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Translations of
English dependent origination,
dependent arising,
interdependent co-arising,
conditioned arising,
Pali पटिच्चसमुप्पाद
Sanskrit प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद
(IAST: pratītyasamutpāda)
Bengali প্রতীত্যসমুৎপাদ
Burmese ပဋိစ္စ သမုပ္ပါဒ်
IPA: [bədeiʔsa̰ θəmouʔpaʔ]
Chinese 緣起
Japanese 縁起
(rōmaji: engi)
Sinhalese පටිච්චසමුප්පාද
Tibetan རྟེན་ཅིང་འབྲེ

(Wylie: rten cing 'brel bar
'byung ba
THL: ten-ching drelwar
Thai ปฏิจจสมุปบาท
Glossary of Buddhism

Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: पटिच्चसमुप्पाद paṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, is the principle that all dharmas ("phenomena") arise in dependence upon other dharmas: "if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist". The principle is applied in the twelve links of dependent origination doctrine in Buddhism, which describes the chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha (suffering). By breaking the chain, liberation from suffering can be attained. Additionally, one could be seen to reach a level of consciousness associated with ascendance.[1] Everything except nirvana (nibbana) is conditioned by Pratītyasamutpāda, asserts Buddhism. This principle complements its teachings of anicca and anatta.[2]

Etymology and meaning[edit]

Pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद) consists of two terms:

  • pratitya: "having depended";[3] it appears in various Vedas and Upanishads, such as hymns 4.5.14, 7.68.6 of the Rigveda and 19.49.8 of Atharvaveda, in the sense of "confirmation, dependence, acknowledge origin".[4][5] The Sanskrit root of the word is prati* whose forms appear more extensively in the Vedic literature, and it means "to go towards, go back, come back, to approach" with the connotation of "observe, learn, convince oneself of the truth of anything, be certain of, believe, give credence, recognize". In other contexts, a related term pratiti* means "going towards, approaching, insight into anything".[5]
  • samutpada: "arising",[3] "rise, production, origin"[web 1] In Vedic literature, it means "spring up together, arise, come to pass, occur, effect, form, produce, originate".[6]

The term has been translated into English variously as dependent origination, dependent arising, interdependent co-arising, conditioned arising, and conditioned genesis.[7][8][note 1]

The term may also refer to the Twelve Nidānas, the twelvefold chain that describes the chain of endless rebirth in Saṃsāra (Buddhism).[quote 2] Generally speaking, in the Mahayana tradition, pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit) is used to refer to the general principle of interdependent causation, whereas in the Theravada tradition, paticcasamuppāda (Pali) is used to refer to the twelve nidanas.

According to Alex Wayman, the idea of "dependent origination" may precede the birth of the Buddha, and the first four causal links starting with Avidya in the Twelve Nidanas are found in cosmic development theory of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and other older Vedic texts.[13][14] Terms synonymous to Pratītyasamutpāda are Apekṣhasamutpāda and Prāpyasamutpāda.[15]

Conditioned causality, not Newtonian causality[edit]

The concept of causality and causal efficacy where "cause produces an effect because a property or svadha (energy) is inherent in something", appears extensively in the Indian thought in the Vedic literature of the 2nd millennium BCE, such as the 10th mandala of the Rigveda and the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas.[16][note 2] The Pratityasamutpada doctrine is an extension of this, however pratityasamutpada doctrine asserts neither direct Newtonian-like causality nor a single causality. Rather, it asserts an indirect conditioned causality and a plural causality.[19][20]

Buddhist thought, states Gethin, does not understand causality in terms of Newtonian mechanics, where "billiard balls rebound off each other in an entirely predictable manner once the relevant information is gathered".[19] The "causal link" propositions in Buddhism is very different from the idea of causality that developed in Europe.[21][22] Instead, the concept of causality in Buddhism is referring to conditions created by a plurality of causes that necessarily co-originate phenomena within and across lifetimes, such as karma in one life creating conditions that lead to rebirth in one of realms of existence for another lifetime.[23][24][25]

Dependent origination[edit]

According to Peter Harvey, Pratityasamutpada is an ontological principle; that is, a theory to explain the nature and relations of being, becoming, existence and ultimate reality. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing independent, except the state of nirvana.[8] All physical and mental states depend on and arise from other pre-existing states, and in turn from them arise other dependent states while they cease.[26] The 'dependent arisings' have a causal conditioning, and thus Pratityasamutpada is the Buddhist belief that causality is the basis of ontology, not a creator God nor the ontological Vedic concept called universal Self (Brahman) nor any other 'transcendent creative principle'.[27][28]

He who sees the Paṭiccasamuppāda sees the Dhamma;
He who sees the Dhamma sees the Paṭiccasamuppāda.

