Is Nibbana Conditioned?
Revised: Tuesday, February 05, 2013 7:06 AM
and again: Saturday, October 18, 2014 6:32 AM to note that the use of the idea 'work of the self' is to be understood as speaking conventionally, not to imply an eternal self there doing this.
There is a big debate over whether or not Nibbana is 'conditioned'.
In English in the precise wording that needs to be used in order to see and understand this issue, independant from the Pali, and from the beginning:
'Being', 'existing', 'a living being', 'living', by definition, starts at the conjunction of consciousness with named form. Where there is no conjunction of consciousness with named form there cannot be said to be any 'being' there.
This conjunction of consciousness with named form is called own-making, con-founding (the 'founding with one' of some thing), or con-juration (the raising up of a thing by the 'joining of one with' some thing).
This own-making itself arises as a repercussion of blindness. Hence it is not the 'fabrication' or 'conditioning' or 'causing' of being or consciousness by some external force. It is the work of the self and is the projection of self, through action, into a future consciousness of self in connection with the experience of experience, that is, the perception of consciousness conjoined to named forms.
Nibbana is attained at such a time as having seen the point where the perception of sense experience ends, the knowledge arises that this very experience (seeing, perception, insight) is constructed by one's self (own-made) and is subject to change and is let go.
The result is complete and utter detachment from every existing thing whatsoever. If, while experiencing this experience of the freedom of utter detachment one realizes that this is the freedom one has been seeking, then one may say one has eliminated blindness, ended own-making, and has attained Nibbana.
One can now see that according to the terminology just used, one can say that the attaining of Nibbana is conditioned but that it is not own-made.
The Debate — introducing the Pali terminology — and how translation of such is causing the misunderstanding
The problem is a consequence of mis-translating 'saŋkhāra' as 'conditioning'
[Rhys Davids, e.g.: DN 34 3s DN 33.1.2 n. 11, where he also translates āhāra, 'food', as 'condition']; Acharya Buddharakkhita [Maggavagga: The Path]; Nyanaponika Thera [Seeing Things as They Are]; Bhk. Bodhi [Anicca Vata Sankhara Numerical Discourses, Ones #268,269]; Bhk. Thanissaro [The Not-self Strategy]; ...
which is confusing the idea of conditions with personalized construction.
Additionally, 'fabrication' [Bhk. Thanissaro], 'constructions' [Horner, Punnaji], 'formations' [Bhks. Nanamoli, Bodhi, Soma Thera] while not being incorrect translations do not clearly indicate that what is being spoken of is something that is being made into the personal by the individual or has become as a consequence of having been made personal by an individual.
Nibbana is conditined in the sense that it is a result of having followed the Magga, but it is not a thing that is experienced as personal or is an 'identified-with' state. It is not 'own-made' because it is a result of not own-making.
Nibbana is un-sankaramed, its attainment is not said to be without anticedent conditions.
The Paṭicca Samuppada describes the process of 'conditioning', 'causing' 'creating the dependant or requisite conditions for', or the things downbound to which result in the repercussion known as existence. The escape from the process is not a matter of 'doing' but of 'not doing'.
Downbound blindness repercusses bound up with own-making; downbound own-making repercusses bound up with consciousness; downbound consciousness repercusses bound up with nama/rupa ... and the rest.
By the elimination of blindness, which is the elimination of the fact of not seeing this process, there is no repercussion bound up with own-making; by the elimination of own-making there is no repercussion bound up with consciousness; by the elimination of consciousness there is no repercussion bound up with nama/rupa ... and the rest with the end result being Nibbana.
Nibbana is conditioned by not doing own-making; it is not own-made but it is conditioned.
Saŋkhārā [saŋ = own, con, com, co, with; khārā making] Own-making, co-founding, confounding in the sense of founded with, conjuration in the sense of the joining together of this and that, you and the world, identified-with consciousness with nama/rupa. This term is a near-synonym for 'kamma', but is applied to the personal. It is, like 'kamma', two-sided. [Which is why Mrs. Rhys Davids' translation as 'activities' [SN 2 12 1] is incorrect: it is only one-sided.] It is the identification with the intent to produce experience of existing through acts of body, speech, and mind, and it is the identified-with result of that action. The term selected for its translation should clearly point to its nature as the force of personalization. This will clearly separate it from the process of 'conditioning' or 'causing'.
For those who consider 'own-making' awkword, consider AN 3.32 and the following ahaŋkāra-mamaŋkāra. (I-making; mine-making); and also: SN 2.18.21 note 3.
