Conditioned vs Unconditioned

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Wind » Mon May 17, 2010 10:37 pm

All conditioned things are impermanent because of the constant flux of change. We can describe this as movements in time. So can we infer the unconditioned (such as nibbana) as static, no change, no movements, no time? Would conditioned things be like a video and unconditioned be like a picture?
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 10:50 pm

Wind wrote:All conditioned things are impermanent because of the constant flux of change. We can describe this as movements in time. So can we infer the unconditioned (such as nibbana) as static, no change, no movements, no time? Would conditioned things be like a video and unconditioned be like a picture?

What "unconditioned" means is that we are no longer conditioned by greed, hatred and ignorance. There is no thing out there that is "the unconditioned."
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Kenshou » Mon May 17, 2010 10:53 pm

Welp, as I understand it...

That question is slightly flawed in assuming that nibbana is "something". Condition is closer, but not really. Nibbana is the unconditioned, or unfabricated, because it is arrived at by not conditioning. When one quits fabricating for the sake of any craving or aversion, uninvested in absolutely everything, clung to nothing whatsoever, there is no fuel for defilements, or for more becoming, and dukkha has no place to arise, besides the remaining modicum of disturbance of the body and mind's simply existing, until they finally break up at parinibbana. Nibbana is "deathless" because it is the permanent cessation of stress.

But it is not an immortal metaphysical something, out there beyond time and space.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Pannapetar » Tue May 18, 2010 3:31 am

This question appears to target nibbana. If nibbana is the unconditioned state and if the unconditioned state implies the absence of sankhara (in the sense of fabrications), then it follows that language cannot even get close to describing it, because language is based on fabrications.

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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Ben » Tue May 18, 2010 6:15 am

Pannapetar wrote:then it follows that language cannot even get close to describing it, because language is based on fabrications.

Indeed! The language of samsara is bound by samsara. Hence, any definition of Nibbana that makes any sense is the negation of samsaric qualities.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 6:23 am

Wind wrote:All conditioned things are impermanent because of the constant flux of change. We can describe this as movements in time. So can we infer the unconditioned (such as nibbana) as static, no change, no movements, no time? Would conditioned things be like a video and unconditioned be like a picture?


May wish to make a distinction between "things that are not conditioned by some other thing", and "The Unconditioned".

If you want the former, just check the SN, and the whole idea of nibbana as nirodha, which is clear from so many statements made by the Buddha about the four noble truths, dependent origination, etc.

If you want the latter, take that over-used quote from the Udana, and a host of Upanisadic literature, and the way 99% of people interpret the "unconditioned" as per the Dhammasangani and other post-Buddha literature.

(And try to get a copy of Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities, by Steve Collins.)

Kenshou wrote:Welp ...


Ha! Kenshou, what kind of crazy Freudian slip is this? -- "Whelp!" -- :tongue:
(I'm hopefully laughing with you, not at you!)
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue May 18, 2010 6:30 am

a side, maybe helpful maybe not, but ajahn Thanissaro states that nibbana and samsara are verbs not nouns and since many of us often speak of them as nouns we are often off target in our understanding of them.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 6:47 am

jcsuperstar wrote:a side, maybe helpful maybe not, but ajahn Thanissaro states that nibbana and samsara are verbs not nouns and since many of us often speak of them as nouns we are often off target in our understanding of them.


Well, strictly speaking they are both nouns, not verbs. The verb equivalents would be "*nibbati" (or maybe "*nibbayati") and "*samsareti" (if I recall correctly).

However, he does have a good point in that a large number of Indic nouns have clearly identifiable verb stems. Also, there are forms of nouns which kind of effectively function like nouns, at least once they appear in English, that is. One good example is nouns which end with "-(t)ion", which are often very similar to the Indic endings "-ana". eg. nibbana as "extinction", or vinnana as "cognition". Or also those forms which are present continuous, like English "-ing".

It would help a lot to think of the Buddha as "nibbanizing", rather than "entering nibbana"; or of living beings "samsara-ing", rather than "going around in samsara". The latter statements both imply "nibbana" and "samsara" as some locus, expressed in the locative. Although Skt will have "samsare samsareti" = "going around in the going-around" :tongue: , I don't think I've seen much of "nibbana" being expressed in this way, ie. "nibbane nibbati" = "extinguishing into extinction".

