Consciousness and Nibbana

If consciousness/knowing is always conditional, how can a consciousness that arises dependent on conditions be conscious of the unconditional?

If Nibbana is utterly without any awareness/knowing, how could the Buddha and arahants even report about it – not just in terms of trying to express the inexpressable – without some awareness of the unconditional, and to teach a path to realize it?

Clearly, such awareness/knowing would not be conditional; and yet, As Ajahn Sujato says, the suttas never mention an unconditional awareness.
Put another way, how is the unconditional realized, so to speak, without any form of consciousness/knowing?


It is impossible to understand Nibbana (unconditioned). But you can read AN 3.55 to get some understanding.

But it is impossible for common folks want to reach the ultimate, while they are still impure. They still enjoy sensual pleasures, they still break precepts, they still experience dukkha by holding on materials (money, house, family, etc), etc.

The starting point is right view. By associating with Buddha good devotee (ariya), then one can hear good dhamma. Then enter the stream once have right understanding. Then progress slowly from saddha, sila, samadhi, and panna.

There is no shortcut. Ariyan 8fold path is conditioned but Nibbana is unconditioned.

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@Joe.C - Thank you for your reply, but the questions regarding consciousness and Nibbana were not addressed. However, we agree that Nibbana cannot be pinned down with words and expressions.

This is not an academic exercise – there are valid traditions, such as some Thai Forest lineages, that teach of an unconditioned awareness/knowing. Other teachers, such as Ajahn Sujato, do not agree with this.
But whichever position one takes can have an effect on one’s Dhamma practice, at least to some extent. Hence, the questions are raised to explore this.

Let me try to explain. But it is hard for common folks to understand it.

Have your heard about the Bahiya Sutta Ud 1.10?

“… Therefore, Bāhiya, this is how you are to train yourself:

“In the seen, there will be just the seeing.

In the heard, there will be just the hearing.

In the sensed, there will be just the sensing.

In the cognized, there will be just the cognizing.

This, Bāhiya, is how you are to train yourself.

Bāhiya, when it is like this for you –

In the seen, there is just the seeing,

In the heard, there is just the hearing,

In the sensed, there is just the sensing,

In the cognized, there is just the cognizing –

Then, Bāhiya, there will be no ‘you’ in terms of this.

When there is no ‘you’ in terms of this,

Then there is no ‘you’ there;

When there is no ‘you’ there,

There is no ‘you’ here, or beyond, or in between.

Just this is the end of suffering.”

There is 2 mode of way to look at things (object/subject), one is experiential and another one is existential. To be in Nibbana means to be in experiential mode.

To be experiential mode is To experience the senses without the I am, without myself, and without mine (anatta). Everything is just an experience, good experience or bad experience are fine to Arahant
There is no dukkha.

There is consciousness, feeling, perception, mental image, process construction activity. But there is no I, myself and mine in them.

Most common folk looks at object/subject with the I am, myself and mine. This usually is called existential thinking.

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Thank you. Agree with your description with respect to the Bahiya Sutta.
The point is that your description, and apparently the Bahiya Sutta, involves some aspect of awareness – that which knows there’s no I, me, mine and which knows liberation.
But, again, how can there be awareness/knowing of this if it’s conditional? And, if there is an Awareness/Knowing that is unconditional, that goes against the suttas.
So this issue remains unresolved and open.

Ah… then one needs to progress from Ariyan 8fold path first. No shortcut.:sweat_smile:

Also, like I said, you still looking at the I. Who is the one aware? But this is not the right question to ask. There is no who. That it is just conditional arise and cease.

If you read sutta MN43 maybe you can understand. But this is high level. At 4th Jhana one can analyze it, or go up to sanna-vedayita-nirodha to confirm the 12 links.

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No "I "involved. No person or being realizes Nibbana.
But “something” , some awareness/knowing that has nothing to do with I, me, mine, knows that and knows of liberation.

You wrote “confirm the 12 links.” But even though sabbe dhamma anatta, what does the confirming if there’s no awareness/knowing to confirm it? That’s the issue.

Hi, good question. Here’s my answer, which in my eyes accords with the Pali suttas.

There’s two “types” of nibbana. (See Itivuttaka 43 or a talk I gave on it)

The first nibbana is the end of craving and other defilements. This you can be consciously aware of. When the Buddha got enlightened, he was aware of that. (This first type of nibbana is the nibbana the suttas talk about most often.)

The second is the nibbana after death of an enlightened being (often called parinibbana, though the suttas used this also to refer to the end of craving). This is when the aggregates end, including consciousness. This you can’t be consciously aware of, of course, but you can infer that it is going to happen. You can be aware of the fact that you, as an enlightened being, have no craving, and that there is therefore no fuel (upadana) for the aggregates to continue after death.

Some conflate these two, and that can be very confusing. When a sutta is about the former, people often think it is about the latter. For example, when the Buddha talks about “being liberated” it means the first nibbana: he is liberated from craving. Which in turn means he will be liberated from suffering (including consciousness). But he isn’t there yet, at that second nibbana, the final nibbana.

