The Consciousness of Nibbana

(1) In the above (Ud 8.1), does “has no support” mean that nibbana is not dependently arisen through Saṅkhāra?

(2) Why does Ud 8.2 above say “there is nothing”? Given MN 49 below, isn’t nibbana still a type of consciousness, which is different from our current consciousness dependent on 6 senses?

“It is not established, does not proceed” means it is not born and does not follow the cycle of impermanence:

There is, monks, an unborn[1] — 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.[2]

Udana 8.3

Do not go down the path of Buddhist psychology, just accept there is an opposite to conventional reality as the element of light necessarily involves shadow. As soon as the mind begins the practice it starts to turn towards nibbana, so that should be classified as ‘the unconditioned,’ as opposed to conditioned experience. The Buddha referred to it as the ‘unconditioned element.’

The most important thing is to locate it in your practice here and now, this is the Buddha’s instruction to you:

"“The cultivation, development, & pursuit of those very same qualities: to this extent, Bharadvaja, there is the final attainment of the truth. To this extent one finally attains the truth. I describe this as the final attainment of the truth.”

—Majhima Nikaya 95

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If you read closely, you’ll see that the quote is not spoken by the Buddha but by the Brahma Baka, who had wrong view. Nibbāna is not a type of consciousness.

See also:


A few related posts that may be useful:

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The idea that nibbana is a type of consciousness is not consistent with the numerous time the Buddha says consciousness is impermanent, suffering and without self. Take e.g. SN 22.97 which is pretty clear:

Seated to one side, that mendicant said to the Buddha:

“Sir, is there any form at all that’s permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever? Is there any feeling … perception … choices … consciousness at all that’s permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever?”

“Mendicant, there is no form at all that’s permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever. There’s no feeling … perception … choices … consciousness at all that’s permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever.”

Then the Buddha, picking up a little bit of dirt under his fingernail, addressed that mendicant:

“There’s not even this much of any consciousness that’s permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever. If there were, this living of the spiritual life for the complete ending of suffering would not be found. But since there isn’t, this living of the spiritual life for the complete ending of suffering is found.

it’s worth reflecting on:

If there were [even a miniscule bit of permanent consciousness], this living of the spiritual life for the complete ending of suffering would not be found.

Metta! :yellow_heart: :slight_smile:


The definition for the word consciousness as used above is provided in suttas such as SN25.3:

At Sāvatthī.

“Mendicants, eye consciousness is impermanent, decaying, and perishing. Ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness are impermanent, decaying, and perishing.

Someone who has faith and confidence in these principles is called a follower by faith. …”

As can be seen, consciousness here is limited to consciousness of the aggregates. Nothing is said about anything (consciousness or otherwise) that is unrelated to the aggregates. It doesn’t mean that there is no such thing, just that focusing on it can cause impediments to practice. See AN4.173:

Then Ven. Maha Kotthita went to Ven. Sariputta and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Sariputta, “With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?”

[Sariputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Maha Kotthita:] “With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?”

[Sariputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Maha Kotthita:] “…is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?”

[Sariputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Maha Kotthita:] “…is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?”

[Sariputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

One would think that if nothing remained Sariputta would simply have said so.

So then why did he not say that something remained? Likely because any answer to the affirmative would have been interpreted within their current understanding, limited by the five aggregates, which would have impeded monks from gaining awakening.

Hence the many suttas exhorting people to focus on freedom from suffering, rather than thoughts of existence or non-existence.

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But he does explain why he said what he did:

[Sariputta:] "The statement, ‘With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?’ objectifies non-objectification.[1] The statement, ‘… is it the case that there is not anything else … is it the case that there both is & is not anything else … is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?’ objectifies non-objectification. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of objectification.

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You can interpret it this way if you wish, but then you have resolve the inconsistency with the other suttas.

My strategy is the following:

  1. Since, again and again, the consciousness aggregate is defined as all types of consciousness
  2. Since, again and again, consciousness is said to be impermanent, suffering and not self

I interpret suttas like AN 4.173 in the light of these.

It’s also very easy to understand the Buddha when he says there’s no consciousness that isn’t suffering. In suttas such as AN 4.173, it’s not very clear (to me at least) what is going on, except that the question Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita is asking is wrongly put somehow.

So another principle is interpreting what is ambiguous in the light of what is unambiguous, not the other way around.

To me, this is not a meaningful inference, because the aggregates (or the six senses) define the totality of experience. IMO, there is nothing meaningful that can be said or thought about anything “outside” the six-senses or the aggregates. This is how I interpret AN 4.173 as well, but I admit it’s not too clear to me what the sutta is about.


This is my understanding of AN4.173.

“There is not anything else” means “there is no longer something else”, which is a perfectly valid translation of na atthi aññaṁ kiñci too. So the wrong assupmtion is that something else existed outside of the six senses, but that it ceased alongside the six senses. In reality there were only the six senses, so nothing else can cease or remain.