And grammatically, another important thing to consider for "conditioned vs unconditioned", is the usage of the prefix "a-", ie. samkhata vs asamkhata (or similar). Although we here, as in many places, use the "a-" prefix to mean "un-", or "non-", etc. there is the possibility of using it as "not ..." I think that there is some difference here. The "un-" form still has the implication that there is such a thing, just an "un-thing". The other form does not have such a strong implication, but is more like a simple mere negation, "not a thing" (but not necessarily a not-thing). Nothing vs Not-thing.

With the middle way of avoiding the extremes of existence (sat) and non-existence (asat) (note the latter again as a "non-X" form), this distinction, though subtle, may be worth making more explicit.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 7:18 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
If you want the latter, take that over-used quote from the Udana, and a host of Upanisadic literature, and the way 99% of people interpret the "unconditioned" as per the Dhammasangani and other post-Buddha literature.

Collins has come out with a shortened version of his book. As for the Udana, I don't think so. I'll go with Norman's, Johansonn's and my understanding of the Udana 80 and the Itivuttaka, 37-8 (quoted below). As for the 99%, it only goes to show how very radical the Buddha's teaching was that most people could not get beyond thinking in terms of thingness. And, of course, the Upanshadic literature gives a good idea of what the Buddha to reacting to by giving a radical twist to the terms involved.

This said by the Blessed One, the Worthy One, was heard by me
in this way: "Monks, there is freedom from birth, freedom from
becoming, freedom from making, freedom from conditioning.
For, monks if there were not this freedom from birth, freedom from
becoming, freedom from making, freedom from conditioning,
then escape from that which is birth, becoming, making,
conditioning, would not be known here. But, monks, because there
is freedom from birth, freedom from becoming, freedom from
making, freedom from conditioning, therefore the escape from that
which is birth, becoming, making, conditioning is known."


[Here the Buddha, The Blessed One, offers his own verse
commentary on his statement.]

This meaning the Blessed One spoke, it is spoken here in this way:

That which is born, become, arisen, made, conditioned,
And thus unstable, put together of decay and death,
The seat of disease, brittle,
Caused and craving food,
That is not fit to find pleasure in.

Being freed of this, calmed beyond conjecture, stable,
Freed from birth, freed from arising, freed from sorrow,
Freed from passions, the elements of suffering stopped,
The conditioning [of greed, hatred and delusion] appeased,
This is ease [bliss].
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 7:25 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
And grammatically, another important thing to consider for "conditioned vs unconditioned", is the usage of the prefix "a-", ie. samkhata vs asamkhata (or similar). Although we here, as in many places, use the "a-" prefix to mean "un-", or "non-", etc. there is the possibility of using it as "not ..." I think that there is some difference here. The "un-" form still has the implication that there is such a thing, just an "un-thing". The other form does not have such a strong implication, but is more like a simple mere negation, "not a thing" (but not necessarily a not-thing). Nothing vs Not-thing.
The privative a/an in Pali works much like the its cognate in English and need not be limited to un-, not-, or non- as way of translating or understanding how a term prefixed a/an might be understood.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 7:47 am

That's a nice translation there, Tilt.
I'll be lazy and not check it myself, but this is using "free- " for the "a-" / "an-" prefix, right?
A good rendering of what I'd call the non-substantiating understanding.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 8:02 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:That's a nice translation there, Tilt.
I'll be lazy and not check it myself, but this is using "free- " for the "a-" / "an-" prefix, right?
A good rendering of what I'd call the non-substantiating understanding.
Thanks. I worked on it while taking Pali at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with Paul Griffiths and Francis Wilson in the 80's. The usual translation of Udana 80 always seemed meaningless. Johansson, in his THE PYSCHOLOGY OF NIRVANA, suggested an alternate in a footnote which looked to be worth pursuing. After I did that translation and defended it online, including on the now very obviously dead Grey Forum, I came across K.R. Norman's article on the very issue, and needless to say I was tickled, delighted, filled with joy, and inordinately pleased with myself for at least a week to find that I was on the same page as K.R. I am too lazy at the moment to dig up the article citation, but if you are interested, more than happy to do so.

but this is using "free- " for the "a-" / "an-" prefix, right?
Yes.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Zom » Tue May 18, 2010 8:10 am

Description of Nibbana by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
http://www.beyondthenet.net/dhamma/nibbana.html

Description of Nibbana by Mahasi Sayadaw:
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Nib ... bbana.html
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 8:27 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:That's a nice translation there, Tilt.
I'll be lazy and not check it myself, but this is using "free- " for the "a-" / "an-" prefix, right?
A good rendering of what I'd call the non-substantiating understanding.

