The 4 Virtues of Nirvana

The Buddha’s Nirvana (called Maha Nirvana or Great Nirvana) has 4 virtues, which he teaches in various Sutras:

  1. Permanence
  2. Bliss
  3. True Self
  4. Purity

An easy way to remember this is that the first 3 are the opposite of anicca, dukkha, anatta, i.e., the opposite of:

  1. Impermanence
  2. Suffering
  3. Not self
  4. Impurity.

Now be aware that many people, when reading about Buddhism these days, mistakenly think that everything is impermanent, everything is suffering and there is no self – so they think these 3 things – anicca, dukkha, anatta characterizes absolutely ALL of existence – they do not!  They only characterize conditioned/compounded existence and phenomena.  The unconditioned/uncompounded does not obey these.

To balance out the Buddha’s earlier teaching of anicca, dukkha and anatta, he also teaches their opposites:

‘When in the past I turned the Wheel of the Dharma in the town of Varanasi, I taught:

  1. Anitya [impermanence],
  2. Duhkha [suffering],
  3. Sunyata [emptiness] and anatman [non-Self].

Now I turn the Wheel of the Dharma in this here town of Kushinagara [i.e. the venue of his final teachings], I teach:

  1. Nitya [eternality],
  2. Sukha [bliss],
  3. Atman [the Self] and
  4. Suddha [purity].’

[The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Yamamoto/Page edition, Vol. 4, p. 61].

The 4 Virtues of Nirvana in the Sutras

The Shurangama Sutra

In the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha says this when Ananda wants to find out how to open his enlightenment:

Ananda, you now want to cause your seeing, hearing, sensation, and cognition to return to and tally with the permanence, bliss, true self, and purity of the Thus Come One.


The Mahaparinirvana Sutra

‘Noble son, there is “Nirvana” but that is not Maha-nirvana [‘Great Nirvana’].

Why is Nirvana not Maha-nirvana?

The elimination of the afflictions [kleshas] without having seen Buddha-dhatu is called “nirvana” and not Maha-nirvana.

  • Thus, because one has not seen the Buddha-dhatu there is no permanence, nor Self, though there is bliss and utter purity. Hence, even though the afflictions have been eliminated, it should not be called “Maha-nirvana”.
  • When one has seen the Buddha-dhatu and eliminated the afflictions, that is called “Maha-parinirvana”. Because of having seen the Buddha-dhatu, it is said to be permanent, Self, blissful and utterly pure and therefore that elimination of the afflictions is said to be Maha-parinirvana.’

So basically if you’ve eliminated all your afflictions from greed, hatred and delusion – that’s Nirvana but not the Great Nirvana of the Buddha.  Great Nirvana is if you’ve eliminated your afflictions AND have seen your own Buddha Nature.


‘Tenth, he [i.e. a very high-level Bodhisattva] is endowed with perfect awareness. Awareness is to perceive permanence, bliss, Self and purity in the Tathagata and that all beings are endowed with Buddha-nature (buddha-dhatu).


The Tathagata has cut off / eliminated such empty entities, therefore he has attained permanence [nityata – eternity], bliss, Self and purity.’


The Tathagata, endowed with all-knowing awareness (sarvajna-jnana) lights the lamp of insight with his skill in means (upaya-kausalya) and causes bodhisattvas to perceive the permanence, the bliss, the Self, and the purity of Nirvana.

Source for the above quotes from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:



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