Consciousness and Nibbana

How do you know, that you have slept? You know it by waking up and feeling refreshed. You know it after the fact, not while it is happening. The same is true for the experience of cessation.


Well, that is beyond my intellectual mind to answer. What knows the experience, indeed.

But I imagine, since Buddha always saying that he directly know, also, that he regularly “enjoy the bliss of nibbana”, this can be experienced directly while arahat still lives.

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Hi, thanks for the reply, and I’m happy I could help.

You’re probably referring to SN 35.117: “So you should understand that dimension where the eye ceases and perception of sights fades away. […] mind ceases and perception of thoughts fades away.” (transl. Sujato) The Bahiya Sutta (Udana 1.10) has the same problem. It’s to do with the word ‘understand’.

This is an example of how much influence the translator’s ideas have. The word for ‘should understand’ some render as ‘should experience’. But that is wrong. The word is veditabba (or vedi in the Bahiya sutta), a form of the verb vedeti, related to the more familiar vedāna, ‘feeling’ or ‘experience’. When the six senses cease, vedāna (i.e. experience) ceases too, so it is clear that the meaning of the verb here is not ‘experience’. Instead it is indeed ‘understand’, as Venerable Sujato and Venerable Bodhi have it correctly. This is a very well established meaning of the verb, and the PTS Pali-English dictionary even mentions it as option A.

Of course the rendering ‘understand’ instead of ‘experience’ changes the meaning totally. It comes down to what I said before: an enlightened one (or any noble one for that matter) understands that the six senses will cease after death, and they realize what that entails–which, spoilers, is not a kind of consciousness–but they don’t experience it consciously. However, they do experience the cessation of the defilements consciously.

Though Florian also has a point: a temporary cessation of consciousness can be remembered afterwards. That is not called nibbāna in the suttas, however. So although some may say stream enterers “experienced nibbāna”, that is technially not how the suttas use the word. In the suttas nibbāna, though all noble ones have no doubt about what it is, is exclusive to the fully enlightened ones. Again, it only means either (a) the cessation of the defilements after enlightenment or (b) the cessation of the aggregates after death, never something temporary. And never a kind of consciousness.


Excellent, Bhante! This is what I call understanding with wisdom, penetrating the meaning. It is not an experience that seems to appear on the screen of the mind. The mind is not the eye, it comprehends the meaning.


Again, thank you Ven. Sunyo. I’ve noticed that in SN 22.54, Iti 44, and SN12.64, the Buddha uses the word vinnana (which I understand points to conditional consciousness), rather than words denoting “deathlessness”, “unmade”, etc.
What triggered the original question was reading an article by a well-known monk in the Thai Forest tradition who wrote that the “consciousness that does not land anywhere”, as in SN 12.64 was “deathless.” But in that sutta, too, the Buddha also uses the word vinnana.

From what you’ve expressed and, by going back and reading the Pali versions of those suttas, even consciousness that lands nowhere (vinnana avirulham), is conditional. It’s just that there is understanding of: release, and the final extinction of all senses after death. Oui? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hello again Jasudho.

Yeah, that is yet another misunderstanding, this “consciousness that does not land”. It means “consciousness is not established” instead. (The term is appatiṭṭhita, not avirūḷha.)

It’s opposite, “consciousness is established” is another way of explaining dependent arising, in other words, the continuation of consciousness in a next life, when it is “established” in a new existence. “Consciousness is not established” is another way of explaining the cessation of consciousness. It is not a type of consciousness, but the situation when consciousness “is not established” to be reborn, in other words, when it will cease because there is no desire. I mean, take a proper translation and it’s clear:

If there is no desire, relishing, and craving for consciousness as fuel, consciousness doesn’t become established there and doesn’t grow. SN12.64, Sujato

Also compare SN12.64 (and even more so SN12.38-40) to the sequence of Dependent Arising of SN12.1, and it becomes even more clear that this is what’s it’s about. See here for a more detailed explanation of this, where I show that there is also a metaphor involved which is usually missed. (And, while you’re at it, here for yet another misunderstanding involving a supposed “nibbana” consciousness).

You’re talking about Ven. Thanissaro’s translations, I suppose. I highly recommend you switch to Ven. Bodhi or Ven. Sujato’s translations instead. They’re just better, especially when it comes to these kind of things. It’s unfortunate that Ven. Bodhi’s are not available for free, but they will be one of the best ways you’ve ever spend your money.