Thanks. I worked on it while taking Pali at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with Paul Griffiths and Francis Wilson in the 80's. The usual translation of Udana 80 always seemed meaningless. Johansson, in his THE PYSCHOLOGY OF NIRVANA, suggested an alternate in a footnote which looked to be worth pursuing. After I did that translation and defended it online, including on the now very obviously dead Grey Forum, I came across K.R. Norman's article on the very issue, and needless to say I was tickled, delighted, filled with joy, and inordinately pleased with myself for at least a week to find that I was on the same page as K.R. I am too lazy at the moment to dig up the article citation, but if you are interested, more than happy to do so.

but this is using "free- " for the "a-" / "an-" prefix, right?

Yes.


Your own translation? Great stuff!! :clap:

My distinction between "un-" and "not ..." wasn't intended to mean that these were the only possibilities. "free(d) from ..." and others are also on the cards. In particular, "free(d) from ..." is a lot like the "vi-", which is often basically synonymous with "a- / an-".

This whole problem of rendering the "a-" or "an-" was also experienced by the Chinese. There is somewhat of a distinction in Chinese between 無 wu (~~ "without") and 非 fei (~~ "not). Paul Harrison has recently been on a mission about the particular choice of term used for all the Chinese versions of the Diamond Sutra, ie. the "wu" version, which have led to statements in English like "... is called a non-living-being". As he rightly says, this doesn't make much sense. He posits it more like the "fei", leading to "... is said to be without a "living being"." The latter is clearly anatma doctrine, nothing so amazing here.

(I've got some other ideas about this, but I'll leave that for elsewhere, coming from a "Mahayana" sutra, as it is. I'm going to raise this with Prof Harrison next month, during a summer program.)

However, although this problematic has now been noticed, it will as usual take a whole generation or two before this filters down to the "western Buddhist in the street" (or "... meditation hall"?) Though at least the distinction between "non-self" / "no-self" and "not self" is becoming gradually more common, at least in the Theravada sphere. I guess that is where discussions like this can be helpful, well, for those who happen to both read and understand them, that is.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 8:34 am

Zom wrote:Description of Nibbana by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
http://www.beyondthenet.net/dhamma/nibbana.html

Description of Nibbana by Mahasi Sayadaw:
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Nib ... bbana.html

As much as I like these venerables, I do not agree with them. Ven W. Rahula in his WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT states (in caps): NIRVANA IS. My question is: IS WHAT?

Outside of the individual who has become "nibbana-ized" by freeing him or her-self from greed, hatred, and delusion, where is nibbana and what is it? In S.N. IV 359 and S.N. 362 we find: "That which is the destruction of greed, hatred and delusion is asankhata." That is to say, it is the freedom from the conditioning, being without the conditions, of those three unwholesome factors, which is to say, as an awake individual I am no longer conditioned -- I am unconditioned, asankhata --, by the volitional conditions of greed, hatred, and delusion. It is hard to find a more straightforward definition.

In the S.N. IV 251 and IV 321 we find: "That which is the destruction of greed, hatred and delusion is nibbana." Clearly nibbana and asankhata are equivalent terms.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue May 18, 2010 8:30 pm

opps yeah, my mistake here is what i meant
A Verb for Nirvana
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Back in the days of the Buddha, nirvana (nibbana) had a verb of its own: nibbuti. It meant to "go out," like a flame. Because fire was thought to be in a state of entrapment as it burned — both clinging to and trapped by the fuel on which it fed — its going out was seen as an unbinding. To go out was to be unbound. Sometimes another verb was used — parinibbuti — with the "pari-" meaning total or all-around, to indicate that the person unbound, unlike fire unbound, would never again be trapped.

Now that nirvana has become an English word, it should have its own English verb to convey the sense of "being unbound" as well. At present, we say that a person "reaches" nirvana or "enters" nirvana, implying that nibbana is a place where you can go. But nirvana is most emphatically not a place. It's realized only when the mind stops defining itself in terms of place: of here, or there, or between the two.

This may seem like a word-chopper's problem — what can a verb or two do to your practice? — but the idea of nirvana as a place has created severe misunderstandings in the past, and it could easily create misunderstandings now. There was a time when some philosophers in India reasoned that if nirvana is one place and samsara another, then entering into nirvana leaves you stuck: you've limited your range of movement, for you can't get back to samsara. Thus to solve this problem they invented what they thought was a new kind of nirvana: an unestablished nirvana, in which one could be in both places — nirvana and samsara — at once.