Hope that makes sense :slight_smile:


Iti 43 maybe a nice way to explain it.

But, This statement is inaccurate. When one has upadana, they have experienced dukkha. First Ariyan truth.

For fuel, please refer to MN 9 Samma Ditthi

Mendicants, there are these four fuels. They maintain sentient beings that have been born and help those that are about to be born. What four? Solid food, whether coarse or fine; contact (phasa) is the second, mental intention (manosancetana) the third, and consciousness (vinnana) the fourth.

Sabbe dhamma anatta (for me) means all experience (subjective/objective) is anatta (without I)

Like I said one needs to realized it. Without realization, one can just start do crazy things (kill, lie, steal, sexual misconducts etc). Someone not wise will argue because there is no self, i can do whatever i want. This is not how Buddha taught. He thought step by step, gradual process of purification. From body, mind then freedom.

Let me just said this manovinnana will know & realize it. But vinnana also arise due to conditions. It can cease if the condition is not there. For instance at nevasaññānāsaññāyatana, there is no awareness. While at sanna-vedayita-nirodha, there is no mind, sanna, etc.

One needs to purify the vinnana from 5 senses to understand. Hence that is the purpose of jhana. To be in jhana means to let go of things such as 5 hindrances etc.

Unfortunately I don’t know where you are at your practice. So it is difficult to explain in more details.

Seeing a mother who just lost her beloved son. She is in terrible suffering. You realized that you will never have that kind of suffering because there is absolutely no condition that can bring that kind of suffering to you. That is how you are conscious of the unconditional.

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Just a hypothesis.

Puthujjana are like wearing tainted spectacles. Everything seen is tainted.

An Arahant has removed the glasses and has clear vision. Everything seen is without greed, hatred or delusion. The eye remains the same, only the tainted glasses is gone. Similarly, the awareness remains the same but defilements are gone.

I think I know what you are talking about. In thai forest tradition this unconditioned mind is called with various names, right?
The Citta, The Dhamma, the knowing mind, everpresent citta, the Real Buddha, awareness, radiant mind etc.

In Zen they called it the Bodhi, Mind.
In Tibet they called it Rigpa, clear light mind, subtlest mind, mind like the sky etc.

Note that all I will say is just speculation and imagination, because I am not enlightened person.

It seems that at very high level of the path, one will access this knowing mind, and it will appear that this knowing mind is unconditioned, unborn, stable, eternal, undisturbed, and undying.

This contradict buddhist teaching that there is no permanent self. I believe that one must go beyond this knowing mind, see it as not self, empty, to finish the path.

Referring to above poster about two nibbana, I agree that the real unconditioned mind is realized when arahat has passed away and no future aggregates are produced.
Actually, this is the reasoning behind “three lifetimes dependent origination”. Even after liberated, Arahat still have volition, Consciousness, feeling, and six sense base, they dont immediately become unfeeling robot.

In my opinion, those teachers and tradition that teach about this knowing mind is not wrong. It is still a valid way in the path, and to achieve that is still quite a feat. But I believe one should go even beyond that to reach nibbana.

How can conditioned mind know the unconditioned? Well, by experience, and inference.
For example, if I enter jhana one time, then I know for sure that jhana truly exist. If I enter twice, then I know it is reproducible. If I constantly enter it, for sure I can teach it to others, because I know all the conditions necessary for it. Even though I am not in the state of entering jhana right now.

If I see there is no greed, hatred, and delusion inside me, and there is no condition that make them arise within me. If I know there is no condition for me to be reborn, then surely I know the unconditioned, and the path to it.

There is too much emphasis on awareness and consciousness in the argument. Liberation is not on the conscious/aware level, otherwise we would indeed run into logical issues. Liberation, I think, would need to occur on a non-conscious register and then necessarily also manifest itself or occur or affect consciousness/knowing. Then consciousness would as a consequence also be liberated and experience accordingly without the weight and burdon of the pre-liberation-consciousness. But not as the prime target of liberation.

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Quoting Sutta AN6.47 for consideration. When asked how Dhamma can be directly visible, immediately effective etc. Buddha responded:

"When there’s greed in you, do you understand ‘I have greed in me’? And when there’s no greed in you, do you understand ‘I have no greed in me’?"

No supernatural unborn unconditioned mind is mentioned as the criteria. Just normal mind that can comprehend its own moods and thoughts with truthfulness.

“Sir, they speak of ‘a teaching visible in this very life’. In what way is the teaching visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves?”

“Well then, Sīvaka, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like. What do you think, Sīvaka? When there’s greed in you, do you understand ‘I have greed in me’? And when there’s no greed in you, do you understand ‘I have no greed in me’?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Since you know this, this is how the teaching is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

@Jasudho I support this answer from @Sunyo as a good and correct answer.

For the first type of nibbana, i.e. the complete elimination of the defilements, then a noble disciple has the ability to check that there are no more conditions which can cause the taints to arise. The absence of conditions which can cause the taint to arise, when this is contemplated, is called the contemplation of the unconditioned.