Nidana [ni = down; dana = given] downbound, tied up with or in. The word is the word used for the first knot tied in the weaving process hence its use as the introduction to 'weaving' a spell (sutta). Later only does it become 'foundation,' 'basis,' 'cause,' 'condition'.
Paṭicca Repercussion. Result. Rebound. The Paṭicca Samuppada does not imply 'cause', it describes mechanism of action, process, the result in 'this' of the presence of 'that'.
Dhātu This is our word 'data'. It should probably be left at that. Turning it into 'element' turns it into an object rather than a piece of information. Characteristic, or attribute would be better; 'element' works if thought of as 'aspect'.
Some quotes that bear on the discussion:
The Three Characteristics
Sabbe saŋkhārā aniccā||
Sabbe saŋkhārā dukkhā||
Sabbe dhammā anattā.|| ||
All own-made: unstable
All own-made: painful
All things: not-self.
Translating saŋkhārā as 'own-making' we can understand the meaning to be that by letting go of own-making, and the idea of 'self' 'attā' the goal of escape from pain is accomplished. There is no need to read an implication of an 'actual' existing everlasting Nibbana in the change in terms from saŋkhārā to dhammā.
The Buddha's last words:
Handa dani bhikkhave amantayami vo:||
"Vaya-dhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadethati."|| ||
There you are, then, Beggars! I craft this counsel for you:
The own-made is a flighty thing, I say
get yourselves out of this sputtering madness! — Olds
We hear: "All conditioned things come to an end." or "Transient are all conditioned things."
'All conditioned things are inconstant' — Bhk. Thanissaro
Cases where 'conditioned' is used by translators for saŋkhārā that then use the same terms or the like for 'nidana'. The source of the confusion.
Dvi imā, Ānanda, dhātuyo: Saŋkhatā ca dhātu asaŋkhatā ca dhātu.|| ||
Horner: There are these two elements, Ananda, the element that is constructed and the element that is unconstructed.
Ms. Horner footnotes that 'constructed' is saṁkhata and states that it is understood to be a synonym for the five khandhā and that the 'unconstructed' is a synonym for Nibbana. Understanding that the khandhā delimit 'existence, and translating saṁkhata as 'own-making' and 'dhatu' as 'characteristic' makes the statement clear:
There are these two 'characteristics': the characteristic that is own-made and the characteristic that is not own-made.
Bhk. Bodhi has written an essay (without citations) that fuels much of the discussion on the Internet:
Bhk. Bodhi: "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."
There is no justification here for understanding the term 'dhamma' as signifying anything more than the place-holder term which is in English 'thing'. "Of all things, own-made or not own-made, the most excellent thing, the supreme thing is Nibbana." That "Dhamma" signifies 'actual realities' as opposed to conceptual things is not a distinction found in the suttas.
Bhk. Bodhi: 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.
Here again we need to ask why when the khandhā are clearly identified with the delimiting of an existing conscious being, the term for making this existing thing, which is understood to be being made by a person [Downbound blindness repercusses bound up in own-making] is given an impersonal translation, 'conditioning', that is misleading.
Bhk. Bodhi: 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.
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.
Here is the perfect example of the confusion over this issue. Yes Nibbana is attained by the practice of the path and that does make it something conditioned. No it is not something sankharamed or comes to be through, or is identified with, the personal. Bhk. Bodhi's solution is to claim for Nibbana an everlasting existence. This is not supported by anything in the suttas and enters the discussion of existence versus non-existence which is a matter of point of view which is something the Buddha's system consistantly avoides due to its nature as a source of contention. And right here we have a good example of how that works.
 Try a Google search for: Is Nibbana Conditioned
"Ettāvatā kho Ānanda jāyetha vā jīyetha vā mīyetha vā cavetha vā upapajjetha vā, ettāvatā adhivacana-patho, ettāvatā nirutti-patho, ettāvatā paññatti-patho, ettāvatā paññāvacaraɱ, ettāvatā vaṭṭaɱ vattati, itthattaɱ paññapanāya, yadidaɱ nāma-rūpaɱ saha viññāṇena [aññamaññaɱ paccayatāya vattati].' ti."|| ||
— DN 15 § 22
To this extent only, Ananda, is there birth, aging, death, disappearance and reappearance; to this extent is there verbal expression; to this extent is there getting to the root; to this extent is there knowing; to this extent is there scope for discriminating and drawing distinctions; to this extent is there this run'n round showing up as some sort of being this at some place of being at ... that is to say: only just as far as mentality/materiality with recognition. [Ed.: Named form with consciousness]
— DN 15 § 22
 Bhk. Bodhi claims support for his point of view in mention that:
The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as an 'ayatana'. This means realm, plane or sphere. It is a sphere where there is nothing at all that correspond to our mundane experience, and therefore it has to be described by way of negations as the negation of all the limited and determinate qualities of conditioned things.
