“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned. What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned.” [AN 3.47]
This means that conditioned phenomena arise, change while they are present, and then cease. Take the body. It arises when we take up a body at rebirth, it then changes while we are alive, and we give it up when we die. But when we are free from the conditioned (which is my translation of asaṅkhata, rather than “unconditioned”), these things no longer apply.
“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define freedom from the conditioned. What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define freedom from the conditioned.”
but we still have the troublesome phrase: No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen.
What does it mean ?
Yes, it is a bit troublesome. According to Ven. Bodhi this whole paragraph is missing from the equivalent sutta in Chinese. In the Chinese only the positive aspect is mentioned, that is, the three characteristics of the conditioned, with no mention of the characteristics of what is free from conditioning. It is possible therefore that this is a late addition to the Pali.
Normally freedom from the conditioned would refer to the liberation experienced by the arahant. The arahant is free from this because they have no craving for or attachment to it. It is obviously the case, however, that the arahant still experiences things arising and passing away.
In the present case I would guess that we are dealing with what happens after parinibbāna. Normally this is not discussed in the suttas and this adds to my suspicion that this passage is late. And it is really superfluous to say that these things are not discerned, since there is no discerning in the first place. It is the absence of discernment or consciousness after parinibbāna that gets to the root of the issue. I would suggest that the non-seeing of any arising and vanishing is just another way of saying that there is no consciousness.
Perhaps this captures your view from another perspective…
Having understood the unconditioned state,
Released in mind with the cord of being destroyed,
They have attained to the Dhamma-essence.
Delighting in the destruction (of craving),
Those stable ones have abandoned all being. [Iti 44]
p.s. I also spotted a typo in that sutta and have created a correction post for it.
This is discernible with Sotapatti phala in a person with jhana (if the later takes are to be believed), nirodhasamapatti and arahathphalasamapatti. This is the experience of that which arisises and passes away, stopping arising and passing away (nirodha- non-arising).
When Nibbana is experienced this way, the impermanence (which is the cause of Sankhara dukkha and in effect, all dukkha) is not seen anywhere anymore. Everything is at an end. This includes suffering. No more phenomena arises so no tilakkhana is seen. Only Nibbana is there.
I looked up the word tilakkhana, but I could only find tilakakka (sesame paste)
Could you put English equivalents in brackets for each Pali term or perhaps start giving me Pali lessons. Whichever is easier.
“The 3 properties (tilakkhaṇaṃ) of existing things or of the phenomenal world are anicca, dukkha, anatta, or impermanence, suffering unreality: thus at Ja.i.48 (dhamma-desanā ti-l-˚muttā) Ja.i.275; Ja.iii.377 (through contemplating them arises vipassanā & pacceka-bodhi-ñāṇa)”
Upon the fruition of stream entry (Sota patti phala) and with the attainment of the Jhanas (advanced meditative states), in particular, with the attainment of Nirodha-Samapatti (cessation of feelings and perceptions), the arahant has a conscious experience of freedom from the conditioned where there is no arising and no passing away, where there is no dukkha and there is no more tilakkhaṇa (three marks of existence: anicca, dukkha, anatta).
So what you are saying is that the passage at the top of this page describes the actual conscious experience of Nibbana whilst alive and in this life.
Sorry to break in to a reply to someone else, but yes. The Zen folks call it “kensho” and put a lot of emphasis on the experience. That’s what koans are about-- to make conditions right for that sort of breakthrough. “No alteration persists while it is seen” refers to the stillness and “stoppage of time” that is perceived, in my opinion.
Arising, passing away (impermanence-anicca) is the cause for suffering. The Dhamma is 'timeless (akalika)- it can be verified in this life not requiring the next life (rebirth into some realm or other) for verification.
If no arising is seen, and no passing away now (non-arising - nirodha -this is the 3rd Noble Truth-the collapse of the dependant origination -reverse paticcasamuppada), then suffering has ceased!