Dependent Origination

Dependent Origination of all Phenomena

If, whenever perceiving a visual object, a sound, odour, taste, bodily impression, or a mind-object, the object is pleasant, one is attracted; and if unpleasant, one is repelled.

Thus, whatever kind of ‘Feeling’ (vedana) one experiences—pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent—if one approves of, and cherishes the feeling, and clings to it, then while doing so, lust springs up; but lust for feelings means ‘Clinging’ (upadana), and on clinging depends the (present) ‘process of Becoming’; on the process of becoming (bhava; here kamma-bhava, Karma-process) depends (future) ‘Birth’ (jati); and dependent on birth are ‘Decay and Death’, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering. (From Majjhima Nikāya, 38)

The formula of the Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppada) of which only some of the twelve links have been mentioned in the preceding passage, may be regarded as a detailed explanation of the Second Truth. (From Nyantiloka)

Source: Nyanatiloka (compiler, translator). The Word of the Buddha: An Outline of the Teaching of the Buddha in the Words of the Pali Canon. 14th edition. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1967. (Page 20)

Dependent Origination

The twelve links of Dependent Origination are as follows:

On Ignorance (avijja) depend the ‘Karma-formations’ (sankhara).

On the Karma-formations depends ‘Consciousness’
(viññana; starting with rebirth-consciousness in the womb of the mother).

On Consciousness depends the ‘Mental and Physical Existence’ (nama-rupa).

On the mental and physical existence depend the ‘Six Sense-Organs’
(sal -ayatana).

On the six sense-organs depends ‘Sensorial Impression’ (phassa).

On sensorial impression depends ‘Feeling’ (vedana).

On feeling depends ‘Craving’ (tanha).

On craving depends ‘Clinging’ (upadana).

On clinging depends the ‘Process of Becoming’ (bhava).

On the process of becoming (here: kamma-bhava, or karma-process) depends ‘Rebirth’ (jati).

On rebirth depend ‘Decay and Death’ (jara-marana), sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

Thus arises this whole mass of suffering. This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering. (Samyutta Nikāya, XII. 1)

“No god, no Brahma can be called
The maker of this wheel of life:
Empty phenomena roll on,
Dependent on conditions all.”
(Quoted in Visuddhi-Magga XIX).

A disciple, however, in whom Ignorance (avijj ) has disappeared and wisdom arisen, such a disciple heaps up neither meritorious, nor demeritorious, nor imperturbable Karma-formations. (Samyutta Nikāya, XII. 51)

The term sankhara has been rendered here by ‘Karma Formations’ because, in the context of the Dependent Origination, it refers to karmically wholesome and unwholesome volition (cetana), or volitional activity, in short, Karma.

The threefold division of it, given in the preceding passage, comprises karmic activity in all spheres of existence, or planes of consciousness. The ‘meritorious karma-formations’ extend also to the Fine-Material Sphere (rupavacara), while the ‘imperturbable karma-formations’ (aneñjabhisankhara) refer only to the Immaterial Sphere (arupavacara).

Thus, through the entire fading away and extinction of this ‘Ignorance’, the ‘Karma-formations’ are extinguished. Through the extinction of Karma-formations, ‘Consciousness’ (rebirth) is extinguished.

Through the extinction of consciousness, the ‘Mental and Physical Existence’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of the mental and physical existence, the ‘Six Sense-Organs’ are extinguished. Through the extinction of the six sense-organs, ‘Sensorial Impression’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of sensorial impression, ‘Feeling’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of feeling, ‘Craving’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of craving, ‘Clinging’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of clinging, the ‘Process of Becoming’ is extinguished.

Through the extinction of the process of becoming, ‘Rebirth’ is extinguished. Through the extinction of rebirth, ‘Decay and Death’, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are extinguished.

Thus takes place the extinction of this whole mass of suffering. This is called the noble truth of the extinction of suffering. (Samyutta Nikāya, XII. 1)

Rebirth-Producing Karma

Truly, because beings, obstructed by ignorance (avijj ) and ensnared by craving (tanh ) seek ever fresh delight, now here, now there, therefore fresh rebirth continually comes to be. (Majjhima Nikāya, 43)

And the action (kamma) that is done out of greed, hatred and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha), that springs from them, has its source and origin in them: this action ripens wherever one is reborn, and wherever this action ripens there one experiences the fruits of this action, be it in this life, or the next life, or in some future life. (Anguttara-Nikaya, III. 33)

Cessation of Karma

However, through the fading away of ignorance, through the arising of wisdom, through the extinction of craving, no future rebirth takes place again. (From Majjhima Nikāya, 43)

For the actions which are not done out of greed, hatred and delusion, which have not sprung from them, which have not their source and origin in them: such actions, through the absence of greed, hatred and delusion, are abandoned, rooted out, like a palm-tree torn out of the soil, destroyed, and not able to spring up again. (Anguttara-Nikaya, III. 33)

In this respect one may rightly say of me: that I teach annihilation, that I propound my doctrine for the purpose of annihilation, and that I herein train my disciples; for certainly I do teach annihilation—the annihilation, namely, of greed, hatred and delusion, as well as of the manifold evil andunwholesome things. (Anguttara-Nikaya, VIII. 12)

The Paticca Samuppada, lit, the Dependent Origination, is the doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and mental phenomena, a doctrine which, together with that of Impersonality (anatta), forms the indispensable condition for the real understanding and realization of the Buddha’s teaching.

It shows that the various physical and mental life-processes, conventionally called personality, man, animal, etc., are not a mere play of blind chance, but the outcome of causes and conditions.

Above all, the Paticca-Samuppada explains how the arising of rebirth and suffering is dependent upon conditions; and, in its second part, it shows how, through the removal of these conditions, all suffering must disappear. Hence, the Paticca-Samuppada serves to elucidate the second and the third Noble Truths, by explaining them from their very foundations upwards, and giving them a fixed philosophical form.

The following diagram shows at a glance how the twelve links of the formula extend over three consecutive existences, past, present, and future:

Past
Existence
  1. Ignorance (avijja)
  2. Karma-Formations
    (sankhara)
Karma Process
(kamma-bhava)
5 causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10
Present
Existence 

 

 

  1. Consciousness
    (vinnana)
  2. Mental and Physical
    Existence (nama-rupa)
  3. Six Sense Organs
    (sal-ayatana)
  4. Sense-Impression
    (phassa)
  5. Feeling (vedana)
Rebirth-Process
(upapatti-bhava)
5 results: 3-7
  1. Craving (tanha)
  2. Clinging (upadana)
  3. Process of Existence
    (bhava)
Karma Process
(kamma-bhava)
5 causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10
Future
Existence
11. Rebirth (jati)
12. Decay and Death
(jara-marana)
Rebirth-Process
(upapatti-bhava)
5 results: 3-7

The links 1-2, together with 8-10, represent the Karma-Process, containing the five karmic causes of rebirth.

The links 3-7, together with 11-12, represent the Rebirth-Process, containing the five Karma-Results.

Accordingly it is said in the Patisambhida-Magga:

Five causes were there in past,
Five fruits we find in present life.
Five causes do we now produce,
Five fruits we reap in future life.
(Quoted in Visuddhi-Magga XVII)

Source: Nyanatiloka (compiler, translator). The Word of the Buddha: An Outline of the Teaching of the Buddha in the Words of the Pali Canon. 14th edition. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1967. (Pages 30-46)

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