How can nibbana be achieved if it is causeless and unconditioned?


I have two points.


Nibbana is unconditioned and uncaused. So we can’t cause nibbana by our practice.
Yet the Buddha says that by practicing dhamma, we attain enlightenment, and by attaining enlightenment, we realize nibbana.

So even if nibbana cannot be caused/conditioned by the Buddhist, it turns out that the realization of nibbana is caused/conditioned by the Buddhist (through his awakening and practice)? And if you think the realization of nibbana is unconditioned, how can the Buddhist path lead to it?

Perhaps we could say that nibbana already “exists” (timelessly), but that living beings have their vision blurred by the illusion preventing them from realizing nibbana, and so what we need to do is to cause/condition the destruction of the illusion to cause/condition the realization of the uncaused/unconditioned nibbana.


Also, there’s something odd about the idea that nibbana is the end of suffering.

For there to be an end to suffering, there must be a beginning to suffering: if there is no suffering, then there can be no end to suffering. So the existence of suffering is a condition for the end of suffering. Consequently, the end of suffering is conditioned by the (past) existence of suffering. Now, if nibbana is the end of suffering, this implies that nibbana is conditioned (by the past existence of suffering). But nibbana is supposed to be unconditioned. So there would be a contradiction.

Maybe nibbana isn’t unconditioned. Maybe unconditioned is nibbana-element. And maybe nibbana is not nibbana-element, but the realization of nibbana-element. So maybe what already exists is nibbana-element, and nibbana must be caused by the Buddhist. And in this context, nibbana-element is not the end of suffering, but is that which is without suffering. And nibbana is the end of suffering.
If not, how do you solve this paradox?

I’d like your opinion on these two points.

Thanks in advance

May all beings be preserved from violent accidents.

Nibbana isn’t a “thing”. It’s a truth to be realised.


Namo Buddhaya!

A fire is caused by it’s burning of fuel, extinguishment of a fire is not caused by the fire, the fire just goes out due to a lack of fuel.

Of course here the extinguishment of a made fire occurs in dependence on something made, not in dependence on the unmade.

However the simile is appropriate, the made doesn’t cause the unmade, the made causes the made in as far as there is fuel, with the cessation of fuel the made is extinguished.

If all reality was fire then an extinguishment of fire wouldn’t be discerned. Because there are things not-fire, a cessation of fire is discerned.

Similarly there is an unmade, if there was no unmade then an escape from the made wouldn’t be discerned.

What we need to do is to not add fuel to the fire.

Think of numbers, in particular all positive integers (non-decimal/non-fractional numbers such as 1,2,3,4,…) as arranged beginning with the biggest and ending with the smallest.

Is there a beginning to this set?
No there isn’t because the highest number is not discerned.

Is there an end to this set?
Yes, #1 is the smallest positive integer number and it is the end of that set.

The beginning of transmigation is not discerned but it’s end can be realized if we stop feeding the creation of continued existence.

What is the nutriment for continued existence?
Inappropriate attention feeds the five hindrances and starves the factors of awakening.

Appropriate attention starves the hindrances and feeds the factors of awakening.

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I think that’s a good question.

In my opinion the problem is the translation ‘unconditioned’. Asankhata literally means “without (what is) created”. The word sankhata is used with reference to a raft that is put together, for example, and we don’t say a raft is “conditioned”. (Snp1.2) So Thanissaro for example translates sankhata as ‘fabricated’, which I think is better than ‘conditioned’. The prefix a- in asankhata functions as a prefix of absence, not of opposite. As the Critical Pali Dictionary says for the prefix: “In adj. comp. with subst. = ‘without that’,” (Other dictionaries say similar things, but this is the one I could find quickest.) So asankhata refers to the absence of anything created.

Nibbana can refer either to the cessation of the defilements or the cessation of existence at death of an enlightened being. I would say both are conditioned, in the English sense of the word, because they depend on the eightfold path. So they aren’t unconditioned in the sense that we normally understand this term.

Nibbana is a metaphor for cessation (the metaphor of a fire going out), and cessation is not a thing that exists forever and we just reach it, as some people argue in favor of ‘unconditioned’. The cessation of suffering, just as the extinguishment of a fire, is something that has a clear cause.


