Twelve Nidānas

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The twelve nidanas are typically shown on the outer rim of a Bhavachakra in Buddhist artwork.[1]

The Twelve Nidānas (Pali: dvādasanidānāni, Sanskrit: dvādaśanidānāni, from dvāvaśa ("twelve") + nidānāni (plural of "nidāna", "cause, motivation, link")) is a doctrine of Buddhism where each link is asserted as a primary causal relationship between the connected links.[2][3] These links present the mechanistic basis of repeated birth, saṃsāra, and resultant duḥkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness) starting from avidyā (ignorance, misconceptions).[2][a]

The Twelve Nidānas doctrine is one application of the Buddhist concept of pratītyasamutpāda or paṭiccasamuppāda ("Dependent Arising" or "Dependent Origination").

Descriptions of the Twelve Nidānas[edit]

Pali literature[edit]

Several series of Nidānas are described in the suttas.

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.[5][6][b]

Dīgha Nikāya, Sutta 14 describes ten links, and in Sutta 15 nine links are described, but without the six sense‑bases.[7]

Commentarial literature[edit]

The Twelve Nidānas are explained in detail in the Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa, the central text of the Mahāvihāra commentarial tradition. Buddhaghosa recounts four methods to interpret the Twelve Nidanas:

  1. Working from "bottom to top",
  2. Working from the "middle to the top",
  3. Working from "top to bottom",
  4. Working from the "middle to the source".[c]

The first method begins with ignorance and proceeds to sickness, old age, and death. The second method begins with attachment and proceeds to birth. The third method begins with birth and proceeds back to ignorance. The fourth method begins with attachment and proceeds to ignorance.[citation needed]

The Twelve Nidanas[edit]

The Twelve-fold Chain[edit]

Cause Effect Comments[4][8]
Ignorance - (Avijjā) Constructing activities (any action of body, speech or mind) - (Saṅkhāra)[9] 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.[9]
Constructing activities - (saṅkhāra)[9] Consciousness (rebirth consciousness) - (Viññāṇa) Any action, whether meritorious or harmful, and whether of body, speech or mind, creates karmic imprint on a being.[9] This includes will (cetana) and planning.[9] It leads to transmigratory consciousness.[9]
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.[4] As seen earlier,[10] consciousness and the organ cannot function without each other.
Name-and-Form (mentality and corporeality) - (Nāmarūpa) Six-fold sense bases - (Saḷāyatana) Feeling,[d] perception,[e] intention,[f] contact, and attention:[g] This is called name (i.e. mentality or mind). The four great elements,[h] and the body dependent on the four great elements: This is called form (i.e. corporeality or body).
Six-fold sense bases - (Saḷāyatana) Contact[10] - (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[i] is called contact.[j]
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.[k]
Clinging (attachment) - (Upādāna) Becoming (Karmic Force, similar to volitional formations) (Bhava (KamaBhava)) These four are clingings: sensual clinging,[l] view clinging,[m] practice clinging,[n] and self clinging[o]
Becoming (Karmic force, similar to volitional formations) - (Bhava (KammaBhava)) Birth (similar to rebirth consciousness) - (Jāti) These three are becoming: sensual becoming,[p] form becoming,[q] formless becoming[r]
Birth (similar to rebirth consciousness)- (Jāti) Aging, death, and this entire mass of dukkha) - (Jarāmaraṇa) Birth[s] 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.

The following description would provide some further insight into this concept/phenomenon...

1. Ignorance (Pali: Avijjā)
2. Mental formations/volitions (Pali: Saṅkhāra Sanskrit: Saṃskāra)
3. Status consciousness (Pali: Viññāṇa)
4. "Name" and "Form" (Pali: Nāmarūpa)
5. The six senses (Pali: Saḷāyatana)
6. Contact (Pali: Phassa)
7. Feelings (Pali: Vedanā)
8. Cravings/longings/desires (Pali: Taṇhā)
9. Clinging to (Pali: Upādāna)
10. Generation of factors for rebirth (Pali: Bhava)
11. Birth (Pali: Jāti)
12. All the sufferings (Pali: Jarāmaraṇa)

Thus one could observe that:

1. Due to ignorance (of underlying realities of existence) we process/ferment what comes to our mind.

2. This processing/fermentation causes karma to form and mould the status consciousness (vinyana).

3. The functioning/existence of the status consciousness has a close association with regards to sustaining life (one's existence).

4. "Name" and "Form" describes the non-material and material components of one's existence. "Name" are the constituents one's mind, consciousness and ideas... "Form" (material) are the constituents of the body (made of solids, liquids, gasses...).

