Something which is conditioned exists only by virtue of the relationships between the parts which comprise it. So for example, a car is a conditioned thing, because it consists of many parts held together in very specific relationship with each other. Without those relationships, all you have is a big pile of parts. You no longer have a car. So "car" is a conditioned thing.
Other examples of conditioned things are....
A painting (diferent coloured paints arranged in specific relationship with each other)
A piece of clothing.
In actual fact, everything in the world is conditioned, on the basis that ultimately things exist due to the relationships between the subatomic particles in the atoms which comprise them. So how can something be said to be "unconditioned"?
They are sunna ("empty") of any essence. It also includes man, woman, child, cat, dogs, family, nation, ethnicity etc. They are constructions(sankhara) constructed from other parts which are themselves also constructed. In other words anatta.
Come to think of it, even processes are sunna. What is eating? ----> biting, chewing, swallowing. Breathing ------> chest movement, air movement, cellular metabolism.
Once a label or name is attached to them, they become "things" or conventional reality.
Something which is unconditioned clearly exists as a 'whole thing' in its entirety, undivided. So for example a car is an unconditioned thing, because it is one whole discreet object. You can point to it and say "car!". It clearly exists in-and-of-itself, seperate to everything else.
Now here's the rub. From the above, you should be able to see that things are both "conditioned" and "unconditioned" at the same time.
How is this possible?
Well, it all depends on how you look at things. In normal everyday life, we tend to look at things as being unconditioned. Objects in the world appear whole and discreet. Seperate from each other. Objects are identified on this basis, and they match up to our mentally stored concepts. This is "conventional truth". But in reality, everything is conditioned, since everything is reduceable to subatomic particles. You can think of reality as a giant subatomic smoothie, where everything is one undivided thing.
This is "ultimate truth". In such a world, craving and aversion towards one thing over another is meaningless, and an experiencial understanding of this on the deepest level is the true meaning of what it is to be enlightened.
There is a jump to say everything is One. From the Theravada perpective, there is no ultimate undivided One which is yet another construct. All things are not self (Sabbe dhamma anatta).
The way people think is that having been born, they don't want to die. Is that correct? It's like pouring water into a glass but not wanting it to fill up. If you keep pouring the water, you can't expect it not to be full. But people think like this: they are born but don't want to die. Is that correct thinking? Consider it. If people are born but never die, will that bring happiness? If no one who comes into the world dies, things will be a lot worse. If no one ever dies, we will probably all end up eating excrement! Where would we all stay? It's like pouring water into the glass without ceasing yet still not wanting it to be full. We really ought to think things through. We are born but don't want to die. If we really don't want to die, we should realize the deathless (amatadhamma), as the Buddha taught. Do you know what amatadhamma means?
It is the deathless - though you die, if you have wisdom it is as if you don't die. Not dying, not being born. That's where things can be finished. Being born and wishing for happiness and enjoyment without dying is not the correct way at all. But that's what people want, so there is no end of suffering for them. The practitioner of Dhamma does not suffer. Well, practitioners such as ordinary monks still suffer, because they haven't yet fulfilled the path of practice. They haven't realized amatadhamma, so they still suffer. They are still subject to death.
Amatadhamma is the deathless. Born of the womb, can we avoid death? Apart from realizing that there is no real self, there is no way to avoid death. ''I'' don't die; sankhāras undergo transformation, following their nature.
I think that the discovery that we do not die is the most valuable and important discovery made in the history of the human race. Is there any other discovery that can match it? Even to call it the most valuable and important world heritage is insufficient. However, unfortunately, most of the great number of people living in the world do not know of this great discovery. Whenever the New Year comes people think they have grown a year older and a year closer to death. But this is a big mistake. Where is that which has grown a year older, where is that which has made another step toward death? Shakyamuni pursued this question relentlessly. And he realized that this thing called the “self” had neither shadow nor form nor color nor smell nor weight nor anything at all. He realized that this “self” was no more than an image that human beings had arbitrarily produced in their heads. If “self” and “person” are no more than concepts, then “the death of a person” is no more than a concept formed from the workings of the mind. One speaks of “dying” but the “one” dying does not exist. To put it clearly, from the start “death” itself does not exist.
And, to push the argument even further, what has just been said about “death” applies in just the same way to “life.” If death does not exist, then one cannot say that life exists. In the statement above I made about Shakyamuni’s discovery let me replace the word “death” with “life”. “To put it very simply we can say that Shakyamuni’s discovery was that ‘we are not born’.”
Life and death are concepts; life and death have no substance. Nevertheless, most people find this hard to believe. Yet, life and death really do not exist. To express the essence of life and death, one can say being happy is life and being sad is death. Being in pain is life and being content is death. Walking is life and running is death. The rain falling is life and good weather is death. Mountains are life and rivers are death.
Yamada Ryoun- abbot of Sanbo-Kyodan
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.