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

That’s another good question. :slight_smile: On this, I’m with A.K. Norman, who wrote in A Philological Approach to Buddhism (p38) that the translation ‘unborn’ is inaccurate also. He suggests: “It is ‘without death’ (amata) … ‘without birth’ (ajāta) … ‘without made things’ (akata), and ‘without formed things’ (asaṅkhata).” Note that he also doesn’t use ‘unconditioned’.

Unborn in English means either an unborn baby or something that existed forever. The Pāli ajāta doesn’t have these connotations. Ajāta means without anything born, i.e., freedom from birth, not ‘unborn’.

By the way, the closest word for ‘condition’ in Pāli is probably paccaya. At least one sutta explicitly says there is a condition (paccaya) for nibbāna, namely, SN35.118. In Ven. Sujato’s translation he translates it as ‘reason’ here (although elsewhere I do believe he also used ‘condition’). Either way, the idea is the same:

"There are sounds … smells … tastes … touches … ideas known by the mind that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. If a mendicant doesn’t approve, welcome, and keep clinging to them, their consciousness doesn’t rely on that and grasp it. A mendicant free of grasping becomes fully extinguished. That’s the cause (hetu), that’s the reason (or ‘condition’, paccaya) why some sentient beings are fully extinguished in the present life.”

So I would say the suttas explicitly say Nibbāna has a cause and condition. :slight_smile: This cause we can say is the eightfold path. This is another reason why I dislike the translation ‘unconditioned’ for asankhata.

As a sidenote, which I don’t want to distract from the topic, but wanted to say anyway: It is a bit unclear whether this sutta refers to parinibbāna (full extinguishment) or the nibbāna of the defilements at enlightenment. I think it does refer to the former, in part because it says, “some sentient beings are fully extinguished”. The not grasping refers to the extinguishment of the defilements, which is the cause and reason for the full extinguishment at death. (End of sidenote. :wink: )

Either way we interpret it, there is a cause and reason (or ‘condition’) for it.

BTW, You say nibbāna comes into “being”. You put quotation marks around it, so I guess you understand how I see it. But for clarity, I think it is a synonym for cessation, and cessation doesn’t really come into being. It’s other things coming to an end. I agree with what the Milindapañhā says:

The king said: ‘Is cessation Nirvāna ?

‘Yes, your Majesty’.

The problem I see is, many people reify nibbāna. In other words, they turn it into a thing, whether this is a truth or a state of existence or whatever. But a fire going out isn’t a thing, it’s primarily a process.


If you’re chained in a prison you are bound. When your chains are broken you are free, but that freedom isn’t a thing. It’s an absence. Nibbana is freedom. The chains are the hindrances. When the hindrances are blown away nibbana shines forth, as a truth that was always there all along but was obscured.


Namo Buddhaya!

This is true. The perception of a fire going out is merely a change in perception and we describe the change in perception as the extinguishment of a fire. The cessation there is not anything and ought not be reified.

However if we extend this reasoning of ‘not reifying cessation’ beyond describing a change in perception, and on to the cessation of perception.

One is then teaching that cessation of perception & feeling is a change occuring in a perceived world which changes as it persists, having been with that perception the world becomes without and this change being perceived by some person other than the one whose perception ceased.

This would be akin to saying the perception is like a material element such as heat which dissipates into the general heat, or the moisture of a body dissipating into the general moisture after death.

However a cessation of perception ought not be described as something occuring in a world which persists independently of being perceived. Therefore a cessation of perception is, unlike a cessation of a fire, it is actually a cessation of a world rather than something ceasing in a world.

Therefore Buddha says that there is no end of suffering without reaching an end of the world.

The unmade ought to be reified but it ought not be asserted to be what it is not.

If we assert that all truth & reality is constructed then any reification makes the unmade a construct and this is wrong.

However if we assert that there are two elements, the constructed and the unconstructed, both equally real as two categories of truth & reality, then we reify the unmade as the unconstructed whilst not making it into what it is not.

