Nirvana actually has a very simple meaning, but unfortunately, most people who think they know what Nirvana is are probably wrong.

You might be disappointed if you were hoping that Nirvana means a heavenly abode where you get to eat all the chocolate ice cream you want while listening to your favorite music on your iThingy.

Sorry, It ain't like that.

Nirvana literally means "cool" or "to extinguish", and it is a state where suffering has been "extinguished." Or said another way, the flames of desire have been cooled. In short, it is a state of the ultimate freedom - freedom from sorrow, but also freedom from happiness.

You might find it funny to know that the literal translation of Nirvana, syllable for syllable, means "don't get blown away." Well, that's only partially true; in ancient Sanskrit, the three syllables (nir+var+na) actually had multiple meanings themselves, so when you combine them, they could be translated different ways, such as "To be free from entangled roots," or "To escape from the woven web."

But no matter which translation you pick, it is understood that to be in a state of Nirvana means to be free from those bonds that enslave us;  It is a state of profound peace and great wisdom. It is the ultimate happiness that comes when we are liberated from finding pain or pleasure in impermanent (transitory) objects.

Nirvana should NOT be thought of as a place. Instead, it is a state of consciousness which is above all others. It is the opposite of ignorance, greed, hatred and the defilements (commonly referred to as Kilesa) which cloud our minds and make us do stupid things.

The Buddha taught that Nirvana was the ultimate goal of humans, and urged his followers to strive toward it. From the Dhammapada, verse 21, the Buddha is quoted as saying;

"Earnestness is the path of immortality (Nirvana), thoughtlessness the path of death. Those who are in earnest do not die, those who are thoughtless are as if dead already."

In verse 75 if the Dhammapada, the Buddha is quoted as saying;

"One is the road that leads to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana. If the Bhikshu, the disciple of Buddha, has learned this, he will not yearn for honor, he will strive for separation from the world."

Yet while the Buddha urged his followers on to the path of Nirvana, he did not spend a lot of time describing what it actually was. The Buddha felt that the limits of language and human understanding prevented a clear definition of the concept, and perhaps most notably, the Buddha defined Nirvana by what it WASN'T;

"There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension, nor motion, nor the plane of infinite ether.... nor that of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, neither this world nor another, neither the moon nor the sun. here, monks, I say that there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising, for this is itself without support, without continuance in samsara , without mental object - this is itself the end of suffering."

It might also be telling to note that sometimes when the Buddha was asked do describe Nirvana to his followers, he chose to remain silent. Nor did the Buddha claim to his followers to be in a state of Nirvana, but did note that those who who attained Nirvana were an Arihant.

You might find it interesting to hear what one of Thailand's most respected  monks of the 20th century had to say about Nirvana. Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - the founder of Suan Mokh temple and a scholar of numerous religions - stated in a lecture entitled "Nirvana For Everyone" that:

"Nirvana is coolness; a coolness that continues on and on. A coolness in the heart [jitjai]. For when we know that forever our hearts will not be hot [with defilement], that coolness is Nirvana. Or whatever you do, act correctly so that the hotness of defilemens do not arise, that coolness is Nirvana."

"You have to condition your heart always - don't let the defilements [kilesa] arise, and you will discover the coolness of Nirvana."

In another sermon, Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu taught that:

"Nirvana doesn't mean 'The Death of an Arihant'.  Nirvana means 'coolness' because one is free from defilements (kilesa). It is not required to die (to reach Nirvana). So we should understand correctly that Nirvana is not related to death, but is related to coolness. If you are dead already, how cool are you going to feel? How will those who have died feel either cool or hot? It means coolness as it is felt by those who are able to still feel, and those are people who have not died.