'dependent origination', is the
doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and psychical phenomena, a
doctrine which, together with that of impersonality (anattā), forms
the indispensable condition for the real understanding and realization of the
teaching of the Buddha. It shows the conditionality and dependent nature of that
uninterrupted flux of manifold physical and psychical phenomena of existence
conventionally called the ego, or man, or animal, etc.
Whereas the doctrine of impersonality, or anattā,
proceeds analytically, by splitting existence up into the ultimate constituent
parts, into mere empty, unsubstantial phenomena or elements, the doctrine of
dependent origination, on the other hand, proceeds synthetically, by showing
that all these phenomena are, in some way or other, conditionally related with
each other. In fact, the entire Abhidhamma Pitaka, as a whole, treats really of
nothing but just these two doctrines: phenomenality - implying impersonality and
conditionality of all existence. The former or analytical method is applied in
Dhammasangani, the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka; the latter or
synthetical method, in Patthāna, the last book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. For a
synopsis of these two works, s. Guide I and VII.
Though this subject has been very frequently treated by
Western authors, by far most of them have completely misunderstood the true
meaning and purpose of the doctrine of dependent origination, and even the 12
terms themselves have often been rendered wrongly.
The formula of dependent origination runs as follows:
- 1. Avijiā-paccayā sankhārā: "Through ignorance
are conditioned the sankhāras," i.e. the rebirth-producing intentions (cetanā),
or 'karma-constructions' .
- 2. Sankhāra-paccayā viññānam: "Through the
karma-constructions (in the past life) is conditioned consciousness (in the
- 3. Viññāna-paccayā nāma-rūpam: "Through
consciousness are conditioned the mental and physical phenomena (nāma-rūpa),"
i.e. that which makes up our so-called individual existence.
- 4. Nāma-rūpa-paccayā salāyatanam: "Through the
mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the 6 bases," i.e. the 5
physical sense-organs, and consciousness as the sixth.
- 5. Salāyatana-paccayā phasso: "Through the six
bases is conditioned the (sensorial mental) contact."
- 6. Phassa-paccayā vedanā: "Through the
contact is conditioned feeling."
- 7. Vedanā-paccayā tanhā: "Through feeling is
- 8. Tanhā-paccayā upādānam: "Through craving is
- 9. Upādāna-paccayā bhavo: "Through clinging is
conditioned the process of becoming," consisting in the active and the
passive life process, i.e. the rebirth-producing karma-process (kamma-bhava) and, as its result, the rebirth-process (upapatti-bhava).
- 10. Bhava-paccayā jāti: "Through the
(rebirth-producing karma-) process of becoming is conditioned rebirth."
- 11. Jāti-paccayā jarāmaranam, etc.: "Through
rebirth are conditioned old age and death (sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief
and despair). Thus arises this whole mass of suffering again in the
The following diagram shows the relationship of dependence
between three successive lives:
- 1 Ignorance (avijjā)
- 2 Karma-constructions (sankhārā)
- Karma-Process (kammabhava)
- 5 causes: 1,2,8,9,10
- 3 Consciousness (viññāna)
- 4 Mind & Matter (nāma-rūpa)
- 5 Six Bases (āyatana)
- 6 contact (phassa)
- 7 Feeling (vedanā)
5 results: 3-7
- 8 Craving (tanhā)
- 10 Process of Becoming (bhava)
- Karma-Process (kammabhava)
- 5 causes: 1,2,8,9,10
- 11 Rebirth (jāti)
- 12 Old Age and Death (jarā-marana)
- Rebirth-Process (upapattibhava)
- 5 results: 3-7
Before taking up the study of the following exposition, it is
suggested that the reader first goes thoroughly through the article on the 24
conditions (s. paccaya). For a thorough understanding of the paticcasamuppāda
he should know the main modes of conditioning, as decisive support, co-nascence,
For a closer study of the subject should be consulted:
- Fund. III;
- Guide (Ch. VII and Appendix);
- Dependent Origination, by Piyadassi Thera (WHEEL 15);
- The Significance of Dependent Origination (WHEEL 140).
(1.) "Through ignorance are conditioned the
karma-constructions" (avijjā-paccayā sankhārā), i.e. all advantageous
and disadvantageous actions (karma) of body, speech and mind, are conditioned
through ignorance. By 'karma-constructions' are meant karmically advantageous and
disadvantageous intentions (cetanā), or intentional activities, in short karma
(q.v., and Fund. II).