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I’ll explain this is in more detail.

In as far as talking about one thing ceasing in dependence on another.

If one refused to reify the unmade in the context of the constructed ceasing in dependence on the unconstructed.

It would be akin to not reifying the water which extinguishes a fire.

The fire simile describes a perceived extinguishment. It describes a change in the constructed as it persists.

This is not a true analog of a cessation of the constructed occuring in dependence on the unconstructed.

The former describes a change occuring in the world whereas the latter describes it’s altogether cessation in dependence on what is not a world.

Consider this

This or that person talks about a fire’s extinguishment in as far as he perceives a change in the perceived world, which he describes in those terms.

Now what is a world?

That through which you percrceive the world and conceive the world is called the world in the training of the Noble One. And through what in the world do you perceive the world and conceive the world?

Through the eye in the world you perceive the world and conceive the world. Through the ear … nose … tongue … body … mind in the world you perceive the world and conceive the world.

Whatever in the world through which you perceive the world and conceive the world is called the world in the training of the Noble One. - SN35.166

For it is in this fathom-long carcass with its perception and mind that I describe the world, its origin, its cessation - AN4 45

Now i conceive & perceive and i describe this conception & perception as a world.

The perceptions & conceptions of another person are not constituents of my conception & perception. The perceptions & conceptions of another person are effectively a different world.

Therefore when i attain a cessation of perception & feeling, this is a cessation of the entire world in as far as i am concerned. Therefore it ought not be talked about as a change in your world. Why is that? Because my perception & conception is not a part of your world, your perception & conception is not made up my perception & conception. Talking about my perception & conception doesn’t describe your perception & conception.

Therefore you can’t talk about a cessation of my perception & conception in exact same terms as you would talk about things pertaining to you perception & conception such as a perceived extinguishment of a fire.

The extinguishment of my perception & conception doesn’t occur in dependence on anything pertaining to your perception & conception, nor in dependence on anything pertaining to my perception & conception, and yet it occurs. But In dependence on what does it occur? It is in dependence on this very real unmade element that it occurs, and this is a very much a truth & reifiable reality not pertaining to anything constructed. It is a pleasure where nothing is felt, luminous, limitless, boundless all-around, persisting without change, just this is the end of dukkha.


I’ll try to explain it more and perhaps i can do better.

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Why something is even conditional in the first place is due to there being some type of activity.

In the highest formless realm the activity is the greedy relishing in these blissful feelings/perceptions.

Constant activity is Saṃsāra.

But with the stilling of all activities one reaches beyond Saṃsāra:


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Thank you, your erudition fascinates me Venerable! I wasn’t aware of what you said. This is very useful information.

This sutta also speaks of the cause and condition of beings who have attained nibbana:

“What is the cause, Reverend Sāriputta, what is the reason why some sentient beings are fully extinguished in the present life?”

“Reverend Ānanda, it’s because some sentient beings truly understand which perceptions make things worse, which keep things steady, which lead to distinction, and which lead to penetration.
That’s the cause, that’s the reason why some sentient beings are fully extinguished in the present life.”


However, I didn’t quite understand how you reconcile Ud 8.3 with your position.
Indeed, if ajāta means “freedom from birth”, how does that apply to a nibbana appearing at a certain time because of the eightfold path? If itcomes into “existence”, that shows he’s subject to birth, doesn’t it?

I don’t see how this solves the problem.

I will solve it :slight_smile: If you shut the door and no noise comes in, have you now created the stillness?

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Oke, oke, one can make such reasonings .

But i also feel it is even more important that we as Dhamma practioners do not sell things we do not really know as things we really know. The sincerity, the honesty, uprightness to be able to share, “I do not know”, is the real expression of wisdom and love for the Triple Gem and not all those reasonings backed up by this and that sutta, that, sorry, OFTEN only pretents knowledge where there is a total lack of real knowledge.

