Nirodha 滅 {mie / metsu} is a frequently seen Pali / Sanskrit Buddhist term. It is almost always translated into English as cessation.  However, there is recent speculation that this is a mistranslation; that nirodha actually means release, or ‘out of confinement.’  Note that cessation implies only an end of something. The cessation of dukkha {pain, suffering, dissatisfaction, stress} tells us nothing about what comes next, if anything. The general sense is that nothing follows, it is just cessation.  However, release  is only a cessation of being confined;  it implies the beginning of freedom.

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Both meanings, cessation and ‘escaping,’ are supported by common usages and the etymology of nirodha.  To begin, the prefix ni- / nir- is the same as the English ex-.   It usually means ‘outside’,  ‘out of,’  ‘without’,  or ‘free  from.’ This  is frequently a sort of reversal of the base word, but not always.   To complicate matters,  it can also be used as an intensifier. Worse yet,  it has a positive sense of ‘into.’

Rodha consists of ro,  possibly meaning ‘go up,’  grow, increase, or expand;  plus dha,  meaning hold.  In common use,  rodha can mean ‘ to sprout,’ or  ‘to grow upward.’  Or it can mean a far opposite; holding back growth, checking,  restraining, impeding, terminating —   a  confinement.  From this latter sense,  rodha can mean a prison or jail.

Those who support the meaning of nirodha as a release,  read it as ‘out of confinement or prison,’  no longer being held back or impeded.  That is simple,  but Occam’s Razor seldom applies to etymology.  Meanings of words are usually convoluted.  Readings that look forced can be  accurate. Moreover, several readings support translating nirodha as cessation.  One takes ni- as an intensive, like the ex- in exterminate. Nirodha can, also  and  actually sometimes does,  mean imprisonment, with ni- as  into,  plus rodha as confinement.

Yet another reading is  ‘out of’ as  a  ‘cessation of’  rodha,  is the sense  sprouting. The sprouting that ceases might be the continuation of karmic accumulation;  of continued rebirth in the six worlds of  samsara. Or of dukkha. Or of conceptual thought. This is most likely what the Buddha meant by nirodha, a cessation.  This is supported by the Chinese translation,   滅 — which mean annihilation, destruction, extermination, drowned, or extinguished. I have seen nirodha used in three Buddhist contexts:

  • Nirodha Samapatti 滅 .  The ninth absorption; which is a near cessation or stoppage of brain and bodily functions; an unconscious state attained via Fixed Concentration Meditation.
  • Nirodha-sanna / samjna  滅想 :  Cessation of mental perception or conceptualization.   I think this might be the eighth absorption / fourth formless attainment; which is neither perception nor non-perception.
  • Duḥkha-nirodha-satya/sacca 滅諦 : The fourth  Noble Truth, of the Cessation of Suffering.