Nidana is a Sanskrit word (from ni = down, into + the verbal root da = to bind). It means 'chain of causation,' and is attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. It has two specific meanings within Buddhism. The more common use refers to the Twelve nidanas or "a concatenation of cause and effect", which is the cycle of rebirth as described by Gautama upon which a re-becoming is thought by Buddhists to rest, which is also called the twelve links of 'dependent origination'.
The term is also less commonly used with reference to the jhanas or stages of Buddhist meditation. Though they are both chains of causation, the Twelve nidanas of samsara are regarded by Buddhists as driving beings helplessly by the force of karma, into successive rebirths, based upon ignorance, while the nidana of the jhanas, by contrast, is driven by the force of spiritual practice and is thus under an individual's control. In this sense, they are opposites of each other, like ladders, one leading 'down' into incarnational life and the other leading 'up' towards nirvana.
Regarding this second type of nidana, as the western Buddhist, Sangharakshita so ably puts it: "in dependence on rapture arises tranquillity. In dependence on tranquillity arises bliss. In dependence on bliss arises samadhi. These four Nidanas: rapture, tranquillity, bliss, samadhi, represent the process of what we usually call meditation. Meditation, that is to say, in the sense of an actual experience of higher states of consciousness, not meditation just in the sense of preliminary concentration." This latter sequence of 'positive nidanas' represents a definite progression and is also regarded as a chain of causation, not a negative one, of bondage and attachment, but one that leads to freedom.
As a Buddhist says, "through our actions we create the world in which we live, through our actions we may purify ourselves, free ourselves of our delusions and make ourselves able to truly act for the welfare of all beings." Equally, we are at liberty through bad actions and the force of karma to create cycles of endless rebirths.
- http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/snapshot05.htm Basic Buddhism: Dependent Origination
- http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/texts/lecturetexts/download/139_The_Taste_of_Freedom.pdf, Lecture 139, The Taste of Freedom
- http://www.urbandharma.org/udnl3/nl062904.html The Urban Dharma Newsletter, June 29, 2004