The term 'ayatana' is not restricted to the description of a physical realm, plane or sphere. It can be realm, as in the realm of the senses, sphere as in sphere of influence. There is nothing in this term that requires of Nibbana that it be an 'actual' thing in some 'actual' place. Nibbana is described in negative terms precisesly because it is not an actual thing.
The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as a, 'Dhatu' an element, the 'deathless element'. He compares the element of Nibbana to an ocean. He says that just as the great ocean remains at the same level no matter how much water pours into it from the rivers, without increase or decrease, so the Nibbana element remains the same, no matter whether many or few people attain Nibbana.
Neither the term 'dhatu' [see above definition] nor the simile of the level of the ocean require that Nibbana be an 'actual' thing.
He also speaks of Nibbana as something that can be experienced by the body, an experience that is so vivid, so powerful, that it can be described as "touching the deathless element with one's own body."
That a thing can be experienced by the body does not require that it be an 'actual' thing. Love is experienced by the body. The relief of freedom from disease or danger can be experienced by the body and neither of these things are 'actual' things.
The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as a 'state' ('pada') as 'amatapada' - the deathless state - or accutapada, the imperishable state.
'Pada' doesn't mean 'state'. It literally means 'foot' and comes down to 'path' or way. The deathless way. The imperishable way. Terms that do not imply an 'actual' thing.
Another word used by the Buddha to refer to Nibbana is 'Sacca', which means 'truth', an existing reality. This refers to Nibbana as the truth, a reality that the Noble ones have known through direct experience.
Although 'sacca' does mean 'truth' or 'a true thing', and can be applied to Nibbana to mean that the Nibbana is an attainable thing, not a false trail, that does not translate to 'an 'actual' thing' or 'a thing existing in reality' i.e., visible, tangible, object.
So all these terms, considered as a whole, clearly establish that Nibbana is an actual reality and not the mere destruction of defilements or the cessation of existence.
I say no, all these terms, considered as a whole or in part do not establish any such thing.
see also: What is 2?
Don Juan's Table
KD.UD.1-7: Aja, Bhk. Thanissaro, trans., footnote 1
Understanding the nature of Nibbana
What I will try and do below is to describe the issue of understanding the concept of Nibbana or the synonym for Nibbana: viññāṇa anidassana, dealing individually with the various arguments put forth concering its nature. This results in a certain amount of reduncancy as each approach requires at least a partial explanation of concepts vital to other approaches. The reader is asked to employ his patience and indulge me in this.
The discussion is a debate about the nature of the experience of Nibbana.
The debate swings back and forth concerning whether or not Nibbana exists or does not exist as a type of consciousness.
Dvayaṃnissito khvayaṃ Kaccāyana loko yebhuyyena atthitañ c'eva n'atthitañ ca.
Well, as to this, Kaccayana, the world is mostly split,
adhering to 'this exists'
or to 'this exists not'.
— SN 2.12.15
The debate hinges on the misunderstandings created by the mis-translation and conflation of 'sankhara' and 'paccaya' as per the previous part of this discussion. In addition it turns on having overlooked the definition given to the idea of existence made by Gotama.
The definition given to the idea of 'being' or 'existing' is the single most important thing to grasp when trying to understand this debate: Gotama has put a meaning on the term 'existence' which is hard to hear (grasp).
Gotama is saying that it is only in-so-far-as
there is a conjunction of named shape with consciousness,
that there can be said to be an existing thing, or living being.
He has defined 'existence' as an experience limited to living beings.
To this extent only, Ananda,
is there birth,
disappearance and reappearance —
to this extent is there verbal expression —
to this extent is there getting to the root —
to this extent is there knowing —
to this extent is there scope
for discriminating and drawing distinctions —
to this extent is there this run'n-round
showing up as some sort of being 'this'
at some place of being 'at' —
that is to say:
only just as far as named-form with consciousness.
— DN 15
Bhk. Bodhi in The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p309: AN 3.76 and 77.
"Bhante, it is said: 'existence, existence.' In what way, Bhante, is there existence?'
"If, Ananda, there were no kamma ripening in the sensory realm, would sense-sphere existence be discerned?"
