According to this answer:

Nirvana is the ground layer ("dhatu") underneath them all. ...

Nirvana is this most fundamental law (the formula, the rule, the program) according to which the Universe develops.

This comment also seems to support that idea:

... the expression "the unmade is a foundation for phenomena" is probably an agreeable thing to say given than it occurs in the pali discourses "amatogadha" meaning deathless as foundation or deathless as ground. There is also a reasonable way to defend it, which makes it not a real point of controversy imo but a rather reasonable assumption in that the pali wording is to be taken at facevalue and read literally.

This sounds very similar to Advaita which describes Brahman as the substratum or foundation of all phenomena, just as different kinds of pots and plates made of clay, all have clay as their foundation.


  1. Does the notion "Nirvana is the ground layer" come from Mahayana? From which Mahayana subschool or text?
  2. Does the Pali Canon support the notion that "Nirvana is the ground layer"? Does this relate to "amatogadha" some how? What's that?
  3. The ground layer concept sounds similar to luminous mind. However, we know that Nirvana is unconditioned, while the luminous mind is conditioned. Does this "Nirvana is the ground layer" concept connect to the luminous mind in any way?

7 Answers 7


1. Does the notion "Nirvana is the ground layer" come from Mahayana? From which Mahayana subschool or text?

Yes. Well, they don't call it "Nirvana" - because they think this word got spoiled by abuse and acquired a dualistic meaning (as the opposite of Samsara). Instead, they simply call it "The Ground of All", "The Absolute", "The Unity of Relative and Absolute" etc.

This is certainly a well-known feature of Tibetan Buddhist lineages in Karma Kagyu and Nyungma schools that adhere to the so-called Shentong interpretation of Emptiness:

Shentong was systematized and articulated under that name by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292–1361), who identified absolute reality with the Buddha-nature.


The earliest shentong views are usually asserted to have been presented in a group of treatises variously attributed jointly to Asanga and Maitreyanātha, especially in the treatise known as the Unsurpassed Continuum (Uttaratantraśāstra, also called the Ratnagotravibhāga),[22] and in a body of Mādhyamaka treatises attributed to Nāgārjuna (e.g., the Dharmadhātustava, "In praise of the Dharmadhatu").


Rigpa has two aspects, namely kadag and lhun grub. Kadag means "purity" or specifically "primordial purity". Lhun grub in Tibetan normally implies automatic, self-caused or spontaneous actions or processes. As quality of rigpa it means "spontaneous presence". It may also mean "having a self-contained origin", being primordially Existent, without an origin, self-existent.


Buddha-nature is immaculate. It is profound, serene, unfabricated suchness, an uncompounded expanse of luminosity; nonarising, unceasing, primordial peace, spontaneously present nirvana.


The practical training of the Dzogchen path is traditionally, and most simply, described [as:] To see directly the Absolute state, the Ground of our being is the View; the way of stabilising that view, and making it an unbroken experience is Meditation; and integrating the View into our entire reality, and life, is what is meant by Action.

In Chan and Zen schools this is generally discussed under the heading of Buddha Nature and "One's True Nature":

... the ultimate universal ground also has always been with the Buddha-Essence (Tathagatagarbha), and this essence in terms of the universal ground has been taught by the Tathagata. The fools who do not know it, because of their habits, see even the universal ground as (having) various happiness and suffering and actions and emotional defilements. Its nature is pure and immaculate, its qualities are as wishing-jewels; there are neither changes nor cessations. Whoever realizes it attains Liberation


This "dharma of the one mind", which is the "original tathagatagarbha", is said to be "calm and motionless" [...] The tathagatagarbha is equated with the "original edge of reality" (bhutakoti) that is beyond all distinctions - the equivalent of original enlightenment, or the essence.

2. Does the Pali Canon support the notion that "Nirvana is the ground layer"? Does this relate to "amatogadha" some how? What's that?

I believe it does. There are many pointers spread around Dependent Origination teachings, and all the descriptions of Nibbana, with references like amatogadha and amata-dhatu, the Buddha's story about him getting "to the end of the world" etc.

