the words of human beings to assist believers.

Another part of nirvana I forgot to mention was the person who achieves it allegedly has “figured everything out and is no longer ignorant of anything anymore”.

What do Christians think of that aspect? and what kind of impact would it have on Christianity?

nirvana seems to be the effect of practiced indifference to the stimulus received by our senses.

I think we also need to ask ourselves, what do we really want? And who or what teaches the truth regarding that question, if anyone? Do we want nothing? Is no desire the answer to our misery and angst? Not even the desire to exist, perhaps?

For myself, Christianity is the ultimate in positivity. It addresses our wants and needs head-on. It maintains that all humans have an innate desire-and a good one- to be happy, boundlessly happy; we can’t help it. And that while we, beginning with Adam & Eve, may look for that happiness in all the wrong places, the impulse for it is not at all misguided-it’s oriented towards a real *end *,or goal. We have this innate hope because it’s achievable.

The resurrection addresses our basic honest desire and need to survive, to continue to exist. And God, Himself, is our promise of happiness. He exudes it; He causes it- happiness, at the end of a life in pursuit of righteousness, in pursuit of God, in quantities and qualities we can only begin to imagine, is the result of His very presence as attested to by those who’ve been so blessed, even for a moment in time. And this is the teaching of the Church.

Unless someone can come onto this forum in a state of nirvana and talk to us, it is really all theoretical conjecture about what nirvana may or may not be.

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