If anything, Mahākoṭṭhita’s questions are ill phrased, because in Pāli it can mean “does something else no longer exist?”, even if it can also mean something else. And of course, Sāriputta’s reply is exactly “don’t put it like that”, which implies the wording can be taken the wrong way.

To say something else than the six senses no longer exists is also “proliferating on what should not be proliferated” (or “elaborating on what should not be elaborated”), because it goes beyond what exists—which is the six senses. If it meant “there is nothing else” it wouldn’t be proliferating (unless you take “there” as a place and “nothing” as a something).

These statements in AN4.173 are in the exact same form as those of the Tathagata after death. It is the famous tetralemma. Does the “tathagata” (i.e. self) (1) no longer exist, (2) still exist, (3) both, or (4) neither? The first amounts to annihilationism, the second is eternalism, the others are combinations of the two or just equivocation.

The commentary to AN4.173 also seems to agree that na atthi aññaṁ kiñci means annihilationism. As Bhikkhu Bodhi notes:

[The commentary] explains that the four questions are asked by way of eternalism, annihilationism, partial eternalism, and "eel-wriggling” (sassata-uccheda-ekaccasassata-amarāvikkhepa). Thus Sāriputta rejects each question. "Eel-wriggling” is agnosticism, skepticism, or intellectual evasiveness.

You are right, the aggregate of consciousness includes all consciousness whatsoever. See SN22.82 and MN109:

Whatever kind of consciousness there is—whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—this is called the consciousness aggregate.

The sutta also says it called an “aggregates” because it “aggregates” (or includes) all consciousness.


As well, in AN3.90: "With the cessation of consciousness, Viññāṇassa nirodhena, freed by the ending of craving, taṇhākkhayavimuttino; the liberation of their heart Pajjotasseva nibbānaṁ, is like a lamp going out.” vimokkho hoti cetaso”ti. "

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Thanks Bhante. I like this interpretation because it gives me a reading of the EBT that is coherent; this way there’s not major contradictions within the EBTs that must be reconciled somehow.

I’m reminded of Iti 49:

And how do some get stuck? Because of love, delight, and enjoyment of existence, when the Dhamma is being taught for the cessation of existence, the minds of some gods and humans are not eager, confident, settled, and decided. That is how some get stuck.

And how do some overreach? Some, becoming horrified, repelled, and disgusted with existence, delight in ending existence: ‘When this self is annihilated and destroyed when the body breaks up, and doesn’t exist after death: that is peaceful, that is sublime, that is reality.’ That is how some overreach.

And how do those with vision see? It’s when a mendicant sees what has come to be as having come to be. Seeing this, they are practicing for disillusionment, dispassion, and cessation regarding what has come to be. That is how those with vision see.”

The idea that the problem is the assumption of a self makes sense to me. IMO, it gives the most coherent reading of the EBTs as a whole.

There’s even a coherence theory of truth, for those who are interested. I don’t take these theories too seriously, but I still think coherence is an important criterion:

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Oops! You are right! :sweat_smile:

Ok, but then how about the following from Ud 8.3?

I used to think “We can neither say there is something nor say there is nothing about nibbana. ‘Something’ or ‘nothing’ as common sense meanings cannot describe nibbana.”

But, then, since Ud 8.2 announces “There is nothing,” I get confused between Ud 8.2 and Ud 8.3 although I know that I am not supposed to worry about nibbana too much. :sweat_smile:

Venerable, just to clarify I understand what you’re saying here, do you mean that Mahākoṭṭhita is (or at least could be, hence the confusion) asking if the external things of the world contacted by the six senses still exist? And so the question presupposes “the world (loka)” to be “out there” and existing independently?

That would make sense, I hadn’t considered it. The phrase “does something else no longer exist?” is just a bit confusing so I wanted to clarify my reading.


The rendering in engllsh as “There is an unborn, unmade, unproduced…” can lead to an objectification of these words as a kind of “something” or “place” or “sphere”, etc.

But the same words can be translated, as done by KR Norman, as “…without birth, without making…”
This translation is not more correct than the other, but there may be less of a tendency for the mind to try to fill in the blanks, so to speak; less inclination to objectify what can’t be described.

In this way, Ud8.2 can be reconciled with Ud8.3 – when there is complete extinguishment, when “there is nothing,” then there can’t be birth, so: without birth, without production, etc.

Words and concepts can only go so far here, and this is not the only way to look at the matter. It’s just a way to consider for reconciling the two Udanas in terms of the question you raised.

Hope this is helpful.

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Note the wording. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go.

That is the limit of the six contact media. What is beyond objectification (i.e. deathlessness) is beyond the five aggregates.

Sariputta doesn’t answer the question directly. He realises that any answer to the affirmative will result in the listener objectifying that which cannot be objectified. Hence he simply provides a teaching on the limitations of the six contact media as it pertains to objectification.

