Orthodox Explanation of Dependent Origination

5. Orthodox Explanation

The ortho­dox expla­na­tion of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion is detailed and intri­cate. Its study requires exten­sive knowl­edge of the texts and of the Pali language.40 Much of that mate­r­i­al is beyond the scope of this book and here a basic sum­ma­ry must suffice.

A. Factors of Dependent Origination

Avi­jjā (1) → saṅkhārā (2) → viññāṇa (3) → nāma-rūpa (4) → saḷāy­atana (5) → phas­sa (6) → vedanā (7) → taṇhā (8) → upādā­na (9) → bha­va (10) → jāti (11) → jarā­maraṇa (12) … soka-paride­va-dukkha-domanas­sa-upāyāsā = dukkha-samu­daya (ori­gin of suffering).

The ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing fol­lows the same sequence.

The cycli­cal nature of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion may be illus­trat­ed as follows:

(see pdf file)

B. Definitions

First, here are basic and lit­er­al def­i­n­i­tions for these twelve factors:41

1. Avi­jjā: igno­rance; igno­rance of truth; a lack of clear understanding.

2. Saṅkhāra: men­tal for­ma­tions; voli­tion­al for­ma­tions; voli­tion and all men­tal phe­nom­e­na stored up in the mind.

3. Viññāṇa: con­scious­ness; knowl­edge based on cognition.

4. Nāma-rūpa: men­tal and phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­na; the mind and body.

5. Saḷāy­atana: the six sense bases; the six door­ways of cog­ni­tion: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

6. Phas­sa: cog­ni­tion; con­tact between the sense bases (āyan­tana), the sense objects (āram­maṇa), and con­scious­ness (viññāṇa).

7. Vedanā: feel­ing; the sen­sa­tion of plea­sure, pain, and neu­tral feeling.

8. Taṇhā: crav­ing (for sense plea­sure, for becom­ing, and for non-existence).

9. Upādā­na: grasp­ing; cling­ing; appropriation.

10. Bha­va: becom­ing; state of exis­tence; mode of being; col­lec­tive results of voli­tion­al action (kam­ma).

11. Jāti: birth; the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the aggre­gates clung to as self.

12. Jarā­maraṇa: aging & death; the decline of the fac­ul­ties and dis­so­lu­tion of the aggregates.

Sec­ond, here are the for­mal, doc­tri­nal definitions:

1. Avi­jjā: igno­rance of suf­fer­ing, of the ori­gin of suf­fer­ing, of the ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing, and of the way lead­ing to the ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing (the Four Noble Truths), and accord­ing to the Abhid­ham­ma, igno­rance of the past, of the future, of the past and future, and of Depen­dent Origination.42

2. Saṅkhārā: Bod­i­ly voli­tion (kāya-saṅkhāra), ver­bal voli­tion (vacī-saṅkhāra), and men­tal voli­tion (cit­ta-saṅkhāra),43 and accord­ing to the Abhid­ham­ma, mer­i­to­ri­ous voli­tion (puññāb­hisaṅkhāra), demer­i­to­ri­ous voli­tion (apuññāb­hisaṅkhāra), and imper­turba­bil­i­ty-pro­duc­ing voli­tion (āneñjāb­hisaṅkhāra).44

3. Viññāṇa: the six kinds of con­scious­ness: eye-con­scious­ness (cakkhu-viññāṇa), ear-con­scious­ness (sota-viññāṇa), nose-con­scious­ness (ghā­na-viññāṇa), tongue-con­scious­ness (jivhā-viññāṇa), body-con­scious­ness (kāya-viññāṇa), and mind-con­scious­ness (mano-viññāṇa).45

4. Nāma-rūpa: ‘mind’: feel­ing (vedanā), per­cep­tion (saññā), inten­tion (cetanā), con­tact (phas­sa), and atten­tion (man­asikāra); and ‘body’: the four great ele­ments (mahāb­hū­ta) and form that depends on these four great ele­ments. The Abhid­ham­ma defines ‘name’ as the feel­ing aggre­gate (vedanā-khand­ha), the per­cep­tion aggre­gate (saññā-khand­ha), and the voli­tion­al for­ma­tion aggre­gate (saṅkhāra-khand­ha).46

5. Saḷāy­atana: the six sense bases: eye (cakkhu), ear (sota), nose (ghā­na), tongue (jivhā), body (kāya), and mind (mano).