And, just checked, but even Thanissaro translated “then consciousness does not land”. This is clearly again a situation, not a type of consciousness. It doesn’t mean “consciousness that does not land*” but “consciousness when it does not land” (or become established). It describes the cessation of consciousness. Kind of ironic that this is then used as a support for the wrong idea of permanent consciousness…

Hope this helps. I know it used to confuse me until I was able to read the Pali, so that’s why I’m especially happy to help.


Hello Bhante Sunyo. I have come across such arguments on russian-language forums: If the Buddha cannot feel, perceive directly the cessation of grasping aggregates, then this cessation is a theoretical assumption and he does not really know what is happening “out there”. And he can judge only by indirect signs, such as Dependent Origination and so on. Thus it turns out that the enlightened one does not know about the state that will come after death. How can the paradox be resolved: “awareness of the absence of consciousness”?

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If I understand correctly, you are mentioning that one cannot consciously experience nibbana, (i.e., consciousness cannot experience the cessation of consciousness (“they don’t experience it consciously”)), but one can experience the cessation of defilements:

[an enlightened one] experience[s] the cessation of the defilements consciously. Though Florian also has a point: a temporary cessation of consciousness can be remembered afterwards. That is not called nibbāna in the suttas, however. So although some may say stream enterers “experienced nibbāna”, that is technially not how the suttas use the word. In the suttas nibbāna , though all noble ones have no doubt about what it is, is exclusive to the fully enlightened ones

Your comment that “some may say stream enterers experienced nibbana” reminds me of a passage by Bhuddadasa Bhikkhu from his (in)famous “No Religion” talk:

…we should understand that Nibbana is related to us at all times, with every inhalation and exhalation. If this weren’t so, if we had no connection to Nibbana whatsoever, we
would all go out of our minds and die before we knew it. Fortunately, we have some relationship with Nibbana nearly all the time. It may disappear temporarily when lust, hatred, or delusion arise, when the mind is taken over by defilements and selfishness. But when lust, hatred, and delusion aren’t present in our minds, we experience a small degree of Nibbana, a brief taste or free sample of Nibbana. Due to the benefits of these recurring glimpses of Nibbana, we don’t go crazy and don’t die from overheat. We survive by virtue of Nibbana’s beneficial effects. Therefore, we should thank Nibbana and acknowledge our gratitude to it by acting so as to have more and more Nibbana for longer and longer periods of time. Keep calming and cooling things, that is, destroy “I” and “mine.” Don’t let ego prick up its ears and point its tail. With self-discipline and good manners, keep the ego small and out of trouble. Lessen it, reduce it, shrink it, until at last nothing remains, then you will get the best thing that a human being can possibly get. Whenever we quarrel due to opinions, pride, vanity, or stubbornness, it shows that we have lost touch with Nibbana."

While some may disagree with other aspects of his talk, I find this passage helpful in my practice because it allows me to perhaps faintly glimpse, in a very limited way in my lay life, the ultimate goal of the practice (as he mentions, a “connection with Nibbana”–it is clearly not the true Nibbana described in the suttas). This is the “taste of freedom” that nourishes, sustains me in my practice.

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Hello, and thanks again for taking the time to reply. It’s helping to clarify some important matters. After 27 years in the Zen tradition, I’m doing some unlearning as well as learning as my practice has turned to the EBTs. So thank you for your patience.

For now, I think the issue for me has been when to read a teaching about consciousness as being applicable within samsara, with the aggregates still being present, even to an arahant, and to teachings pointing to (as you wrote), the second nibbana, with utter cessation of all the aggregates. Not always easy, as words like “then” or “no longer” or “becomes” in english are indeterminate as to timing: consciousness then becomes unestablished could point to the following moment, to the next lifetime, or to parinibbana. My understanding from what you’ve shared is that such references as unestablished, ananta, without footing, etc. all refer to after the death of an arahant.

If this is correct, the distinguishing of this is very important and helps to clear up a lot of confusion. From my experience in Zen/Mahayana there appears be some serious misunderstandings of the Buddha’s teachings, including a timeless, deathless awareness, and the equating samsara with nirvana. Not throwing stones – just sharing reflections on why I’m grateful to have moved on.

Which, by the way, I have read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations as well as Ven. Sujato’s. I appreciate the latter given the easy access to the Pali along with the english, (have also read a few of Ven. Thanissaro’s translations).

So - when nibbana is described in terms of being peace, the island, free of the defilements, safety, etc. this refers to an arahant’s consciousness of these qualities while the aggregates are still present. Correct?
When nibbana is described as “where consciousness not established” , the “cessation of consciousness”, and in descriptions of where there are no conditional manifestations, this is referring to the 2nd type of nibbana after the death of an arahant. Correct?

