Furthermore, take a good person who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end. This is a mendicant who does not identify with anything, does not identify regarding anything, does not identify through anything.”
What Buddha's saying is that, through not taking base in any concept, abandoning all generalizations, letting go of all reference points, ceasing all reification -- all associative perception comes to a halt and with it all emotional reactions come to a stop, too.
Indeed, as perception is semiosis, it requires grasping at signs. When grasping at signs is abandoned, semiosis cannot continue. Since semiosis cannot continue, emotional reactions have no basis to arise on.
This sterile state is characterized by the complete absence of dukkha, the only (serious!) problem with it is that it's conditioned, impermanent, and limited.
However, attaining this state allows meditator to get the first-hand insight into the fact that our dukkha is mind-made and comes from comparison. Having seen that directly, one is emancipated from it, the illusion loses its power. This emancipation is the true Liberation by Wisdom, the non-abiding Nirvana.
The same state can be attained in Zen and Vajrayana artificially, for example by startling the student in the middle of a meditation session. When you are in this state, you are lucid and yet your mind is blank. When a normal mind begins to function again, as your first impression you can't help but notice the silliness (emptiness) of it all.
I don't think the sutta is saying that.
The sutta starts with "What is a good person?", and then, "Is it someone from a good family, an eminent family, a wealthy family? Is a "good" person a famous person?", etc.
And then it gives what I think is standard doctrine, i.e. that it's not because of family's status (e.g. wealth or caste), some "external" factor like that, that a monk is "good" or "better" -- instead it's for what I'd try to call an "internal" reason i.e. it's when "thoughts of greed, hate, or delusion come to an end".
And I think that's it -- that's pretty well the whole sutta. So if you're a monk, don't go thinking you're better than another monk because you came from a wealthy family.
And in fact you shouldn't "identify" like that at all. In English I'd assume that "identifying with" (as that word is used e.g. here) is part of an anatta doctrine, i.e. "Don't start thinking 'I am good because so-and-so is my family' etc." -- and, in Buddhism, also a doctrine about conceit.
Incidentally the word translated as "identifying" is tammaya
absorbed in that; identifying with that; desiring that
So maybe "don't be absorbed with that" or even "don't desire that" could be a translation. I guess I understand from the context, though, why "identifying" makes sense as a translation (or part of the translation) in this context.
To get around to answering your question I guess that nibbana is not only not "identifying" (see also sabbe dhamma anatta as a description of nibbana), perhaps also even not being "absorbed" in (e.g. because it's to do with being "unbound" or "liberated" perhaps).
Also I'm not sure whether "cessation" is an accurate or complete translation in the phrase "cessation of perception and feeling" -- you might want to study how nirodha appears, is used, in the doctrine. The dictionary says " many cases is synonymous with nibbāna", in which case "the nibbana of feeling and cessation" might be a better translation. In which case you'd be asking, "is nibbana the nibbana of feeling and cessation" in which case the answer might more obviously be "yes", whereas the word "cessation" might be misunderstood in this context.
Finally I noticed that at the end of the sutta the word "identify" appears again:
This is a mendicant who does not identify with anything, does not identify regarding anything, does not identify through anything.
Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu na kiñci maññati, na kuhiñci maññati, na kenaci maññatī”ti.
This time, though, "identify" is a translation of maññati ...
- to think, to be of opinion, to imagine, to deem ...
- to know, to be convinced, to be sure ...
- to imagine, to be proud (of) to be conceited, to boast ...
... instead of atammayatā.
I think that, as explained in Murathan1's answer, nibbana itself doesn't "arise and cease", and that anything conditioned (which does arise and cease, including feelings and perceptions) isn't nibbana.
Even so I don't think that means that attaining nibbana is about being unconscious -- I think that feelings and perceptions continue (to arise and cease), but the arhat doesn't "identify" with them, isn't "absorbed" in them, doesn't "desire" them.
Nibbana is a state that can not be described properly with the words, concepts. That's why Buddhism uses this indirect methodology to describe Nibbana or how to enter Nibbana etc. There is no perception or feeling in Nibbana in the terms of humanly, physical, mental perceptions or feelings. But ultimately Nibbana is beyond physical and mental. It is beyond form. It is the formless, unconditioned, unmanifested, timeless, deathless state. That's why ultimately it is not true to say that there is no perception or feeling in Nibbana. But because it is beyond the form, the perception and feeling in Nibbana can't be described correctly.That's why it is called neither being nor non-being. Also cessation of "perception" and "feeling" (humanly, physical and mental perceptions and feelings) is the way to enter to Nibbana. Nibbana is the birthless, deathless, timeless state. There is no beggining or end for Nibbana.