I don’t see why. All of suffering together isn’t a saṅkhāra itself, which arises and goes away. Nibbāna is a dhamma if anything, and when realized, the conditions for rebirth and suffering are ended. Also consider positivist vs negativist interpretations.

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But the Buddha says that dhamma practice leads to the end of suffering. And dhamma practice is made. For example, cultivating good intentions, cultivating the understanding of anatta, experimenting jhanas, these are made things that lead to the end of suffering.
Throwing water on the fire puts out the fire. Yet water is made.

And in any case, even supposing that the existence of fire does not cause fire to be extinguished, you must accept that the existence of fire is a condition making fire extinction possible (if fire does not exist, fire cannot be extinguished).

I misspoke. I didn’t really mean beginnings in that sense.

Let me rephrase: for there to be an end to suffering (nibbana), there must first be suffering. If there is no suffering, then there can be no end to suffering. So the existence of suffering is a condition for the end of suffering. So nibbana is conditioned by the existence of suffering. So nibbana is not unconditioned.

The realization of this truth is either conditioned or unconditioned. If it’s unconditioned, then how can dhamma practice be the condition enabling us to access it? If it’s conditioned, it contradicts the suttas (doesn’t it?).

And if this truth is the end of suffering, then it is conditioned by the existence of suffering, for without suffering there can be no end to suffering.

So I don’t see how what you’re saying changes anything in my topic.

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Yes, but is a truth conditioned or not? Realisation of a truth is one thing.

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Namo Buddhaya!

I didn’t explain the simile as well as i should’ve and made an edit just now.

Another simile is of a man being lost in a forest. Suppose he would by following a river eventually arrive at village.

We wouldn’t say that his exerted effort in walking had caused or made the village. And we say that if there was no village then his walking would not lead him to an escape from being lost.

Similarly the made being directed at it’s extinguishment doesn’t create the unmade, rather it exhausts itself like a fire burning up it’s fuel or a man following the right path out of a forest.

One can think of it like this

Just as a man lost in the forest can exert himself following the right path, leading to a village, or a wrong path leading to being more lost.

Similarly our effort here at creating perception & feeling states can lead us to an escape from the perception & feeling states, or to more perception & feeling states. But our effort here doesn’t create the unmade in dependence on which an escape from the feeling states is discerned.

Yes, It makes sense.

Here you should keep in mind that the uncreated is a truth & reality whether there is the created or not.

Going back to the simile of a man being lost.
If the man wasn’t lost then he wouldn’t be saved, this is true, but the village exists whether the man is lost or not, it’s existence doesn’t depend on his being lost.

Rather it is only in the context of him being lost that the arriving at a village is spoken of as an escape from being lost.

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Very interesting Venerable, thank you very much!

You say that nibbana has a cause and you say that it is not something that would have always existed. This seems to imply that nibbana must come into “being” (it comes into “being” through the practice of the eightfold path).
But Ud 8.3 says that nibbana is unborn:

But since there is an unborn, unproduced, unmade, and unconditioned, an escape is found from the born, produced, made, and conditioned.”

Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, atthi ajātaṁ abhūtaṁ akataṁ asaṅkhataṁ, tasmā jātassa bhūtassa katassa saṅkhatassa nissaraṇaṁ paññāyatī”ti.

How do you reconcile this please?

So you mean “realization of truth” is conditioned/caused, but the “truth” is not?

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Yes. The path is conditioned. Wisdom is conditioned, but the truth is always there.

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But his effort caused him to arrive at the village, didn’t it?
So at least, reaching nibbana is conditioned/caused? No ?

Then, the man’s effort caused him to be cared for by the village. The fact of “being cared for” represents the end of suffering. So even if he didn’t cause the village, he is one of the causes of the village taking care of him. So the path causes the end of suffering.

If the man wasn’t lost then he wouldn’t be saved, this is true, but the village exists whether the man is lost or not, it’s existence doesn’t depend on his being lost.

Rather it is only in the context of him being lost that the arriving at a village is spoken of as an escape from being lost.

If the village is unconditioned, then it cannot be said to permit the end of man’s suffering, because for it to permit this, it depends on the existence of man’s suffering.