I know, “you see yourself Green”. Yes, i am aware. I will guard my mind more. But checking this is good, right?

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I’m happy it was helpful. If anything, it shows how translations shape interpretations, and vice versa. Thanks also for the other sutta reference where nibbāna is said to have a cause and condition.

One problem is, we leave nibbāna untranslated, which makes it sound like it’s a thing. But extinguishment of a fire isn’t a thing. So first, it’s not an appearance, as you call it, but a disappearance. Both nibbāna and parinibbāna are defined as the ending of things, not the beginning (nor continuation) of things. Second, the end of birth here means physical birth—rebirth, in other words. It is without anything born in the sense that after parinibbana there are no more aggregates.

As you may see, I also say “after” parinibbāna; not “in” or “at” parinibbāna.


the beguinning of suffering is in yourself, and there is where it can ends. Logically.

Everybody knows the experienced suffering arise in oneself. Where else?.

there is no paradox in the question. It is very clear, no mystery.

The Buddha was not a philosopher. If not apply what the Buddha taught to look oneself, one cannot realize even the more obvious things.

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In my opinion, Nibbana cannot be achieved, but can only be realized. I can offer a simile, although it may not be perfectly accurate: Imagine you have a diamond which represents Nibbana, and a pile of garbage representing form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. When this form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness are completely extinguished and no longer exist, what remains is the diamond. It could be like that :smiley:

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Here are a couple examples to consider

First an example of how & why one could say that one ought not reify a cessation.

An example

“I was sick before and now I am healthy.”

When thought about as ‘before I had a thing, the thing ended, and now I am without the thing.’

People say, here ‘cessation’ of disease is not a thing because it doesn’t add something to the equation, it merely removes what was.

The logic is like this



  • a is me
  • b is sickness
  • a+b s me with the sickness
  • a+b-b is the removal of sickness

Thus in the end it is just me and the cessation cancels out the sickness and is not a thing.

This would describing me as i change while persisting.

This describes a change in the constructed as it persists.

If one was to think of a world changing, where having been with the aggregates which could be grasped with wrong view as being personal for one who attained cessation, the world would become without those aggregates. Then one would think like this.

There are instances where one would think like this, for example

The Realized One’s body remains, but his attachment to rebirth has been cut off. As long as his body remains he will be seen by gods and humans. But when his body breaks up, after life has ended, gods and humans will see him no more.

Here the conception & perception of other beings can be described as a world and it would change as it persists. Having been with the perception of Tathagata it would become without.

Now keep in mind that this still describes just a change in the constructed as it persists, which is thr perception & conception of a world by the gods and humans.

This is one way to think about it.

Another way to think about the same example “I was sick before and now I am healthy.”

Here one thinks not: ‘before I had a thing, the thing ended, and now I am without the thing.’

Rather one thinks: ‘I was sick before and now I am healthy.’

Here one thinks only of the two elements, the being sick and the being healthy.

In other words here one describes only the state of being sick & it’s cessation

Logic is like this

if a then not b
if b then not a

a is being sick
b is being healthy

One understands that if there was no discernment of being healthy then cessation of being sick would not be discerned.

Therefore here the discernment of being healthy is a cessation of being sick.

There are many texts where one should think in this way

But sir, could there be another way in which a mendicant is qualified to be called ‘skilled in the elements’?”

“There could, Ānanda. There are these two elements: the constructed element and the unconstructed element. When a mendicant knows and sees these two elements, they’re qualified to be called ‘skilled in the elements’.” - MN 115

Both formerly & now, it is only dukkha that I describe, and the cessation of dukkha."

There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned. - Udana 8.3

It is crucial to keep in mind that when we are talking about a cessation of the constructed occuring in dependence on the unconstructed, a world ceases in reference to a cessation of conception & perception of the world.

Therefore this cessation occurs only for one who attains it. For on who attains it, the world ends, there is no future or an after parinibbana,for them all modes of being cease.

