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Translations of
Englishdependent origination,
dependent arising,
interdependent co-arising,
conditioned arising,
(IAST: pratītyasamutpāda)
Burmeseပဋိစ္စ သမုပ္ပါဒ်
IPA: [bədeiʔsa̰ θəmouʔpaʔ]
(rōmaji: engi)
(padecchak samubbat)
(Wylie: rten cing 'brel bar
'byung ba
THL: ten-ching drelwar
(RTGSpatitcha samupabat
VietnameseLý duyên khởi
Glossary of Buddhism

Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit; Pali: paṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, is a key doctrine in Buddhism and it is shared by all schools of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.[1][note 1] It states 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 basic principle is that all that all things ("dharmas", phenomena, principles) arise in dependence upon other things. This law or principle includes various depictions the arising of suffering (anuloma-paṭiccasamuppāda, "with the grain", forward conditionality) and also depictions of how the chain can be reversed (paṭiloma-paṭiccasamuppāda, "against the grain", reverse conditionality).[2][3]

These processes are expressed in various lists of dependently originated phenomena, the most well known of which is the 12 links (Pali: dvādasanidānāni, Sanskrit: dvādaśanidānāni). Traditionally the list is interpreted as describing the process of a sentient being's rebirth in saṃsāra, and the resultant duḥkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness).[4] The list is also seen as an analysis of rebirth and suffering which avoids positing an atman (unchanging self or eternal soul).[5][6] Another interpretation regards the list as describing the arising of mental processes and the resultant notion of "I" and "mine" that leads to grasping and suffering.[7][8]

Traditionally, the reversal of the causal chain is explained as leading to the cessation of rebirth (and thus, the cessation of suffering).[4][9] Several modern western scholars argue that there are inconsistencies in the list of 12 links, and regard it to be a later synthesis of several older lists and elements (some of which can be traced to the Vedas).[8][10][11][12][13][5]

Etymology and meaning[edit]


Pratītyasamutpāda consists of two terms:

  • Pratītya: "having depended";[14] 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".[15][16] 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".[16]
  • samutpāda: "arising",[14] "rise, production, origin"[17] In Vedic literature, it means "spring up together, arise, come to pass, occur, effect, form, produce, originate".[18]

The term has been translated into English variously as dependent origination, dependent arising, interdependent co-arising, conditioned arising, and conditioned genesis.[19][20][note 2]

The term may also refer to the twelve nidānas, Pali: dvādasanidānāni, Sanskrit: dvādaśanidānāni, from dvāvaśa ("twelve") + nidānāni (plural of "nidāna", "cause, motivation, link").[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 nidānas.



The Pratityasamutpada teachings asserts neither direct Newtonian-like causality nor a single causality. Rather, it asserts an indirect conditioned causality and a plural causality.[27][28] The "causal link" propositions in Buddhism is very different from the idea of causality that developed in Europe.[29][30] 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 a certain realm of existence for another lifetime.[31][32][33] The Pratītyasamutpāda principle asserts that the dependent origination is a necessary condition. 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."[34][35]

Ontological principle[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 nirvana.[20][note 3] 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.[36] 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'.[37][38]

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.[39] In abstract form, it 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."[20] There is no ‘first cause’ from which all beings arose.[40]

Workings of the mind[edit]

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."[5]

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".[5]

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.[41]

Epistemological principle[edit]

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

Majjhima Nikaya 1.190, Translated by David Williams[42]

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.[43] 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."[44] 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".[35][44][45] There are no independent objects and independent subjects; according to the Pratītyasamutpāda doctrine, there is fundamental emptiness in all phenomena and experiences.[43]

Dependent origination in the Pali canon[edit]

Interpretation of Pratītyasamutpāda[edit]



Sunyata (emptiness)[edit]


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;[46]

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.[47]

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.[48]

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

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:[49]

  • 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.[49] According to this metaphor:[49]

  • 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.[50]


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[edit]

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.[34]

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

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.[51]

Twelve Nidanas[edit]

The twelve nidānas (Pali: dvādasanidānāni, Sanskrit: dvādaśanidānāni) is a linear list of twelve elements from the Buddhist teachings which are pratītyasamutpāda, arising depending on the previous link. According to Shulman, "the 12 links are paticcasamuppada"; in the suttas, dependent origination refers to nothing else but the process of mental conditioning as described by the twelve nidanas.[52]

Traditionally the standard-list is interpreted as describing the conditional arising of rebirth in saṃsāra, and the resultant duḥkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness).[53][54][55][4][56][25] An alternative interpretation regards the list as describing the causal arising of mental formations and the resultant duḥkha. Traditionally, the reversal of the causal chain is explained as leading to the annihilation of mental formations and rebirth.[4][57] Scholars have noted inconsistencies in the list, and regard it to be a later synthesis of several older lists.[12]

Several series[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. 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.[58][59]

Dīgha Nikāya Sutta 1, the Brahmajala Sutta, verse 3.71 describes six Nidānas:

[...] [T]hey experience these feelings by repeated contact through the six sense-bases; feeling conditions craving; craving conditions clinging; clinging conditions becoming; becoming conditions birth; birth conditions aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, sadness and distress.[60][61][note 4]

Dīgha Nikāya, Sutta 14 describes ten links, and in Sutta 15 nine links are described, but without the six sense‑bases:[62]

...they experience these feelings by repeated contact through the six sense-bases; feeling conditions craving; craving conditions clinging; clinging conditions becoming; becoming conditions birth; birth conditions aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, sadness and distress.