In view of the many misconceptions current in the West, it is
necessary to repeat here that karma, as a technical term, never signifies
anything but moral or immoral action, i.e. the above mentioned intentional
activities, or karma-constructions, as either causing results in the present life
or being the causes of future destiny and rebirth. Thus karma, as a
philosophical term, never means the result of action, as often wrongly conceived
by Western authors.
Now, in what way are the karma-constructions conditioned through
ignorance? As concerns the disadvantageous karma-constructions associated with greed,
hate or delusion (lobha, dosa, moha), these are always and in all
circumstances, conditioned through the simultaneous ignorance inseparably
associated therewith. Thus, ignorance is for the disadvantageous karma-constructions a
condition by way of conascence (sahajāta-paccaya), association (sampayutta-paccaya),
presence (atthi-paccaya), etc. Ignorance further may be for them a
condition by way of decisive support or inducement (upanissaya-paccaya), if,
for instance, ignorance coupled with greed induces a man to commit evil deeds,
such as killing, stealing, unlawful sexual intercourse, etc. In these cases,
therefore, ignorance is a 'natural decisive suppport' or 'direct inducement' (pakati-upanissaya-paccaya).
It also may become an indirect inducement, by way of object (ārammanūpanissaya-paccaya)
of our thinking. This takes place, if, for example, someone remembers a former
state of ignorance combined with sensual enjoyment, and in doing so karmically
disadvantageous states spring up, such as sensual desire, grief, etc.
For the advantageous (kusala) karma-constructions, ignorance
can only be a condition by way of decisive support (upanissaya), never by
way of co-nascence (sahajāta), etc., since advantageous consciousness at
that very moment, of course, cannot be associated with any disadvantageous
phenomenon, such as ignorance. Ignorance is a 'natural decisive support' or
'direct inducement' (pakatupanissaya), for example, if, induced by
ignorance and vanity, one exerts oneself to attain the absorptions, and thus
finally, through perseverance, reaches these advantageous states of mind. Ignorance
may also be for advantageous karma-constructions a 'decisive support' or 'inducement
by way of object' (ārammanūpanissaya), if, for example, one reflects on
ignorance as the root of all misery in the world, and thus finally attains
insight and entrance into one of the 4 supermundane paths of holiness.
For ignorance, s. avijjā; for karma-constructions, s.
(2.) "Through the karma-constructions is conditioned
consciousness" (sankhāra-paccayā viññānam). This proposition
teaches that the advantageous and disadvantageous karma-constructions are the causes of
future rebirth in an appropriate sphere (gati). The karma-constructions of
the previous life condition the budding in a new mother's womb of a fresh
psycho-physical aggregation of the 5 groups of existence (s. khandha), which
here are represented by consciousness (viññāna). All such
karma-resultant (vipāka) consciousness, however, such as
eye-consciousness (seeing), etc., as well as all the mental phenomena associated
therewith (feeling, etc.), are karmically neutral. It should be understood that
already from the very first moment of conception in the mother's womb, this
karma resultant consciousness of the embryonic being is functioning.
Against Dr. Paul Dahlke's misconception of the paticcasamuppāda
as "one single karmical moment of personal experience," and of the
'simultaneity' of all the 12 links of this formula, I should like to state here
distinctly that the interpretation of the p. given here as comprising 3
successive lives not only agrees with all the different schools of Buddhism and
all the ancient commentaries, but also is fully identical with the explanations
given already in the canonical suttas. Thus, for example, it is said verbatim in
Nidāna-Samyutta (S. XII, 51): "Once ignorance (1) and clinging (9) are
extinguished, neither karmically meritorious, nor demeritorious, nor
imperturbable karma-constructions (2=10) are produced, and thus no consciousness
(3=11) will spring up again in a new mother's womb." And further:
"For, if consciousness were not to appear in the mother's womb, would in
that case mentality and materiality (4) arise?" Cf. above diagram.
The purpose of the Buddha in teaching the p. was to
show to suffering mankind how, depending on ignorance and delusion, this present
existence and suffering has come about, and how through extinction of ignorance,
and of the craving and clinging conditioned thereby, no more rebirth will
follow, and thus the standstill of the process of existence will have been
realized and therewith the extinction of all suffering.
(3.) "Through consciousness are conditioned materiality
and mentality" (viññāna-paccayā nāma-rūpani). This proposition
implies that without consciousness there can be no mental and physical process
of existence. By mentality (nāma) is here to be understood the
karma-resultant (vipāka) mental phenomena, such as feeling (vedanā),
perception (saññā), intention (cetanā: non-karmical intention is
here meant), consciousness-contact (phassa), advertence (manasikāra)
(M. 9; S. XII, 2). For the basic 7 mental phenomena inseparably associated with
every state of consciousness, s. nāma. By materiality (rūpa) is
meant the 4 physical elements (s. dhātu) and the materiality dependent
thereon (s. khandha, I).
