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If Tanha (Craving) is caused by Avidya (Ignorance), and Avidya is originated and sustained by Tanha, then the origination of Avidya is part of a recursive cycle with no beginning. Yet Prajna (Wisdom) (as delivered through the Dharma) is purported to extinguish Avidya (Nirodha - Cessation). How can something with no beginning (cycle of dependent origination) have an end (Nirodha)? And likewise how can a state with no end (Nirvana) have a beginning (Nirodha)? Are Avidya and Nirvana therefore Nicca (Permanent and Unconditioned) or Anicca (Impermanent and Conditioned)? Put another away, if Prajna is Nicca, how could it give way to the origination and sustenance of Avidya in the first place? If Prajna is Anicca and has a beginning, then how can we say that Nirvana (which requires Prajna) is Nicca?

  • Can you please say what Tanha and avidya mean because not everyone can understand Pāli – TheDBSGuy Dec 12 '18 at 15:14
  • Translated purely into English: If Attachment is caused by Ignorance, and Ignorance is caused by Attachment, then the origination of Ignorance is a recursive cycle with no beginning. Yet Insight (as taught by Dharma) is purported to extinguish ignorance. How can a cycle with no beginning have an end in cessation (nirodha), and how can a state with no end (Nirvana) have a beginning in cessation? Are Ignorance and Insight/Nirvana Eternal or Transient? If Nirvana depends on insight, and insight is transient, how can Nirvana be eternal? If Insight is eternal, how can Ignorance exist? – Anaphaxeton Dec 12 '18 at 15:27
  • @Anaphaxeton. It would be good if you could include that definition of pali terms in your answer. – Lanka Dec 12 '18 at 22:23
  • I could edit the question (i.e. to include a translation of each Pali word) but I do think tanha is usually translated craving not attachment. See also Why do the Noble Truths talk about 'craving', instead of about 'attachment'? – ChrisW Dec 12 '18 at 22:32
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If Tanha(craving) is caused by Avijja(ignorance) and if Avijja is sustained by Tanha, the cycle cannot be broken using Avijja and Tanha. But that doesn't mean it cannot be broken using something that is not a link of the Paticca-samuppada(Dependant Origination). Panna(wisdom) or within this context Vijja(non-ignorance) is the opposite of Avijja. It takes out the root cause of Tanha. This breaks the perpetual cycle.

how can a state with no end (Nirvana) have a beginning (Nirodha)?

Nirodha is not a beginning. Nirodha refers to end of all suffering. That is achieved by cutting off the cause of suffering: Tanha(craving). Tanha is cut off by non-ignorance(Vijja). The word Nibbana(Nirvana) refers to the unconditioned Dhamma(reality). It is uncaused and unborn. Hence it has no beginning or end.

Are Avidya and Nirvana therefore Nicca or Anicca?

Avijja here refers to not knowing the four noble truths, not seeing impermanence, suffering and non-self. Avijja is not a thing to be permanent or impermanent. It only points to the lack of Paññā(Wisdom). Nevertheless, Moha(delusion) as a Cetasika(mental concomitant) is caused and it dies when the accompanying thought dies. Therefore it's Anicca(impermanent).

Nibbana is Nicca(permanent).

if Prajna is Nicca, how could it give way to the origination and sustenance of Avidya in the first place?

Paññā is not Nicca(permanent). Paññā has to be cultivated. It belongs to the Sankhara(mental formations/activity) aggregate of the Pancakhanda(Five Aggregates).

If Prajna is Anicca and has a beginning, then how can we say that Nirvana (which requires Prajna) is Nicca?

Nibbana is not dependant on anything. As mentioned above, it is unborn and uncaused. Paññā(wisdom) is required to cut off the defilements that prevent one from seeing Nibbana.

  • You said that the cycle of Avijja/Tanha can be broken by something that is not part of the Paticca-samuppada. You said that Prajna breaks the cycle. You said that Prajna belongs to the Pancakhanda. Yet the Skhanda are part of the Paticca-samuppada which begins with Avijja. Is Prajna a Skhanda, part of the Paticca-samupadda and therefore incapable of breaking the cycle, or is it not a Skhanda, part of the Paticca-samupadda and therefore nicca? – Anaphaxeton Dec 13 '18 at 7:33
  • Not all of Pancakhanda are taken to formulate Paticcasamuppada. See if you can find any link called Panna here: accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.002.than.html Avijja and Tanha are what keep it running. When you introduce the opposite of Avijja it runs out of fuel. i.e. Tanha. – Sankha Kulathantille Dec 13 '18 at 7:58
  • This is true, if not all of the Pancakhanda are part of the paticcasamuppada, and if Prajna belongs to one of the Pancakhanda which is not, then Prajna would not be borne of Avijja. Indeed I can't find a mention of Prajna in the part of the paticcasamuppada vibhanga sutta which you have linked me. Now the only thing left to quell my doubt would be to indicate which of the Pancakhanda Prajna (Wisdom) belongs to: Rupa (Form), Vedana (Sensation), Sanna (Perception), Sankhara (Formation) or Vijnana (Consciousness). Could you tell me which of these contains Prajna, please? – Anaphaxeton Dec 13 '18 at 8:13
  • It belongs to Sankhara(mental formations). Remember, only a subset of Sankhara are caused by ignorance. Not all of them. – Sankha Kulathantille Dec 13 '18 at 8:21
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    @Anaphaxeton Sir/Madam, According to my understanding, Five aggregates (Pancakkhanda) are the same as Name and Form (Nāmarūpa) in dependent origination which is the effect of rebirth consciousness (Viññāṇa). [Nāma --> sensation (vedanā) + discrimination (saññā) + saṅkhāra (Remaning 50 mental formations except sensation & discrimination) + consciousness (viññāṇa), Rūpa --> Form or matter (28 classes of rūpa)]. "Avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra"; here the word "saṅkhāra" has a different meaning. Here the word saṅkhāra means Fabrications (constructing activities). – Damith Dec 21 '18 at 3:47
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It is the unique & special quality of being "human" (having self-reflective consciousness) that can end ignorance. For example, animals, which operate largely on craving based biological programming, cannot end ignorance.