6. Phas­sa: the six kinds of con­tact, by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.47

7. Vedanā: the six kinds of feel­ing: feel­ing aris­ing from con­tact by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.48

8. Taṇhā: the six kinds of crav­ing: crav­ing for forms (rūpa-taṇhā), crav­ing for sounds (sad­da-taṇhā), crav­ing for smells (gand­ha-taṇhā), crav­ing for tastes (rasa-taṇhā), crav­ing for tac­tile objects (phoṭṭhab­ba-taṇhā), and crav­ing for mind objects (dham­ma-taṇhā).49

9. Upādā­na: the four kinds of grasp­ing: kāmupādā­na (grasp­ing onto sen­su­al­i­ty: to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tac­tile objects); diṭṭhupādā­na (grasp­ing onto views, ideals, the­o­ries, and beliefs); sīlab­batupādā­na (grasp­ing onto rules and prac­tices, believ­ing that in them­selves they lead to spir­i­tu­al puri­ty); and attavādupādā­na (grasp­ing onto ‘self’; cre­at­ing a false idea of self and then cling­ing to this idea).

10. Bha­va: the three spheres of exis­tence: the sense-sphere (kāma-bha­va), the fine-mate­r­i­al sphere (rūpa-bha­va); and the imma­te­r­i­al sphere (arū­pa-bha­va). Alter­na­tive­ly: 1) the sphere of ‘kam­ma’ (kam­ma-bha­va)—the active process of becom­ing (equiv­a­lent to mer­i­to­ri­ous voli­tion, demer­i­to­ri­ous voli­tion, and imper­turba­bil­i­ty-pro­duc­ing voli­tion; see saṅkhāra, above), and 2) the pas­sive process of becom­ing (uppat­ti-bha­va)50, equiv­a­lent to the sense sphere, the fine-mate­r­i­al sphere, the imma­te­r­i­al sphere, the sphere of per­cep­tion (saññā-bha­va), the sphere of non­per­cep­tion (asaññā-bha­va), the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non­per­cep­tion (nevasaññānāsaññā-bha­va), the sphere of one-con­stituent being (eka­vokāra-bha­va), the sphere of four-con­stituent being (catu­vokāra-bha­va), and the sphere of five-con­stituent being (pañ­ca­vokāra-bha­va).51

11. Jāti: the birth of the five aggre­gates; the aris­ing of the sense spheres (āyatana). Alter­na­tive­ly, ‘the aris­ing of these var­i­ous phenomena.’52

12. Jarā­maraṇa: jarā (aging; weak­en­ing of the fac­ul­ties), and maraṇa (death; the break­ing up of the aggre­gates; an end of the ‘life fac­ul­ty’—jīvitin­driya). Alter­na­tive­ly, ‘the degen­er­a­tion and dis­so­lu­tion of these var­i­ous phenomena.’53

C. General Explanations

Here are sev­er­al exam­ples that give a brief and sim­ple expla­na­tion for these fac­tors of Depen­dent Origination:

(Āsa­va →) avi­jjā: the belief that going to heav­en is the high­est hap­pi­ness; the belief that killing oth­ers will bring hap­pi­ness; the belief that sui­cide will bring hap­pi­ness; the belief that birth as a Brah­ma god will bring immor­tal­i­ty; the belief that heav­en is reached by mak­ing pro­pi­tia­to­ry offer­ings; the belief that Nib­bā­na is reached by under­tak­ing aus­ter­i­ties; the belief that there is a present­ly exist­ing self that will be reborn as a result of cer­tain actions; the belief that noth­ing exists after death. Thence:

Saṅkhārā: think­ing and inclin­ing in the direc­tion of, or in accord with, such beliefs (above); con­ceiv­ing modes of con­duct and action (kam­ma) based on such inten­tions; these actions may be good (puñña), bad (apuñña or pāpa), or ‘imper­turbable’ (āneñ­ja—see āneñjāb­hisaṅkhāra, above). Thence:

Viññāṇa: aware­ness and cog­ni­tion of sense impres­sions that specif­i­cal­ly con­form to such inten­tions. A con­scious­ness with par­tic­u­lar qual­i­ties is gen­er­at­ed. At death, the force of voli­tion­al for­ma­tions (saṅkhārā)—of cre­at­ed kamma—induces rebirth-link­ing con­scious­ness (paṭisand­hi-viññāṇa), with appro­pri­ate prop­er­ties, to take rebirth in a plane of exis­tence suit­ed to it.