Mentality is always conditioned through consciousness; i.e.
consciousness (viññāna) is for mentality (nāma) a condition by
way of conascence (sahajāta), mutuality (aññamañña),
association (sampayutta), etc., since the 4 mental groups at all times
form an inseparable unit.
Consciousness (viññāna) is for materiality (rūpa)
a condition by way of co-nascence only at the moment of conception, thereafter a
condition by way of post-nascence (pacchājāta-paccaya; paccaya 11) and
nutriment (āhāra), i.e. as a support. Just as the repeatedly arising
hunger is a condition and support for the pre-arisen body, so is the
consciousness arising afterwards a condition and support for the maintenance of
this pre-arisen body.
(4.) "Through mentality and materiality are conditioned
the 6 bases (nāma-rūpa paccayā salāyatanam). The 6 bases are a name
for the 5 physical sense-organs and, as 6th, the mind-base (manāyatana), i.e.
Mentality (nāma; s. 3) is for the 5 physical bases (āyatana),
or sense-organs, a condition by way of post-nascence. Cf. end of 3.
Mentality (nāma), i.e. feeling. etc., is for the 6th
base, or consciousness - as being always inseparably associated therewith a
condition by way of co-nascence. etc.
materiality (rūpa), here the 4 elements, are for the
5 physical bases (āyatana), or sense-organs, a condition by way of
materiality (rūpa), here the 5 physical
sense-organs, are for the 6th base (āyatana), i.e. consciousness, a
condition by way of support and pre-nascence (purejāta-paccaya).
(5.) "Through the 6 bases is conditioned the (sensorial
and mental) contact" (salāyatana-paccayā phasso), for without
the 5 physical bases, or sense-organs, there can be no sense-contacts; and
without the 6th base, or consciousness, there can be no mental contact.
Thus, the 5 physical bases, eye, etc., are for the
corresponding 5 sense-contacts (visual contact, etc.) a condition by way
of support (nissaya) and pre-nascence (purejāta), whereas the
6th, the mind-base (consciousness), is for the mental contact a condition by
way of co-nascence, association, mutuality, etc.
(6.) "Through contact is conditioned feeling" (phassa-paccayā
vedanā), i.e. the sensorial and the mental contacts are for the feeling
associated therewith a condition by way of co-nascence, association, mutuality,
(7.) "Through feeling is conditioned craving" (vedanā-paccayā
tanhā). Any (karma-resultant) feeling, whether agreeable, disagreeable or
neutral, bodily or mental, past or expected, may become for craving a condition
of decisive support by way of object (ārammanūpanissaya). Even
physically and mentally painful feeling may, through the desire to be released
there from, become for craving a condition of decisive support by way of object (ārammanupanissaya).
(8.) "Through craving is conditioned clinging" (tanhā-paccayā
upādānam). 'Clinging' is explained as an intensified form of craving. It
is of 4 kinds:
- (1) clinging to sensuality,
- (2) to erroneous views,
- (3) to rules
- (4) to personality-belief.
Sensuous craving is to (1) a condition of
natural decisive support (pakatupanissaya). For (2-4), craving is a
condition by way of co-nascence, mutuality, root (hetu), etc. It also may
be a condition of natural decisive support. For example, through craving for
heavenly rebirth, etc. people often may be induced to cling to certain rules and
rituals, with the hope of reaching thereby the object of their desires.
(9.) "Through clinging is conditioned the process of
becoming" (upādāna-paccayā bhavo), i.e. the advantageous and
disadvantageous active karma-process of becoming (kamma-bhava), as well as the
karma-resultant (vipāka) passive process, the so-called
'rebirth-process' (upapatti-bhava). The karma-process (kammabhava) comprises
the 5 karmical causes: ignorance, karma-constructions, craving, clinging,
karma-process (s. 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, of the diagram); the rebirth-process (upapatti-bhava)
comprises the 5 karma-results (s. 3-7 of the diagram).
The karma-process is here, correctly speaking, a collective
name for generative karmic intention (kamma-cetanā) and all the mental
phenomena associated therewith, whilst the 2nd link (karma-constructions)
designates only karmic intention (s. Āyūhana). Both, however, i.e. the
2nd and 10th proposition, practically state one and the same thing, namely, that
karma is the cause of rebirth, as we shall see under 10.
