How does Classical Theravada address the problem of nibbana conditioning?

I quote Ven. Bodhi presenting the problem I’m talking about:

Is Nibbana conditioned by its path?Now the question is often asked: If Nibbana is attained by the practice of the path, doesn’t this make it something conditioned something produced by the path? Doesn’t Nibbana become an effect of the cause, which is the path? Here we have to distinguish between Nibbana itself and the attainment of Nibbana. By practising the path one doesn’t bring Nibbana into existence but rather discovers something already existing, something always present.

To solve this problem, Ven. Bodhi seems to distinguish between nibbana and the realization of nibbana.

But how does Classical Theravada answer the problem presented by Ven. Bodhi?
Please explain it in pedagogical terms so that I understand. Thanks in advance.

May all beings help each other towards nibbana

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Dear LA
great question.
It is absolutely true that nibbana is not conditioned. However, that does not mean it can’t be a condition…

Nibbana as a paramattha dhamma is an arammana paccaya - object condition - for the lokuttara cittas. It can only be experienced through the mind door. There are many details about the mind-door process involved in this in the Commentaries.

It may seem strange that this element that does not arise or cease can be a pacccaya dhamma, a conditioning factor but that is just as it is.

If there was no nibbana then samsara would go on forever. So the Bodhisatta was able to reason that if there was this cycle of arising and ceasing then there must also be an end to it.

It should be noted that nibbana as a paramattha dhamma cannot be on object for clinging . But nibbana as concept certainly can be - and often is.

Nibbana can also be a paccaya by way of arammana adhipati-paccaya - object predominance condition. It is esteemed by the kusala cittas which arise instantly after the attainment as well as for the lokkutara cittas that experience it.

It is also a condition be way of decisive support condition, upanissaya-paccaya:
Nina Van Gorkom Conditionality of life p. 50:

we read in Patthana Faultless Triplet, VII, Investigation Chapter, Conditions, Positive, Classification Chapter, Strong Dependence, paragraph 423), that nibbana is related to the eight lokuttara cittas which experience it and also to maha- kusala citta accompanied by panna and maha-kiriyacitta (of the arahat) accompanied by panna, by way of decisive support-condition of object.

there are other aspects too of course.

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But if supramundane consciousnesses are conditioned (lokuttara cittas) by nibbana, are they then a conditioned phenomenon (sankhara)? If so, I have the impression that sabbe sankhara dukkha implies that supramundane consciousnesses are suffering. How can this be resolved?

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No issue there. It’s impermanent. Arahants are not in supramundane consciousness all the time, and after death of arahant it doesn’t arise anymore.

What is impermanent is unsatisfactory.

We have to be careful with the usage of suffering as mental suffering would not be a suitable thing to imagine supramundane consciousness has, but unsatisfactoriness due to impermanence is.

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Dear LA
as venerable Paññādhammika noted all that is conditioned is dukkha

So the lokuttara cittas are included in are part of the sabbe sankhara dukkha that you mentioned because they are conditioned.

However, they are not part of dukkha ariya sacca.

supramundane consciousnesses are conditioned (lokuttara cittas) by nibbana,

Yes, but not only by nibbana. Many different conditions are needed for the lokuratta cittas to arise.

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Thank you Venerable, I see your point.
Can you please explain to me why lokuttara cittas are unsatisfactory? Although they are impermanent, they guarantee us the end of “suffering due to illusion”, which is already a lot. Why does their impermanence imply that they are unsatisfactory? Is it because their existence does not prevent the arahant from suffering physical pain?

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Thank you. Do you agree with Ven. when he writes this? :

Arahants are not in supramundane consciousness all the time, and after death of arahant it doesn’t arise anymore.

If so, then how do you explain that parinibbana is not a definitive cessation of life? What I mean is, if parinibbana (the end of the 6 senses for the arahant) is not the end of the arahant’s life, and if even in parinibbana there is life (not of the 6 senses), then how can this life exist without lokuttara cittas?

Or do you think that parinibbana is the definitive cessation of life (there won’t even be life outside the 6 senses)?