However, these philosophers misunderstood two important points about the Buddha's teachings. The first was that neither samsara nor nirvana is a place. Samsara is a process of creating places, even whole worlds, (this is called becoming) and then wandering through them (this is called birth). Nirvana is the end of this process. You may be able to be in two places at once — or even develop a sense of self so infinite that you can occupy all places at once — but you can't feed a process and experience its end at the same time. You're either feeding samsara or you're not. If you feel the need to course freely through both samsara and nirvana, you're simply engaging in more samsara-ing and keeping yourself trapped.

The second point is that nirvana, from the very beginning, was realized through unestablished consciousness — one that doesn't come or go or stay in place. There's no way that anything unestablished can get stuck anywhere at all, for it's not only non-localized but also undefined.

The idea of a religious ideal as lying beyond space and definition is not exclusive to the Buddha's teachings, but issues of locality and definition, in the Buddha's eyes, had a specific psychological meaning. This is why the non-locality of nirvana is important to understand.

Just as all phenomena are rooted in desire, consciousness localizes itself through passion. Passion is what creates the "there" on which consciousness can land or get established, whether the "there" is a form, feeling, perception, thought-construct, or a type of consciousness itself. Once consciousness gets established on any of these aggregates, it becomes attached and then proliferates, feeding on everything around it and creating all sorts of havoc. Wherever there's attachment, that's where you get defined as a being. You create an identity there, and in so doing you're limited there. Even if the "there" is an infinite sense of awareness grounding, surrounding, or permeating everything else, it's still limited, for "grounding" and so forth are aspects of place. Wherever there's place, no matter how subtle, passion lies latent, looking for more food to feed on.

If, however, the passion can be removed, there's no more "there" there. One sutta illustrates this with a simile: the sun shining through the eastern wall of a house and landing on the western wall. If the western wall, the ground beneath it, and the waters beneath the ground were all removed, the sunlight wouldn't land. In the same way, if passion for form, etc., could be removed, consciousness would have no "where" to land, and so would become unestablished. This doesn't mean that consciousness would be annihilated, simply that — like the sunlight — it would now have no locality. With no locality, it would no longer be defined.

This is why the consciousness of nirvana is said to be "without surface" (anidassanam), for it doesn't land. Because the consciousness-aggregate covers only consciousness that is near or far, past, present, or future — i.e., in connection with space and time — consciousness without surface is not included in the aggregates. It's not eternal because eternity is a function of time. And because non-local also means undefined, the Buddha insisted that an awakened person — unlike ordinary people — can't be located or defined in any relation to the aggregates in this life; after death, he/she can't be described as existing, not existing, neither, or both, because descriptions can apply only to definable things.

The essential step toward this non-localized, undefined realization is to cut back on the proliferations of consciousness. This first involves contemplating the drawbacks of keeping consciousness trapped in the process of feeding. This contemplation gives urgency to the next steps: bringing the mind to oneness in concentration, gradually refining that oneness, and then dropping it to zero. The drawbacks of feeding are most graphically described in SN 12.63, A Son's Flesh. The process of gradually refining oneness is probably best described in MN 121, The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness, while the drop to zero is best described in the Buddha's famous instructions to Bahiya: "'In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized.' That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."

With no here or there or between the two, you obviously can't use the verb "enter" or "reach" to describe this realization, even metaphorically. Maybe we should make the word nirvana into a verb itself: "When there is no you in connection with that, you nirvana." That way we can indicate that unbinding is an action unlike any other, and we can head off any mistaken notion about getting "stuck" in total freedom.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby alan » Tue May 18, 2010 10:33 pm

Hello tiltbillings.
Thanissaro's take on Udana 80--what do you think?
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 10:58 pm

alan wrote:Hello tiltbillings.
Thanissaro's take on Udana 80--what do you think?
His translation? Don't care for it. It is the usual concatenation of words that really tells us ... ah, well, what? If there is a one of his essays, I have not seen it, so if you could link it, I'll take a look.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby alan » Wed May 19, 2010 1:05 am

How about the second quote--what was the source?
Thanks.
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Re: Conditioned vs Unconditioned

Postby Pannapetar » Wed May 19, 2010 2:11 am

tiltbillings wrote:Outside of the individual who has become "nibbana-ized" by freeing him...


Hehe, I like that one. :smile: Nibbana-ized or nibbananized? Haven't heard that before. Sounds a bit like cannibalized. Cannibalizing on samsara perhaps? Lovely. I have heard "the unconditioned" explained once as "the stream of the eightfold path plunging into the ocean of nirvana." Can't remember who said that. Was it Bikkhu Bodhi?

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