Majjhima Nikaya 1.190, Translated by David Williams[29]

The Pratītyasamutpāda principle asserts that the dependent origination is necessary and sufficient condition in both directions. This is expressed in Majjhima Nikaya as "When this is, that is; This arising, that arises; When this is not, that is not; This ceasing, that ceases."[30][31]

The Pratītyasamutpāda ontological principle in Buddhism is applied not only to explain the nature and existence of matter and empirically observed phenomenon, but also to the nature and existence of life.[32] In abstract form, according to Peter Harvey, "the doctrine states: 'That being, this comes to be; from the arising of that, this arises; that being absent, this is not; from the cessation of that, this ceases'."[8] There is no 'first cause' from which all beings arose.[33]

Against Harvey's ontological interpretation, Eviatar Shulman argues that

"dependent-origination addresses the workings of the mind alone. Dependent-origination should be understood to be no more than an inquiry into the nature of the self (or better, the lack of a self). Viewing pratitya-samutpada as a description of the nature of reality in general means investing the words of the earlier teachings with meanings derived from later Buddhist discourse."[34]

Shulman grants that there are some ontological implications that may be gleaned from dependent origination, but that at its core it is concerned with "identifying the different processes of mental conditioning and describing their relations".[35]

According to Stephen Laumakis, pratītyasamutpāda is also an epistemological principle; that is, a theory about how we gain correct and incorrect knowledge about being, becoming, existence and reality.[36] The 'dependent origination' doctrine, states Peter Harvey, "highlights the Buddhist notion that all apparently substantial entities within the world are in fact wrongly perceived. We live under the illusion that terms such as 'I', self, mountain, tree, etc. denote permanent and stable things. The doctrine teaches this is not so."[37] There is nothing permanent (anicca), nothing substantial, no unique individual self in the nature of becoming and existence (anatta), because everything is a result of "dependent origination".[37][31][38] There are no independent objects and independent subjects, according to the Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine, there is fundamental emptiness in all phenomena and experiences.[36]

Application in Buddhist teachings[edit]

The 'dependent origination' doctrine is presented in Vinaya Pitaka 1.1–2, in abbreviated form in Samyutta Nikaya 2.1, 2.19 and 2.76.[39][40] The doctrine is a key element in other Buddhist teachings.

Four Noble Truths[edit]

The twelve nidanas apply the Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine.

The Four Noble Truths are an expression of the principle of dependent origination, states Bhikkhu Thanissaro, because they explain the arising of dukkha which is dependently originated, and the cessation of dukkha by removing the "causes."[12] Others, such as Étienne Lamotte offer a more nuanced view, stating that only the second and third truths in the Four Noble Truths are related to the principle of dependent origination, the first and the fourth truths are mere statements and do not illustrate or apply pratītyasamutpāda doctrine.[41]

Even in the case of those two truths where dependent origination is applied, the order is different; more specifically, the second truth applies dependent origination in a direct order, while the third truth applies it in inverse order.[41] Thus, the Four Noble Truths and the pratītyasamutpāda doctrines are connected, but independent and separate, not implied.[41][42]

The pratītyasamutpāda doctrine connects the Four Noble Truths to the Twelve Nidanas doctrine of Buddhism, states Ian Harris.[43] The second truth is compatible with the twelve 'dependently originated' links from Avidya to Jaramarana (old-age and death).[43] The third truth is compatible with its reversal, which results from the broken link because of an end to Avidya.[43]

The Twelve Nidanas[edit]

"Nidanas" refers causal events or phenomena which act as links on a chain (ie. they condition and depend on each other), and are used to describe the process of samsaric rebirth and the arising of suffering. In reverse order they also describe the way to liberation from samsara. Each of the links illustrate "dependent origination", and they explain the process of rebirth and the arising of dukkha.[43][web 2] When certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions; these 'conditioned arising' result in the cyclical nature of rebirths and redeaths in Samsara.[44][45][46]

The attainment of nirvana, in Buddhist belief, ends the process of rebirth and associated dukkha. It is achieved by breaking a link in the series of nidanas (links) of conditioned co-arising.[46]

List of the twelve Nidanas[edit]

There are various Nidana lists throughout the Early Buddhist Texts and collections such as the Pali Nikayas, the most common of which is a list of Twelve Nidānas which appears in both Pali texts and Mahayana sutras such as the Salistamba Sutra.