5. The six sense bases of perception are composed of "Name" (the mind/vinyana...components) and "Form" (the solids, liquids, gasses... components).

6, 7. When the six sense bases of perception comes in contact with entities (ex. eye with external world, nose with fragrances,... mind with thoughts/memories...), they generate feelings (in the mind).

8. Next we generate/get desires for these feelings.

9. These desires makes one "cling onto" them (wanting more...).

10, 11. This clinging causes the generation of causations/factors (karma) that causes/leads/drags one into future births, so that such accumulated karma can take effect, can materialise... (The generation of sankhara /karma due to attachments, desires, longings, cravings... or due to the aversions, angers, hates... generated during the cause of such quests/pursuits... will lead one through eternal samsara resulting in the generation of yet further causations/karma, requiring further... Thus bonding one into this eternal journey...)

12. Then once one gets into a birth, one undergoes/endures all the sufferings associated with such...

1. But again due to our ignorance, we fail to realise the underlying nature/reality of existence. Thus veiled and shadowed by ignorance, we keep on generating the mental fermentations/volitions that keeps one further bonded to samsara...

Thus the cycle ever so continues for ever and ever unto perpetuity... Thus breaking away from this cycle (by "eradicating"/overcoming ignorance), leads to its cessation (cessation of the perpetual wandering)....

Reversing the chain[edit]

Understanding the relationships between the phenomena that sustain dukkha[4] is said to lead to nibbana, complete freedom from samsara[11]

Phenomena are sustained only so long as their sustaining factors remain.[12] This causal relationship is expressed in its most general form as follows:[t]

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.

This natural law of this/that causality is independent of being discovered, just like the laws of physics.[u] In particular, the Buddha applied this law of causality to determine the cause of dukkha.[v]

The reversal of this causal chain shows the way to put an end to stress: "From the remainderless fading and cessation of ignorance comes the cessation of (volitional) fabrications" et cetera.[w]

Three lives and five skandhas[edit]

The nikayas themselves do not give a systematic explanation of the nidana series.[15] As an expository device, the commentarial tradition presented the factors as a linear sequence spanning over three lives,[16] thus shifting the theme from a single conception (and birth) to a sequence of "incarnations" (roughly speaking).[x]

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.[18] 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.[18]

Commentarial tradition
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
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

Conception and birth[edit]

The twelve Nidanas may be seen as an explanation of the conception and development of the embryo:

[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.[17][y]

Destiny after rebirth[edit]

Dependent origination also describes the process by which sentient beings incarnate into any given realm and pursue their various worldly projects and activities with all concomitant suffering. Among these sufferings are aging and death.

Daily life[edit]

Contemporary teachers often teach that it can also be seen as a daily cycle occurring from moment to moment throughout each day. 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".[19]

For example, in the case of avidyā, the first condition, it is necessary to refer to the three marks of existence for a full understanding of its relation to pratityasamutpada. It is also necessary to understand the Three Fires and how they fit into the scheme. 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.

Nirvana is often conceived of as stopping this cycle. By removing the causes for craving, craving ceases. So, with the ceasing of birth, death ceases. With the ceasing of becoming, birth ceases, and so on, until with the ceasing of ignorance no karma is produced, and the whole process of death and rebirth ceases.

Understanding in Tibetan tradition[edit]


Avidyā (Sanskrit) or Avijjā (Pāli); Tibetan (Wylie transliteration) (marikpa), Eng. "ignorance". Ignorance of the Four Noble Truths, the Three marks of existence, the Five Skandhas, Karma, and Pratītyasamutpāda results in a wrong assessment of reality. This narrowness of experience is the primary cause of duḥkha (suffering dissatisfaction, pain, unease, etc.)

Avidyā may be understood as

A continuous gradient characterizing not so much a particular state of being, but the quality or direction of situational patterning, experienced as a 'falling away from' the modality of pristine awareness.[20]


Saṃskāra (Sanskrit) or Saṅkhāra (Pāli); Tibetan 'du.byed (duche), Eng. "(mental) formations" The impulse accumulations of saṃskāra are characterized by the energetic direction of the first motif, manifesting through body, speech, and mind as structuring forces of our being. This relationship forms the basis of our character and our personal karmic patterning.


Vijñāna (Sanskrit) or Viññāna (Pāli); Tibetan or rnam.shes (namshe), Eng. "consciousness" Vijñāna represents the partially structured consciousness that results from the action of saṃskāra and the shaping of that energetic activity into a less flexible and more stagnant form.

