Parinirvana Day, also known as Nirvana Day, is celebrated annually on February 15 to commemorate the death of the Buddha when he attained complete nirvana or parinirvana. Can you imagine that Buddhism has been around for over 2,600 years? Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, a Hindu who lived between the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. Parinirvana Day, marking the physical death of Buddha, is celebrated in some countries in East Asia on February 8, and in Bhutan on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Bhutanese calendar. According to Buddhism, to attain Parinirvana, one must understand the Four Noble Truths.
History of Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day)
The history of Parinirvana Day begins with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddha was born in the 5th century B.C. in Lumbini, present-day Nepal. According to Buddhism writings, he was born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. But many scholars argue that he was born in the Shakya community, which was ruled by a republic-like council, and he must be from one of the ruling families.
Being moved by the suffering of life and death and its endless repetition due to rebirth, Gautama renounced his title and inheritance. He embarked on a journey to find liberation from suffering – Nirvana. Gautama took up the sramana ascetic life and went to study under two teachers of meditation. The first was Arada Kamala, also known as Alara Kamala, under which he attained nothingness. But that did not bring an end to his suffering. The second teacher was Udraka Ramaputra, under which he attained a state of “neither perception nor non-perception.” But that also did not help him solve the problem of suffering.
Gautama decided to put himself under the harshest ascetic disciplines, including strict fasting and breath control. That also didn’t address the problem of suffering. He forewent asceticism and turned to the meditative practice of dhyana. According to legend, he went to Bodh Gaya, where he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree and vowed to remain in the state of meditation until he understood the meaning of living without suffering. In this deep meditative state, Gautama attained “awakening” and became the Buddha — the enlightened one.
Upon becoming the Buddha, Gautama began teaching his doctrine, Dharma, initiated monks into his Sangha order, and trained nuns. He allowed his disciples to spread his teaching across India, using the local language or dialects as the communication medium.
Gautama died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India, attaining the final nirvana — parinirvana. His death has been celebrated every year since then.
Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day) timeline
Siddhartha Gautama is born in Lumbini, present-day Nepal.
Gautama renounces his heritage and embarks on a quest to attain nirvana, “liberation from suffering.”
Gautama dies at the age of 80, upon which he attains the final nirvana.
The work of scholars and the immigration of Asian Buddhists to Western countries enables the growth of Buddhism in the West.
Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day) FAQs
Why is Vesak more important than Parinirvana Day?
Vesak celebrates the birth of the Buddha, in contrast to Parinirvana Day, which celebrates his death. Also, Vesak is celebratory, while Parinirvana Day is more reflective; similar to Christianity, where Christmas is more festive than Easter.
What are the four noble truths?
The Four Noble Truths say life is suffering, the cause of suffering is craving, the end of suffering comes with an end to craving, and the way to end suffering is by following the Eightfold Path.
Does nirvana mean death?
Nirvana in Buddhism means a cessation of dukkha or a release from worldly suffering and rebirths in samsara, endless rebirth.
How to Observe Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day)
Buddhists mostly celebrate Parinirvana Day by meditating, which is one of the cornerstones of their religion. Meditation serves to clear the mind and promote positive thinking. There are no rules to meditation, as everyone has a technique that works for them, but most people meditate in a quiet place, sitting on a cushion or mat with their legs crossed and focusing on breathing. If you’re not sure about how to meditate, you can take meditation classes or read books on meditation.
Visit Buddhist monasteries
This is another way you can celebrate Parinirvana Day. You can visit a Buddhist temple or monastery near you and partake in the festivities. You can also make donations to the monastery or bring presents such as foodstuffs and clothes.
Reflect on future death or recent death of loved ones
The beauty of Parinirvana Day is that it encourages people to reflect on their immortality and death. According to Buddhist teaching, life is temporary, and it’s only by dissociating yourself from the temporary things of life that you can attain nirvana. You can use this day to remember dead loved ones and ponder on your immortality.
5 Interesting Facts About Buddhism
The word 'Buddhism' is western
Western scholars coined the word ‘Buddhism’ in the 1830s.
Buddhism is a minority religion in India
Although the Buddha first taught Buddhism in India, only 1% of Indians identify as followers of the religion.
Buddhism is mainly practiced in China
According to the 2010 Pew Research Center, half of the world’s Buddhists live in China.
Buddhists do not believe in a god
Buddhists follow the Dhamma, which focuses on meditation and mindfulness, and made no mention of a supreme being or creator god.
Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion
Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world, with more than 520 million followers.
Why Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day) is Important
It commemorates the death of the Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was the founder of Buddhism, whose death began the Parinirvana festival. Like Christians celebrate the death of Jesus on Easter, Buddhists, on Parinirvana Day, also celebrate the death of the person whose teachings they follow.
It’s an opportunity to reflect on life and death
Buddhism teaches that everything is temporary and death is a normal part of life since everything must end. Through reflection, you will come to understand that and accept the deaths of loved ones and your future death.
Parinirvana marks the end of the cycle of death and rebirth
Buddhists believe that our clinging to temporary phenomena produces karma, tying us to the cycle of death and rebirth. By letting go, we achieve nirvana and end rebirth. The Buddha achieved nirvana before he began his teachings and attained the final nirvana — Parinirvana — upon his death.
Parinirvana Day (Nirvana Day) dates