One can say ‘the world still exists for other beings and for them there is an ‘after’, after the parinibbana of another, but one must keep in mind that this is essentially a different world. And it is only in the context of speaking about this world’s changing as it persists, that one can talk about the parinibbana as a change in the constructed, not reifying the cessation, just as one would talk about seeing a fire being extinguished.

When talking about the parinibbana, or the cessation of perception & feeling, from the frame of reference of one who attains it,then one must reify the unmade as the cessation which is a truth & reality alternative to the conception & perception of the world. Because when talking about that cessation one is not talking about a change in the constructed as it persists, rather one talks about a cessation of the constructed in dependence on the unconstructed.

When one attains the cessation of the constructed in dependence on the unconstructed, one does not go into the unconstructed, does not come out of the constructed, the constructed doesn’t become the unconstructed, the unconstructed doesn’t do anything, the unconstructed doesn’t change.

Whoever attains the cessation of the constructed all do so in dependence on exactly one and the same unchanging truth & reality.

One should realize the importance of this.

In talking about the extinguishment of something constructed in dependence on something constructed one would never speak of extinguishing multiple fires with the exact same water. When talking about the extinguishment of something constructed in dependence on something constructed such as a perceived cessation of a fire being extinguished, one would not say that the fire that ceased yesterday, ceased in dependence on the same thing that a fire that would cease in the future would be ceasing in dependence upon.

Therefore the extinguishment of the constructed in dependence on the unconstructed is entirely extraordinary. Because it does occur in dependence on a single truth & reality which doesn’t change as it persists.

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Thank you very much, Venerable.

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No. The end of suffering is not conditioned by the mere existence of suffering, the end of suffering is the result of accomplished skillful actions, but if there is to be no suffering at all, the end of suffering is simply undefined and inconceivable. In other words, for there to be an end to suffering, suffering must be defined and the skillful actions must be performed until these actions result in the end of suffering.

No. The existence of suffering is only a condition for defining suffering as a concept at all, and the existence of suffering as a concept is a condition for defining the end of suffering as a concept.

In other words the existing understanding of suffering is a condition for the existing understanding of the end of suffering. The wrong existing understanding of suffering is a condition for the wrong existing understanding of the end of suffering, and, consequently, a condition for the wrong understanding of the way to the end of suffering.

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Suffering here is one being trapped within samsara (cycle of birth and death)……Nibbana is the release from samsara. …… nothing odd at all.

Yes and no, it depends on which way you’re looking at it!

What one doesn’t know is one is under conditioned…… hence delusion/ignorance.

You can say Nibbana is conditioned because one needs to meet the right condition to reach it.

You can say also Nibbana is unconditioned because it’s the truth, once realized, the previous condition will no longer apply. …… as it is not a reality! …… just an illusion!

Hence the exact meaning of the 1NT that …… This is suffering.

Contradiction is by not understanding.

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All things are conditioned by prior causes.

Suffering (the mental story one tells) is conditioned by (about) pain, stress, dissatisfaction, and worry. One experiences pain, stress, dissatisfaction and worry because of the fact of being born, of old age, sickness and death. These become a source of worry-dukkha for many. Easier to ignore (become averse) than to face off against these realities.

Because of innate ignorance into ones own nature and the mechanisms of mind (such as holding on or letting go), one begins to react to experience and finds themselves in all sorts of unhelpful entanglements whilst experiencing great strife.

One forebears pain, stress, dissatisfaction and worry until they have had enough… and determines to understand the proxitive causes and their cessation.

This leads one onto a journey of seeking to make sense of what is happening which leads to the blossoming of insight born of the journey. Picture Siddhartha walking out of the Palace and experiencing existential dread, angst, and having been deceived by his Father. Great shock, great urgency, and it is both of these which serve as the charge to uproot suffering which results in the natural blossoming of the Noble Path - where the Dharmachakra begins to spin as ones own heart and mind. One comes to examine what it is that we call mind, and this is the development of mindfulness.