Descriptions of the full sequence of twelve links can be found elsewhere in the Pali canon, for instance in section 12 of the Samyutta Nikaya:[63]

Now from the remainderless fading and cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications ... From the cessation of birth, then aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress and suffering.

Twelve-fold chain[edit]

Nidana Traditional interpretation Alternative interpretation[64][65] Reconstructed predecessor[12]
(see also here)
Avijjā Ignorance Ignorance [Ignorance] SN12.2: "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."[66][63]
Saṅkhāra Fabrications,[63] constructing activities (any action of body, speech or mind)[66] Volitional impulses [Activities] SN 12.2: "These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications. These are called fabrications."[63]
Harvey: any action, whether meritorious or harmful, and whether of body, speech or mind, creates karmic imprint on a being.[66] This includes will (cetana) and planning.[66] It leads to transmigratory consciousness.[66]
Viññāṇa Rebirth consciousness Sensual consciousness Sensual consciousness SN12.2: "These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness."[63]
Bucknell: In the Maha-nidana Sutta, which contains ten links, vijnana and nama-rupa are described as conditioning each other, creating a loop which is absent in the standard version of twelve links.[12][67]
Nāmarūpa Name-and-Form (mentality and corporeality) Name-and-Form (body and mind)

Sense objects

SN12.2: "Feeling,[note 5] perception,[note 6] intention,[note 7] contact, and attention:[note 8] This is called name.[note 9] The four great elements,[note 10] and the body dependent on the four great elements: This is called form."[note 11]
Bucknell: originally, nama-rupa referred to the six classes of sense-objects, which together with the six-senses and the six sense-consciousnesses form phassa, "contact."[12]
Saḷāyatana Six-fold sense bases Six-fold sense bases Six-fold sense bases SN 12.2: "[T]he eye-medium, the ear-medium, the nose-medium, the tongue-medium, the body-medium, the intellect-medium."[63]
Phassa Contact[68] Contact Contact The coming together of the object, the sense medium and the consciousness of that sense medium[note 12] is called contact.[note 13]
Vedanā Feeling (sensation) Feeling (sensation) Feeling (sensation) 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.
Taṇhā Craving ("thirst") Craving ("thirst") Craving ("thirst") SN 12.2: "These six are classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for smells, craving for tastes, craving for tactile sensations, craving for ideas. This is called craving."[63]
Upādāna Clinging (attachment) Clinging and grasping[64] Clinging (attachment) SN 12.2: "These four are clingings: sensual clinging,[note 14] view clinging,[note 15] practice clinging,[note 16] and self clinging."[note 17][63]
Becoming (karmic force, similar to volitional formations),
existence[note 18]
Becoming (behavior serving craving and clinging)[64] Becoming SN 12.2: "These three are becoming: sensual becoming,[note 19] form becoming,[note 20] formless becoming."[note 21][63]
* Thanissaro Bhikkhu :"Nowhere in the suttas does he [the Buddha] define the term becoming, but a survey of how he uses the term in different contexts suggests that it means a sense of identity in a particular world of experience: your sense of what you are, focused on a particular desire, in your personal sense of the world as related to that desire."[70]
* A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms: "Becoming. States of being that develop first in the mind and can then be experienced as internal worlds and/or as worlds on an external level."[71]
* Bhikkhu Bodhi: "(i) the active side of life that produces rebirth into a particular mode of sentient existence, in other words rebirth-producing kamma; and (ii) the mode of sentient existence that results from such activity."[69][note 18]
* Payutto: "[T]he entire process of behavior generated to serve craving and clinging (kammabhava).[64]
Jāti Birth (similar to rebirth consciousness) Birth (arising of feeling of distinct self) Birth SN 12.2: "Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] media of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth."[63][note 22]
Analayo: "birth" may refer to (physical) birth; to rebirth;[note 23] and to the arising of mental phenomena.[72] The Vibhanga, the second book of the Theravada Abbidhamma, treats both rebirth and the arising of mental phenomena. In the Suttantabhajaniya it is described as rebirth, which is conditioned by becoming (bhava), and gives rise to old age and death (jarāmaraṇa) in a living being. In the Abhidhammabhajaniya it is treated as the arising of mental phenomena.[72]
Nanavira Thera: "...jati is 'birth' and not 'rebirth'. 'Rebirth' is punabbhava bhinibbatti'."[73]
Jarāmaraṇa Aging, death, and this entire mass of dukkha Threats to the autonomy and position of self[64] Aging, death, etc. SN 12.2: "Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging. Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, break up of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death."[63]

