Nirvana, bliss and ananda

Kenneth Leong
4 min readMar 5

Recently, a Facebook friend asked whether Buddhism can really help us rid of suffering in a complete and permanent manner. After all, isn’t that the “selling point” of Buddhism to the general public — that it can solve the problem of suffering for you? Further, isn’t the Noble Eightfold Path the way to end all suffering? Many Buddhists believe that the person who has realized Nirvana will have rid of suffering forever. Doesn’t this smack of a fairy-tale ending? Happy ever after?

I think much confusion stems from the very misleading translation of the Sanskrit word “Nirvana” into a state of bliss., for example, gives this definition of Nirvana: “Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven.” Perhaps that is a way to give Americans, most of whom are cultural Christians, a quick sense of what Nirvana is. But such a definition is full of flaws. Nirvana is one of those untranslatable words. In general, translating words across cultures is always hazardous. In Hinduism, the Sanskrit word Satchitananda(Truth-Consciousness-Bliss) is used to describe the subjective experience of Brahman(Ultimate Reality). It is quite plausible that the general public’s notion of Nirvana as a state of “total and eternal happiness” comes from a misunderstanding of the Sanskrit word, ananda.

First, let us clarify what “ananda” is not. Ananda is not a dualistic emotion. It is not our common sense of bliss. It is not pleasure, happiness, or a high. If it were, then it would always be connected with its opposite — pain, suffering, and low. In our everyday life, don’t happiness and sadness alternate with each other? In the Chinese Taoist classic text, Huainanzi, there is such a story:


A long time ago, there was an old man who lived in the frontier region. He was known to be good at divination. One day, one of his horses crossed the border and entered foreign territories. Everybody came to console him for his loss. But the old diviner asked, “Why can’t this be considered a blessing?” A few months later, the lost horse returned. It also brought back another horse from the foreign territories. Everyone came to congratulate…

Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human