3. The ground layer concept sounds similar to luminous mind. However, we know that Nirvana is unconditioned, while the luminous mind is conditioned. Does this "Nirvana is the ground layer" concept connect to the luminous mind in any way?

I don't know why you say "we know" that luminous mind is conditioned. In Mahayana, the fundamental luminosity of mind is considered unconditioned (see Rigpa, Clear Light).

In Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen literature, luminosity ('od gsal) is associated with an aspect of the Ground termed "spontaneous presence" (Lhun grub), meaning a presence that is uncreated and not based on anything causally extraneous to itself. This term is often paired with 'original-purity' (ka dag), which is associated with emptiness (shunyata), and are both seen as inseparable aspects of the Ground.

  • Not wanting to confuse but I note that's in contrast to this answer describing "groundless".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:15
  • Well, yes, this is why it's known as "the groundless ground" (blush)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:21
  • The answers to this question say luminous mind is conditioned but this could be a Theravada perspective.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:35
  • Did you find any relevant/informative result from that Google search?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:42
  • 1
    I found this answer very helpful. Regarding Conifold's comment I'd note that any explanation is going to be difficult because of the dual-aspect nature of descriptions. Thus we have the 'groundless ground', 'gateless gate', 'beginingless beginning' and so forth. The Two Truths doctrine explains these apparent contradictions. Ultimate Reality cannot be positively desctibed so a fundamental analysis must say there is a ground and is-not a ground depending on the level of our analysis, our use of the words etc. True words seem paradoxical. .
    – user14119
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 13:45

I have never seen this discussed before but it is something i've been interested in as far as expression and meaning goes. There are several meanings which can be arrived at; 1. There is ultimate mind of all beings, we are all one. 2. There is a state of mind which is impetruble, immovable, unaffected, such that is the ultimate goal ultimate security. 3. There is that which is mind and that is mind-made. With the cessation of mind which is mind made there is discernment of not mind, whereas that which can be taken to be a mind of a being would be extinct and not in play.

The #3 is the one that can be further is explained that mind of a being exists in as far as the aggregates exist, if there are no aggregates, in a context where they are not in play "have no footing" there can be no talk about the world let alone a person or a person soul.

If there is with the cessation of the mind made a discernment of a discernable reality which isn't included in the aggregates then the question can not be posed; 'Isn't this discernment then a consciousness of some sort?'

  • The answer would be that consciosness per definition is associated with contact and three types of fabrication. With the cessation of mind-made phenomena, the context presumes that it isn't consciousness but a discernment of it's cessation that is being talked about.
  • That which is discerned is cognized!
  • What is cognized there is the cessation, extinguishment; Nibbana, resolution of all fabrication..

Thus the perspective of the observer or the one who experiences is contained to context where existence of the aggregates is affirmed for this or that person who sees for that is in as far as his existence is affirmed.

Nibbana as ground quite interesting because the curious thing is why are the Dhamma amatogadha if, how and when vinnanam anidassanam is also taken to have the unconditioned as it's referent.

Which is of course extremely interesting because in the context of vinnanam anidassanam the elements are said not to be said to be ceased but are as not gaining footing, which also can be taken to be a way to navigate the context between existence of aggregates being in and out of play, affirmed or not-affirmed.

That is the gist of it, further i think there is a good explaination because the paraphrasing of Kevatta's question reflects very well the need to contain the narrative of a person and associated aggregates and their cessation and arising to one side and that which is discerned as highest pleasure as another.

The fact is that the notion of an Arahants discernment exists only in as far as his life force faculty persists, when it is extinguished the discernment faculty ceases. So if ie Arahant's last perception is that of extinguishment, then even that is ceased with his death because dead people don't meditate.

As for this controversy there is the AN10.58 which literally says that sabbe dhamme amatogadha. Thanissaro translates it as footing and so does Piya Tan. Sujato and Bodhi translate it as 'culminating'. Sujato acknowledges that the literal translation is like Thanissaro pins it but according to his own conjecture he thinks it is an idiom and should not be translated as is expressed.

Bodhi is also inconsistent because he translates one place that discernment does gain a footing in the deathless but not all phenomena do that basically. It is inconsistent.