With insight into ones mind, its mechanisms and functions, one learns to ‘let go’ of that which is marked by giving rise to dukkha (as defined previously). One aligns with that which is helpful, is good, is conducive to the health, security, wellbeing, and peace of oneself, others and All… consciously. One stops unhelpfully reacting and starts responding helpfully to life.

This gives rise to the feeling of release in the same way as releasing muscular tension or taking a deep satisfying breath or the taste of water when one is thirsty.

From here, one transforms their relationship to the realities of birth, old age, sickness and death - no longer experiencing them from a position of woe, and importantly, not through ignorance or not-knowing. With this knowledge, this insight, comes freedom.

During the process, one may see how many presumptions and unconscious axioms they held which constituted their woe. It only makes sense that one has to learn to stumble before they can run. Some can learn through listening and others stumble.

It is this act of undoing, of letting go of the causes, that is nirvana. I often say that ignorance (not-knowing), aversion (running away from) and clinging (to that which is marked by giving rise to dukkha) perpetuate the myriad hindrances/defilement. The strife this causes paired with wish to live well, and at ease, determining no matter what, leads to the eventual blossoming of wisdom (knowledge that has been discerned to be true which when applied leads to the benefit of one and All without partiality), concentration (the capacity to direct and hold ones attention), and ethics (the blossoming of conscience). This leads to freedom.

It is most important to identify the exact mechanism of holding on and letting go. The five aggregates are the operating system the human being views the world through, the basis of both ignorance and wisdom - comparable to the operating system of a computer.
The five senses serve as the conduit for sensory data. The myriad elements in the form of the biological body endowed with the 5 senses comes to be endowed with the seed of mind which is paid heed to, or not, and makes sense through the 5 aggregates. The one that knows, the one that makes sense.

“Mindfulness is the Path to the Deathless. Heedlessness is the Path to death. Those who are mindful do not die, and those who are heedless are as if already dead.”


The point is that nibbana is defined in Suttas in two ways, mostly a negative one as cessation of being (bhava), cessation of conceit “I am”, cessation of person - sakkaya, cessation of greed, hate and delusion or laying down the burden.

But in a few places in the Suttas nibbana is described positively, for example as asankhata element.

If you stand on the first definition you are justified to say that the way to nibbana is determined or sankhata, since there are such things as greed, hate and delusion, and by themselves they will not disappear from your experience.

So here emphasis is put on removing obstacles, there is a fire which has to be extinguished in order to realize coolness (another termin for nibbana)

But such approach does not nullify or contradict other Suttas which define nibbana positively. And since asankhata element is everlastingly present, it cannot be described as conditioned. In not perfect simile, sun is always there, but when there are clouds it is invisible.

We can put this way: your practice is to transform yourself from an individual (puggala) who carries the burden of sakkaya, into an individual who realised cessation of personality (sakkaya).
But such individual - arahat - is in fact synonym of nibbana and so also asankhata element.

But since at the beginning of the practice one doesn’t know anything about timeless and changeless reality, but one is convinced that one is a person living in the world the main emphasis is put on elements of Dhamma which can be to some extent verify by the puthujjana.

Of course on the end information that one is mistaken by taking for granted one’s own being -“I am” - is as much difficult to accept as presence of timeless and changeless reality, or perhaps even more difficult since some puthujjanas may believe it and some may not, but every puthujjana believes himself to be a person and to have a past and future.

But asankhata datu has neither past nor future, it can be described rather in terms of the cessation of time. In the sense that one who realised asankhata dhatu doesn’t consider “himself” to be the subject of time.

‘I was’ is not for me, not for me is ‘I shall be’;
Determinations will un-be: therein what place for sighs?
Pure arising of things, pure series of determinants –
For one who sees this as it is, chieftain, there is no fear.

Theragāthā 715, 716

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Bhante, take another look at this sutta. It speaks in even more direct terms about the creation of nibbana