Cause Effect Comments[47][48]
Ignorance - (Avijjā) Constructing activities (any action of body, speech or mind) - (Saṅkhāra)[49] Not knowing suffering, not knowing the origination of suffering, not knowing the cessation of suffering, not knowing the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering: This is called ignorance. It leads to action, or constructing activities.[49]
Constructing activities - (Saṅkhāra)[49] Consciousness (rebirth consciousness) - (Viññāṇa) Any action, whether meritorious or harmful, and whether of body, speech or mind, creates karmic imprint on a being.[49] This includes will (cetana) and planning.[49] It leads to transmigratory consciousness.[49]
Consciousness (rebirth consciousness) - (Viññāṇa) Name-and-form (mentality and corporeality) - (Nāmarūpa) These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness.[47] As seen earlier,[50] consciousness and the organ cannot function without each other.
Name-and-Form (mentality and corporeality) - (Nāmarūpa) Six-fold sense bases - (Saḷāyatana) Feeling,[a] perception,[b] intention,[c] contact, and attention:[d] This is called name (i.e. mentality or mind). The four great elements,[e] and the body dependent on the four great elements: This is called form (i.e. corporeality or body).
Six-fold sense bases - (Saḷāyatana) Contact[50] - (Phassa) The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are the six sense media.
Contact - (Phassa) Feeling - (Vedanā) The coming together of the object, the sense medium and the consciousness of that sense medium[f] is called contact.[g]
Feeling (Sensation) - (Vedanā) Craving - (Taṇhā) Feeling or sensations are of six forms: vision, hearing, olfactory sensation, gustatory sensation, tactile sensation, and intellectual sensation (thought). In general, vedanā refers to the pleasant, unpleasant and/or neutral sensations that occur when our internal sense organs come into contact with external sense objects and the associated consciousness.
Craving - (Taṇhā) Clinging (attachment) - (Upādāna) There are these six forms of cravings: cravings with respect to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touch (massage, sex, pain), and ideas.[h]
Clinging (attachment) - (Upādāna) Becoming (Karmic Force, similar to volitional formations) (Bhava (KamaBhava)) These four are clingings: sensual clinging,[i] view clinging,[j] practice clinging,[k] and self clinging[l]
Becoming (Karmic force, similar to volitional formations) - (Bhava (KammaBhava)) Birth (similar to rebirth consciousness) - (Jāti) These three are becoming: sensual becoming,[m] form becoming,[n] formless becoming[o]
Birth (similar to rebirth consciousness)- (Jāti) Aging, death, and this entire mass of dukkha) - (Jarāmaraṇa) Birth[p] is any coming-to-be or coming-forth. It refers not just to birth at the beginning of a lifetime, but to birth as new person, acquisition of a new status or position etc.

Transcendental Dependent Arising[edit]

Other texts in the Pali Nikayas such as the Upanisa Sutta (SN 12.23) outline a different list of dhammas (phenomena) to explain the process of dependent arising as one transcends suffering by practicing the Buddhist path. According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the importance of the Upanisa Sutta which brings together the 12 Nidanas (as analysis of arising of suffering) and Transcendental Dependent Arising (as analysis of supramundane transcendence of suffering) is that:

In addition to giving a clear, explicit account of the conditional structure of the liberative progression, this sutta has the further advantage of bringing the supramundane form of dependent arising into immediate connection with its familiar samsaric counterpart. By making this connection it brings into prominence the comprehensive character of the principle of conditionality — its ability to support and explain both the process of compulsive involvement which is the origin of suffering and the process of disengagement which leads to deliverance from suffering. Thereby it reveals dependent arising to be the key to the unity and coherence of the Buddha's teaching.[51]

The Pali treatise named the Nettipakarana, names this "transcendental dependent arising" (lokuttara-paticcasamuppada),[52] The Upanisa Sutta outlines the process of transcendental dependent origination as follows

Stages of Transcendental Dependent Arising (according to Upanisa Sutta)
Link Comments [53]
Faith (saddhā) An attitude of trust directed at ultimate liberation and as refuge in the three jewels. The sutta states that "suffering is the supporting condition for faith", thereby linking it with the last nidana in the 12 nidana chain. As Bhikkhu Bodhi explains: "it is the experience of suffering which first tears us out of our blind absorption in the immediacy of temporal being and sets us in search of a way to its transcendence." Faith also comes about through the hearing of the exposition of true Dhamma (teaching). Faith also leads to the practice of morality (sila).
Joy (pāmojja) From confidence in the sources of refuge and contemplation on them, a sense of joy arises
Rapture (pīti) Generally, the application of meditation is needed for the arising of rapture or bliss, though some rare individuals might experience rapture simply from the joy which arises from faith and a clear conscience arising from moral living. The meditative states called jhanas are states of elevated rapture.
Tranquillity (passaddhi) In the higher states of meditation, rapture gives way to a calm sense of tranquility.
Happiness (sukha) A subtler state than rapture, a pleasant feeling.
Concentration (samādhi) "The wholesome unification of the mind", totally free from distractions and unsteadiness.
yathābhūta-ñānadassana "Knowledge and vision of things as they really are". With a peaceful and concentrated mind, one is now able to practice the development of insight (vipassana bhavana), the first phase of which is insight into the nature of the five aggregates. Only pañña, the wisdom which penetrates the true nature of phenomena, can destroy the defilements which keep beings bound to samsara. This wisdom is not mere conceptual understanding, but a kind of direct experience akin to visual perception which sees the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of all phenomena. In Northern Buddhist traditions and Mahayana works, insight into emptiness is further emphasized.
Disenchantment (nibbidā) Noticing the passing away of phenomena, the fact that nothing is stable, reliable or permanent, gives rise to a sense of disenchantment towards them. B. Bodhi: "a conscious act of detachment resulting from a profound noetic discovery. Nibbida signifies in short, the serene, dignified withdrawal from phenomena which supervenes when the illusion of their permanence, pleasure, and selfhood has been shattered by the light of correct knowledge and vision of things as they are."
Dispassion (virāga) The first truly transmundane (lokuttara) stage in the progression. B. Bodhi: "Whatever tends to provoke grasping and adherence is immediately abandoned, whatever tends to create new involvement is left behind. The old urges towards outer extension and accumulation give way to a new urge towards relinquishment as the one clearly perceived way to release."
Freedom (vimutti) Having a twofold aspect: the emancipation from ignorance (paññavimutti) and defilements (cetovimutti) experienced in life, the other is the emancipation from repeated existence attained when passing away. Equivalent with Nibbana.
āsava-khaye-ñāna "Knowledge of destruction of the Asavas". This is a stage termed retrospective cognition or "reviewing knowledge" (paccavekkhana ñana), which reviews and confirms that all defilements have been abandoned. B. Bodhi: "The retrospective cognition of release involves two acts of ascertainment. The first, called the "knowledge of destruction" (khaya ñana), ascertains that all defilements have been abandoned at the root; the second, the "knowledge of non-arising" (anuppade ñana), ascertains that no defilement can ever arise again."