Sujato considers the matter solved as far as i know and nobody really discusses this.

I've written some posts on this if you are interested.

  • In this question we solved the vinnanam anidassanam problem. It's not "consciousness without surface". That's a mistranslation. It should be "that which could be cognized" i.e. referring to Nibbana.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:52
  • If you have external posts, you can link them to your answer as a reference.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 21:54
  • i already posted it in posts. the vinnanam anidassanam can be translated and explained in different ways and several versions work when explained in detail. From what i've seen the interpretations based on chinese texts are also somewhat different. I don't think i can be easily convinced that either is the one true interpretation. As i see it, i don't know what exact expression Buddha uses there and meaning is ambiguous enough so that i can see how several interpretations are made to make sense and fitting the text. Curious about what you make of it.
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 6:05

Yeah, many Mahayana texts seem to imply Advaitin Brahman with Buddha-dhatu, Buddha-nature, tathagatgarbha etc. I encounter a lot of such terminologies while reading texts of supposedly 2nd or 3rd turning wheels. In section 1, chapter 3 of Mahayana Parinirvana Sutta -

“Even though he has said that all phenomena [dharmas] are devoid of the Self, it is not that they are completely/ truly devoid of the Self. What is this Self? Any phenomenon [dharma] that is true [satya], real [tattva], eternal [nitya], sovereign/ autonomous/ self-governing [aisvarya], and whose ground/ foundation is unchanging [asraya-aviparinama], is termed 'the Self' [atman]. This is as in the case of the great Doctor who well understands the milk medicine. The same is the case with the Tathagata. For the sake of beings, he says ’there is the Self in all things’. O you the four classes! Learn Dharma thus!" [Emphasis added].

Devoid of any interpretation, In this text Buddha talking about the self as a sentient self-aware entity common ground of all which is the same as Brahman of Advaitins. It is not ego-substance or anything that can belong to any individual like Atma of dualists. He himself clarified what he meant by Self in the same chapter as follows -

...Common mortals and the ignorant may measure the size of their own self and say, 'It is like the size of a thumb, like a mustard seed, or like the size of a mote.' When the Tathagata speaks of Self, in no case are things thus. That is why he says: 'All things have no Self...

Also, Bodhidharma in his The Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices says -

Many roads lead to the Path, but basically, there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to realize that all living things share the same true nature, which isn't apparent because it's shrouded by sensation and delusion. Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason. - Page 3, Zen teachings of Bodhidharma


It seems Nibbana is described below; which does not sound like ground layer underneath:

“Suppose, bhikkhus, there was a house or a hall with a peaked roof, with windows on the northern, southern, and eastern sides. When the sun rises and a beam of light enters through a window, where would it become established?”

“On the western wall, venerable sir.”

“If there were no western wall, where would it become established?”

“On the earth, venerable sir.”

“If there were no earth, where would it become established?”

“On the water, venerable sir.”

“If there were no water, where would it become established?”

“It would not become established anywhere, venerable sir.”

“So too, bhikkhus, if there is no lust for the nutriment edible food … for the nutriment contact … for the nutriment mental volition … for the nutriment consciousness … consciousness does not become established there and come to growth. Where consciousness does not become established and come to growth … … I say that is without sorrow, anguish, and despair.”

SN 12.64


Does the notion "Nirvana is the ground layer" come from Mahayana? From which Mahayana subschool or text?

It comes from the reports of those who explore these realms. It is the perennial claim of mysticism, although the names and words vary. It would be odd if different explorers discovered different truths.

Does the Pali Canon support the notion that "Nirvana is the ground layer"? Does this relate to "amatogadha" some how? What's that?

The definition of 'amatogadha' that I've found seems to say it is a process or movement, so I cannot see any equivalence. But I do not know this word.

The ground layer concept sounds similar to luminous mind. However, we know that Nirvana is unconditioned, while the luminous mind is conditioned. Does this "Nirvana is the ground layer" concept connect to the luminous mind in any way?