I want to thank you again for patience and your very helpful responses! These are important points that were not covered or dealt with in in the same way in Zen and, as mentioned previously, are points which are also presented quite differently by some well-known teachers in the Thai Forest tradition – so I’m grateful for the clarifications.

With respect and gratitude,

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Hi. It’s not a theoretical assumption because it is based on insight into the nature of existence. All noble ones know that “what arises will cease”, which means they know consciousness must cease one day. For fully enlightened ones, they know that consciousness will cease after this life because there is no craving to propel consciousness anymore. That’s not theoretical, though, because that is a direct knowledge.

Hi. In Pali time references can also be somewhat indeterminate. But then sometimes it is translated in a very definite way that no longer shows that in English.

The “ananta” consciousness “without footing” I think has nothing to do with nibbana, by the way.

Not necessarily, because the final nibbana is also all those things: peace, free of defilements, etc. Which nibbana is referred to is context dependent.

However, and this is the important thing, the nibbana of enlightenment is not yet freedom from suffering. The end of suffering only happens at final nibbana. That should be obvious, because, for example, even the Buddha still got sick and in pain. For some reason that doesn’t seem to be a popular idea, and then you get such ideas as “equating samsara with nirvana” which to me makes no sense. Also not throwing stones, as I practiced in a Zen tradition for years myself too. :slightly_smiling_face:]

Thanks for the great questions and may you all get much wisdom from the Buddha’s teachings. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

There is complete awareness in Nibbana . What is lacking is thoughts.

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Sorry to tell. If one who has this misconception, one will never has the chance to enter the stream and meet the true teaching.

One needs to understand mundane talk and super mundane level. And do not mix between the two.

Nibbana is here and now. There is no defilements in any nibbana.

When buddha said his body aches, this is just a mundane talk. But there is no dukkha there, because his mind is unaffected. Why? An awaken one has realized the body is not his. How can a buddha/arahant has any suffering? It is not possible.


I think the concept of Nibbana as unconditioned mind object or consciousness is not supported by EBTs. In the Buddha’s first discourse (SN 56.11), Nibbana is simply explained as the cessation of dukkha, which is attained through cessation of craving. The cessation of dukkha means the dependent origination or chain of causation which give rise to dukkha (paticcasamuppada) is totally ended. Nibbana is just extinguishment of defilments (hatred, lust, and delusion), nothing more. There’s no metaphysical tendency or some unconditional consciousness in this definition of the Buddhist final goal.


well, you are assuming 2 things here

  1. nibbana is an object
  2. nibbana is to be experienced

the first may not be correct because we don’t understand it,we can’t comprehend it yet, it might be possible that’s only a subject’s both subject and object’s neither subject nor object

the third is actually a Mahayana/advaita position, what they say by “non dualism” is where subject and object cease completely

now if nibbana is not an object you don’t need an unconditional or conditional subject to experience it so I have answered your question and addressed your first assumption

now as long as the mind/subject exists its objects will exist too when the mind ceases to exist its objects will cease to exist too this is what nibbana is which is the cessation of name(subject) and form(object), the mind can’t comprehend it logically since it’s impossible for mind to understand the cessation of mind, when the mind try to kill itself to understand it and it no longer exists, there’s no subject to understand it… so we can say that nibbana is not something to understand, it’s not something to know because there’s no knowing,understanding, experiencing or seeing there since there’s no knower there’s no knowing when the subject ceases the process itself ceases and whether the object exists or not that’s not even important so I have addressed your second assumption here

we need to understand that Buddha refers to nibbana as “!(x + y)” where “x” = name and “y” = form never as “z” because it’s impossible to explain something without comparing it to others even though it’s really “z = !(x+y)” so in order to understand “z” we need to understand “x” and “y”, Buddha always use negation logic to describe nibbana if I am not mistaken

we understand that thoughts and mind are both impermanent, thoughts are just objects of the mind but the mind too is just an object to “something else” since there is no way the knowledge that thought is impermanent arises without the knower mind or perceiving mind, from this logic we can infer that there’s no way knowledge that mind is impermanent can arise without this knower “something else” as we know that eye can see everything except itself we can extend this logic to this “something else” that this “something else” can’t know itself or as ancient saying says “fire can’t burn itself” we can extend this logic to this “something else” too that it can’t know itself which means this “something else” is knowledge since only knowledge can’t know itself

someone else wrote that during sleep you are not aware of anything but we need to understand that if we know that we don’t know there’s still knowing there if we know that we know there’s still knowing too there so in both case there are still knowing

another reason why nibbana is knowledge is because it’s called the ending of ignorance and knowledge can arise only if ignorance ceases, knowledge and ignorance can’t coexist at the same time

“Mendicant, knowing and seeing the eye, sights, eye consciousness, and eye contact as impermanent, ignorance is given up and knowledge arises.

