inevitably to be dissolved."—(Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, p. 211.)
The self is nothing but a group of phenomena held together by the desire of life; when that desire shall have ceased "the Karma of that particular chain of lives will cease to influence any longer any distinct individual, and there will be no more birth; for birth, decay, and death, grief, lamentation, and despair will have come, so far as regards that chain of lives, for ever to an end."
The state of mind of the Arahat in which the desire of life has ceased is Nirvana. Dr. Oldenberg has very acutely and patiently considered the various interpretations which have been attached to 'Nirvana' in the work to which I have referred (p. 285 et seq.)—The result of his and other discussions of the question may I think be briefly stated thus:
1. Logical deduction from the predicates attached to the term 'Nirvana' strips it of all reality, conceivability, or perceivability, whether by gods or men. For all practical purposes therefore, it comes to exactly the same thing as annihilation.
2. But it is not annihilation in the ordinary sense, inasmuch as it could take place in the living Arahat or Buddha.
3. And, since, for the faithful Buddhist, that which was abolished in the Arahat was the possibility of further pain, sorrow, or sin; and that which was attained was perfect peace; his mind directed itself exclusively to this joyful consummation, and personified the negation of all conceivable existence and of all pain into a positive bliss. This was all the more easy, as Gautama refused to give any dogmatic definition of Nirvana. There is something analogous in the way in which people commonly talk of the 'happy release' of a man who has been long suffering from mortal disease. According to their own views, it must always be extremely doubtful whether the man will be any happier after the 'release' than before. But they do not choose to look at the matter in this light.
The popular notion that, with practical, if not metaphysical, annihilation in view, Buddhism must needs be a sad and gloomy faith seems to be inconsistent with fact ; on the contrary, the prospect of Nirvana fills the true believer, not merely with cheerfulness but with an ecstatic desire to reach it.