Nirvana would not be Mind in my opinion, although views may vary on this question. Plotinus clearly states the Ultimate is not Mind. I've argued this one a lot with Idealists and haven't yet found a reason yet to argue with Plotinus. As you say, for the unconditioned we need to reduce Matter and Mind.


One analogy or whatever it is, is such; In as far as language exist, it exists as an expression of it's referents and known principles. Therefore language is like a model representation of that which one names with language namely it's referents.

Language is here one thing and has it's referents as basis.

That which is referable reality may thus be named or it may not be named that which is named by language may appear to exist independently of the existence of a particular language

In this way and by this line of reasoning one can maybe understand that the aggregates can be thought of as a self-evolving language. With the extinction of aggregates as is with the extermination of a language; that which was the basis for language may or may not persist.

Thus in the case of cessation of aggregates, such extermination will include all referent's of reason and language but that which was in and among the aggregates known as unmade element, that referent element which is only grasped by discernment, is unaffected by the extermination of everything including discernment faculty which perceives the state where there is nothing left to extinguish.

In other words in this way if unconditioned is the base, it is only such called in the context of the existence of the aggregates and is such for the aggregates. It's referent is also the only referent in the system of thought which is per definition not included in aggregates, there in their absence it is still affirmed of but is not named because it is in that context not associated with language or aggregates. In this context there is litereally nothing to name or objectify because in this context it is no longer an "element" to be known, it isn't discerned by any particular being who attains to such state.

Therefore reality and the thinking about reality is not a perspective external to that which gains a footing. It absolutely is that which gains a footing. That which is ground is not a part of that which gains a footing, as ground is not included in flower, so is unmade not included in aggregates even tho the word and idea is, it is neither described in terms of that which is aggregates nor is it's referent included under aggregates.

Earth may or may not be ground for a flower depending on context, so context is important. This is also in my opinion; why so many different names for attainment of Nibbana, i think it is because of the context identifying means of development from the frame of reference of existence.

Also on this basis i would say that it is incorrect to say that "The Unmade is the base layer of reality"; it would be as saying that the "earth is bottom part of a flower" when as a matter of fact it is not a flower, has nothing to do with a flower and generally in and by itself contains zero % of a particular flower.

Nirvana in general refers to the eventuality of "extinguishment of X". In some context maybe one can use the expression "nirvana is the base layer of existence" but in general i think it is disagreeable expression.


A way to think about it is considering the two elements Conditioned and the Unconditioned as a whole system, this occurs in the context of the conditioned which is subjected to past present and future phenomena and thinking about them.

Some people hold to the Idea that the Unconditioned has no Cosmological function and this is correct imo but even tho the Unconditioned is not a part of the Cosmology it is still an Integral part of the system as a whole, it is fundamental at that and if it wasn’t a part of the system then it would simply be a different system altogether and an imaginary one at that.

It is part of our language and it is among the discernable, if a person can think about how reality works he might ask prompt the questions; * does reality exist in some sort of unreality, does it float somehow;) ? * if unreality then unrelated to reality, thus is this reality like a dream, a self-sustained dream, a persistent self-sustaining ecosystem of a dream with lack of development as a supporting condition?

All these questions can be asked in the context of the world and aggregates, our referable reality can be said to give rise to these questions based on the assumption that there is an unmade unreality to be discerned.

Thus self-directing the ecosystem is set for development of discernment which leads to right intention for self-termination with pre-determined arising. It's termination and abscence; that very discernment of highest good.

If one then agrees that unconditioned element is a fundamental part of the system of language referring to things to be discerned as a truth somehow, part of such language system as a whole it is then natural to infer that what is fundamental could be spoken of as the fundament, a foundation or the basis of something; a ground.

i am saying is that the root of phenomena is desire and foremost supporting condition for their manifestation is Ignorance, so by removing the supporting condition, the phenomena are uprooted and do no manifest. If phenomena do not manifest there is only that which is ground, the unmade state. In this way ground is not brought into being nor is it conditioned but with cessation of suffering[the constructed] it is the primary happiness, unobstructed by any world, the beyond.

the first sentence declares cessation of the constructed, the second sentence declares the beyond as unmade dimension which is if the constructed is not. The most sublime constructed state is the state of neither perception nor non-perception with the cessation of the the phenomena present in that state there is no remaining constructions and thus;

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,[1] unevolving, without support [mental object].[2] This, just this, is the end of stress.