“And what, lady, is the counterpart of ignorance?” “Knowledge, friend Visākha, is the counterpart of ignorance.”

in order to enforce your argument that nibbana = unconditional awareness first I want to establish that nibbana = knowledge = wisdom = perception = consciousness using standard logical inference when x=y and y=z then x=y=z we already know that nibbana = knowledge now we need to prove the other links to complete the equalization

knowledge = perception

“Perception arises first and knowledge afterwards. The arising of perception leads to the arising of knowledge.

wisdom = consciousness

“Wisdom and consciousness—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. For you understand what you cognize, and you cognize what you understand. That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them.”

feeling = perception = consciousness

“Feeling, perception, and consciousness—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. For you perceive what you feel, and you cognize what you perceive. That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them.”

knowledge = light

ignorance is dispelled, knowledge has arisen; darkness is dispelled, light has arisen,

knowledge = wisdom

What is the benefit of developing wisdom? Ignorance is given up.
freedom by wisdom comes from the fading away of ignorance.”

vision = knowledge = wisdom = realization = light

These are the feelings.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before

now that I have proved that all these links are inseparable let’s go to the main point

after cessation of consciousness Buddha said there’s still perception

it could be, Ānanda, that a mendicant might gain a state of immersion like this. They wouldn’t perceive earth in earth, water in water, fire in fire, or air in air. And they wouldn’t perceive the dimension of infinite space in the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness in the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness in the dimension of nothingness, or the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. They wouldn’t perceive this world in this world, or the other world in the other world. And they wouldn’t perceive what is seen, heard, thought, known, attained, sought, or explored by the mind. And yet they would still perceive.”
“But how could this be, sir?”
“Ānanda, it’s when a mendicant perceives: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment

now this means there’s perception even in cessation of perception and feeling attainment
and since perception = cognition then there’s cognition there and since you need consciousness in order to cognize object then there’s still consciousness even in cessation attainment now this is not ordinary consciousness arising at 6 senses, this is unconditional consciousness whose object is nibbana, normal conditional consciousness arising at 6 senses have already ceased in cessation attainment since we already have established that feeling = perception = consciousness, since they have ceased the only remaining consciousness is this unconditional non dual consciousness whose object is nibbana this could explain where the knowledge of past lifes is stored and why it’s never destroyed

the alternative view is this unconditional consciousness has no object or sign

First of all, let’s begin with an agreement:

Impermanence → dukkha.
Nibbāna is NOT dukkha.
Correct logic conclusion: Nibbāna is NOT impermanence.

Next, let’s have another agreement:

Eye of the Dhamma (dhammacakka): Conditional → Impermanence
Sotāpanna’s realization (drop of self-view (sakkāya-ditthi)): Consciousness is conditional.
Correct logic conclusion: Consciousness is impermanence.

So finally, we come to conclusion: Nibbāna and Consciousness are NOT THE SAME.

Below are my understandings:

Consciousness is to “know”. The object of this “know” is NOT Nibbāna.
The object of this “know” IS the “Path leads to Nibbāna”.

I give you an analogy and an experiment below:

Analogy: The path leads to the state of extinguishment of the fire is NOT THE SAME as the state of extinguishment of the fire. Similarly, the Path leads to Nibbāna is NOT THE SAME as Nibbāna. Our consciousness ONLY realizes the Path to Nibbāna. However, Nibbāna and Consciousness are NOT THE SAME.

Experiment: Let’s say you are in a room with light, you don’t receive any other input to your senses except your eyes (No auditory, No olfactory, No gustatory, No tactile consciousness). Now, the light in the room starts to dim. Your eyes see that the light is fading. What do you “know” now? You “know” that eventually there will be no more light, correct? You also “know” that at that moment, your “know by seeing” (visual consciousness) will be gone, correct? Just think for a moment, what will happen if a similar thing happens to your last consciousness (mental consciousness)?

I hope that this experiment can help you understand how mental consciousness “knows” the extinguishment of itself. :smiley:

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that’s very right. Nibbana there is only one. Same nibbana in the beguinning and in the end.

The search of Siddharta was a rejection of the previous ideas about the impossibility to get an end of dukkha until death.

Only who had experienced nibbana have checked why dukkha was completely eradicated by the Buddha. This is inside of the first 3 eradicated fetters.

