It is often said that Nibbana is unconditioned. But isn't Nibbana to be attained through practice of the Noble Eightfold Path (abandoning desire, meditation, realizing paticcasamuppada etc)? Aren't those practices conditions for Nibbana? What am I missing here :) ?

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    Nibbanna is not conditioned because you don't attain it,what your ""actually"" attaining is the ability to see it or experience it. Nibbanna is there regardless. – Orion May 20 '15 at 6:12

The practice of the eightfold noble path leads to the experience of nibbāna, just like the act of adverting the mind to the eye door leads to seeing light. Light, the object of seeing, is saṅkhata (conditioned), but nibbāna, the object of supermundane consciousness, is asaṅkhata (unconditioned). So nibbāna isn't the result of the eightfold noble path, the experience of it is.

  • Thanks. Would it be correct to liken Nibbana to going to a place? The place exists, whether or not I make the effort to reach there. The effort to reach there is not the cause that the place exists. – fxam May 19 '15 at 13:31
  • @fxam yes, that seems apt. – yuttadhammo May 19 '15 at 13:33
  • If you can arrive at a place, you can certainly leave a place, that would imply that the experience of cessation/ Nirvana is conditional and impermanent. – Yinxu Apr 11 '17 at 5:42

In the material world alls phenomena arises and passes based on conditionality (as opposed to totally random). In Nibbana there is no arising and passing away of phenomena.

It is true that realising Nibbana is the result of practising the path to realise it, hence if you have realised Nibbana then this is because you practice the path.

  • Thanks, but you said "...hence if you have realised Nibbana then this is because you practice the path". Doesn't this sentence mean Nibbana is conditioned (caused) by the practices? – fxam May 18 '15 at 13:26
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    "Realising" nibbana is different than 'causing' nibbana. It is already there. The practitioner just needs to realize it directly. – Jeff Wright May 18 '15 at 13:30
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    @JeffWright Thanks, I think I realize something now :) – fxam May 18 '15 at 14:36

When it says that "Anicca vata sankhara" ( Impermanent are all conditioned things). "Uppadavaya dhammino" ( Of the nature to rise and fall). It is saying that things arise dependent on conditions, things "exist" because of the conditions that support them. So we are talking about characteristic nature of things or its attribute. The attributes of nibbana as pointed out above is permanent, does not arise depending on conditions.

  • Is this answer just repeating the claim, that "nibbana is unconditioned", without explaining why or how? Alternatively what's mistaken about the understanding in the OP, that Nibbana depends on (i.e. that it is conditioned by) practice? – ChrisW May 18 '15 at 13:11
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    First is is declared by the Buddha in Udāna 8: Pāṭaligāmiyavaggo: “There is, monks, an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned. If, monks there were not that unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, you could not know an escape here from the born, become, made, and conditioned. But because there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, therefore you do know an escape from the born, become, made, and conditioned.” – Samadhi May 18 '15 at 14:06
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    So it's called unconditioned because that is how the Buddha described it. – ChrisW May 18 '15 at 14:09
  • He found it first and declared it and others who have subsequently discovered it may or may not agree with him but I take his authority on it. – Samadhi May 18 '15 at 14:49

In Theravada Buddhism, when we talk about conditions and conditioning there are 24 conditions found in the Patthana

The Patthana Dhamma are packed into 24 Paccaya or 24 conditions. They are:

1.Root condition ( Hetu Paccayo )

2.Object condition ( Arammana Paccayo )

3.Predominance condition ( Adhipati Paccayo )

4.Proximity condition ( Anantara Paccayo )... etc...

  • Interesting, can you elaborate on how is Nibbana unconditioned according to Patthana? – fxam May 19 '15 at 14:21

I see two ambiguities here which might be the responsible for the confusion.

with the six sense bases as condition, contact;

-- SN 12:1

The above is one link of conditioned arising chain, which explain how many things are conditioned. Would it be correct to, according to the above, conclude that the six senses cause (or produce) contact? That would be awkward.

This quote means that if a "contact experience" is present, then the corresponding sense is present. A more verbose reading of the above would be "six sense bases are a supporting condition for contact".

As another (unrelated to buddhism, and perhaps poorly chosen) example, if you study, you become more knowledgeable. But your knowledge, at any given point, is not constituted by "studies". There is an ambiguity in how we can interpret "conditioned". Conditioned ≠ caused by.

The matter in question is that it is more a statement about a "necessary condition" than a statement about a particular cause.

There is also another ambiguity in play here. Nibbāna is unconditioned in the sense that it has no supporting condition. Echoing yuttadhammo's answer , nibbāna is "one thing" and the experience of attaining nibbāna (which requires all the proverbial effort) is "something else".