And when someone's defilements comes to an end, it is impossible to identify with anything again.
Monk Radio: What Happens at Nibbana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83ntwkSWws8
Existence is momentary. One moment is one existence and it arises and it ceases. That doesn't happen in nibbana (that's really the easiest way to understand it). And since life itself is composed totally of those momentary experiences then there really is no such thing as a life that could end: there's only experiences which end every moment. And that doesn't occur, there's no more arising of those momentary experiences: of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking.
What is Nirvana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odWIPhj-ivo
It's a lot of work to show the line of inference and how each word is used but the commentary to this Sutta excerpt;
When a monk has emerged from the cessation of perception & feeling, three contacts make contact: contact with emptiness, contact with the signless, & contact with the undirected." https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn41/sn41.006.than.html
Thanissaro explains in the footnotes;
According to the commentary, they color one's first apprehension of Unbinding: a meditator who has been focusing on the theme of inconstancy will first apprehend Unbinding as signless; one who has been focusing on the theme of stress will first apprehend it as undirected; one who has been focusing on the theme of not-self will first apprehend it as emptiness.
The support for this is based these excerpts;
Once, friend Ānanda, when I was staying right here near Sāvatthī in the Grove of the Blind, I reached concentration in such that he would neither be percipient of earth with regard to earth, nor of water with regard to water, nor of fire… wind… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception… this world… nor of the next world, and yet I was still percipient.”
“But what, friend Sāriputta, were you percipient of at that time?”
“‘The cessation of becoming—unbinding—the cessation of becoming—unbinding’: One perception arose in me, friend Ānanda, as another perception ceased. Just as in a blazing woodchip fire, one flame arises as another flame ceases, even so, ‘The cessation of becoming—unbinding—the cessation of becoming—unbinding’: One perception arose in me as another one ceased. I was percipient at that time of ‘The cessation of becoming—unbinding.’”
"He turns the mind to the deathless element : This is peaceful, this is exalted, such as the appeasement of all determinations, the giving up of all endearments, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation and extinction". so tehi dhammehi citta.m pa.tivaapetvaa amataaya dhaatuyaa citta.m upsanharati: eta.m santan eta.m paniita.m yadhida.m sabba sankhaarasamatho, sabbupaddhi pa.tnissaggo, ta.nhakkhayo, viraago, nirodho nibbaana.n ti'-
"This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant."
When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, "But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?"
"Just that is the pleasure here, my friend: where there is nothing felt. [...] there is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen [that] with discernment, his mental fermentations are completely ended. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant."
Blessed One was instructing, urging, rousing, & encouraging the monks with Dhamma-talk concerned with unbinding. The monks — receptive, attentive, focusing their entire awareness, lending ear — listened to the Dhamma.
Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:
There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.
"There is the case, Sandha, where for an excellent thoroughbred of a man the perception of earth with regard to earth has ceased to exist; the perception of liquid with regard to liquid... the perception of fire with regard to fire... the perception of wind with regard to wind... the perception of the sphere of the infinitude of space with regard to the sphere of the infinitude of space... the perception of the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness with regard to the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness... the perception of the sphere of nothingness with regard to the sphere of nothingness... the perception of the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception with regard to the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception... the perception of this world with regard to this world... the next world with regard to the next world... and whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, or pondered by the intellect: the perception of that has ceased to exist.
"Absorbed in this way, the excellent thoroughbred of a man is absorbed dependent neither on earth, liquid, fire, wind, the sphere of the infinitude of space, the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness, the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, this world, the next world, nor on whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, or pondered by the intellect — and yet he is absorbed. And to this excellent thoroughbred of a man, absorbed in this way, the gods, together with Indra, the Brahmas, & Pajapati, pay homage even from afar:
'Homage to you, O thoroughbred man. Homage to you, O superlative man — you of whom we don't know even what it is dependent on which you're absorbed.'"
..of the infinity of consciousness... of no-thingness... of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. "If someone were to say: 'This is the highest pleasure that can be experienced,' I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. And what is this pleasure? Here, by completely surmounting the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a monk enters upon and abides in the cessation of perception and feeling. This is the other kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime.
"It may happen, Ananda, that Wanderers of other sects will be saying this: 'The recluse Gotama speaks of the Cessation of Perception and Feeling and describes it as pleasure. What is this (pleasure) and how is this (a pleasure)?'
"Those who say so, should be told: 'The Blessed One describes as pleasure not only the feeling of pleasure. But a Tathagata describes as pleasure whenever and whereinsoever it is obtained.'"