The Karma theory of Buddhism is integrated into its Twelve Nidanas doctrine, and has been extensively commented on by ancient Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna.[54] Karma consists of any intentional action, whether of body or speech or in mind, which can be either advantageous (merit) or disadvantageous (demerit). Both good and bad karma sustain the cycle of samsara (rebirth) and associated dukkha, and both prevent the attainment of nirvana.[55]

According to Nagarjuna, the second causal link (sankhara, motivations) and the tenth causal link (bhava, gestation) are two karmas through which sentient beings trigger seven sufferings identified in the Twelve Nidanas, and from this arises the revolving rebirth cycles.[56]

To be liberated from samsara and dukkha, asserts Buddhism, the 'dependent origination' doctrine implies that the karmic activity must cease.[55] One aspect of this 'causal link breaking' is to destroy the "deeply seated propensities, festering predilections" (asavas) which are karmic causal flow because these lead to rebirth.[55]

Lives of a person[edit]

The Buddhist mechanistic theory of how karma impacts across multiple lives of a being are explained in medieval Buddhist texts by applying the "dependent origination" doctrine on one life of a single person, two lives of a single person, and three lives of a single person.[57] The "three lives" idea was discussed by Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu.[58][59][60]

The first two nidanas, namely ignorance (nescience) and motivation relate to the previous life and forecast the destiny of the person.[58][60] The next five dependent arising links in the Twelve Nidanas, go with the person's present destiny, and condition the present life's existence.[58][60] The next three dependent originations, namely craving, indulgence and gestation foster the fruits of the present destiny, while the eleventh and twelfth nidanas, birth and death destine the next life in Buddhist thought.[58][60][61]

The details of the three lives have historically varied between the Buddhist traditions, but they all accept the rebirth and dependent origination doctrines.[58]

Understanding within the Buddhist traditions[edit]

The Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine, states Mathieu Boisvert, is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism and it may be considered as "the common denominator of all the Buddhist traditions throughout the world, whether Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana".[62]

Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda[edit]

Within the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the twelve nidanas are considered to be the most significant application of the principle of dependent origination.[32] One interpretation holds that the twelve nidanas span three temporal divisions, with the first two nidanas as chains of causation from past lives, the third to the tenth nidanas relate to present life beginning with the descent of consciousness into the womb, and the last two nidanas (birth and death) represent the future lives conditioned by the present causes.[63] These twelve nidanas explain the dependent origination of Skandha (five aggregates).[63] This model is associated with the Theravada scholar Buddhaghosa (c. fifth century AD) of the Sri Lankan Mahavihara tradition and is outlined in his influential Visuddhimagga. Because of his vast influence in the development of Theravada scholasticism, this model has been very influential in the Theravada school. According to Akira Hirakawa and Paul Groner, this "embryological" interpretation which links dependent origination with rebirth was also promoted by the Sarvastivadin school (a north Indian branch of the Sthavira nikāya) as evidenced by the Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu.[64]

Another Theravada interpretation of the twelve links sees them as explaining psychological or phenomenological processes in the present moment. In Buddhaghosa's Sammohavinodani, a commentary to the Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the principle of Dependent Origination is explained as occurring entirely within the space of one mind moment.[65] According to Prayudh Payutto there is material in the Vibhanga which discusses both models, the three lifetimes model and the phenomenological mind moment model.

This thesis is also defended by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa's Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination. In this interpretation, Birth and Death refer not to physical birth and death, but to the birth and death of our self-concept, the "emergence of the ego". According to Buddhadhasa: "dependent arising is a phenomenon that lasts an instant; it is impermanent. Therefore, Birth and Death must be explained as phenomena within the process of dependent arising in everyday life of ordinary people. Right Mindfulness is lost during contacts of the Roots and surroundings. Thereafter, when vexation due to greed, anger, and ignorance is experienced, the ego has already been born. It is considered as one 'birth'".[66]

The Abhidharmakosa also outlines three other models of the 12 links that were used by the Sarvastivada schools apart from the three lifetimes model:[64]

  1. Instantaneous – All 12 links are present in the same instant.
  2. Prolonged – The interdependence and causal relationship of dharmas or phenomenal events arising at different times.
  3. Serial – The causal relationship of the twelve links arising and ceasing in continuous series of moments.