Why can’t this property of cessation be taken as an object of knowledge? The Suttas speak directly of this particular focus on the quality of cessation, nibbana. as for the unconditioned with devilments consciousness: I think that this unconditioned consciousness can be called nibbana with residual aggregates.

What makes you think that it describes the achievement of a state of cessation of perception and feeling? Please show the sutta where it is written that this is nirodha-samapati! Nirodha-samapati is entered from only 4-th arupa-sphere. There are no other ways. This is clearly stated in the suttas. Further, in the sutta you cited, concentration on nibbana-dhamma is described. in the suttas, for example, in MN 64, it is said that such concentration on Nibbana Dhamma can occur from jhana 1 to 7 after contemplating the 5 aggregates and their characteristics. In another sutta, Ananda asks if there is such a concentration in which something is perceived, but the four material elements, 4 arupas, this world and the next are not perceived. The Buddha answers - yes, there is such a perception, when a monk perceives - this is peace, this is the highest, the cessation of all formations, the extinction of all passions, the rejection of all gains, nibbana. And so, you mixed Nirodha-Samapati, which is achieved from the 4th arupa-sphere and is accompanied by a complete cessation of perceptions (whence its name) and concentration on nibbana-dhamma, which is achieved from 1 to 7 jhana after the practice of insight and is accompanied by the perception of nibbana and non-perception of the whole world and five aggregates.

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One needs to distinguish Sanna-Vedayita-Nirodha and Nirodha-samapati. These 2 are different. But commentary has made them as the same state.

Sanna-Vedayita-Nirodha = no “perception” and no feeling → state of like dead body with no mind. But one can’t stay this way for long time, One needs to come back alive. This state is described on SN 41.6, MN 43 and MN 44.

“But ma’am, how does someone emerge from the cessation of perception and feeling?”

"A mendicant who is emerging from such an attainment does not think:

I will emerge from the cessation of perception and feeling’ or ‘I am emerging from the cessation of perception and feeling’ or ‘I have emerged from the cessation of perception and feeling.’

Rather, their mind has been previously developed so as to lead to such a state.”

Nirodha samapati = There is “perception”, but nothing is registered. Described on AN 11.7, as mentioned by @Alaray.

And they wouldn’t perceive what is seen, heard, thought, known, attained, sought, or explored by the mind. And yet they would still perceive.”

“Ānanda, it’s when a mendicant perceives:
‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation (nirodho), Nibbana.’

Also if you read MN 1 Mūlapariyāyasutta. This is how Arahant/Awaken one operate on daily activity. Also a non returner that reach this level such as Citta, Visākha, etc.

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I should note that this is entirely your assumption. Nowhere is the state of contemplation of Nibbana-dhamma referred to in the suttas by the term “Nirodha-samapati.” The fact that you underlined the word “nirodha” in the list of epithets of nibbana does not mean that it is precisely “nirodha-samapati.” The word nirodha simply means cessation. in the case of nirodha-samapati, it is the complete cessation of perception and feeling, in the case of experiencing nibbana-dhamma, it is the perception of cessation of aggregates/nibbana as a certain property, quality of cessation. In the suttas, this is also called nirodha-sannya

It is clearly seen here that this “perception” is placed in the series of insight perceptions. That is, we are talking about achieving the contemplation of nibbana through the passage of perceptions of the five aggregates and their characteristics. it’s all a series of “perceptions” and directly related to nirodha-samapati, the cessation of perception and feeling, - they do not.

<<…“If, Ānanda, you visit the bhikkhu Girimānanda and speak to him about ten perceptions, it is possible that on hearing about them his affliction will immediately subside. What are the ten?

“(1) The perception of impermanence, (2) the perception of non-self, (3) the perception of unattractiveness, (4) the perception of danger, (5) the perception of abandoning, (6) the perception of dispassion, (7) the perception of cessation, (8) the perception of non-delight in the entire world, (9) the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena, and (10) mindfulness of breathing…

…(6) “And what, Ānanda, is the perception of dispassion? Here, having gone to the forest, to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, a bhikkhu reflects thus: ‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, the stilling of all activities, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, nibbāna.’ This is called the perception of dispassion.

(7) “And what, Ānanda, is the perception of cessation? Here, having gone to the forest, to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, a bhikkhu reflects thus: ‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, the stilling of all activities, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, cessation, nibbāna.’ This is called the perception of cessation…>>

And in AN11: 18, It is again referred to as a state in which there are no other perceptions, but there is a perception of cessation and a perception of dispassion.

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