Title

From Nirvana to Enlightenment.

Authors

Scott Arenstein

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2000

Abstract

In 1869, the German scholar Max M?ller wrote: "There, by penance and deep meditation, [The Buddha] attained a state of inner enlightenment?" While this phrase may seem commonplace or trivial, it took nearly two centuries of scholarship for this sentence to develop. The word enlightenment has had a remarkable history; furthermore, the word enlightenment, as a reference to the ultimate goal in Buddhism, has radically changed the way in which Westerners interpret Buddhist nirvana. Previously, scholars defined nirvana in Christian terms or as a form of annihilation, a concept that was unacceptable to nineteenth century Westerners. One man, Max M?ller, changed this negative attitude that Europeans held against Buddhism. Employing the word "enlightenment" makes the reader associate to ideas such as insight, illumination, and the Age of Enlightenment. Thus, M?ller draws on the endowment and authority that "enlightenment" already owned to Westerners. What M?ller started was he took a word which held great respect to European culture and associated it to Buddhism, which wins respect for Buddhism as well. Enlightenment, now an emphatic term, entitles Westerners to interpret nirvana in a positive manner.

Advisor

Dale Wright

Department

religious_studies

Support

Ford Research Fellowship

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