Discussing the three lifetimes model, Alex Wayman states that it is different from the Vajrayana view, because Theravadins denied bardo or an intermediate state between death and rebirth. This denial necessitated placing the first two nidanas of the "dependent origination" chain into the past life.[67] The Tibetan Buddhism tradition allocates the twelve nidanas differently between various lives.[68]


In the Madhyamaka philosophy, to say that an object is "empty" is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. Nāgārjuna equates emptiness with dependent origination in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24.18-19;[69]

Whatever arises dependently

Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.

Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.[70]

In his analysis, svabhāva is somewhat redefined from the Sarvastivada-Vaibhāṣika interpretation to mean: inherent existence or self-characterization. Nagarjuna notably rejected the idea of dharmas containing svabhāva, meaning 'a self-sustaining, permanent, or unchanging identity.' If a dharma was inherently what-it-was from its own side, what need would there be for causes and conditions to bring that object into being? If any object was characterized by 'being-itself,' then it has no need to dependently rely on anything else. Further, such an identity or self-characterization would prevent the process of dependent origination. Inherence would prevent any kind of origination at all, for things would simply always have been, and things would always continue to be. Madhyamaka suggests that uncharacterized mere experiences—with no specific qualities—are designated by conceptual labels, and this brings them into being (See Prasaṅgika Merely Designated Causality). According to Nagarjuna, even the principle of causality itself is dependently originated, and hence it is empty.

Madhyamaka is interpreted in different ways by different traditions. In the Tibetan Gelug school, all dharmas are said to lack any 'inherent' existence, according to the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa in his Ocean of Reasoning.[71]


In the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of dependent origination is considered to be complementary to the concept of emptiness. Specifically, this tradition emphasizes the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness—also known as the relative and absolute aspects of reality:[72]

  • Appearance (relative truth) refers to the concept that all appearances are dependently originated;
  • Emptiness (absolute or ultimate truth) refers to the concept that the "nature" of all phenomena is emptiness—lacking inherent existence.

In Mipham Rinpoche's Beacon of Certainty, this relationship is explained using the metaphor of the reflection of the moon in water.[72] According to this metaphor:[72]

  • The nature of all phenomena is like the reflection of the moon in water—completely lacking inherent existence. However,
  • The appearance of the moon in the water is an expression of dependent origination—the appearance is completely dependent upon causes and conditions.

One of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, emphasized his respect for this relationship as follows:

Though my View is as spacious as the sky,

My actions and respect for cause and effect are as fine as grains of flour.[73]

Sogyal Rinpoche states all things, when seen and understood in their true relation, are not independent but interdependent with all other things. A tree, for example, cannot be isolated from anything else. It has no independent existence, states Rinpoche.[74]

Hua Yen school[edit]

The Huayan school taught the doctrine of the mutual containment and interpenetration of all phenomena, as expressed in Indra's net. One thing contains all other existing things, and all existing things contain that one thing. This philosophy is based in the tradition of the great Madhyamaka scholar Nagarjuna and, more specifically, on the Avatamsaka Sutra. Regarded by D.T. Suzuki as the crowning achievement of Buddhist philosophy, the Avatamsaka Sutra elaborates in great detail on the principal of dependent origination. This sutra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another.


Thich Nhat Hanh states, "Pratitya samutpada is sometimes called the teaching of cause and effect, but that can be misleading, because we usually think of cause and effect as separate entities, with cause always preceding effect, and one cause leading to one effect. According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions... In the sutras, this image is given: "Three cut reeds can stand only by leaning on one another. If you take one away, the other two will fall." In Buddhist texts, one cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else. This is the basis, states Hanh, for the idea that there is no first and only cause, something that does not itself need a cause.[30]

Scholarly interpretations[edit]

Jay L. Garfield states that Mulamadhyamikakarika uses the causal relation to understand the nature of reality, and of our relation to it. This attempt is similar to the use of causation by Hume, Kant, and Schopenhauer as they present their arguments. Nagarjuna uses causation to present his arguments on how one individualizes objects, orders one's experience of the world, and understands agency in the world.[10]

The concept of pratītyasamutpāda has also been compared to Western metaphysics, the study of reality. Schilbrack states that the doctrine of interdependent origination seems to fit the definition of a metaphysical teaching, by questioning whether there is anything at all.[75] Hoffman disagrees, and asserts that pratītyasamutpāda should not be considered a metaphysical doctrine in the strictest sense, since it does not confirm nor deny specific entities or realities.[quote 3]

Noa Ronkin states that while Buddha suspends all views regarding certain metaphysical questions, he is not an anti-metaphysician: nothing in the texts suggests that metaphysical questions are completely meaningless, instead Buddha taught that sentient experience is dependently originated and that whatever is dependently originated is conditioned, impermanent, subject to change, and lacking independent selfhood.[77]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The term pratītyasamutpāda been translated into English as conditioned arising,[8] conditioned genesis,[9] dependent arising,[10][quote 1] dependent co-arising,[12] or dependent origination[web 2]
  2. ^ The pre-Buddhist Vedic era theories on causality mention four types of causality, all of which Buddhism rejected.[17][18] The four Vedic era causality theories in vogue were: [1] sayam katam (attakatam, self causation): this theory posits that there is no external agent (God) necessary for a phenomenon, there is svadha (inner energy) in nature or beings that lead to creative evolution, the cause and the effect are in the essence of the evolute and inseparable (found in the Vedic and particularly Upanishadic proto-Hindu schools); [2] param katam (external causation): posits that something external (God, fate, past karma or purely natural determinism) causes effects (found in materialistic schools like Charvaka, as well as fate-driven schools such as Ajivika); [3] sayam-param katam (internal and external causation): combination of the first two theories of causation (found in some Jainism, theistic proto-Hindu schools); [4] asayam-aparam katam (neither internal nor external causation): this theory denies direct determinism (ahetu) and posits fortuitous origination, asserting everything is a manifestation of a combination of chance (found in some proto-Hindu[clarification needed] schools).[17][18]