Thus, Ananda, for beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, kamma is the field, consciousness is the seed, and craving the moisture for their consciousness to be established in an inferior realm. In this way there is the production of renewed existence in the future.
If, Ananda, there were no kamma ripening in the form realm, would form-sphere existence be discerned?"
If Ananda, there were no kamma ripening in the formless realm, would formless-sphere existence be discerned?
...superior realm ...
It is in this way, Ananda, that there is existence.
Bhk. Bodhi footnotes: What is meant is a concrete state of individual existence in one of the three realms. Nibbana is called bhavanirodha, the cessation of individual existence.
bhavanirodha. Is 'existence-extinction' (ended, gone, kaput) the distinction is that to say 'the cessation of individual existence' in this way is to allow that there is existence other than individual existence. This is an assumption that must be avoided. Take the translation, chuck the interpretation.
Those discussing this issue are for the most part debating the existence or non-existence of Nibbana, or Nibbana as consciousness, using their pre-conceived notion of what existence is and consequently cannot conceive of something as possible to construct outside of experience cognizable by an individual.
With the correct translation of the terms 'sankhara' and 'paccaya' and an understanding of the limited scope of the meaning of the term 'existence' in Gotama's system, the nature of the experience of the Arahant, that is, Nibbana, can be understood.
Going to the beginning of the Paticca Samuppada we see:
Downbound blindness rebounds bound up in sankharaming
[sankharaming = 'own-making', or if you wish 'confounding' or even 'fabrication'
— but 'confounding' does not convey well the idea that the 'con' there means 'co' or 'with' meaning 'with you',
Bhk. Thanissaro's 'fabrication' leaves out the aspect of personalization involved in this term except by implication: someone must fabricate;
Mrs. Rhys Davids and Ms. Horner's 'activities' ignores the aspect of sankhara that is contained in the word 'khara', 'to make', —
but using 'conditioning' for 'sankhara' is an unequivocal translation error.]
own-making rebounds bound up in consciousness
consciousness rebounds bound up in named form
named form rebounds bound up in consciousness
consciousness rebounds bound up in the six-sense experiences
and so on down to the end result in Pain.
So it is blindness to the end result in pain that supports own-making;
own-making which is setting the ball rolling to the point where consciousness conjoins (conjures) named form —
and this is the beginning point of 'existence,' or 'being'.
In other words, own-making creates that which exists — that which exists is own-made.
In other words, if it has not been own-made, it is not said to exist.
This is substantially different than the understanding of the meaning of 'existing' as it is held by most people here today [USA Monday, December 24, 2012 6:16 AM] where it is believed by most
[but not by all! There is a branch of Quantum Physics which holds that a thing only exists upon its being observed,
they say there is 'potential existence',
in these terms, Gotama is saying that there is existence of non-existent existence:
'There is being unborn, un own-made ...'
that exists in potentiality
(the conditions for its arising must be made to become)
that is a consciousness of consciousness free from consciousness bound to named shapes]
that things can exist independant of a living observer.
This special, limited definition of 'existing' needs to be burned into your understanding of the issue.
Now we come to the proposition that whatsoever has been own-made [sankharamed!] comes to an end and results in pain and that by following the Ariya Atthangika Magga there is an end of pain.
At this point it is reasonable following Gotama's Dhamma to say that consciousness of an existing object always comes to an end.
'All sankharamed things are impermanent and painful.'
What is not reasonable from this,
remembering Gotama's definition of 'existing',
is to say that therefore consciousness always comes to an end.
If there were a consciousness that was not bound to nama rupa,
separating as it were the 'limbs' laden with mangos from the mango tree,
that would no longer be subject to the rule that all own-made things come to an end —
it would have broken the condition that qualified it as an own-made, existing thing.
And it is exactly this separation that is conditioned by following the Ariya Atthangika Magga. That is a consciousness that has not been conditioned by own-making, it has been conditioned by not own-making!
Following the Ariya Atthangika Magga is dealing with intentional actions such that the only intentional actions that are taken are intentions to end kamma. Not-doings, letting's go, moving on by a process of elimination.
For example: When an unpleasant sensation arises and the impulse is to act in some way to escape the unpleasant sensation one consciously avoids taking any action that manifests individuality: Seeing it as a threat to one's existence (seeing it that way is not High View), intending for it to be destroyed, using lies to escape it, acting to destroy it and so forth.
Gradually, following the Magga, that which has been the habit of creating that which manifests self in the world is warn away.
When that which manifests self in the world is warn away it is warn away with every action where the intent was to end kamma.
With every 'not doing' there results the potentiality of consciousness of freedom from the consequences that would have resulted from 'doing'.
