Nibbana: The Unborn & Unconditioned in Daily Life?

I can think of nothing in the EBTs, literally nothing, that suggests any such active aspect of nibbana. Even passages like that nibbana passage that identify nibbana with an independent unconditioned realm or dimension of reality, rather than something than can happen to a person, are rare.


It sounds like the dichotomy presented of Buddha’s perfect wisdom vs perfect compassion is repurposed from the Christian problem of theodicy manifest in the dichotomy of perfect justice vs perfect mercy (i.e. why does a perfectly merciful God send people to everlasting punishment vs why does a perfectly just God let injustice go unpunished).


With what mind of it’s own is nirvāṇa moved to mercy by the plight of saṁsāra?

In some Mahāyāna Buddhisms, the dharmadhātu is represented by the ādibuddha, another anthropomorphized “face of nirvāṇa.” In East Asian esotericism, he is referred to as “the Buddha of no mind and no thought” because “he” is of no mind and no thoughts. He is simply dharmatā with a convenient name:

East Asian Ādibuddha Esoterica

At one time, Mañjuśrībodhisattva was seated on a jewelled lotus, having a five-knotted crown on his head, his dark blue hair hanging down to his shoulders, his bodily form that of shining gold, his left and of concentration holding a blue lotus with a five pronged Vajra above it, his right hand of wisdom grasping a sutra-box, and his body shining like an autumn rainbow.

Perfectly dwelling in the state of concentration called the moon-ring, he spoke to the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān. We all have, from the distant past, listened to the Tathāgata’s preaching of the Dharma. From which Buddha did the Tathāgata hear this preaching of the Dharma sounds?”

The Buddha spoke to Mañjuśrī, saying, “I received the preaching of Mahāvairocanabuddha after passing through the forty-one levels to enter the great inner chamber.”

Mañjuśrībodhisattva again spoke to the Buddha saying, “Who is within the inner chamber of the forty-one levels?”

The Bhagavān again said, “After passing through the ten stages of abodes, the ten stages of practice, the ten stages of merit-transference, ten stages of the bodhisattva, the stage of becoming comparable to enlightenment and entering the inner chamber, I received the preaching of the Dharma by Mahāvairocana, who is at the stage of wonderful enlightenment.”

Mañjuśrībodhisattva again spoke to the Buddha, saying, “From what Buddha did Mahāvairocana on the state of wonderful enlightenment receive the preaching of the Dharma?”

The Bhagavān replied, “Mahāvairocanabuddha on the stage of wonderful enlightenment received the preaching of the Dharma from the beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought.”

Mañjuśrībodhisattva again spoke to the Buddha saying, “From what Buddha did the beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought receive the preaching of the Dharma?”

The Bhagavān again said, “The beginningless and endless original Buddha who is of one mind and one thought received the preaching of the Dharma from the original Buddha of no mind and no thought.”

Mañjuśrī again spoke to the Buddha, saying, “From what Buddha did the original Buddha of no mind and no thought receive the preaching of the Dharma?”

The Bhagavān again said, “There is no Buddha above and beyond the original Buddha of no mind and no thought. There is no Buddha below and no Buddha after no mind and no thought. The original Buddha is in essence beyond conceptual understanding. From the beginning he does not go nor come, does not have the nature of the threefold body, does not have the nature of the ten destinies.

Mañjuśrī again spoke to the Buddha, saying, “If above and beyond the original Buddha of no mind and no thought there is no nature of the threefold body and the ten destinies, from what basis do the threefold body and ten destinies arise?”

The Bhagavān again said, “The original Buddha of no mind and no thought is by nature beyond conceptual understanding. Both the conceptually understood natures of the threefold body and sentient beings in the ten destinies, and the nature of that which is without a nature, arise from the nature that is beyond conceptual understanding.”

Mañjuśrī again spoke to the Buddha, saying, “If this is so, then is there no Buddha who teaches at the beginning?”

The Bhagavān again said, “There is nothing that teaches or receives above and beyond the original Buddha of no mind and no thought. Moreover, this is a single Buddha, and there are not two Buddhas. You all should shut your eyes and contemplate the original Buddha that is without beginning and without end.”

Mañjuśrī spoke to the Buddha, saying, “That which the Bhagavān preaches is exceedingly profound. It is true yet beyond our power to comprehend. It is good; it is good. I gladly preach this sutra.”

At that time the Tathagata named King of Imposing Sounds spoke to Mañjuśrī, the prince of the Dharma, saying, “Well done, prince of the Dharma. You have questioned the Tathāgata in such a way that it is cause for a great event. Now, listen carefully; listen carefully. Reflect well on these things.”

The Buddha, after preaching this sutra, sat in the lotus position and entered the concentration that is wonderful and supreme. At that time, Mañjuśrī, prince of the Dharma, and everyone in the assembly of eighty-four thousand monks, all entered the samādhi through the power of the Buddha.

The following events were seen.