Causal chain[edit]

"Nidanas" are co-dependent events or phenomena, which act as links on a chain, conditioning and depending on each other.[56][25] When certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions.[53][54][55] Phenomena are sustained only so long as their sustaining factors remain.[74] This causal relationship is expressed in its most general form as follows:[note 24]

When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.

— Samyutta Nikaya 12.61.[75]

This natural law of this/that causality is independent of being discovered, just like the laws of physics.[note 25] In particular, the Buddha applied this law of causality to determine the cause of dukkha.[note 26] Understanding the relationships between the phenomena that sustain dukkha[63] is said to lead to nibbana, complete freedom from samsara[77]


Traditionally, the reversal of the causal chain is explained as leading to the cessation of mental formations and rebirth:[4][55][56][25] The early Buddhist texts state that on the arising of wisdom or insight into the true nature of things, dependent origination ceases. Some suttas state that "from the fading and cessation of ignorance without remainder comes the cessation of saṅkhāras..." et cetera (this is said to lead to the cessation of the entire twelve fold chain in reverse order).[note 27]

Transcendental Dependent Arising according to SN 12.23
Link Comments [77]
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 that 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.
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."

There are also other discourses which outline a different set of dependently originated elements leading to full awakening, such as the exposition from the Upanisa sutta (SN 12.23). This application of the principle of dependent arising is referred to in Theravada exegetical literature as "transcendental dependent arising".[77][note 28]


The notion of karma is integrated into the list of twelve nidanas, and has been extensively commented on by ancient Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna.[79] 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.[80]

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.[81]

To be liberated from samsara and dukkha, asserts Buddhism, the 'dependent origination' doctrine implies that the karmic activity must cease.[80] 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.[80]

Development of the twelve nidanas[edit]

Synthesis of older versions[edit]

Combination of older lists[edit]

According to Frauwallner, the twelvefold chain is a combination of two lists. Originally, the Buddha explained the appearance of dukkha from tanha, "thirst," craving. This is explained and described in the second part, from tanha on forwards. Later on, under influence of concurring systems, the Buddha incorporated avijja, "ignorance," as a cause of suffering into his system. This is described in the first part, which describes the entry of vijnana into the womb, where the embryo develops.[10] Frauwallner notes that "the purely mechanical mixing of both the two parts of the causal chain is remarkable and enigmatical." Noting that "contradictory thoughts stand directly near one another in the oldest Buddhistic ideas" many times, Frauwallner explains this as a "deficiency in systematization, the inability to mix different views and principles into a great unity."[82]

According to Schumann, the twelvefold chain is a later composition by monks, consisting of three shorter lists. These lists may have encompassed nidana 1–4, 5–8, and 8-12. The progress of this composition can be traced in various steps in the canon.[83]

Lambert Schmitthausen argues that the twelve-fold list is a synthesis from three previous lists, arguing that the three lifetimes-interpretation is an unintended consequence of this synthesis.[84][note 29]

Branched and looped version[edit]

Ancestor version
(sixfold sense-base)
= phassa (contact)

(volitional action)
vedana (feeling)

Roderick S. Bucknell analysed four versions of the twelve nidanas, to explain the existence of various versions of the pratitya-samutpada sequence. The twevefold version is the "standard version," in which vijnana refers to sensual consciousness.[note 30] According to Bucknell, the "standard version" of the twelve nidanas developed out of an ancestor version, which in turn was derived from two different versions, in which vijnana is differently explained.[12]

Branched version
salayana (sixfold sense-base)
nama-rupa (six sense-objects)

vijnana (consciousness)
= phassa (contact)
vedana (feeling)

In the so-called "branched version", which is not strictly linear, but connects a couple of branches, vijnana is derived from the coming together of the sense organs and the sense objects, a description which can also be found in other sutras. The three of them constitute phassa ("contact"). From there on, the list is linear. In the Sutta-nipata version, which is altogether linear, vijnana is derived from avijja ("ignorance") and Saṅkhāra ("activities" (RSB); also translated as "volitional formations").[86]

Looped version
vijnana (consciousness)
nama-rupa (name-and-form)
[salayana (sixfold sense-base)]
phassa (contact)
vedana (feeling)