It's only a 'potentiality' because it can be overlooked or not noticed at all or its implications may not be understood.
The experience of freedom from the consequences of an act
is the experience of the sensation which is
and that [DN 22] is a tiny taste of Nibbana.
You can see and experience Nibbana for yourself in this temporary way and by so seeing and experiencing you can see that it is a consciousness of consciousness of freedom from consciousness connected to named form —
its object is not an existing thing,
it has arisen in dependence on the not-doing of something so it is 'conditioned',
but it has not arisen as a consequence of the intent to create experience of existence for an individual,
so it is not own-made,
not identified with an individual.
It is not 'born' in the sense that having no named form as its object it has not come into existence.
When that which manifests self is completely warn away that is complete Nibbana [pari-Nibbana]. Consciousness of consciousness completely free from any consciousness of named form.
Imagine having burn't your hand in a fire. Then imagine yourself some time later after your hand has healed standing before a fire. And then imagine some fellow comes along saying: "Hello Good Friend! I have discovered a wonderful pleasure! Sticking one's hand in a fire, results in happiness, long life, wealth, fame and power!"
What do you think?
Would you stick your hand again in the fire based on the word of that man who is only speaking from having heard reports or who is, you can see for yourself, in his pain, simply mistaking pain for pleasure?
Now stop and reflect on the object of your consciousness at this point.
On the one hand you have the vivid memory [Sati] of the pain of having had your hand burnt in the fire.
On the other hand there is present in your consciousness the knowledge that because you thoroughly understand the consequences of putting your hand in the fire you will not do that again for as long, at least, as memory lasts.
There is present there a consciousness of freedom from the pain of having your hand burned by sticking it into a fire.
Consciousness of freedom from pain.
Consciousness of freedom from pain is consciousness that does not have an existing thing as its object.
And you have taken it one very imporant step further: you have become conscious of this consciousness free from consciousness of the consequences of putting your hand in the fire.
Consciousness of consciousness of freedom from consciousness connected to named form.
This consciousness has been conditioned by nama-rupa in the sense that it is the result of consciousness of being free from a consciousness of a named object. Without the original consciousness of a named object it would not have arisen.
This satisfies Gotamas statement that consciousness arises in dependence on named form.
One little instance of this freedom is subject to being forgotten or not even noticed. Developed, made into an habitual practice per samma ajiva:
Identifying an element of one's lifestyle that is clearly seen by one's self as low, harmful, detrimental to one's self or others one abandons it, lets it go, drops it, renounces it, restrains it, eradicates it.
it becomes known to the individual as a feasible alternative to 'existing'.
At the point where individuality has been completely removed through the abandoning of acts which create existing —
which is described in absolutely reduced terms as having eliminated
the corrupting influence of indulging in pleasure,
the corrupting influence of being any sort of being in any place of being,
and the corrupting influence of blindness to the way things end when they have become existing things
[aka The Cattari Ariya Sakkani, The Four Aristocratic Truths] —
making one's self conscious of this,
one must go one step further
and recognize that this is the state of freedom from Pain
that is what one has been seeking.
If this condition is not seen as freedom,
then one is deluding one's self that the corrupting influences have been completely eradicated.
If this condition is seen as freedom:
In freedom, seeing freedom, one is free and one knows:
Being re-born is a thing of the past
Finished is living as Brahma [God]
Done is what should have been done
There is no more: beyond. [or, sometimes: 'here or beyond']
There is no more being any kind of an it at any place of at-ness.
Consciousness of consciousness free from consciousness with an existing thing as its object.
Not annihilation. What is annihilated is the own-made.
Not: No Consciousness — no consciousness as an individual; no sense-consciousness. Not: No experienc — no sense-experience. Not: No Perception — no sense-perception.
Not: Having attained an awakened consciousness — having made possible, by eradicating own-making, the conditions necessary for consciousness of an awakened consciousness.
Aside from the confusion caused by not understanding the boundaries put on the idea of existence by Gotama, confusion surrounding this issue originates with the mis-translation of the term: sankhara as 'conditioned' as per the discussion that begins this thread.
This mis-translation causes a problem because Gotama states in no uncertain terms that
all consciousness arises as a consequence of conditions
all sankharamed things come to an end.
If the two terms are both translated as 'conditioned',
there can be no arriving at a
'consciousness without an existing thing as an object'
where it can then be said that that consciousness
is not something that exists or will not come to an end.
Because Gotama states clearly that that which is sankharamed comes to an end.