The Buddha, from within his state of concentration, emitted a great circle of light from his own face, illuminating with insight Mañjuśrī and the eighty-four thousand monks. A sword of wisdom appeared from the top of Mañjuśrī’s head, and from his side emerged a golden-haired lion. The Tathāgata’s ray of light extended everywhere, and the colour of his body was like that of gold.

Mañjuśrī spoke to the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān. We have attained unprecedented insight. Our hearts greatly rejoice.”

The Tathāgata again preached in a verse, saying,

The supreme path of all Buddhas
Has the marks of perfect light and eternal abiding.
Those who enter meditative concentration together with the Buddha
In the same way realize bodhicitta.

When the Buddha finished preaching these verses, the great monks in the assembly at once stood up, bowed, and went on their way.

(Nihon Daizōkyō Hensankai, Shugendō shōso 1, bussetsu sanjin juryōmuhen kyō, Sutra on the Unlimited Life of the Threefold Body )

The above is flowery and overly symbolic, but the central idea makes sense. It is enumerated in the Paccayasutta in places like that. The Dharma the Bhagavān breaks through to exists regardless of the existing of a Buddhatathāgata, it is the persistent dhātu, the stability of phenomena, etc. What is novel is it’s mythologizing symbolic presentation as a Buddha who teaches without teaching.

Folks can compare this anthropomorphization with Amitāyurnāmatathāgata as a “face of nirvāṇa.”

If nirvāṇa can act, it must act. If it is agentive, we must assume that it either cannot help sentient beings on it’s own account, or it chooses not to, or it is terrible at its own activity. The Buddha of no mind and no thoughts cannot act because it has no mind and no thoughts. It teaches unreality by way of unreality. It is not morally culpable for failure to bring practitioners out of saṁsāra like an agentified nirvāṇa would be, like God would be.

If Amitābhānusmṛti is a path of invincible grace which leads to Buddhahood easier than the path of gradual training why on earth would the Buddha ever teach the path of gradual training to anyone? It makes no sense. If this other option is available and efficacious why teach anything else at all. Anyone can do niànfó, especially if it is reduced to simply chanting, that includes children, any ordinary person, monks, or bodhisattvas alike. Why would the Buddha instruct anyone at all to ever bother with the path of gradual training if this was really a viable alternative that lead to the exact same thing?

If you note the Vistaramātṛkā Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra at the section of Dharmākaronāmabhikṣu’s vows, unlike in Jōdo Shinshū where apparently

in that Vistaramātṛkā Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra Mahāyānika scripture itself upon which the Pure Land tradition finds itself at least partially based it says that Amitābhānusmṛti is for generating a samādhi that may lead to birth as a practitioner in Sukhāvatī, perhaps even requiring several lifetimes and not even necessarily accomplished in one. That is a ways from perfect enlightenment.

Over time it became easier and easier to enter into Sukhāvatī in East Asian Buddhism and this was accompanied by a trend of birth in Sukhāvatī itself becoming confused more and more with the original end goal of niànfó, which is actually to generate samādhi that leads to birth in the “heaven” so-to-speak of Amitābha so that there can be the unhindered practice of the six perfections, the completion of the activities of the bodhisattva and the perfection of Buddhahood, within Sukhāvatī. Training does not stop in the “dharma heavens.”


This reminds me of the *Avalokiteśvarasyavyākaraṇasūtram (Scripture of Avalokiteśvara’s Prophecy 觀世音菩薩授記經 T371), which is a unique and likely apocryphal (as in, very apocryphal, moreso than standard Mahāyāna sūtrāṇi) work in which Amitābha bestows a prophecy upon Avalokiteśvara that he will, upon completion of his bodhisattva activities and perfection of his buddhahood, inherit stewardship over Sukhāvatī, as even Amitāyur must pass into parinirvāṇa eventually. I think this scripture was likely written to stress the impermanence of even somewhere like Sukhāvatī. The path ought not be confused with the goal. I’ll include this passage of Mahāyānika commentarial material for you, @Kensho. Venerable Shinran was a Tiāntāi monk or seminarian before receiving his vision from Kannon and starting his preaching, was he not?

Realizing the path as the goal, misunderstanding the goal as the path

The nature and characteristics of the path of suffering – they misunderstand this path of suffering and saṁsāra remains expansive. This is misunderstanding the dharmakāya as the path of suffering. There is no separate dharmakāya apart from the path of suffering. If one realizes saṁsāra, then it is the dharmakāya. Thus it is said the nature and characteristics of the path of suffering are the nature and characteristics of the dharmakāya.

(Ven Zhìyǐ, T1716 法华玄义 The Dharma Flower’s Profound Meaning, Tiāntāi commentary on the Lotus Sūtra)

“They misunderstand the path of suffering and saṁsāra remains expansive,” they “realize saṁsāra [and] then it is the dharmakāya.”