The Mahanidana-sutta describes a "looped version," which is also further linear, in which vijnana and nama-rupa condition each other. According to Bucknell, this "looped version" is derived from the "branched version."[87] According to Bucknell, "some accounts of the looped version state explicitly that the chain of causation goes no further back than the loop.[88] The Mahanidana further explains vijnana as "consciousness that descends into the mother's womb at the moment of conception."[89] Waldron notes that vijnana here has two aspects, namely "samsaric vijnana" and "cognitive consciousness." "Samsaric vijnana" is "consciousness per se, the basic sentience necessary for all animate life," which descends into the womb at the time of conception. Cognitive consciousness is related to the senses and the sense objects. It is "samsaric vijnana" which forms, in Buddhist thought, the connection between two lives.[90] While these two aspects were largely undifferentiated in early Buddhist thought, these two aspects and their relation was explicated in later Buddhist thought, giving rise to the concept of alaya-vijñana.[91]

While the "branched version" refers directly to the six sense objects, the "looped version" and the standard version instead name it nama-rupa, which eventually was misinterpreted as "name-and-form" in the traditional sense. This created "new causal series," which made it possible to interpret the beginning of the chain as referring to rebirth, just like the end of the chain. In line with this reinterpretation, vijnana "became the consciousness that descends into the mother's womb at conception, while nama-rupa became the mind-body complex that [...] experiences contact (phassa) and so on." [92][note 31]

Bucknell further notes that the "branched version," in which nama-rupa refers to the six classes of sense-objects, corresponds with Buddhadasas psychological interpretation of the twelve nidanas. The "looped version," in which vijnana corresponds with "rebirth consciousness," corresponds with defenders of the traditional interpretation, such as Nyanatiloka.[94] According to Bucknell, the linear list, with its distortions and changed meaning for nama-rupa and vijnana, may have developed when the list came to be recited in reverse order.[95]

Commentary on Vedic cosmogeny[edit]

Brhadaranyaka Pratityasamutpada
"by death indeed was this covered" nescience (avidya)
"or by hunger, for hunger is death" motivation (samskara)
He created the mind, thinking, 'Let me have a Self'" perception (vijnana)
"Then he moved about, worshipping. From him, thus worshipping, water was produced" name-and-form (nama-rupa)
(=vijnana in the womb)

Alex Wayman has argued that the idea of "dependent origination" may precede the birth of the Buddha, noting that the first four causal links starting with Avidya in the Twelve Nidānas are found in the cosmic development theory of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and other older Vedic texts.[97][96][98] Jeffrey Hopkins notes that terms synonymous to Pratītyasamutpāda are Apekṣhasamutpāda and Prāpyasamutpāda.[99] According to Kalupahana, 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.[100][note 32]

  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).
Hymn of Creation, RigVeda X, 129[13] Twelve Nidanas[13] Skandhas[13] Commentary[6][13]
" first there was nothing, not even existence or nonexistence."[103] Avijja (ignorance) -
"...a volitional impulse [kama, "desire"] initiates the process of creation or evolution."[103] Samkhara ("volitions")[104] Samkhara
(4th skandha)
In Buddhism, "[d]esire, the process which keeps us in samsara, is one of the constituents of this skandha."[104]
Kamma is the seed of consciousness. Vijnana Vijnana
(5th skandha)
* In the Hymn of Creation, consciousness is a "singular consciousness," (Jurewicz) "non-dual consciousness," (Gombrich) "reflexive, cognizing itself." (Gombrich)[104]
* In Buddhism, Vijnana is "consciousness of," not consciousness itself.[104]
Pure consciousness manifests itself in the created world, name-and-form, with which it mistakenly identifies, losing sight of its real identity.[105] Nama-Rupa, "name-and-form" - * According to Jurewicz, the Buddha may have picked at this point the term nama-rupa, because "the division of consciousness into name and form has only the negative value of an act which hinders cognition."[6] The first four links, in this way, describe "a chain of events which drive a human being into deeper and deeper ignorance about himself."[6]
* According to Gombrich, the Buddhist tradition soon lost sight of this connection with the Vedic worldview, equating nama-rupa with the five skandhas,[104] denying a self (atman) separate from these skandhas.[106]

A similar resemblance has been noted by Jurewicz, who argues that the first four nidanas resemble the Hymn of Creation of RigVeda X, 129, in which avijja (ignorance) leads to kamma (desire), which is the seed of vijnana ("consciousness").[105][6] This consciousness is a "singular consciousness," (Jurewicz) "non-dual consciousness," (Gombrich) "reflexive, cognizing itself" (Gombrich).[104] When the created world, name and form, evolves, pure consciousness manifests itself in the world. It mistakenly identifies itself with name and form, losing sight of its real identity.[105] The Buddha mimicked this creation story, making clear how the entanglement with the world "drive a human being into deeper and deeper ignorance about himself."[6] According to Jurewicz, the Buddha may have picked the term nama-rupa, because "the division of consciousness into name and form has only the negative value of an act which hinders cognition."[6]