Ignorance can be ended because craving brings suffering. When it is seen clearly with wisdom craving brings suffering; ignorance can end when the food ('ahara') sustaining ignorance, namely craving (the five hindrances), ceases to arise; allowing samadhi & vipassana to develop. Please refer to AN 10.61 below, which is the relevant sutta for this topic:

Bhikkhus, this is said: ‘A first point of ignorance, bhikkhus, is not seen such that before this there was no ignorance and afterward it came into being.’ Still, ignorance is seen to have a specific condition.

I say, bhikkhus, that ignorance has a nutriment ('ahara'); it is not without nutriment. And what is the nutriment for ignorance? It should be said: the five hindrances.

AN 10.61

But most people delight in craving (as Buddha said in MN 26), including buddhists that crave for reincarnation. In other words, it is a very rare event that the cycle of ignorance and craving end. AN 5.143 says:

Licchavis, the appearance of five treasures is rare in the world. What five? The appearance of a Realized One, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. A person who explains the teaching and training proclaimed by a Realized One. A person who understands the teaching and training proclaimed by a Realized One. A person who practices in line with the teaching. A person who is grateful and thankful.

AN 5.143

As for Nibbana, it does not require wisdom to exist for it (Nibbana) to exist as an element in nature. If Nibbana required wisdom to exist, Nibbana would be conditioned rather than unconditioned. Wisdom is only required to end craving; to allow Nibbana to be known & experienced by a rare human mind. When an enlightened mind ends with the termination of life; the Nibbana Dhatu (Element) will continue to exist.

Nibbana is nicca but wisdom is not nicca. Before the Buddha arose, there was no real wisdom however Nibbana was waiting there to be discovered.

How can something with no beginning (cycle of dependent origination) have an end (Nirodha)?

The above question is unnecessary and based on wrong premises. The Buddha did not teach ignorance has no beginning; that it has existed forever. The Buddha merely said a 1st starting point of ignorance is not known. To quote:

Bhikkhus, this is said: ‘A first point of ignorance, bhikkhus, is not seen such that before this there was no ignorance and afterward it came into being.’ Still, ignorance is seen to have a specific condition.

AN 10.61


And likewise how can a state with no end (Nirvana) have a beginning (Nirodha)?

The above question is a sort of non-sense because it not relevant.

Are Avidya and Nirvana therefore Nicca (Permanent and Unconditioned) or Anicca (Impermanent and Conditioned)?

Nirvana is unconditioned & permanent. Ignorance is conditioned & impermanent. AN 10.61 quoted above says ignorance is conditioned. It must be noted, for most people, including Buddhists who believe in reincarnation, ignorance operates permanently during their lifetime. However, because ignorance can be ended, it is not a permanent element (dhatu).

Put another away, if Prajna is Nicca, how could it give way to the origination and sustenance of Avidya in the first place?

Wisdom is conditioned & impermanent. However, for an Arahant, their wisdom is permanent for their lifetime (MN 12) but because their life is impermanent their wisdom is ultimately impermanent.

If Prajna is Anicca and has a beginning

Yes, wisdom is ultimately impermanent & has a beginning, such as when a mind that has taken refuge in the True Teachings attains stream-entry; which is the beginning of wisdom. Again, the fact is explained in AN 10.61, as follows:

And what is the nutriment for hearing the True Teaching? It should be said: associating with good persons.

AN 10.61

Fortunately, on Buddhist Stack Exchange, there is at least one good person explaining the True Teachings (which accord with non-craving & emptiness).

how can we say that Nirvana (which requires Prajna) is Nicca?

Nirvana already exists but wisdom is required to end the defilements; so Nirvana can be experienced. Wisdom does not "create" Nirvana. Wisdom only removes the defilements that are clouding/covering the peace of Nirvana.

Imagine the blue sky is Nirvana. Wisdom does not create the blue sky. All wisdom does is remove the clouds blocking the view of the blue sky.

  • If Wisdom is not Nicca, then it is conditioned. But all conditioned things arise from Avijja. How can ignorance be ended by something borne of ignorance? – Anaphaxeton Dec 13 '18 at 7:42
  • @Anaphaxeton. Yes, wisdom is conditioned. The Pali suttas say the Noble Eightfold Path is conditioned. Your idea that all conditioned things arise from ignorance is false. – Dhammadhatu Dec 13 '18 at 7:55
  • DD, a user on this site stated that Nibbana is not dependent upon the brain, because nibbana is unconditioned. May you clarify? – Val Dec 13 '18 at 8:54
  • @Dhammadhatu Thank you for your very thorough reply to my question. I have understood where some of my questions and formulations were misguided, and I believe my overall understanding of Dharma has improved and been made more clear now thanks to you. One question I have remaining. It has been established to me that Prajna is conditioned. I was under the impression that all conditioned things arise from Avijja (ignorance). However, you have stated this is false. Where else, then, can conditioned things arise from other than ignorance? – Anaphaxeton Dec 13 '18 at 9:12
  • Thank you. I started a new question about this matter because your question is an interesting & important question and I think good for all members to consider. With metta. Question is here: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/30318/… – Dhammadhatu Dec 13 '18 at 9:15

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