It seems you didnt state what does it means by nibbana . If nibbana is not a kind of permanent state while alive or hereafter but just metaphorically saying without asavas , then there is no conflict in the statement .

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The blissful formless realms do not involve any type of suffering as in pain/sorrow but are only dukkha (unsatisfactory) since they are impermanent.
So eventually these realms will come to an end and the inhabitants there will die in the process (or even before) and take rebirth as a ”new being”, hence not-self.

There is understandably lust for the extremely, out of this world blissful feelings one can experience in these formless realms. That is why the Buddha in AN 10.13 mentions lust for the formless as one of the 5 higher fetters.

Our great teacher realized that one could dwell in these realms and not lust/be greedy for these amazing feelings: resulting in a cooling down where eventually nothing is felt(!). Greed uprooted, made like a palm stump, obliterated, and unable to arise in the future.

During this cooling down the heart’s release takes away the final delusional perception and one has transcended all forms of conditionality.

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Very good.

But my second point still seems to hold:

Truth (nibbana) is the end of suffering, isn’t it? Now, for there to be an end to suffering, suffering must exist. Consequently, the existence of suffering is a condition for the end of suffering (truth) (nibbana). So there’s a contradiction: truth (nibbana) is supposed to be unconditioned.

In the sense of the journey towards the unmade being made, in that sense reaching the unmade is made.

I don’t understand this.

The village is not made by the man, the journey towards the village is made by the man.

If there was no village then the journey would not save the man.

Therefore, in this sense, the village is not conditioned [by the man] and it’s existence is said to permit the end of man’s suffering.

Therefore when you say

Is not correct. There is a way to think about it where the village is both unconditioned [not created by the man] and it permits the end of that man’s suffering.

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The realization of nibbana is conditioned/caused, but nibbana is unconditioned/uncaused?

To say that the village is unconditioned is to say that all the characteristics belonging to the village are unconditioned. The fact that the village has such and such buildings, such and such roads, etc., are characteristics of the village. These things are therefore unconditioned. Similarly, the fact that “the village cares for man” is a phrase that characterizes the village. So the fact that the village cares for man is also unconditioned.
But the problem is that for the village to heal man, it depended on man’s effort to come. This characteristic of the village was therefore conditioned by man. So there’s a contradiction.

Similarly, nibbana puts an end to suffering. But if nibbana is unconditioned, nibbana’s characteristic of “putting an end to suffering” must also be unconditioned. But for nibbana to put an end to suffering, it depends on the existence of suffering. So this characteristic of nibbana is conditioned by the existence of suffering). So there’s a contradiction.

I love paradoxes, ultimately they can be a source for detachment and letting go.

Though they can be pondered, discussed and analysed endlessly.

This is a wonderful one from the Buddha called The Three Conceits (Apologies for no reference)…

‘I am better than everyone, I am worse than everyone, I am the same as everyone.’

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It is not clear if you are paraphrasing what i said or are phrasing things in a different sense.

I’ll question you in regards to this

The realization of the cessation of suffering is it suffering or not suffering?

This is beyond what was meant to be conveyed by the simile. The point was that the man didn’t create the village and it’s existence doesn’t depend on him.

You also have to keep in mind that these similes are describing the cessation of something conditioned in dependence on something conditioned.

These are not actual analogs of what we are talking about in the context of an altogether cessation of the sankhata in dependence on the asankhata.

An altogether cessation of the sankhata in dependence on the asankhata has no analog because there is only one way that this occurs.

I can only give many similes where a conditioned thing ceases in dependence on another conditioned thing, and where the latter thing is not created by the former. The point is only to describe the general lines of reasoning in as far as there is a commonality in that one thing ceasing in dependence on another.

The similes show just how one should & shouldn’t think about a shared aspect and it is a limited scope of usage.

I can’t rightly describe the cessation of the conditioned occuring in dependence on the unconditioned in terms of something conditioned ceasing in dependence on simething conditioned because these are not true analogs.

For reasons explained above, it is not similar at all.

When we attain cessationof the conditioned in dependence on the unconditioned, we do not go into the unconditioned, nothing comes out of the conditioned, the conditioned doesn’t become the unconditioned, and the unconditioned doesn’t do anything.

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