  • Because of the coming together of eye object, eye consciousness and eye base there is contact. Also for the rest of the other senses.. depending on contact feeling arises... – Samadhi May 18 '15 at 18:36
  • Thanks. But when six sense bases ceases, contact ceases. The contact depends on the six sense bases. Doesn't that mean the six sense bases cause the contact (or contact experience)? – fxam May 19 '15 at 14:11
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    You might as well call it cause. But the risk of saying that the six sense bases "cause" contact, is to bring back the confusion: eg. to understand that the presence of a sense implies the presence of contact -- "if the sense is a cause, it's an agent causing something". And that is not true: it is possible to have no contact even though sense bases are present. – user382 May 19 '15 at 14:23
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    The 3 must come together i.e 1) eye object (no object or in the dark is no good) 2) eye base (being blind is no good) 3) eye consciousness ( being dead is no good). When these 3 come together there is contact. – Samadhi May 19 '15 at 16:48

Nibbana as stated in the Patthana with my summary below:

  • [] square brackets indicate my extra notes
  • * asterisk indicates I've changed to the English rendering according to Nyanamoli as it appeals to me to be a closer rendering, otherwise it is straight from the Patthana.

Nibbana the term derives from nivana or nirvana. Ni means nikkhanta or liberated from vana or binding. Vana is the dhamma that bind various different lives in the samsara. So nibbana means liberated from binding in the samsara. This binding is tanha. [Thanissaro Bhikkhu uses unbinding in most of his translation instead of using nibbana]

From view point of contemplation [at the time of release], there are three kinds of nibbana. They are sunnata nibbana [*emptiness - attained thru seeing anatta], animitta nibbana [*signless - attained thru seeing anicca], and appanihita nibbana [*desireless - attained thru seeing dukkha]

All 3 are just one same nibbana perceived through different modes of release.

Nibbana is not in one of the 5 aggregates, [it is there all the time but we don't have the mental capacity to see it]. It can be an object of the mind (arammana).

Who can see nibbana? Arahants, and Anagamis only when he enters (*the state of ceasation of consciousness) nirodha samapatti.

[Sotapanas, Sakadagamis and Anagamis only have a glimps of nibbana]

Sankhata dhatu [*conditioned elements] are those whose arising and existence are influenced by one of four causes namely kamma [*action], citta [*consciousness], utu [*climate], and ahara [*nutriment]. Nibbana cannot be influenced by these four causes. Nibbana is asankhata dhatu [*unconditioned element].

  • I hope you don't mind: I added some extra formatting to your answer. This help page describes how it's possible to format text. I find that especially > is useful: it's used to show/format a direct block-quote, so that people can see, in an answer, which parts of the text are quoted from the reference you cited, and which paragraphs are your own. Many of the best answers contain a mix of quote, plus your own explanation or introduction to the quote. Thank you and welcome again to the site. – ChrisW May 19 '15 at 18:09
  • Thanks for the formatting. I shall endeavour to use it when I can. – Samadhi May 19 '15 at 18:31

No, the practices are causes of the unconditional result of Nibbana. Things in the past or future do not even exist to ultimate reality. We can't understand this without practicing virtue and witnessing what really is in the present moment(mindfulness or Vipassana) moment by moment


I do not have sufficent knowledge to answer the question in a satisfactory way.

So i will instead point you to some great ressources regarding your question.

The first one is a book called "On the Nature of Nibbana" by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw.

In this book Nibbana is being discussed e.g. "What is Nibbana and what is the meaning of it?, Mental Formation and Nibbana, The Nature and Attributes of Nibbana and many more things regarding Nibbana".

The second source is a great audio dhamma talk called "Nibbana" by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Here is also some text material on Nibbana by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. A short quote from the section "Nibbana is an existing reality":

"Regarding the nature of Nibbana, the question is often asked: Does Nibbana signify only extinction of the defilements and liberation from samsara or does it signify some reality existing in itself? Nibbana is not only the destruction of defilements and the end of samsara but a reality transcendent to the entire world of mundane experience, a reality transcendent to all the realms of phenomenal existence.

The Buddha refers to Nibbana as a 'dhamma'. For example, he says "of all dhammas, conditioned or unconditioned, the most excellent dhamma, the supreme dhamma is, Nibbana". 'Dhamma' signifies actual realities, the existing realities as opposed to conceptual things. Dhammas are of two types, conditioned and unconditioned. A conditioned dhamma is an actuality which has come into being through causes or conditions, something which arises through the workings of various conditions. The conditioned dhammas are the five aggregates: material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The conditioned dhammas, do not remain static. They go through a ceaseless process of becoming. They arise, undergo transformation and fall away due to its conditionality.

However, the unconditioned dhamma is not produced by causes and conditions. It has the opposite characteristics from the conditioned: it has no arising, no falling away and it undergoes no transformation. Nevertheless, it is an actuality, and the Buddha refers to Nibbana as an unconditioned Dhamma."

May this be of some help to you.


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    Thanks for the recommendations and the quote. I understand more of Nibbana now. – fxam May 20 '15 at 11:29

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