Sukhāvatī ought not be confused with nirvāṇa. If T371 is East Asian apocrypha and not Sanskritic in origin, then I would say it is an East Asian solution to an East Asian problem, that is, the increasing confusion between Sukhāvatī and nirvāṇa and increasing confusion between being a practitioner in Sukhāvatī and being a perfected Buddha.


I don’t get it. The noble eightfold path is easy. In that it puts you at ease like the feeling of security one gets by being part of a herd (or pack, or clan, or family) with an excellent pedigree - mn34). Honestly, how hard is it to give yourself the generous gift of the eightfold path?

Once you:

  • get over the idea that it’s you doing the work,
  • understand that the obstacles on the path are the path, and that
  • ultimately there is no time so there’s no time-limit and it doesn’t need to be rushed,

it all sails along all by itself and you are just along for the ride.

I mean, how hard is it to be good, be kind, make peace, forgive yourself and others, and all those other bits that Buddhist spiritual leaders bang on about? You have done those good things hundreds of thousands of times just in this life however rubbish you think you are. Just witness it happening and watch in awe as the process ennobles your heart. Why not start to witness those parts of the path (however small) that are already within you today?

Rejoice! There’s nothing to do except hang out with the herd of good spiritual friends and let them take you along.


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Jodo Shinshu is the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan. It is not, in any way, a Christianized form of Buddhism.

Returning to the OP, I don’t think the EBT support the idea of the unconditioned reaching out to us. However, if it IS a transcendent reality then presumably it is continuously present, and the purpose of practice is then to bring us closer to it. But perhaps it is closer than we realise?

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It’s only the delusive ego which makes the reality of Nirvana seem separate from us.

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Can you find that in non-Mahāyānika sources, though?

I recommend The Essential Shinran by Alfred Bloom as a source.

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So I suppose the answer to the above is no, then?

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I am not able to quote Shinran from my phone. Maybe later.

Oh no, I meant in reference to the request it be found in non-Mahāyānika sources.

MN64 tends to support what @kensho posted, provided that one understands doubt to be something which obscures Nibbana:

The Buddha said this:
"Ānanda, take an uneducated ordinary person who has not seen the noble ones, and is neither skilled nor trained in the teaching of the noble ones. They’ve not seen good persons, and are neither skilled nor trained in the teaching of the good persons.
Their heart is overcome and mired in identity view,
and they don’t truly understand the escape from identity view that has arisen.
That identity view is reinforced in them, not eliminated: it is a lower fetter.
Their heart is overcome and mired in doubt,

And MN121 is similarly suggestive in its post-enlightenment practice:

Whatever ascetics and brahmins enter and remain in the pure, ultimate, supreme emptiness—whether in the past, future, or present—all of them enter and remain in this same pure, ultimate, supreme emptiness.
So, Ānanda, you should train like this: ‘We will enter and remain in the pure, ultimate, supreme emptiness.’


Thanks @karl_lew for getting us back on the track of EBT’s

It’s a good time for a reminder that the focus of this forum is EBT’s, and also that it is not a place to try to convince people or to argue about relative merit of views.


In the EBTs, Nirvana is presented as sort of an abstract concept, not easily relatable to everyday life. What if one could, as a skillful device, relate with the reality of Nirvana in personal terms?

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I relate to Nibbana in terms of the experience of deep stillness, and sometimes in terms of the experience of space.

I find it helpful to think of Nibbana as continuously present, but usually obscured by taints and defilements. Hence the idea that it might be closer than we generally assume.

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This is pretty close to the way I usually like to consider Nibbana, since I come from a mathematical background: as the ultimate empty set, ∅={}. Everything conditioned can be thought of as sets of elements (I mean “elements” here as in the “member of the set” mathematical meaning) with subsets. For instance, there’s the set of elements that make up “Acalaa”, and some subsets of that include the hair of the head, hair of the body, nails,…

Over and over we hear how the experience of Nibbana is that state where we just don’t perceive any conditioned things and perceive only the unconditioned. This is the similar to taking a set and removing all of its elements. Eventually you get a set with no elements; that’s the empty set, Nibbana. The thing is, the empty set is a subset of all sets. It’s always there, hidden deep in any set. No matter how you union, intersect, or disjoin sets, it’s always there as a subset.

Training myself to perceive and appreciate this empty subset is what the training is all about to me. One by one, I’m learning to relinquish elements on a mundane level, but it takes some rather intensive meditation practice to actually perceive things falling away or just not being. I may not get to that point in my lifetime, but I know it is possible.

To answer the OP, though. The null set has no intention, it can’t reach out for you (although it is already in you) but I think it could be entirely possible that a even a puthujana could experience Nibbana unexpectedly. The problem is that in the context of a puthujana’s mind, it would most likely provoke a psychotic break. At least half of Buddhist training is trying to groom the mind to appreciate the end of all suffering and cope with the absence of the khandhas there; if one is still attached to suffering and the khandhas as many puthujana are, such an experience could be utterly traumatic, much like how a drowning person fights the water.