These questions are not off-topic, because if the lokuttara cittas continue during parinibbana, then the arahant in parinibbana will always have something unsatisfactory.

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It’s just the basic application of the 2nd discourse formula. Whatever is impermanent, subject to change is unsatisfactory.

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Don’t worry, no cittas , lokuttara cittas or not, continue after khandha parinibbana.

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Yes Venerable, but I’m asking why impermanence is a reason why lokuttara cittas are unsatisfactory, because they seem to be very different from other impermanent things: unlike other impermanent things, they guarantee the end of deluded suffering and they lead us straight to parinibbana. As for the other impermanent things, I understand that their impermanence makes them unsatisfactory, because these impermanent things offer no definitive security regarding deluded suffering. Contrary to this, lokuttara cittas are definitive security. This is why I am trying to understand why the impermanence of lokuttara cittas implies their dissatisfaction. I’m trying to understand the reason behind it.

Thank you. However it seems to me that for you nibbana is not just nothingness, is not just non-existence. Am I mistaken? If not, and if the lokuttara cittas do not exist after parinibbana, how do you explain that the aharant apprehends nibbana during parinibbana?

Let’s say the arahant have not practised the formless realms, and cannot go into cessation of perception and feeling. Then perhaps the highest and best meditation state she can do is to get into the fruition absorption, which is this lokuttara citta for arahant fruition. Eventually, she has to come out of it and eat. If anything, it’s unsatisfactory because of that. The same applies to the cessation of perception and feeling.

I think cessation of perception and feeling is superior happiness compared to fruition absorption because there’s no feeling in the former. Feeling is an aggregate and is also seen as inherently dukkha by the arahant.

Parinibbāna is like cessation of perception and feeling, except it’s not impermanent. And the physical body died in parinibbāna.

Many eternalists like to attach to this fruition absorption of arahant as the same thing after the death of arahant. And here I have shown that there are 2 “things” that are better than it.

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Thank you Venerable

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During the process of attaining the object of the lokuttara cittas is nibbana, and then there is reviewing - it all happens in a split second. After that there are sense-door processes and mind door processes and bhavanga citta in between: just like what is happening now with all of us. The difference is that for the arahat all defilements are uprooted so the mind-door process during the javana moments is kiriya citta - unlike with us where they are either kusala or akusala.

Thus the processes continue> But because they are without any avijja or tanha - which are the fuel for this long burning fire, it slowly burns out until all that is left is cold embers: khandha parinibbana.

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Thanks, that’s interesting, but I’m not sure what your answer to my question is.During parinibbana and the end of aggregates, is there anything? if so, how does the arahant apprehend this thing after parinibbana?

Khandha parinibbana is cessation - as you said ‘the end of the khandhas’.
The fire has been extinguished.
There is no more apprehension of anything .

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Okay, so let me get this straight:

  • you think that “nibbana without residue is really something”
  • you reject the idea that “nibbana without residue is only a cessation, a non-existence” ;
  • you think that “one who has attained nibbana without residue is completely dead, lifeless, non-existent, destroyed”.
  • you reject the idea that “one who has attained nibbana without residue still exists”.

I don’t remember that quote, are you sure it wasn’t someone else?

Anyway it is worth thinking about it.

“One who attained…”
In reality is there actually a ‘one who attains’, an arahat?

The answer is ‘arahat’ is only a designation, a useful conceptual term. ‘Arahat’ as a concept doesn’t have the nature of arising and falling. What is real are only the khandhas and they are arising and ceasing- they are anicca, dukkha, anatta…

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But that’s similar to suicide, isn’t it? That is, I know that nothing is a Self and therefore the Theravada school doesn’t encourage the destruction of the Self, but it still seems to encourage suicide in the sense that it encourages beings to self-destruct (it encourages minds to destroy their constituents, the 5 aggregates).

Suicide is an aversion to present life suffering. The arahants have eradicated aversion. Yes, ultimately the only alternative to samsara is not to be in samsara, not to be reborn. It’s the final death. To be in samsara is to suffer. To not be in samsara is to be free from suffering.

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