Here, venerable sir, whenever we want, by completely surmounting the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, we enter upon and abide in the cessation of perception and feeling. And our taints are destroyed by our seeing with wisdom. Venerable sir, this is another superhuman state, a distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones, a comfortable abiding, which we have attained by surmounting the preceding abiding, by making that abiding subside. And, venerable sir, we do not see any other comfortable abiding higher or more sublime than this one.”
“Good, good Anuruddha. There is no other comfortable abiding higher or more sublime than that one.”
Venerable sir, it is said, ‘the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion.’ Of what now, venerable sir, is this the designation?”
“This, bhikkhu, is a designation for the element of Nibbāna: the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion. The destruction of the taints is spoken of in that way.”
When this was said, that bhikkhu said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, it is said, ‘the Deathless, the Deathless.’ What now, venerable sir, is the Deathless? What is the path leading to the Deathless?” “The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the Deathless. This Noble Eightfold Path is the path leading to the Deathless; that is, right view […]. The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is the final goal of the holy life.”
There are, monks, three unskilled ways of thought: thoughts of lust, thoughts of ill-will, thoughts of hurting. And these three unskilled states disappear utterly in him whose heart is well established in the four foundations of mindfulness, or who practices concentration on the signless.
'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.' Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.
(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)
"'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.' Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] 'Infinite space,' enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
"Suppose that an archer or archer's apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk... enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
"Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental fermentations. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world.
"'I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.' Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.
(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness and the dimension of nothingness.)
"Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them."
"There are two kinds of relinquishment through cessation: relinquishment as giving up, and relinquishment as entering into. It gives up defilements and aggregates, thus it is relinquishment as giving up; cognizance enters cessation which is the nibbana principle thus it is relinquishment as entering into. These are the two kinds of relinquishment through cessation."
Nirodhavasena dve vossaggaa: pariccaagavossaggo ca, pakkhandanavossaggo ca. Kilesa ca khandhe ca pariccajatiiti, pariccaagavossaggo; nirodhanibbaanadhaatuyaa cittam pakkhandatiiti. Pakkhandanavossaggo nirodhavasena ime dve vossaggaa.
I can summarize in short as i see it;
Nibbana refers to the element of the removal of taints in general. When people talk about the destruction of taints aka Deathless, they speak of Nibbana as in removal of taints.
Nibbana (destruction of taints) is pleasure where nothing is felt. Cessation of perception & feeling is pleasure where nothing is felt.
Seeing with intellect the cessation of perception & feeling destroys the taints. Signless concentration destroys the taints.
It is natural that one who attains cessation of perception & feeling would perceive it's cessation / extinguishment.
There are these context circumstances; A) destruction by removal or removal by destruction B) entering into & emerging from the knowledge & vision of destruction.
In these four particular contexts that i see for Nibbana; 1. of emergence from the destruction with some delusion removed 2. of emergence from the destruction with delusion fully removed 3. of the breakup of the body post emergence from destruction with delusion fully removed, final removal[extinguishment] of residual perception-formations that come into play due to causes prior to the removal/destruction of delusion. 4. of the element in dependence on which the destruction commences, the element of destruction which is without delusion.
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.
This contexts is imo a kind endgame of sutta method of expression;
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. 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.
When perception ceases the element which is unconditioned is still a true element isn't included in what ceased and can't be described in terms of what ceases.
The element which is neither born of delusion nor is associated with delusion, isn't included in suffering;
There are, Ānanda, these two elements: the conditioned element and the unconditioned element.
“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.”
It's a dhamma that is anatta not oneself nor is it a sankhara formation, it is not of this world; is neither a before nor an after, is not associated with time, does not parttake on a timeline.
It is not spoken of as one would speak about objects of senses, the physics of the world or what is otherwise conceived & perceived based on intellect in the world, does not parttake in the world, not included in nature, nor in the allness of the All, not part of everything;
'Having directly known liquid as liquid ... fire as fire ... wind as wind ... beings as beings ... ...
"'Having directly known the all as the all, and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, I wasn't the all, I wasn't in the all, I wasn't coming forth from the all, I wasn't "The all is mine." I didn't affirm the all. Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be inferior? I am actually superior to you.'
"'If, good sir, you have directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, may it not turn out to be actually vain and void for you.'
So there are many ways to speak about these and other circumstances and the words would be intricately connected in meaning and sometimes expression is interchangeable.
This is agreeable to me and i see no other openings.
Afaik this should be the standard analysis of the controversy.