According to Gombrich, the Buddhist tradition soon lost sight of this connection with the Vedic worldview. It was aware that at this point there is the appearance of an individual person, which the Buddha referred to as the five skandhas,[104] denying a self (atman) separate from these skandhas.[106] The Buddhist tradition equated rupa with the first skandha, and nama with the other four. Yet, as Gombrich notes, samkhara, vijnana, and vedana also appear as separate links in the twelvefold list, so this equation can't be correct for this nidana.[105] According to Jurewizc, all twelve nidanas show similarities with the Vedic cosmogeny. They may have been invoked for educated listeners, to make the point that suffering arises in dependence on psychological processes without an atman, thereby rejecting the Vedic outlook.[6]

According to Gombrich, following Frauwallner,[note 33] the twelve-fold list is a combination of two previous lists, the second list beginning with tanha, "thirst," the cause of suffering as described in the second Noble Truth".[107] The first list consists of the first four nidanas, which parody the Vedic-Brahmanic cosmogony, as described by Jurewicz.[note 34] According to Gombrich, the two lists were combined, resulting in contradictions in its negative version.[107][note 35] Gombrich further notes that

Jurewicz's interpretation also makes it unnecessary to accept the complicated, indeed contorted, interpretation favoured by Buddhaghosa, that the chain covers three lives of the individual.[108]

Five skandhas[edit]

Skandha Nidana
("mere consciousness")[note 36]
Vijnana (consciousness)
Rupa (matter, form) Saḷāyatana (six sense-bases)
phassa (contact)
mental organ (mano))
Vedana (feeling) Vedana (feeling)
Sanna (perception) Sanna prevents the arising of
Samkharas (mental formations) Tanha ("thirst," craving)
Upadana (clinging)
Bhava (becoming)

According to Mathieu Boisvert, nidana 3-10 correlate with the five skandhas.[110] Boisvert notes that sanna, "perception," is not part of the twelvefold chain, but does play a role in the prevention of the arising of the samkharas.[111] Likewise, Waldron notes that the anusaya, "underlying tendencies, are the link between the cognitive processes of phassa ("contact") and vedana (feeling), and the afflictive responses of tanha ("craving") and upadana ("grasping").[112]

The 12-fold chain the 5 skhandhas
First existence
1. Body
2. Sensation
3. Perception
1. Ignorance
2. Formations 4. Formations
3. Consciousness 5. Consciousness
Second existence
4. Nama-rupa 1. Body
5. The six senses
6. Touch
7. Sensation 2. Sensation
3. Perception
4. Formations
5. Consciousness
8. Craving
9. Clinging
Third existence
10. Becoming
1. Body
11. Birth
2. Sensation
3. Perception
4. Formations
5. Consciousness
12. Old age and death

According to Schumann, the Nidanas are a later synthesis of Buddhist teachings, meant to make them more comprehensible. Comparison with the five skhandhas shows that the chain contains logical inconsistencies, which can be explained when the chain is considered to be a later elaboration.[113] This way it is explainable that nama-rupa en consciousness in the 9-fold are the beginning or start, while in the 12-fold chain they are preceded by ignorance and formations. Those can only exist when nama-rupa en consciousness are present. Schumann also proposes that the 12-fold is extended over three existences, and illustrate the succession of rebirths. While Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu maintain a 2-8-2 schema, Schumann maintains a 3-6-3 scheme, putting the five skandhas aside the twelve nidanas.[113]

Four Noble Truths[edit]

The second and third truths in the Four Noble Truths are related to the principle of dependent origination,[114] with dependent arising elaborating the arising of suffering.[115][116] The second truth applies dependent origination in a direct order, while the third truth applies it in inverse order.[114]

Comparison of lists[edit]

Comparison of lists
Nidana Reconstructed ancestor[12] Hymn of Creation[6][105] DN15
Mahanidana sutra[117]
MN 148:28[118] Tanha-list[115] Skandhas[110] Four Noble Truths
Avijjā [Ignorance] Avijjā
Saṅkhāra [Activities] Kamma
Viññāṇa Sensual consciousness Vijnana Consciousness
Eye-consciousness Vijnana Dukkha
(Five skandhas)
Sense objects
Identification of vijnana with the manifest world (name and form)

Visible objects
Saḷāyatana Six-fold sense bases - Eye
Phassa Contact Contact Contact
Vedanā Feeling (sensation) Feeling Feeling Vedana
[Avijja] - - Anusaya (underlying tendencies) - Sanna (perception)
prevents arising of ↓[note 27]
Taṇhā Craving Craving Craving ("thirst") Samkharas
(see also kleshas)
Upādāna Clinging (attachment) Clinging Clinging
Becoming Becoming Becoming
Jāti Birth Birth Birth Dukkha
(Birth, aging and death)
Jarāmaraṇa Aging and death Aging and death Aging, death, and this entire mass of dukkha