It is pictured as having a two-fold function: the cognition of objects that arise in our field of awareness and a structured stream that is being continually fed from the reservoir of energetic activity. The interplay between saṃskāra and vijñāna is seen as accounting for all the experiential data associated with the psychological notion of the unconscious, including memory, dreams, and the eruption of emotive complexes.[21]


Nāmarūpa (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tibetan ming.gzugs (mingzuk), Eng. "name and form" Vijñāna has a quick grasping tendency, moving from sensory objects to objects of imagination rapidly. This energy may therefore crystallize and take shape into mental functions, called Nāma, or it may be represented as material forms, called Rūpa.

As a collective idea, the Nāmarūpa motif models the reciprocal relationship of bodily and mental functioning. Nāma is the naming activity of the discursive mind. Rūpa develops an internal representation of external objects, without which mind and body cannot exist.

Nāma refers to three components of mental functioning. There is the sensation or tone-awareness of a mental situation. There is also an ideational or labeling function. And finally there is the component of dispositional orientation, the 'mood-energy' we bring to a situation.[22]

Rūpa refers to the four dynamic structuring operations of solidity, cohesion, heat, and motility. They are represented by the elemental symbols of earth, water, fire, and air. The operation of these elemental modes goes to make up what we experience as our physical world, including our body. Rūpa embraces the static aspects of embodiment such as cellular, tissue, and organ structures, as well as the dynamic aspect of body metabolism--electro-physiological pathways, membrane transport, etc.[22]

Six sense bases[edit]

Ṣaḍāyatana (Sanskrit) or Saḷāyatana (Pāli); Tibetan skye.mched (kyemche), Eng. "six sense gates" or "six sense bases" The close relationship of bodily and mental functioning is differentiated into the six-fold bases of awareness, which contribute to the arising of all sensory experiences that make up our interpretation of reality. The six-fold bases are divided into an internal grouping (ādhyātmika) with corollary external (bāhya) supports.

The internal grouping refers to the integration of five sensory capabilities (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) and a sixth capability, termed non-sensuous or mental, which refers to the capability of all acts of memory, imagination, visualization, etc. These internal bases are not to be confused with the corresponding physical organs ... They are simply loci of sensitivity structured such that there arises the experience of seeing, hearing, etc.[23]

The six external bases, which always work in conjunction with the corresponding internal base, refer to the six types of possible object awareness. These bases are the means by which the differentiated aspects, which are fleeting stabilizations in the field character of our awareness, stand out long enough to be appropriated as this-or-that specific object. The external and internal bases should be pictured as working together in pairs. In any given moment there is the two-fold working of a particular modality of awareness (eye-sensitivity and color-forms, ear-sensitivity and sounds, etc.).[23]


Sparśa (Sanskrit) or Phassa (Pāli); Tibetan (rekpa), Eng. "contact" The sparśa motif refers to the relationship or rapport between the internal and external āyatana. Impressions of tone arise in conjunction with the specific modality of awareness that is operating.


Vedanā (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tibetan (tsorwa), Eng. "sensation" There are six types of feeling tone awareness that arise from contact of the āyatana. The feeling tone or sensation of each of the six āyatana is uniquely different. For example, the feeling tone and felt experience of sensations in the body are distinct from the feeling tones generated from experiencing sight or sound.

Each modality is experientially separable on the basis of (a) the place of sensitivity (internal base), (b) the corresponding structure of its field (external base), (c) the manner of articulation or relatedness between (a) and (b), termed rapport, and (d) the resulting distinctive tone.[23]


Tṛṣṇā (Sanskrit) or Taṇhā (Pāli); Tibetan (sepa), Eng. "craving" or "desire" or "thirst": Following the arising of tone-awareness is an unconditioned or habitually patterned experience of craving or attachment. The type of craving or attachment that follows depends upon which of the six āyatanas is involved, and which of the following three "motivations" is present.

The motivation of sensual gratification (kāma-tṛṣṇā) is perhaps the most common. It results in simple attachment to whatever arises in one's field of awareness. It is not an overt appropriation, one that we consciously activate. It refers rather to the habitual structuring of experience such that one is compulsively caught up in one situation after another through a process of identification and clinging.

One can also be motivated with regard to the desire for 'eternals' (bhava-tṛṣṇā). It is the habitual structuring of any sensory impression, any momentary awareness, such that it might be the occasion for securing an eternal realm of peace and contentment.
Finally there is the annihilatory motivation (vibhava-tṛṣṇā). It is the automatic structuring of experience such that any sensory activation might be the cause of a compulsive thirst to annihilate and destroy. What is commonly regarded as psychopathic behavior might be linked particularly with this type of motivation.[24]


Upādāna (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tibetan (lenpa), Eng. "attachment" If the object of one's desires comes to fruition, then these craving desires of tṛṣṇā may solidify and manifest as the quality of attachment, or upādāna. This condition of fulfilled desires and attachment is always fleeting and momentary, as new cravings arise once old cravings are satisfied.

