Meaning of 'unconditioned' in the context of meditation or Buddhism
January 28, 2016 11:45 AM   Subscribe

In English-language writing on meditation, I've come across the term 'unconditioned'. What does it mean in that context?
posted by Paquda to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your authentic pure essence, prior to any social, cultural, familial influences. Your true self. "Your original face before your mother was born."
posted by Sir Rinse at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Probably it refers to a notion of direct experience, unmediated by the intellect and its categories and preconceptions.
posted by thelonius at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like how Stephen Batchelor puts it, when he is reconfiguring the four noble truths into four tasks: "One embraces dukkha, that is whatever situation life presents, lets go of the grasping that arises in reaction to it, stops reacting, so that one can act unconditioned by reactivity." We can see the conditioned as a long unbroken chain of cause and effect, and the unconditioned as being beyond that chain, unlinked to it, beyond history, being free of that chain.

Ajahn Sumedho said, "if you strip any religion down to its very basic essence, you will find that it is pointing to where the mortal, the conditioned and time-bound, ceases. In that cessation is the realisation and the understanding of the Unconditioned."
posted by mittens at 12:34 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a term, sankhara, which is often translated as "conditioned things" - anything subject to the three conditions of existence (impermanence, suffering, and no-self), i.e., all matter and thought. The precise theology of that term is a little beyond me. However, in a meditation context, you might see the word "unconditioned" used to refer to the joy that arises from prolonged concentration, which seems to exist independent of any cause.

I've also seen The Unconditioned with a capital U used as a synonym for enlightenment.
posted by theodolite at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Independent" is probably a good synonym. Something unconditioned would have no causative conditions. So it would be free from the laws of cause & effect, ie karma. I can't think of anything that meets that criteria, but that's how I would interpret it.
posted by Gilbert at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2016

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