Therefore translating sankharamed as 'conditioned',
knowing that this 'conscousness without an existing thing as an object'
was definately conditined by following the Magga,
we are forced to say that this consciousness,
because it is conditioned,
must come to an end.
But the term, when it is being said that consciousness is always conditioned [MN 38] is:
"sankharasamuppannaɱ". [I just made that word up! It's not a Pali word!]
Where it is being said that that which is own-made comes to an end the term is "sankhara", not "paticca".
Where it is said in the Paṭicca Smuppada that Saŋkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ what is being taught is the arising and ending of the own-made In this case one factor of which is the arising and ending of the own-made consciousness. The Paticca Samuppada is itself conditioned by its aim: to determine the mechanism of arising and ending of Pain, not the nature of Nibbana or the nature of the freedom resulting from the ending of Pain. These are two different discussions.
In this place it is not being said that 'all' consciousness arises as a consequence of own-making. Only that consciousness arises as a consequence of own-making. This is entirely consistent with the precision in speech always used by Gotama. What is said is said in terms that directly serve the meaning of the topic under discussion. Any extrapolation made from that use needs to be confirmed by additional examples. Here in our ordinary world we can understand this in the simple proposition that although the ground may be made wet by the rain, it may also be made wet by a man or a dog or a horse ...
To summarize to this point:
There is consciousness of consciousness not connected to consciousness with named form that is conditioned by the following of the Magga.
That consciousness is Nibbana, or Vinnana Anidassana (invisible consciousness, or not-down-seen consciousness).
Saying that this consciousness is conditioned by following the Magga is the same thing as saying that consciousness is conditioned by named form. It meets that requirement.
That in this case the resulting consciousness cannot be said to be an existing thing,
because it is not a consciousness that has been own-made but has arisen as a consequence, or in dependence on, not own-making.
Because this consciousness cannot be said to be an existing thing it cannot be said to be a thing that can pass out of existence.
So then the question may arise:
(although it should not, but will, in one who has not seen with consummate wisdom the arising and ending of the world as it actually is — that is, via own-making)
How is this consciousness sustained? How does it become: 'The Deathless'? Not a thing of 'Time.' Not subject to Ending?
For Gotama has said,
and we have allowed,
that consciousness is conditioned —
By what condition, then, is it supported?
First off, 'sustained' is really a misconceived question in this case.
This consciousness has freedom from consciousness of existing things as its object.
Consequently as long as there is no descending into existence [own-making] there is no limit to this freedom.
Freedom has no boundaries.
Consciousness of that is not therefore limited by Time and therefore needs no sustenance.
But nevertheless it may be said that it is freedom-fed, or freedom-sustained consciousness.
'This is it!
This is the culmination!
That is, the calming of all own-making,
the resolution of all involvements,
the withering away of thirst,
— AN 11.7
Now at this point what can be seen is the error in the position that this consciousness is a thing which is always there and must simply be attained.
This is the idea of Bodhi Mind as described by the Mahayanists and now by some world-oriented Theravadan bhikkhus. This is unfortunate because a simple translation of 'Bodhi Mind' as 'The Awakened Mind' would be a good term to have.
This Nibbana, this unseen consciousness is conditioned. It is dependent on an individual walking the Magga, eliminating the corrupting influences.
It does not 'exist.' It does not have an independent existence out there for everyone all the time which only needs to be attained. It is not attained: something that is 'attained' is something that is 'attained by so and so'. It is not 'awakened to': something that is awakened to is something that is awakened to by so-and so. It is what results when manifestation of self is ended. It is the consciousness of the awakened mind.
In a word: to describe Nibbana as being a thing that is always there and is to be attained is to describe it as existing, a consciousness bound to a named form: The Bodhi Mind. This would just be another way of describing the consciousness of an individual, or self. It would, by the definition of existence, be subject to Time and ending.
So what we have said is that the speculation as to the nature of Nibbana as an existing thing or as a non-existing thing is to not have understood the point of sammā diṭṭhi, or high view, in its function of rising above the discussion of existence and non-existence which is making it impossible to see the boundaries of existence that would allow for it to be said that Nibbana is conditioned but because it has not been own-made, cannot be said to exist and because it cannot be said to exist, it cannot be said to pass out of existence, and because it has been conditioned it cannot be said to have been or to be there always and only needs to be attained.
Bhikkhu Sujato guides a discussion of Vinnana Anidassana "Nibbana is not viññaṇa. Really, it just isn't."