Altogether the various lists combine as follows:

Sequence of stages prior to birth[edit]

According to Eisel Mazard, the twelve Nidanas are a description of "a sequence of stages prior to birth," as an "orthodox defense against any doctrine of a 'supernal self' or soul of any kind [...] excluding an un-mentioned life-force (jīva) that followers could presume to be additional to the birth of the body, the arising of consciousness, and the other aspects mentioned in the 12-links formula."[119][note 37] According to Mazard, "many later sources have digressed from the basic theme and subject-matter of the original text, knowingly or unknowingly."[119]

Interpretation of the twelve nidanas[edit]


Within the Theravāda tradition, the twelve nidanas are considered to be the most significant application of the principle of dependent origination.[39] The nikayas themselves do not give a systematic explanation of the nidana series.[120]


As an expository device, the commentarial tradition presented the factors as a linear sequence spanning over three lives,[121] thus shifting the theme from a single conception (and birth) to a sequence of "incarnations" (roughly speaking). The twelve nidanas were interpreted by Buddhaghosa (c. fifth century CE) of the Sri Lankan Mahavihara tradition as encompassing three successive lives, as outlined in his influential Visuddhimagga.[122][123][124]

According to Buddhaghosa, the first two nidanas, namely ignorance (nescience) and motivation, relate to the previous life and forecast the destiny of the person. The third to the tenth nidanas relate to the present life, beginning with the descent of vijnana (consciousness, perception) into the womb.[note 38] The last two nidanas (birth and death) represent the future lives conditioned by the present causes.[123][125][126] Because of Buddhaghosa's vast influence in the development of Theravada scholasticism, this model has been very influential in the Theravada school.[124][note 39]

Three lives
Former life
Formations (conditioned things/ volitional activities)
Current life
Consciousness (Rebirth consciousness)
Mind and body (Mentality and Corporeality)
The six sense bases (five physical senses and the mind)
Contact (between objects and the senses)
Feeling (Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations)
Craving (for continued contact and feeling)
Becoming (Karmic force)
Future life
Old age and death

Arising of mental processes[edit]

Yet, the twelve nidanas have also been interpreted within the Theravada tradition as explaining the arising of psychological or phenomenological processes in the present moment. There is scriptural support for this as an explanation in the Abhidharmakosa of Vasubandhu, insofar as Vasubandu states that on occasion "the twelve parts are realized in one and the same moment".[127] Prayudh Payutto notes that 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.[128] According to Prayudh Payutto there is material in the Vibhanga which discusses both models, the three lifetimes model and the phenomenological mind moment model.[128][129] 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'".[130]


According to Akira Hirakawa and Paul Groner, the three-lives model, with its "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 (fl. 4th to 5th century CE).[124]

The Abhidharmakosa also outlines three other models of the twelve nidanas, that were used by the Sarvastivada schools together with the three lifetimes model:[124]

  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.


Asanga (4th century CE) groups the twelve nidanas into four groups: 1-3 cause of dharmas; 4-7 dharmas; 8-10 cause of suffering; 11-12 suffering.[131]

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

The twelve nidanas are typically shown on the outer rim of a Bhavachakra in Buddhist artwork.[132]

The bhavachakra (Sanskrit; Pāli: bhavachakra; Tibetan: srid pa'i 'khor lo) is a symbolic representation of saṃsāra (or cyclic existence). It is found on the outside walls of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Indo-Tibetan region, to help ordinary people understand Buddhist teachings. The Three Fires sit at the very center of the schemata in the Bhavacakra and drive the whole edifice. In Himalayan iconographic representations of the Bhavacakra such as within Tibetan Buddhism, the Three Fires are known as the Three Poisons which are often represented as the Gankyil. The Gankyil is also often represented as the hub of the Dharmacakra.

Tsongkhapa, following Asanga, explains how the twelve nidanas can be applied to one life of a single person, two lives of a single person, and three lives of a single person.[133]

Discussing the three lifetimes model, Alex Wayman states that the Theravada/Sarvāstivāda interpretation is different from the Vajrayana view, because the Vajrayana view places a bardo or an intermediate state between death and rebirth, which is denied by the Theravadins and Sarvastivadins. This denial necessitated placing the first two nidanas of the "dependent origination" chain into the past life.[134] The Tibetan Buddhism tradition allocates the twelve nidanas differently between various lives.[135]

Comparison with western philosophy[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.[22]

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.[136] 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]


The Hellenistic philosophy of Pyrrhonism parallels the Buddhist view of dependent origination, as it does in many other matters.[138][139][140] Aulus Gellius in Attic Nights described the Pyrrhonist view which corresponds with the Buddhist view of dependent origination as follows:

...[Pyrrhonists] say that appearances, which they call φαντασίαι, are produced from all objects, not according to the nature of the objects themselves, but according to the condition of mind or body of those to whom these appearances come. Therefore they call absolutely all things that affect men's sense τὰ πρός τι (i.e., "things relative to something else.") This expression means that there is nothing at all that is self-dependent or which has its own power and nature, but that absolutely all things have "reference to something else" and seem to be such as their appearance is while they are seen, and such as they are formed by our senses, to whom they come, not by the things themselves, from which they have proceeded.[141]

Similarly, the ancient Commentary on Plato's Theaetetus says, with a notable parallel with the terms from the Heart Sutra (i.e., "in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, no discrimination, no conditioning, and no awareness. There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no texture, no phenomenon. There is no eye-element and so on up to no mind-element and also up to no element of mental awareness."[142]):

The Pyrrhonists say that everything is relative in a different sense, according to which nothing is in itself, but everything is viewed relative to other things. Neither colour nor shape nor sound nor taste nor smells nor textures nor any other object of perception has an intrinsic character....[143]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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".[1]
  2. ^ The term pratītyasamutpāda been translated into English as conditioned arising,[20] conditioned genesis,[21] dependent arising,[22][quote 1] dependent co-arising,[24] or dependent origination[25]
  3. ^ Harvey: "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."[20]
  4. ^ Brahmajala Sutta, verse 3.71. This is identified as the first reference in the Canon in footnote 88 for Sutta 1, verse 3.71's footnotes.
  5. ^ Here it refers to the function of the mind that cognizes feeling.
  6. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that names (recognizes) a feeling as pleasurable, unpleasurable or neutral, depending on what was its original tendency.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that can penetrate something, analyze, and objectively observe.
  9. ^ i.e. mentality or mind.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ i.e. corporeality or body.
  12. ^ Eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, skin-consciousness and mind-consciousness
  13. ^ Mahasi Sayadaw: "...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. There is also a third element of materiality — the visual object. Without the visual object there is nothing to be seen..."[68]
  14. ^ Enjoyment and clinging for music, beauty, sexuality, health, etc.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Clinging for rituals, dressing, rules of cleansing the body etc.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ a b Bhikkhu Bodhi: "Bhava, in MLDB, was translated “being.” In seeking an alternative, I had first experimented with “becoming,” but when the shortcomings in this choice were pointed out to me I decided to return to “existence,” used in my earlier translations. Bhava, however, is not “existence” in the sense of the most universal ontological category, that which is shared by everything from the dishes in the kitchen sink to the numbers in a mathematical equation. Existence in the latter sense is covered by the verb atthi and the abstract noun atthitā. Bhava is concrete sentient existence in one of the three realms of existence posited by Buddhist cosmology, a span of life beginning with conception and ending in death. In the formula of dependent origination it is understood to mean both (i) the active side of life that produces rebirth into a particular mode of sentient existence, in other words rebirth-producing kamma; and (ii) the mode of sentient existence that results from such activity."[69]
  19. ^ getting attracted, mesmerized, disgusted
  20. ^ growing older, tall, healthy, weak, becoming a parent or spouse, rich, etc.
  21. ^ annihilation, destruction, suicide, loss of a position etc.
  22. ^ Birth 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ The general formula can be found in the following discourses in the Pali Canon: MN 79, MN 115, SN12.21, SN 12.22, SN 12.37, SN 12.41, SN 12.49, SN 12.50, SN 12.61, SN 12.62, SN 55.28, AN 10.92, Ud. 1.1 (first two lines), Ud. 1.2 (last two lines), Ud. 1.3, Nd2, Patis.
  25. ^ "Whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this regularity of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma, this this/that conditionality."[76]
  26. ^ Most Suttas follow the order from ignorance to dukkha. But SN 12.20[76] views this as a teaching of the requisite conditions for sustaining dukkha, which is its main application.
  27. ^ a b Compare Grzegorz Polak, who argues that the four upassanā, the "four bases of mindfulness," have been misunderstood by the developing Buddhist tradition, including Theravada, to refer to four different foundations. According to Polak, the four upassanā do not refer to four different foundations, but to the awareness of four different aspects of raising sati, mindfulness:[78]
    • the six sense-bases which one needs to be aware of (kāyānupassanā);
    • contemplation on vedanās, which arise with the contact between the senses and their objects (vedanānupassanā);
    • the altered states of mind to which this practice leads (cittānupassanā);
    • the development from the five hindrances to the seven factors of enlightenment (dhammānupassanā).
  28. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi: "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.[77]
  29. ^ Shulman refers to Schmitthausen (2000), Zur Zwolfgliedrigen Formel des Entstehens in Abhangigkeit, in Horin: Vergleichende Studien zur Japanischen Kultur, 7
  30. ^ Bucknell: "vinnana: consciousness associated with eye, ear, nose tongue, body, and mind (mano)"[85]
  31. ^ Bucknell: "These observations by Watsuji, Yinshun, and Reat indicate that nama-rupa, far from signifying "mind-and-body" or something similar, is a collective term for the six types of sense object."[93]
  32. ^ The pre-Buddhist Vedic era theories on causality mention four types of causality, all of which Buddhism rejected.[101][102] The four Vedic era causality theories in vogue were:[101][102]
  33. ^ Frauwallner (1973), History of Indian Philosophy Vol. 1
  34. ^ Jurewicz (2000), Playing with fire: the pratityasamutpada from the perspective of Vedic thought. Journal of the Pali Text Society, XXVI, 77-104.
  35. ^ Gombrich: "The six senses, and thence, via 'contact' and 'feeling', to thirst." It is quite plausible, however, that someone failed to notice that once the first four links became part of the chain, its negative version meant that in order to abolish ignorance one first had to abolish consciousness!"[107]
  36. ^ Boisvert correlates vijnana in the twelve nidanas sequence; in the five skandhas, vijnana comes last.[109]
  37. ^ Mazard: "[T]he 12-links formula is unambiguously an ancient tract that was originally written on the subject of the conception and development of the embryo, as a sequence of stages prior to birth; in examining the primary source text, this is as blatant today as it was over two thousand years ago, despite some very interesting misinterpretations that have arisen in the centuries in-between [...] In the Mahānidāna [sutta]’s brief gloss on the term nāmarūpa [...] we have a very explicit reminder that the subject-matter being described in this sequence of stages is the development of the embryo [...] it is indisputably clear that we are reading about something that may (or may not) enter into (okkamissatha) the mother’s womb (mātukucchismiŋ) [...] [T]he passage is wildly incongruent with attempts of many other interpreters to render the whole doctrine in more abstract terms (variously psychological or metaphysical).[119]
  38. ^ According to Keown, the first five nidanas of the present life relate to one's present destiny, and condition the present life's existence. The next three dependent originations, namely craving, indulgence and gestation foster the fruits of the present destiny.[123]
  39. ^ "Nyanatiloka, for his part in this controversy, sets himself up as the defender of the commentarial tradition that extends the 12-links from a description of a single incarnation into a description of the causes and effects of reincarnation in three separate lifetimes. [...] While I regard the three-lifetimes interpretation (supported by Nyanatiloka) as incorrect, it deserves some credit for remaining thematically related to the original meaning of the primary source text (whereas many modern interpretations have digressed wildly from it). In a lecture on this subject, Nyanatiloka repeatedly refers to the subject-matter of the 12-links discussed as something transpiring inside the womb, also using the term “prenatal”. ..." [1]