Attachment may take many forms, for example, emotional attachment to persons, to life, material comfort, routines, pleasant or unpleasant sensations, beliefs, thoughts, judgements, etc. We may not have attachment to things like wealth or success in society, but we are typically very strongly attached to our feelings and constructed identity of the self.

One may become fixated on a mental "story" or representation of reality, or a mental version of an object or event, preferring and craving for an unrealized internal version of external reality. Once this fixation shapes behavior in a way that internal desires are satiated, then the craving of tṛṣṇā may be said to have shifted to the attachment of upādāna.


Bhava (Sanskrit and Pāli), Tibetan (sipa), Eng. "becoming" "Once the direction of situational patterning has proceeded to the point of overt clinging, a process of becoming, termed bhava, is initiated. It refers to the new formation of karmic tendencies.[25]

This creation of new habits and karmic tendencies, called bhava, will come to fruition through future experiences. Bhava, therefore, differs from Saṃskāra in temporal nature. "Saṃskāra refers to tendencies from past situational patternings (lives) which act on the present situation.[25]


Jāti (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tibetan (kye wa), Eng. "birth": The jāti motif refers to the process of karmic tendencies of bhava coming to fruition, through the birth of new patternings. That which was desired and conditioned now comes to be.

In a psycho-biological model, jāti refers to the birth or emergence of a newborn being, appearing, according to the specific history of patterning, in one of six 'lifestyles'. These lifestyles indicate the general character of experience. They are symbolized by the terms gods, titans, hungry ghosts, animals, denizens of hell, and human. These embrace all the general ways of being-in-a-situation.[25]

Aging, decay and death[edit]

Jarā-maraṇa (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tibetan rga.shi (gashi), Eng. "aging (old age), decay and death"

Once a new situation or a new being has emerged, it is inevitable that the conditions which brought about its appearance will change. This, the last of the twelve motifs, points to the inevitability of decay and death. Decay affects all structures, which are but fleeting stabilizations fed by the energy flow of habitual patterning. When the cessation of the continuity of experience occurs, we speak of death. It is the total breakdown and dissolution of experience and experiencer.

The process of disintegration, destructuring, and entropic scattering yields a nexus of vibratory murkiness which is the condition of avidyā, the first motif. Thus the entire structure of patterning feeds back on itself, and is often pictured as a circle of twelve sections, called the Wheel of Life (bhavacakra, srid-pa'i-'khor-lo).[26]

Within Buddhist literature[edit]


Pali Canon[edit]

In the Pali Suttapitaka (the most ancient canon of Buddhist writing preserved by Theravāda tradition) the first (partial) exposition of the twelve nidānas appears in the Dīgha Nikāya (Long Discourses), Brahmajāla Sutta, verse 3.71.[27] The reference is partial because it does not cover all twelve links:[28] " In this same Nikāya, Sutta 14 describes ten links instead of twelve, and in Sutta 15 the links are described, but without the six sense-bases (for a total of nine links in that Sutta).[29]

...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:[4]

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.

Theravāda commentaries[edit]

In the commentarial literature of the Theravada tradition (attributed, at least mythically, to the author Buddhaghosa, and written many centuries subsequent to the Suttapitaka passages described above) the same doctrine is instead interpreted as a sequence of three lives, thus shifting the theme from a single conception (and birth) to a sequence of "incarnations" (roughly speaking).[z]