I suggest that the board be read because most of the usual stands on this issue are present there as is the twisting and contortion that results from trying to understand this idea while picking and choosing what to accept of what is stated by Gotama in the suttas, relying on past authority, and holding on to notions and theories emanating 'from personal experience based on contact' [DN 1 conclusion].
As well as being a good sample of how this idea is debated today, it is also a good example of the likely way this was being discussed in the Buddha's time.
See also: Viññāṇa Anidassana For a selection of articles providing further resources.
For a sutta discussing the error of thinking that consciousness is a continuing thing and for Bhk. Thanissaro's understanding of the various nature of consciousness see:
AN 1: Panihita vagga On the directed and clear mind.
 And sn03.22.53, Woodward: "Were a man, brethren, to declare thus: "Apart from body, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from the activities, I will show forth the coming or the going or the decease or the rebirth of consciousness, or the growth or the increase or the abundance of consciousness" --to do that were impossible.
If lust for body, brethren, is abandoned by a brother, by that abandonment of lust its foothold is cut off. Thereby there is no platform for consciousness.
Likewiise as regards feeling, perception, the activities . . . So also, brethren, if lust for the consciousness-element be abandoned by a brother, by that abandonment of lust its foothold is cut off. Thereby there is no platform for consciousness.
Without that platform consciousness has no growth, it generates no action and is freed..."
The same passage by Warren:
"It is impossible, O priests, for any one to say that he can declare either the coming, or the going, or the passing out of an existence, or the springing up into an existence, or the growth, or the increase, or the development of consciousness  apart from form, apart from sensation, apart from perception, apart from the predispositions.
"If passion for form, O priests, is abandoned, then through the abandonment of passion the support is cut off, and there is no resting-place for consciousness. If passion for sensation, . . . for perception, . . . for the predispositions is abandoned, then through the abandonment of passion the support is cut off, and there is no resting-place for consciousness.
"When that consciousness has no resting-place, does not increase, and no longer accumulates karma, it becomes free; and when it is free, it becomes quiet; and when it is quiet, it is blissful; and when it is blissful, it is not agitated; and when it is not agitated, it attains Nirvana in its own person; and it knows that rebirth is exhausted, that it has lived the holy life, that it has done what it behooved it to do, and that it is no more for this world."
Acharya Buddharakkhita [Maggavagga: The Path];
Nyanaponika Thera [Seeing Things as They Are];
Bhk. Bodhi [Anicca Vata Sankhara Numerical Discourses, Ones #268,269];
Bhk. Thanissaro [The Not-self Strategy]
SN 2 12 1 Rhys Davids
AN 3.32 The Pali
DN 15 § 22 The Pali
DN 15 § 22 Olds
KD.UD.1-7: Aja, Bhk. Thanissaro, trans., footnote 1
DN 15 'Extent' Olds
DN 34 3s Rhys Davids
AN 3.76 and 77.
AN 3.71-80 The Pali
DN 22 Olds translation
MN 38 The Pali
— AN 11.7 Olds translation
DN 1, Olds translation, conclusion
MN.038 Bhk Thanissaro translation n2
AN 1: Panihita vagga
AN 7.16, 17
SN 3.22.28 Note the description of Nibbana here as 'dwelling with a heart (center/mind) out of the flow, unyoked, let loose, made without boundry-lines.' nissaṭā visaññuttā vippamuttā vimariyādi-katena cetasā viharantī.
[SN 2.21.2] For those who object to my translation of 'saŋkhāra' as 'own-making' note the presence in this sutta of the terms 'ahiŋkāra' and 'mamaŋkāra': 'I-making' and 'My-making.' If these, why not 'own-making'? The reason, of course is simply the weight of the tradition of past translations and academic authority over common sense.
Added Sunday, August 14, 2016 11:50 AM
At SN 3.22.96-97-98 the Buddha says:
"N'atthi kho bhikkhu, kiñci viññāṇaɱ yaɱ viññāṇaɱ niccaɱ||
avipariṇāma-dhammaɱ sassatisamaɱ tath'eva ṭhassati."|| ||
There is no consciousness that is stable, true, eternal,
an unswayable eternal thing, such as will stick fast."
And at SN 3.22.53 He says:
[... patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa na hoti.]|| ||
Tad appatiṭṭaṭhitaɱ viññāṇaɱ avirūḷhaɱ anabhisaŋkhārañ ca vimuttaɱ,||
santusitattā na paritassati aparitassaɱ paccattaññ eva parinibbāyati:|| ||
'Khīṇā jāti ...|| ||
[If beggars, a beggar has let go of lust for the characteristic of consciousness with lust let go, there is no foothold for the sticking of consciousness.]
without even a miniscule foothold for sticking:
without on-going own-making and free;
stuck on its own-freedom;
stuck on its own self-contentment;
with its own self-contentment not unsatisfied;
in and of itself thoroughly cool:
'Left behind is rebirth ...'