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A monk learns cause and effect. Learns how effects arise with the emergence of causes; he knows how effects cease with the cessation of causes; and how with the final destruction of the causes, the effects finally cease. This does not need to be experienced at the level of sensory experience. It is necessary to know this with wisdom, to penetrate into the principle of the given event. Nibbana is not seen on the “screen of the mind”, “with the inner eyes of the imagination” - it is perceived by wisdom. Wisdom comprehends its meaning - the cessation of aggregates through the destruction of causes. Another way is to contemplate this dhamma together with the complete extinction of all other conditioned consciousnesses and experiences. By itself, the experience of this annihilation of all conditioned objects in the nibbana-object speaks of its nature of purity, freedom from everything conditioned. In this case, Nibbana is not experienced by the body (through the extinction of one’s own mind and body in real time), but by wisdom. That is, the quality of the state in which all aggregates fade away are cognized. This condition is observed from the side, as if under laboratory conditions, under a microscope. But there is a special state when nibbana is experienced by the “body” - nirodha samapati. When a monk enters this meditative state, his mind is gradually extinguishing and he is aware of the extinguishing of the mind to complete cessation. Then there is continued cessation and all experience and awareness are terminated. then the first flashes of the mind arise, which become aware of its own arising. and finally, after coming out of this state, the monk sees that his mind was completely inactive, his defilements, if any, are now destroyed. And consciousness is perceived as something that can fade away and stop, i. e. It’s empty. This is how Nibbana is cognized by one’s own experience, by the “body”. Finally, there is a third way to know Nibbana. Through non-clinging, the mind is liberated. There is no sense of “I” in aggregates or elsewhere. Without dwelling anywhere, thus the complete extinction of “bhava” is achieved. It is no longer important whether the aggregates last or they disintegrate. They are like a house in which no one lives. The abandoned house decays and falls apart, but no one cares anymore.

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Can you quote sutta why there is three ways?

Buddha only said 2 ways to liberate: Ubhatobhāgavimutto (freedom by both ways) and paññāvimutto( freedom by wisdom) such as DN 28.

These are not ways to attain nibbana, these are ways to understand nibbana. I described them not even in three, but in four ways. 1. Consideration of the law of dependent arising. 2. Consideration of Nibbana Dhamma as in the Majima Nikaya Sutta 64. 3. Cessation of aggregates, immersion in Nibbana “with the body” (as in the Nibbana Sutta). 4. experiencing nibbana through emptiness. One of the suttas says that seeing the absence of self is nibbana itself. My answer is based on a creative understanding of the Dhamma, on the basis of insight into its essence. references to “this is exactly the division into three (four)” will not help you, they will not be found, and it is not necessary.

Thank you! This is helpful. From what you’ve expressed, the first nibbana is what the Buddha taught, for example, in the Bahiya Sutta. The second can’t be taught, at least from direct experience, at all. Is that correct in your view?

Regarding the second nibbana – what is the Buddha referring to when he said (forgive me, I’m writing from memory without references and am paraphrasing) “This should be experienced, no sun ,no ,moon…liberation.” This description, I think in the Suuta Nipata or Udana, seems to relate to the complete absence of all conditioned phenomena/ aggregates – so by the definitions above, was the Buddha only referring to an arupa jhana or to nibbana?

This message was addressed to Bhante Sunyo, but let me answer too. Yes, if you remember, a certain sphere is really described there. There are spheres of space, consciousness, nothing, neither-being-nor-non-being. And there is also the realm of termination. And what is it like? in this sphere there is no sun and moon (this is not the world of forms), in this sphere there are no four arupas. it is also not a sphere in which there is this world (this life, this being) and the next one (that is, there is no future life in it after death), it also has no coming and going. what does it mean? it is one unique, special sphere in which one does not reborn. There is no arising in it - that is, nothing arises there. and since it has not arisen, then it will not stop. If a consciousness arose in this sphere, which cognizes it, following the example of the consciousness of the Brahmas, who arose in spheres without forms to cognize them, then this sphere would not be the same as the Buddha describes it - without any emergence. That is, it is a sphere in which even an observer who would observe it does not arise. Such a total denial speaks of only one thing - about nirodha-samapati - this is the sphere. and there is corresponding nirodha-dhatu - the element of cessation. there is rupa-dhatu, arupa-dhatu and nirodha-dhatu. in nirodha-dhatu it is impossible to arise, to be reborn, it is impossible to be consciousness in it, since it will be like the sphere of “nothing”, in which there is nothing, but there is consciousness that cognizes “there is nothing here.” and in this sphere there is not even a sphere of “nothing”. that is, in the sphere of nirodha, no consciousnesses arise that would cognize it. One can plunge into this realm with the body of the mind, thereby experiencing cessation. Either this sphere is cognized with wisdom - as a complete extinction of all structures and their causes. As an object in which there is nothing constructed.