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Which suttas come to mind?

@Sunyo, you seem to be adding the words no longer into the sentence to change its meaning to accord with what you believe to be true. Adding the words no longer breaks the symmetry of the phrasing:

  • “is it the case that there is anything else?” (This is the first question, which is to the affirmative. Because of this, no longer cannot be sensibly used here.)
  • “is it the case that there is no longer anything else?” (This is the second question, to the negative. here, no longer is used, rather than not, to make the statement fall in line with your assumptions about nothingness)

What makes the most sense is to take the sentences at face value rather than change one of them when it comes to the negative because it fits your preferred philosophical position.

Changing the sentences becomes even more problematic when you try and do so in the two latter cases:

  • is it the case that there both is & is no longer anything else?
  • is it the case that there neither is nor is no longer anything else?

When changed in this way, these sentences become incomprehensible.

This has to be interpreted within the context of the definition given for consciousness; namely: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness.

Now suppose you decide that this is all the consciousness there is (i.e. there is no consciousness apart from that related to the six senses). Then you arrive at another problem; namely, what happens when a monk enters the absorption of the cessation of feeling and perception?

From SN41.6:

“But sir, what is the physical process? What’s the verbal process? What’s the mental process?”

“Breathing is a physical process. Placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes. Perception and feeling are mental processes.”…

“But sir, which arise first for a mendicant who is emerging from the cessation of perception and feeling: physical, verbal, or mental processes?”

“Mental processes arise first, then physical, then verbal.”

In the state of the cessation of feeling and perception, mental, physical and verbal fabrications cease. As such, consciousness with regard to the six senses must also cease.

If all there is, is consciousness with regard to the six senses, then how is it that a monk can come out of the cessation of feeling and perception?

If the claim is that all consciousness somehow temporarily ceases, why is the cessation of all consciousness at parinibbana not temporary?

There must be a consciousness that is outside the limitations of the six senses for the state of cessation of feeling and perception to make sense.

@Heesoo. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this forum that the phrase in question can’t be attributed to Baka (a note that Ajahn Thanissaro attributes the phrase to the Buddha). To revisit the phrase:

Consciousness that is invisible, infinite, entirely given up—that’s what is not within the scope of experience based on earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Creator, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Overlord, and the all.

From earlier in the sutta, it is clear that Baka had no idea that the gods of streaming radiance and gods higher than that existed. If the above passage is attributed to Baka, it means that Baka is now making a claim about the gods of streaming radiance and higher even though he has no knowledge of them.

It is implausible that Baka would make such a claim because to do so he would have to deliberately lie, which Brahmas do not do. I forget the name of the sutta, but there is one in which a monk asks a Brahma a question that he can’t answer. Since he could not lie, he took the monk aside and asked the monk not to embarrass him by asking questions in front of his subordinates.

It is also implausible that Baka would now suddenly be under the illusion that he was aware of the gods of streaming radiance, when formerly he was not.

Within the context of the sutta, it makes the most sense to attribute the statement to the Buddha, rather than Baka, because it is the Buddha that demonstrated his awareness of higher realms earlier on. Having demonstrated his knowledge of the various realms and gods, the Buddha continues to reference them as he speaks.


What is this all about? Why would a self-reflexive capacity to somehow know and come to terms with the experience of seeing, hearing … thinking that is described as impermanent and subject to decay be interpreted as merely consciousness of the five aggregates? And then, why, if this postulate “other consciousness” were as it were, so to speak, would it impede cessation to contemplate, visualize and integrate it?

@Meggers. What is seen, heard… thought is entirely within the realm of the aggregates. Thus, any consciousness in regard to them must also pertain to the aggregates.

Consciousness occurs as a function of paying attention. To the extent that you pay attention to something, you are conscious of it. However, the fact that you no longer pay attention to that thing does not mean that you become totally unconscious. It is just that your consciousness, as it pertains to that thing, ceases. (e.g. if you fully stop paying any attention to what you see and only pay attention to what you hear, the absence of visual consciousness does not mean that you become unconscious).

What happens when there is nothing conditioned to pay attention to? Consciousness as it pertains to conditioned phenomena must cease. But that says nothing about consciousness as it pertains to the unconditioned.

Not sure I understand this part of your question. Could you please rephrase?

On logical fallacies - if you see a logical fallacy in my argument, a bit more detail would be useful (rather than the poster). It would also be useful if you reference specific comments that I make so that I can better understand your point of view.

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So many, but you will just say it refers to the five aggregate-consciousness, and not what you’re talking about which is outside the five aggregates.

I don’t see any textual evidence that could make either of us change our mind (I’ve heard all the arguments and made up my mind), so it’s probably best to agree to disagree I guess :cowboy_hat_face:


this strikes me as idealism