Bhikkhu Thanissaro: Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it is steady. Owing to its steadiness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated.
Bhikkhu Bodhi: "When that consciousness is unestablished, not coming to growth, nongenerative, it is liberated. By being liberated, it is steady; by being steady, it is content; by being content, he is not agitated.
Woodward: Without that platform consciousness has no growth, it generates no action and is freed: by freedom it is steady: by its steadiness it is happy: owing to happiness it is not troubled.
How is this apparent contradiction to be resolved?
I think the complication rests on the translation of 'atthi' as 'is' ("is there?") rather than 'exists' ("does there exist?" Translating in this way we can call in the Buddha's definition of 'existing' as that which has not been sankaram-ed, or has not come into existence through contact with named form, or been experienced through the senses and we can set up the contrast between these suttas as follows:
Does there exist any consciousness that is stable?
No there does not exist any consciousness that is stable.
Consciousness that has not been own-made, that has not been fueled by lust for form, sense-experience, perception, own-making or consciousness, has not come into existence, is un-stuck, stuck only on freedom from being stuck, and is a name for Nibbana.
See also: Discussion of SN 3.22.53
The Four Sticking-Points of Consciousness
Consciousness, bound up in any one of these four rolls on to further own-made existence subject to ending.
Consciousness, freed from lust, anger and blindness concerned with any of The Five Stockpiles is not bound up in any of these Four Sticking-Points and is free, it is disconnected from own-making, it is, as it were, 'stuck' on freedom, thus stuck it is happy, healed, well, and is aware that rebirth has been left behind, the holy life has been lived, duty's doing has been done and there is no more being any sort of an 'it' at any place of 'atness'.
—SN 3.22.53 and SN 3.22.54
There could hardly be a clearer statement that Consciousness, when freed of the āsavas, is another name for Nibbāna. That this consciousness cannot be said to have existence, and is not 'pinned down' explains the much-debated term: 'Viññāṇa Anidassana', another term for Nibbāna.
See also: MN.25 The Buddha provides a complex simile illustrating by way of a herd of deer and a crop of corn set up to trap it the relationship of the arahant to the realm of the senses.
Following the allegory in this sutta would have us understand that, in the non-identified-with state of arahantship, the arahant may, even after death, still have at least awareness of the world. He makes his 'residence' the states of mind between the first jhana and the ending of experience of sense perception, again, not depending on any of these for identification, and makes use of these states and the sense faculties — the five senses are being made use of by the fourth group, though not to the point of wiggling those sticks!
If this sounds like herasy to you, then you need to bring to mind two other aspects of the Dhamma which dove-tail with it and explain them all in some other way. What two? The so called 'unseen consciousness', (vinnana anidassana), and the three 'visions' of the arahant (see for example MN 4 and many others) (which include knowing past lives and knowing the outcome of deeds, both of which involve perceptions of the world.) Nowhere does it say that these two visions and this sort of consciousness are lost in the state of arahantship at death. In fact what it does say is: "And, monks, as a man might be bound in a prison, but after a time might be freed from those bonds, safe and sound, and with no loss of his property," (MN 39).
In SN 3.22.54 The Buddha explains that shape, sense-experience, perception, own-making and consciousness are, like the five means for the propagation of plants, the five means for the propagation of consciousness. Shapes, sense-experience, perception, and own-making are like the earth. Delight is like water. By eliminating delight in shapes, sense-experience, perception and own-making, consciousness is not propagated and when not propagated it is set free.
Woodward has made an error speaking here of consciousness as 'caused'. What is spoken of in the Pali is 'food'. If consciousness is caused by these things, then by their elimination, consciousness is eliminated.
If consciousness is fed by these things, then unfed, it does not propagate, advance into further beings. It is not eliminated. The result is a generation that holds that there is no basis for the idea of consciousness separated from existence.
Here the idea is clearly spelled out: by not taking delight in those things which propagate consciousness, consciousness is freed. Not extinguished, freed.
We need to create in our way of thinking about this the understanding of 'existence' as being intimately tied up with the individual. That which has been 'own-made.' When all forms of consciousness associated with the concepts of individuality are extinguished, there remains consciousness free of those things.
Today there are, as a result of this idea of cause, people who will fight this idea tooth and nail. For the sake of your sanity, read this carefully!