  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."[23]
  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 nidānas, or links in the chain of samsaric becoming."[26]
  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 ..."[137]


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Printed sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Walpola Rahula (1974), What the Buddha Taught
  • Ajahn Sucitto (2010). Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching. Shambhala. (pages 61–76)
  • Jackson, Peter A. (2003), Buddhadasa. Theravada Buddhism and Modernist reform in Thailand, Silkworm Books
Tibetan Buddhism
  • Chogyam Trungpa (1972). "Karma and Rebirth: The Twelve Nidanas, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche." Karma and the Twelve Nidanas, A Sourcebook for the Shambhala School of Buddhist Studies. Vajradhatu Publications.
  • Dalai Lama (1992). The Meaning of Life, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Boston: Wisdom.
  • Geshe Sonam Rinchen (2006). How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising. Snow Lion
  • Khandro Rinpoche (2003). This Precious Life. Shambala
  • Thrangu Rinpoche (2001). The Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination. Nama Buddha Publications.
  • Frauwallner, Erich (1973), "Chapter 5. The Buddha and the Jina", History of Indian Philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of the epic. The Buddha and the Jina. The Sāmkhya and the classical Yoga-system, Motilal Banarsidass
  • Bucknell, Roderick S. (1999), "Conditioned Arising Evolves: Variation and Change in Textual Accounts of the Paticca-samupadda Doctrine", Journal of the Internatopnal Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 22, Number 2
  • Jurewicz, Joanna (2000), "Playing with Fire: The pratityasamutpada from the perspective of Vedic thought", Journal of the Pali Text Society, 26: 77-103
  • Shulman, Eviatar (2008), "Early Meanings of Dependent-Origination" (PDF), Journal of Indian Philosophy, 36 (2): 297–317, doi:10.1007/s10781-007-9030-8, S2CID 59132368
  • Gombrich, Richard (2009), "Chaper 9. Causation and non-random process", What the Buddha Thought, Equinox
  • Jones, Dhivan Thomas (2009), "New Light on the Twelve Nidanas", Contemporary Buddhism, 10 (2), doi:10.1080/14639940903239793, S2CID 145413087

External links[edit]


Educational Resources