In A history of Indian Buddhism: From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana, Professor Hirakawa states:

Both nirvana and space were considered to be unconditioned dharmas. This fundamental classification of dharmas into conditioned and unconditioned is found in the Agamas.

In what passage from the agamas (and/or pali?) we read space to be unconditioned?

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    If I recall correctly, the second sentence is definitely true in the Pali texts. But the first sentence, I don't recall seeing space classified as unconditioned in any of the early texts that I've read. Nevertheless, I can understand how it can be classified that way. If I had to guess, I'd say it's an Abhidhamma classification.
    – Unrul3r
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 17:10

3 Answers 3


Space is one of the 24 kinds of derived-materiality (UpadayaRupa), which is one of the 2 kinds of materiality (the other is primary-materiality, BhutaRupa, which is composed of the 4 elements of earth, water, fire, and air). They're all conditioned dhammas. Only Nibbana is the unconditioned one. Further info. is available at Vism.XIV.34


@Unrul3r is correct. Because the aforementioned book is almost devoid of notes, only much later an explanation appeared. It's abhidhamma material, the context of the sentence confused me.

In the Sarvāstivādin tradition since the compilation of the Dharmaskhanda, three unconditioned dharmas have been recognized: analytical cessation (pratisankhayā-nirodha), nonanalytical cessation (apratisankhayā-nirodha) and space (ākāśa). In the Theravada tradition, only one unconditioned dharma, nirvana, is recognized [...]. According to the Samaya, the Mahāsanghika, Ekavyavahārika, Lokottaravādin, and Kaukutica schools all recognized the following nine unconditioned dharmas: (1) analytical cessation (2) nonanalytical cessation (3) space (4) the realm of infinity of space (5) the realm of infinity of consciousness (6) the realm of nothingness (7) the realm of neither consciousness nor unconsciousness (8) the law of dependent origination (9) the law of the noble path [...]. The Sarvāstivādins disagreed with this position and did not recognize the existence of a principle of Dependend Origination separate from conditioned dharmas. For the Sarvāstivādins, the law of Dependend Origination itself was conditioned.

For the Mahaśiśākas, the path to nirvana was recognized as an unconditioned dharma because the practices established by the Buddha were considered to be eternal truths. The Sarvāstivādins opposed this position by maintaining that although nirvana was unconditioned, the wisdom the Buddha had realized was conditioned and not eternal.

  • Interesting. So who's correct? 9 unconditioned dharmas sounds a lot...
    – draks ...
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 22:34
  • Hirakawa seems mistaken to say that the Law of D.O. is conditioned. As the laws are never included into dharma lists. Also, logic suggests that laws are permanent entities. And finally, this would be contradictory to suttas, which Sarvāstivādins can not afford.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 1:05
  • @catpnosis it seems he is simply listing what he found to be the positions of other schools
    – user382
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 2:31

Hirakawa probably only meant that "classification of dharmas into conditioned and unconditioned" is found in the Agamas, not that space were considered to be unconditioned dharma "is found in the Agamas".

Conditionality of space (akasa) was controversial topic even inside of Sarvastivada. If it would be mentioned to be non-conditional anywhere inside of Agamas (i.e. in sutras, as in 'Buddha's words') it would not be that controversial subject.

  • Majjhima Nikaya 115 classifies all elements (dhatu) into conditioned & unconditioned thus this is not something exclusive to the Agamas. As for 'space', it is obviously conditioned, which is why, for example, people buy bigger houses for more space. Regards. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 4:29
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    @Dhammadhatu How is all this related to my answer? Statement of Hirakawa was about Agamas, question about space in Agamas, I answer about Agamas. I answer that there is no such statement. 'Space' isn't "obviously conditioned", because, there was controversy exactly about this point. If something is obviously conditioned there would not be controversy about that.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 19:14

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