What can be called nirvanic inevitability is the idea that everyone will eventually attain the ultimate goal in the natural course of things. Roughly speaking, there are two versions of this idea. (1) Each time we die we are reborn into a gradually higher form until we eventually attain the goal, whether it be enlightenment, liberation or divine union. The other version of this idea, popular in New Age and Theosophical circles, is that (2) `we are here to learn' and that each time we are reborn we are given opportunities to learn about good and evil, life and truth. As our `soul' is purified we are reborn into increasingly advantageous lives until we attain the goal. The first of these ideas implies that liberation or realization is a forgone conclusion, while the second is based on the notion that there is some innate `purpose' behind the process of birth and death.

There is no hint of either of these ideas in the Buddha's teaching. The founder of one of the sects at the time of the Buddha, Makkhali Gosàla, taught a version of nirvanic inevitability. He explained his doctrine by using the analogy of a ball of string, which, when thrown on the ground, continues to roll until it is completely unwound. `Fool and wise alike go around and around until they inevitably put an end to suffering.' The Buddha dismissed this doctrine as false (D.I,54). In early medieval Hinduism the doctrine evolved that if one diligently adhere to his or her caste duties one will gradually be reborn into a higher caste and a better life until one is finally reborn as a brahmin and from that position attain the ultimate goal. The Buddha's understanding differed from all these ideas. There is, he implied, no `purpose' or `meaning' behind saüsàra. It is an impersonal process, fraught with the possibilities of suffering and which can only be transcended by the conscious effort to develop clarity and wisdom.