  1. ^ The Dalai Lama explains: "In Sanskrit the word for dependent-arising is pratityasamutpada. The word pratitya has three different meanings–meeting, relying, and depending–but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpada means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratityasamutpada is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions."[11]
  2. ^ The Nalanda Translation Committee states: "Pratitya-samutpada is the technical name for the Buddha’s teaching on cause and effect, in which he demonstrated how all situations arise through the coming together of various factors. In the hinayana, it refers in particular to the twelve nidanas, or links in the chain of samsaric becoming."[web 3]
  3. ^ Hoffman states: "Suffice it to emphasize that the doctrine of dependent origination is not a metaphysical doctrine, in the sense that it does not affirm or deny some super-sensible entities or realities; rather, it is a proposition arrived at through an examination and analysis of the world of phenomena ..."[76]
  1. ^ Here it refers to the function of the mind that cognizes feeling.
  2. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that names (recognizes) a feeling as pleasurable, unpleasurable or neutral, depending on what was its original tendency.
  3. ^ This is the faculty of the mind where volitions arise. It is important to note that volition is noted again in the same sequence as a cause of consciousness.
  4. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that can penetrate something, analyze, and objectively observe.
  5. ^ The earth (property of solidity), water (property of liquity), wind (property of motion, energy and gaseousness), fire (property of heat and cold). See also Mahabhuta. In other places in the Pali Canon (DN 33, MN 140 and SN 27.9) we also see two additional elements - the space property and the consciousness property. Space refers to the idea of space that is occupied by any of the other four elements. For example any physical object occupies space and even though that space is not a property of that object itself, the amount of space it occupies is a property of that object and is therefore a derived property of the elements.
  6. ^ Eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, skin-consciousness and mind-consciousness
  7. ^ "...To give another example, it is just like the case of a person in a room who sees many things when he opens the window and looks through it. If it is asked, 'Who is it that sees? Is it the window or the person that actually sees?' the answer is, 'The window does not possess the ability to see; it is only the person who sees.' If it is again asked, 'Will the person be able to see things on the outside without the window (if he is confined to a room without the window or with the window closed)?' the answer will be, 'It is not possible to see things through the wall without the window. One can only see through the window.' Similarly, in the case of seeing, there are two separate realities of the eye and seeing. (So the eye does not have the ability to see without the eye-consciousness. The eye-consciousness itself cannot see anything without the organ.) The eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye, yet there cannot be an act of seeing without the eye. In reality, seeing comes into being depending on the eye. It is now evident that in the body there are only two distinct elements of materiality (eye) and mentality (eye-consciousness) at every moment of seeing. In addition, there is also a third element of materiality — the visual object. Without the visual object there is nothing to be seen..."[50]
  8. ^ As can be seen, sensual cravings result only in sensual clinging, but craving for ideas results in view clinging, practice clinging and self clinging, all of which eventually lead to suffering.
  9. ^ Enjoyment and clinging for music, beauty, sexuality, health, etc.
  10. ^ Clinging for notions and beliefs such as in God, or other cosmological beliefs, political views, economic views, one's own superiority, either due to caste, sex, race, etc., views regarding how things should be, views on being a perfectionist, disciplinarian, libertarian etc.
  11. ^ Clinging for rituals, dressing, rules of cleansing the body etc.
  12. ^ That there is a self consisting of form and is finite, or a self consisting of form but infinite, or a self that is formless but finite, or a self that is formless and infinite.
  13. ^ getting attracted, mesmerized, disgusted
  14. ^ growing older, tall, healthy, weak, becoming a parent or spouse, rich, etc.
  15. ^ annihilation, destruction, suicide, loss of a position etc.
  16. ^ Since without birth no aging, death, or any of the sorrows and disappointments of life would occur, birth is a requisite cause for dukkha. Thus, the complete cessation of dukkha must imply that there is no further birth for the enlightened.


