The four kinds of nirvana states

© Anonymous comment to “ Alaya vijnana seems empty in this material world, yet, it possesses its emptiness-nature ”, October 28, 2011 8:46 AM

Now we will describe the four kinds of nirvana states. “Nirvana” refers to the sole state of Alayavijnana (Tathagatagarbha). When Hinayana practitioners have successfully eliminated both self-view and self-attachment, they then becomes arhats (阿羅漢), who will not take the next rebirth after the end of their current life. Before death, they will still give Buddhist teachings to others; in daily life, they would also confront heat, ache, hunger, sick, etc., but these matters will no longer get them into any state of vexation, they are in the state of “the nirvana with remainder.” When they die, they abandon their eighteen sense-realms (six sense-roots, six sense-objects, and six vijnanas) and enter “the remainderless nirvana.”

These are the two kinds of nirvana realized by the Hinayana saints.

Apart from these two kinds of nirvana, the practitioners of the Buddhahood-Way can attain another two sorts of nirvana. While the Mahayana practitioners personally experience and recognize the properties of Tathagatagarbha (get enlightened), they personally realize the True Suchness真如 (bhuta-tathata) as described in sutras that it is inherently pure and undefiled, not through any worldly cultivation; the Alayavijnana is inherently there and is not acquired from outside; yet without the prajna (trans-mundane wisdom) cultivation, observation and Chan contemplation, one is not able to realize and recognize it. That is to say, “the inherent, pure nirvana with intrinsic natures” is not obtained via cultivation, nor is it without cultivation. This is the middle way nature of the Alayanan vijnana. The Mahayana practitioners can see that the arhats also possess the inherent, pure nirvana with intrinsic natures, but the latter cannot realize it.

All Buddhas have realized the aforementioned three kinds of nirvana, further eliminated all habitual seeds of vexation-hindrances, permanently eliminate the ignorance that leads to the changing subtle births-and-deaths, sever all latent cognition-hindrances, and fully possess the All-Seed-Prajna. Since then Buddhas dwell in neither samsara nor nirvana, it is called the non-dwelling nirvana.


Nirvana: The sole state of Tathagatagarbha. There are four kinds of nirvana: the inherent, pure nirvana with intrinsic natures, the nirvana with remainder, the remainderless nirvana, and the non-dwelling nirvana.


  1. Very nice and informative post.
    Thank you.

  2. In terms of Buddhism, the most known terms are the “emptiness空” and “no-self無我.” Here are two general viewpoints of “emptiness” and “no-self”:

    Firstly from the Hinayana viewpoint, if we observe further into the five aggregates, analyzing our ever changing thoughts, sensations, and body functions which are indeed dependent arising from one second to another according to the supporting conditions; we are slowly and surely moving towards our cessation of this life. What am “I”? From a stance of eternity, we were born to existence and will die some day. The fact is whatever was brought forth on earth will eventually cease to exist, because all things belong to a dharma of arising and ceasing有生必有滅. Within the Three Realms, all manifestations are of conditional phenomena, thus they are variable, impermanent, and will eventually become empty; thus for an individual, it is called “no-self” in the Three Realms. The most popular four-line verses in the “Diamond Sutra” are:
    All conditional dharmas
    Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
    Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
    Thus should they be contemplated.

    To avoid the misinterpretation of “emptiness” into nothingness, the Buddha also stated in the “Diamond Sutra” that “Those who can see the non-phenomenon beyond all phenomena are those who truly see Tathagata.” Here is one of the core indications to the true reality that the Buddha nature is without any form or appearance; it manifests together with the name-and-form; if the ones who are able to see through the name-and-form, those are the ones who see the true reality.
    Yet the mundanely “emptiness” is derived from the impermanent and illusory dharma nature of the Three Realms; this is a sense of so-called “emptiness”, but not a true “emptiness.”

    Secondly from the Mahayana viewpoint, the Alayavijnana possesses its own nature that does not belong to any characteristic within the Three Realms. It exists independently since beginningless eons and is not a conditional arising dharma, so it will never cease to exist. It does not respond to the worldly six-sense objects; it is neither-seeing-nor-hearing (no sensation functions), neither-perceiving-nor-knowing (no logical thought or understanding). In other words, the Buddha nature is the everlasting true “no-self” because it does not reflect or contemplate to its own function or existence. In terms of emptiness, the Alayavijnana is eternally in a state of true “emptiness” because it does not arise to manifestation prior to cessation as all phenomena do within the Three Realms. Yet it possesses its own emptiness-nature which functions unceasingly either in nirvana or within the Three-Realms.

  3. It is very nice of you. I will repost it. Thank you very much!