It can be explained to be the ground because it is the most sublime and underlying reality to the beginningless cycle of constructs and an everpresent alternative [of escape].

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]

A being is and is of the world, a being exists entirely in the world and both the world and the being are constructed and subject to change [evolving]. Thus a being is a construct which experiences the constructed. The constructed states occur in a system which facilitates the occurence of the constructed states, fascilitates existence of the world and experienced states. The constructed [dependently arisen by means of evolving] states that arise are to that extent states of the system. The system which fascilitates the manifestation of various states is in itself unchanging, being the same system all along the system is merely going from one state to another.

One can thus point out an unchanging constant of change.

In this way the system itself can be understood to be unchanging while the states of the system are changing, therefore one can say that the changing gains a footing in the unchanging. With the cessation of dependently arisen states of the system, the system is in the unmade state and the unmade state and the system are thus one and the same because Unmade state is not a state like the made state, it is the system itself without a state per se.

When the created is, only then and to that extent is it said to be gaining a footing. When the created is not, then there are no phenomena to talk about and even the word "created" is created and the word is certainly not 'it' nor is the word 'it' really it, 'it' is just another word for something uncognizable by the senses and mind.

Thus when created is not, there is essentially nothing to talk about because it is beyond the range of objects, elements and entities.

Therefore when one talks about unconditioned as something where what is existence gains no footing, one can only do so from the perspective of non-existence of the world and it's cessation because outside of that is beyond range and there the world gains no footing.

the problem with the matrix movie is that therein the supposed ‘real world’ could well be generated by matrix still, so neo actually has no way of knowing that the whole action movie playing out isn’t a simulation and that he isn’t still in the matrix thinking he has been unplugged. if one was to remake the movie to address that problem the ‘real world’ therein would have to be ‘unmade’ without any ‘things/phenomena/information/entities/beings’ and no self or any part of the not-real world would be ‘coming out’ of the simulation after it’s cessation. One could never rightly express on film the ‘unmade’ because one can not express that which is beyond senses by media of the senses. Furthermore that which is ‘simulation’ and ‘that which simulates’ would have to be conjoined to the extent that both are subject to cessation, as it would turn out the simulation therein would have to be self-sustained, self-simulated and self-directing due to internal causes and conditions, this is because only the made can be a cause for what is made, the unmade is uncaused and does not cause anything for therein there are no causes or conditions, thus no past, present or future either, therefore therein occur no acts of creating, directing, no eventuality at all.

So basically existence of beings is a delusional nightmare self sustained by lack of development, it is like a mirrage

afaik i should be able to give substantially consistent pali canon support for most of this reasoning so that it is more or less irrefutable by the canon itself but full list of references would be 20-30 discourses and excerpts alone 50+ pages. ask if want more details, also the way i express it isn't particularly good i think and can well contain philosophical mistakes.

  • sounds correct, and actually goes precisely along the lines of great mahayana scholars of the past debating the nature of the absolute. except there they make one fundamental observation, that the "system" or the "unconditioned" holds perfectly true even in the presence of the "created" and is unaffected by it. hence the whole samsara=nirvana thesis.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 20:35
  • i like a simile of the flower and the earth, the earth being the basis is completely unaffected by the destruction of a flower. This analogy has it's limitation of course but that which is ground is unaffected and does not need substantiation from the flower whereas the flower does not exist without gaining a footing. So whatever is experienced by this or that being is in and of the flower, an expression of discernable causes and conditions. That which is ground is known only as such as far as flower analogy goes basically.
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 20:45
  • it is interesting that you would say mahayana because i think it is based on abhidhamma and the four nikayas + snp, dhp and udana. I don't think these are popular interpretations among modern Theravadins tho.
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 20:48
  • well, abhidharma and analysis of dharmas, especially the edge-cases like the unconditioned dharmas, is what we have in common and is where Mahayana was born from, so I'm not surprised.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 20:52

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