  1. ^ Harvey 1990, p. 54, Quote: "This [doctrine] states the principle of conditionality, that all things, mental and physical, arise and exist due to the presence of certain conditions, and cease once their conditions are removed: nothing (except Nibbana) is independent. The doctrine thus complements the teaching that no permanent, independent self can be found.".
  2. ^ a b Hopkins 1983, p. 163.
  3. ^ ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं ७.६८, Rigveda 7.68.6, Wikisource; Quote: उत त्यद्वां जुरते अश्विना भूच्च्यवानाय प्रतीत्यं हविर्दे । अधि यद्वर्प इतऊति धत्थः ॥६॥
  4. ^ a b Monier Monier-Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 623. 
  5. ^ Monier Monier-Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 1078. 
  6. ^ Lopez 2001, p. 29, Quote: "Dependent origination has two meanings in Buddhist thought. The first refers to the twelvefold sequence of causation... The second meaning of dependent origination is a more general one, the notion that everything comes into existence in dependence on something else. It is this second meaning that Nagarjuna equates with emptiness and the middle way.".
  7. ^ a b c d Harvey 1990, p. 54.
  8. ^ Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle Locations 791-809.
  9. ^ a b Garfield 1994.
  10. ^ Dalai Lama 1992, p. 35.
  11. ^ a b Bhikkhu Thanissaro 2008.
  12. ^ Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 173 with note 16. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  13. ^ Alex Wayman (1971), Buddhist Dependent Origination, History of Religions, Volume 10, Number 3, pages 185-203
  14. ^ Jeffrey Hopkins (2014). Meditation on Emptiness. Wisdom Publications. pp. 148–149. ISBN 978-0-86171-705-7. 
  15. ^ David J. Kalupahana (1975). Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-8248-0298-1. 
  16. ^ a b Florin G. Sutton. Existence and Enlightenment in the Lankavatara-Sutra: A Study in the Ontology and the Epistemology of the Yogacara School of Mahayana Buddhism. State University of New York Press. pp. 270–271. ISBN 978-1-4384-2162-9. 
  17. ^ a b David J. Kalupahana (1975). Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 1–53. ISBN 978-0-8248-0298-1. 
  18. ^ a b Gethin 1998, p. 153.
  19. ^ Ben-Ami Scharfstein (1998). A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant. State University of New York Press. pp. 512–514. ISBN 978-0-7914-3683-7. 
  20. ^ Guy Debrock (2012). Paul B. Scheurer, ed. Newton’s Scientific and Philosophical Legacy. G. Debrock. Springer. pp. 376 with note 12. ISBN 978-94-009-2809-1. 
  21. ^ Gethin 1998, pp. 153-155.
  22. ^ David J. Kalupahana (1975). Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 54–60. ISBN 978-0-8248-0298-1. 
  23. ^ Genjun Sasaki (1986). Linguistic Approach to Buddhist Thought. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 67–69. ISBN 978-81-208-0038-0. 
  24. ^ Gethin 1998, pp. 151-152.
  25. ^ Bowker 1997.
  26. ^ Williams 2002, p. 64, Quote: In the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta the Buddha [stresses] that things originate in dependence upon causal conditioning, and this emphasis on causality describes the central feature of Buddhist ontology. All elements of samsara exist in some sense or another relative to their causes and conditions..
  27. ^ Robert Neville (2004). Jeremiah Hackett, ed. Philosophy of Religion for a New Century: Essays in Honor of Eugene Thomas Long. Jerald Wallulis. Springer. p. 257. ISBN 978-1-4020-2073-5. , Quote: "[Buddhism's ontological hypotheses] that nothing in reality has its own-being and that all phenomena reduce to the relativities of pratitya samutpada. The Buddhist ontological hypothesese deny that there is any ontologically ultimate object such a God, Brahman, the Dao, or any transcendent creative source or principle."
  28. ^ Williams, David M. (1974). "The Translation and Interpretation of the Twelve Terms in the Paticcasamuppada". Numen. BRILL Academic. 21 (1): 35. doi:10.2307/3269713. 
  29. ^ a b Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, pp. 221-222.
  30. ^ a b Gary Storhoff (2010). American Buddhism as a Way of Life. State University of New York Press. pp. 74–76. ISBN 978-1-4384-3095-9. 
  31. ^ a b Gethin 1998, p. 141.
  32. ^ Robert S. Ellwood; Gregory D. Alles (2007). The Encyclopedia of World Religions. Infobase Publishing. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-4381-1038-7. 
  33. ^ Shulman, E; Early Meanings of Dependent-Origination, J Indian Philos (2008) 36:297–317 DOI 10.1007/s10781-007-9030-8,
  34. ^ Shulman, E; Early Meanings of Dependent-Origination, J Indian Philos (2008) 36:297–317 DOI 10.1007/s10781-007-9030-8,
  35. ^ a b Stephen J. Laumakis (2008). An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 113–115. ISBN 978-1-139-46966-1. 
  36. ^ a b Peter Harvey (2001). Buddhism. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 242–244. ISBN 978-1-4411-4726-4. 
  37. ^ Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8. 
  38. ^ James McDermott (1980). Wendy Doniger, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. University of California Press. pp. 167 with note 2. ISBN 978-0-520-03923-0. 
  39. ^ Williams, David M. (1974). "The Translation and Interpretation of the Twelve Terms in the Paticcasamuppada". Numen. BRILL Academic. 21 (1): 35–63. doi:10.2307/3269713. 
  40. ^ a b c Ian Charles Harris (1991). The Continuity of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism. BRILL Academic. pp. 137–138. ISBN 90-04-09448-2. 
  41. ^ Gethin 1998, p. 74, Quote: Dependent arising, states Rupert Gethin, is "to be understood as in certain respects an elaboration of the truth of the origin of suffering.".
  42. ^ a b c d Ian Charles Harris (1991). The Continuity of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism. BRILL Academic. pp. 135–137. ISBN 90-04-09448-2. 
  43. ^ Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4. 
  44. ^ Marco Pallis (2003). A Buddhist Spectrum. World Wisdom. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-941532-40-2. 
  45. ^ a b Steven M. Emmanuel (2015). A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3. 
  46. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference SN12.2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  47. ^ See DN 15
  48. ^ a b c d e f Peter Harvey (2015). Steven M. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 52–53. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3. 
  49. ^ a b c Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, Satipatthana Vipassana, 1995, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Wheel Publication No. 370/371
  50. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi. Transcendental Dependent Arising. A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta. 1995
  51. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi. Transcendental Dependent Arising. A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta. 1995
  52. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi. Transcendental Dependent Arising. A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta. 1995
  53. ^ Ray Billington (2002). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 57–58, 73–74 note 1. ISBN 978-1-134-79348-8. 
  54. ^ a b c Dan Lusthaus (2014). Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. Routledge. pp. 124–127. ISBN 978-1-317-97342-3. 
  55. ^ Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 179–181. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  56. ^ Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 180–187. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  57. ^ a b c d e Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 182–187. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  58. ^ Grant Olson (Translator) (1995). Buddhadhamma: Natural Laws and Values for Life. State University of New York Press. pp. 112–115, 171–172 with footnote 86. ISBN 978-0-7914-2631-9. 
  59. ^ a b c d Damien Keown; Charles S. Prebish (2013). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Routledge. pp. 269–270. ISBN 978-1-136-98588-1. 
  60. ^ Buddhaghosa; Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Translator) (1991). The Path of Purification. Buddhist Publication Society. pp. 607–608, 794. ISBN 978-955-24-0023-0. 
  61. ^ Mathieu Boisvert (1995). The Five Aggregates: Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-88920-257-3. 
  62. ^ a b Mathieu Boisvert (1995). The Five Aggregates: Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 9–11. ISBN 978-0-88920-257-3. 
  63. ^ a b Hirakawa; Groner, A History of Indian Buddhism: From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna, page 178
  64. ^ Ven. Prayudh Payutto, Dependent Origination: the Buddhist Law of Conditionality,
  65. ^ Buddhadhasa, Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination,
  66. ^ Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 186–187. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  67. ^ Alex Wayman (1984). Buddhist Insight: Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 184–186. ISBN 978-81-208-0675-7. 
  68. ^ Mabja Tsondru 2011, p. 67-71, 447-477.
  69. ^ Geshe Sonam Rinchen 2006, p. 21.
  70. ^ "Mula by Jay Garfield" (PDF). 
  71. ^ a b c Anyen Rinpoche 2012, pp. 58-59.
  72. ^ Sogyal Rinpoche 2009, p. 169.
  73. ^ Sogyal Rinpoche 2009, Kindle Locations 849-863.
  74. ^ Schilbrack 2002.
  75. ^ Hoffman 1996, p. 177.
  76. ^ Ronkin 2009.


