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There are three closely related words in Pali , namely, Sankhara, Sasankhara and asankhara.

They are mentioned in the following sutta :

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“Bad, unskillful qualities, mendicants, arise with conditions, not without conditions.

“Sasaṅkhārā, bhikkhave, uppajjanti pāpakā akusalā dhammā, no asaṅkhārā.

By giving up those conditions, those bad, unskillful qualities do not occur.

”Tesaṁyeva saṅkhārānaṁ pahānā evaṁ te pāpakā akusalā dhammā na hontī”ti.

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My question is : Is Nibbana an asankhara?

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Nibbana is unconditioned (asankhata).

Now at that time the Buddha was educating, encouraging, firing up, and inspiring the mendicants with a Dhamma talk about extinguishment.

Tena kho pana samayena bhagavā bhikkhū nibbānapaṭisaṁyuttāya dhammiyā kathāya sandasseti samādapeti samuttejeti sampahaṁseti.

But since there is (atthi) an unborn, unproduced, unmade, and unconditioned, an escape is found from the born, produced, made, and conditioned.

Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, atthi ajātaṁ abhūtaṁ akataṁ asaṅkhataṁ, tasmā jātassa bhūtassa katassa saṅkhatassa nissaraṇaṁ paññāyatī”ti.

Ud 8.3

There are many quotes to express this, such as:

Birth... Old age and death are impermanent, conditioned, dependently originated, liable to end, vanish, fade away, and cease.

Jāti... Jarāmaraṇaṁ, bhikkhave, aniccaṁ saṅkhataṁ paṭiccasamuppannaṁ khayadhammaṁ vayadhammaṁ virāgadhammaṁ nirodhadhammaṁ.

SN 12.20

the unborn, unaging, unailing, undying, sorrowless, uncorrupted supreme sanctuary from the yoke, extinguishment

ajātaṁ... ajaraṁ... abyādhiṁ ... amataṁ .... asokaṁ ... anuttaraṁ yogakkhemaṁ... nibbānaṁ

MN 26

Also, while Nibbana is unconditioned, it exists. The suttas say:

There exists, mendicants, that sphere... Nibbana

Atthi, bhikkhave, tadāyatanaṁ... Nibbana

Ud 8.1

Lastly:

There are these two elements:

Dve imā, ānanda, dhātuyo—

the conditioned element and the unconditioned element.

saṅkhatādhātu, asaṅkhatādhātu.

MN 115

A lot of confusion arises dependent upon treating nibbana as a conceptual mental object dependent upon mind. This ^^^ leads to lots of confusion. An analogy describing this confusion is a man dying of thirst who refuses to drink life-giving water because the man dogmatically believes water is a mental concept rather than a suffering-free reality.

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  • You have neither denied nor accepted the fact that Nibbana is asankhara… what is your opinion on this ? Nov 30, 2023 at 4:00
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    The word 'asankhata' has the same meaning as 'asankhara'. 'Asankhata' is a past participle, meaning "unconditioned". 'Asankhara' sounds like it is an adjective in present tense meaning "without conditions". Nov 30, 2023 at 10:20
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    Therefore, to apply the quote to Nibbana. (i) Nibbana does not "arise" ("uppajjanti"). Instead, nibbana "exists" ("atthi"). (ii) Therefore, nibbana does not arise with conditions. (iii) Instead, Nibbana exists without conditions. (iv) Nibbana is asankhara, i.e., without conditions. Nov 30, 2023 at 10:26
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Thanissaro Bhikkhu The Image of Nirvana

We all know what happens when a fire goes out. The flames die down and the fire is gone for good. So when we first learn that the name for the goal of Buddhist practice, nirvāṇa (nibbāna), literally means the extinguishing of a fire, it’s hard to imagine a deadlier image for a spiritual goal: utter annihilation. It turns out, though, that this reading of the concept is a mistake in translation, not so much of a word as of an image. What did an extinguished fire represent to the Indians of the Buddha’s day? Anything but annihilation.

According to the ancient brahmans, when a fire was extinguished it went into a state of latency. Rather than ceasing to exist, it became dormant and, in that state—unbound from any particular fuel—diffused throughout the cosmos. When the Buddha used the image to explain nirvāṇa to the Indian brahmans of his day, he bypassed the question of whether an extinguished fire continues to exist or not, and focused instead on the impossibility of defining a fire that doesn’t burn: thus his statement that the person who has gone totally “out” can’t be described.

However, when teaching his own disciples, the Buddha used nirvāṇa more as an image of freedom. Apparently, all Indians at the time saw burning fire as agitated, dependent, and trapped, both clinging and being stuck to its fuel as it burned. To ignite a fire, one had to “seize” it. When fire let go of its fuel, it was “freed,” released from its agitation, dependence, and entrapment—calm and unconfined. This is why Pali poetry repeatedly uses the image of extinguished fire as a metaphor for freedom. In fact, this metaphor is part of a pattern of fire imagery that involves two other related terms as well. Upādāna, or clinging, also refers to the sustenance a fire takes from its fuel. Khandha means not only one of the five “heaps” (form, feeling, perception, thought fabrications, and consciousness) that define all conditioned experience, but also the trunk of a tree. Just as fire goes out when it stops clinging and taking sustenance from wood, so the mind is freed when it stops clinging to the khandhas.

So the image underlying nirvāṇa is one of freedom. The Pali commentaries support this point by tracing the word nirvāṇa to its verbal root, which means “unbinding.” What kind of unbinding? The texts describe two levels. One is the unbinding in this lifetime, symbolized by a fire that has gone out but whose embers are still warm. This stands for the fully awakened arahant, who is conscious of sights and sounds, sensitive to pleasure and pain, but freed from passion, aversion, and delusion. The second level of unbinding—symbolized by a fire so totally out that its embers have grown cold—is what the arahant experiences after this life. All input from the senses cools away and he/she is totally freed from even the subtlest stresses and limitations of existence in space and time.

The Buddha insists that this level is indescribable, even in terms of existence or nonexistence, because words work only for things that have limits. All he really says about it—apart from images and metaphors—is that one can have foretastes of the experience in this lifetime, and that it’s the ultimate happiness, something truly worth knowing.

So the next time you watch a fire going out, see it not as a case of annihilation, but as a lesson in how freedom is to be found in letting go.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu The Image of Nirvana

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