According to the Mahayana tradition, the Buddha taught on the twelve links in detail in the Rice Seedling Sutra.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This 12 nidana scheme can be found, for instance, in multiple discourses in the Samyutta Nikaya's chapter 12, Nidana Vagga.[4]
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Buddhaghosa compares the teaching of the Twelve Nidānas to a creeper vine that is seized and removed in one of four different ways.[citation needed]
  4. ^ Here it refers to the function of the mind that cognizes feeling.
  5. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that names (recognizes) a feeling as pleasurable, unpleasurable or neutral, depending on what was its original tendency.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ This is the faculty of the mind that can penetrate something, analyze, and objectively observe.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, skin-consciousness and mind-consciousness
  10. ^ "...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..."[10]
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Enjoyment and clinging for music, beauty, sexuality, health, etc.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Clinging for rituals, dressing, rules of cleansing the body etc.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ getting attracted, mesmerized, disgusted
  17. ^ growing older, tall, healthy, weak, becoming a parent or spouse, rich, etc.
  18. ^ annihilation, destruction, suicide, loss of a position etc.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "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." SN 12.20
  22. ^ Most Suttas follow the order from ignorance to dukkha. But SN 12.20 views this as a teaching of the requisite conditions for sustaining dukkha, which is its main application.
  23. ^ The Upanisa Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya describes the reversed order, in which the causes for enlightenment are given. This application of the principle of dependent arising is referred to in Theravada exegetical literature as "transcendental dependent arising".[13] The chain in this case is:
    1. suffering (dukkha)
    2. faith (saddhā)
    3. joy (pāmojja, pāmujja)
    4. rapture (pīti)
    5. tranquillity (passaddhi)
    6. happiness (sukha)
    7. concentration (samādhi)
    8. knowledge and vision of things as they are (yathābhūta-ñāna-dassana)
    9. disenchantment with worldly life (nibbidā)
    10. dispassion (virāga)
    11. freedom, release, emancipation (vimutti, a synonym for nibbana[14])
    12. knowledge of destruction of the cankers (āsava-khaye-ñāna)
  24. ^ "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”.[17]
  25. ^ 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)[17]
  26. ^ "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. ^ Samuel Brandon (1965). History, Time, and Deity: A Historical and Comparative Study of the Conception of Time in Religious Thought and Practice. Manchester University Press. pp. 100–101. 
  2. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 583. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Bhikku, Thanissaro. "Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta". Translated from Pali. Access To Insight. 
  4. ^ Walshe (1996), page 497.
  5. ^ Walshe, Maurice (1996). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: a Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (3. [Aufl.] ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 656. ISBN 978-0-86171-103-1. 
  6. ^ Walshe 1996, page 202.
  7. ^ See DN 15
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ a b c Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, Satipatthana Vipassana, 1995, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Wheel Publication No. 370/371
  10. ^ Bodhi, Bhikku. Transcendental Dependent Arising. A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta, The Wheel 277/278. Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka. 
  11. ^ Thera, Nyanaponika (2006). The Four Nutriments of Life: An Anthology of Buddhist Texts. Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, The Wheel Publication No. 105. 
  12. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, "Transcendental Dependent Arising: A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta." [2].
  13. ^ Paul Williams, Buddhism: The early Buddhist schools and doctrinal history ; Theravāda doctrine. Taylor & Francis, 2005, page 147.
  14. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 313.
  15. ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 314.
  16. ^ a b c Unpopular facts about one of buddhist philosophys most popular doctrines
  17. ^ a b Schumann 1974.
  18. ^ Abhidharmakosa, by Vasubandhu. Translated by Leo Pruden, Vol. II, pgs 404-405.
  19. ^ Goodman 1992, p. 225.
  20. ^ Goodman 1992, p. 225-227.
  21. ^ a b Goodman 1992, p. 227.
  22. ^ a b c Goodman 1992, p. 228.
  23. ^ Goodman 1992, p. 229.
  24. ^ a b c Goodman 1992, p. 230.
  25. ^ Goodman 1992, p. 230-231.
  26. ^ Walshe, Maurice (1996). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: a Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (3. [Aufl.]. ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 656. ISBN 978-0-86171-103-1. . This is identified as the first reference in the Canon in footnote 88 for Sutta 1, verse 3.71's footnotes.
  27. ^ Walsh 1996, page 497.
  28. ^ Walsh 1996, page 202.
  29. ^ Dalai Lama 1992, p. 36.
  30. ^ Geshe Sonam Rinchen 2006, p. 26.


  • Buddhaghosa (1999), The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga, Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, Seattle: Pariyatti Publishing (Buddhist Publication Society), ISBN 1-928706-01-0 
  • Dalai Lama (1992), The Meaning of Life, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Wisdom 
  • Geshe Sonam Rinchen (2006), How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, Snow Lion 
  • Goodman, Steven D. (1992), Situational Patterning: Pratītyasamutpāda. Footsteps on the Diamond Path (Crystal Mirror Series; v. 1-3), Dharma Publishing 
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997), Samyutta Nikaya 12.2: Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta, Analysis of Dependent Co-arising 
  • Schumann, Hans Wolfgang (1974), Buddhism: an outline of its teachings and schools, Theosophical Pub. House 

Further reading[edit]

Theravada sources:

  • Ajahn Sucitto (2010). Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching. Shambhala. (pages 61–76)

Tibetan Buddhist sources:

  • 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.

External links[edit]