Printed sources[edit]

  • Anyen Rinpoche (2012), Journey to Certainty, Wisdom Publications 
  • Bhikkhu Thanissaro (2008), The Shape of Suffering: A study of Dependent Co-arising (PDF), Metta Forest Monastery 
  • Bowker, John, ed. (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford 
  • Dalai Lama (1992), The Meaning of Life, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Wisdom 
  • Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2011), What Makes You Not a Buddhist, Shambhala, Kindle Edition 
  • Edelglass, William; et al. (2009), Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-532817-2 
  • Garfield, Jay L. (1994), Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness: Why did Nagarjuna start with Causation?, Philosophy East and West, Volume 44, Number 2 April 1994 
  • Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-289223-2 
  • Goldstein, Joseph (2002), One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism, HarperCollins 
  • Harvey, Peter (1990), An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press 
  • Hoffman, Frank J.; et al. (1996), Pāli Buddhism, Routledge 
  • Hopkins, Jeffrey (1983), Meditation on Emptiness, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 978-0861710140 
  • Lama Zopa Rinpoche (2009), How Things Exist: Teachings on Emptiness, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Kindle Edition 
  • Lopez, Donald S. (2001), The Story of Buddhism, HarperCollins 
  • Mabja Tsondru (2011), Ornament of Reason, Snow Lion 
  • Ronkin, Noa (2009), Edelglass; et al., eds., "Theravada Metaphysics and Ontology", Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-532817-2 
  • Schilbrack, Kevin (2002), Thinking through Myths: Philosophical Perspectives, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-25461-2 
  • Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2009), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, HarperOne, Kindle Edition 
  • Sogyal Rinpoche (2009), The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Harper Collins, Kindle Edition 
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (1999), The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Three River Press 
  • Williams, Paul (2002), Buddhist Thought, Taylor & Francis, Kindle Edition 
  • Walpola Rahula (2007), What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, Kindle Edition 


  1. ^, samutpada
  2. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica. "Buddhism (religion)," Accessed 25 February 2011.
  3. ^ Nalanda Translation Committee, Dependent Arising/Tendrel

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]