Clinging (upādāna) may be an inducement of decisive
support (upanissaya) to many kinds of advantageous and disadvantageous karma.
Sensuous clinging (kāmūpādāna), i.e. clinging to sensuous objects,
for example, may be a direct inducement to murder, theft, unlawful intercourse
with the other sex, evil words and thoughts, etc. Clinging to rules and ritual (sīlabbatūpādāna)
may lead to self-complacency, fanaticism, cruelty, etc. Clinging is also for the
evil karma associated therewith, a condition by way of co-nascence, association,
(10.) "Through the process of becoming is conditioned
rebirth" (bhava-paccayā jāti), i.e. through the advantageous and
disadvantageous karma-process (kamma-bhava) is conditioned the
rebirth-process (upapatti-bhava). The 2nd and 10th propositions, as
already pointed out, practically teach one and the same thing, namely, that
karma is the cause of rebirth; in other words, that the karmical intention (cetanā)
is the seed out of which springs the new life, just as from the mango-seed is
generated the new mango-tree.
Hence, the 5 karmical causes (ignorance, etc.) of the past
birth are the condition for the karma-results of the present birth; and the 5
karmical causes of the present birth are the condition for the 5 karma-results
of the next birth (s. diagram). As it is said in Vis.M. XVII:
- "Five causes were there in the past,
- Five fruits we find in present life;
- Five causes do we now produce,
- Five fruits we reap in future life."
Now, just as in this process of continually changing mental
and bodily phenomena, nothing can be found that would pass from one moment to
the next moment, so also there is no enduring entity, ego, or personality,
within this process of existence that would transmigrate from one life to the
next (s. nāma-rūpa, anattā, patisandhi, khandha). "No being and
no living soul passed from the former life to this life, and yet this present
embryo could not have entered into existence without the preceding causes"
(Vis.M. XVII). "Many things may serve to illustrate this fact, as for
example the echo, the light of a lamp, the contact of a seal, or the image
produced by a mirror" (ib.).
"Whosoever is in the dark with regard to the
conditionally arisen things, and does not understand that karma originates from
ignorance, etc., he thinks that it must be his ego that knows or does not know,
acts and causes to act, and that arises at rebirth. Or he thinks that the atoms,
or a creator, with the help of this embryonic process, must have formed this
body, or that it is the ego endowed with abilities that has contacts, feels,
desires, clings, continues and enters again into existence in a new birth. Or he
thinks that all beings have been born through fate, or fortuitously" (Vis.M.
Now, on hearing that Buddhism teaches that everything
whatever in the world is determined by conditions some might come to the
conclusion that Buddhism teaches some sort of fatalism, and that man has no free
will, or that will is not free.
The problem 'whether man has a free will' does not exist for,
the Buddhist, since he knows that, apart from these ever-changing mental and
physical phenomena, no such entity as 'man' can be found, and that 'man' is
merely a name not relating to any reality. And the question, 'whether will is
free', must be rejected for the reason that 'will', or intention, is a mental
phenomenon flashing forth only for a moment, and that as such it had not any
existence at the preceding moment. For of a thing which is not, or is not yet,
one cannot, properly speaking, ask whether it is free or un-free. The only
admissible question would be whether the arising of 'will' is independent of
conditions, or whether it is conditioned. But the same question would equally
apply also to all the other mental phenomena, as well as to all physical
phenomena, in other words: to everything and every occurrence whatever. And the
answer would be: whether will arises, or whether feeling arises, or whether any
other mental or any physical phenomenon arises, the arising of anything
whatsoever is dependent on conditions, and without conditions nothing ever can
arise or enter into existence.
According to Buddhism, everything mental or physical happens
in accordance with laws and conditions; and if it were otherwise, chaos and
blind chance would reign. But such a thing is impossible and contradicts all
laws of thinking. Cf. Fund. III (end).
(11.) "Through rebirth are conditioned old age and
death" (jātipaccayā jarā-maranam). Without birth there can be no
old age and death, no suffering and misery. Thus rebirth is to old age and
death, etc. a condition by way of decisive support (upanissaya).
The Buddha has said (D.15): "Profound, Ananda. is this
dependent origination, and profound does it appear. It is through not
understanding, not penetrating, this law that this world resembles a tangled
ball of thread, a bird's nest, a thicket of sedge or reed, and that man does not
escape from the lower states of existence, from the course of woe and perdition,
suffering from the round of rebirth." And further (M. 28): 'Whoso
understands the dependent origination understands the Dhamma; and whoso
understands the Dhamma understands the dependent origination."