Nāma-rūpa: birth leads to a body and a life that is pre­pared to per­form sub­se­quent kam­ma. There arise the body aggre­gate (rūpa-khand­ha), the feel­ing aggre­gate (vedanā-khand­ha), the per­cep­tion aggre­gate (saññā-khand­ha), and the voli­tion­al for­ma­tion aggre­gate (saṅkhāra-khand­ha), which pos­sess the prop­er­ties and defi­cien­cies endowed in them by the force of pre­vi­ous­ly gen­er­at­ed kam­ma. These aggre­gates are also con­di­tioned by the nature of the par­tic­u­lar plane of exis­tence, depend­ing on birth say as a human being, an ani­mal, or a celes­tial being.

Saḷāy­atana: in order to respond to the exter­nal world, to enable cog­ni­tion, and to sat­is­fy per­son­al needs there must be a chan­nel for asso­ci­at­ing with the exter­nal world. With the sup­port of ‘mind & body’ (nāma-rūpa), life pro­ceeds accord­ing to the force of kam­ma (‘kam­mic momen­tum’) to the point where there arise the six sens­es: the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and the mind, which cog­nizes inter­nal phenomena.

Phas­sa: cog­ni­tion takes place by the con­tact or com­ing togeth­er of three fac­tors: the inter­nal sense bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind), the exter­nal sense objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tac­tile objects, and mind objects), and con­scious­ness (eye‑, ear‑, nose‑, tongue‑, body‑, and mind-con­scious­ness). With cognition:

Vedanā: there aris­es feel­ing (or ‘sen­sa­tion’), either as plea­sure (sukha-vedanā), pain (dukkha-vedanā), or a neu­tral feel­ing (adukkhama­sukha-vedanā or upekkhā-vedanā). For unawak­ened beings, the process does not end here; as a consequence:

Taṇhā: when expe­ri­enc­ing plea­sure, there is delight, cov­etous­ness, and greed. When expe­ri­enc­ing pain or dis­com­fort, there is aver­sion, annoy­ance, and hos­til­i­ty. A per­son is agi­tat­ed and wish­es for the feel­ing to dis­ap­pear. He wish­es to escape from the painful object, seek­ing to replace it with a plea­sur­able object. Alter­na­tive­ly, a per­son expe­ri­ences a neu­tral feel­ing, of indif­fer­ence, which is a sub­tle feel­ing clas­si­fied as a form of plea­sure, since there is no aver­sion. It is a mild feel­ing of ease. Thence:

Upādā­na: when desire is height­ened, there is grasp­ing. A per­son becomes attached to and pre­oc­cu­pied with an object. Before an object is acquired there is crav­ing; after the object is acquired there is grasp­ing. Grasp­ing is not con­fined to desir­able sense objects (kāmupādā­na), but extends to asso­ci­at­ed views and opin­ions (diṭṭhupādā­na), to ways of prac­tice for acquir­ing desired objects (sīlab­batupādā­na), and to a sense of self (attavādupādā­na). These dif­fer­ent forms of grasp­ing are linked. As a con­se­quence, there is:

Bha­va: the inten­tion to act in response to the afore­men­tioned grasp­ing. This inten­tion, which con­forms to the spe­cif­ic crav­ing and grasp­ing, leads to the entire range of behav­iour (the active process of becom­ing—kam­ma-bha­va), as good, bad, or ‘imper­turbable’ (āneñ­ja). For exam­ple, a per­son may wish to go to heav­en and believes that cer­tain actions will lead to this end, and thus per­forms these actions. At the same time, he or she pre­pares the ‘con­di­tions for existence’—the five aggregates—that will appear in the state of exis­tence befit­ting that kam­ma (the pas­sive process of becom­ing—uppat­ti-bha­va). When cre­ation of kam­ma oper­ates in this way, at the moment when a lifes­pan ends, the force of the accu­mu­lat­ed kam­ma (kam­ma-bha­va) impels the next stage of the cycle:

Jāti: start­ing with rebirth-link­ing con­scious­ness (paṭisand­hi-viññāṇa), which con­forms to the ‘kam­mic momen­tum,’ there is birth in a realm of exis­tence appro­pri­ate to that kam­ma. The five aggre­gates arise and life begins: ‘mind & body,’ the six sense bases, con­tact, and feel­ing arise and the wheel of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion con­tin­ues. With birth, there is cer­tain to be:

Jarā­maraṇa: dete­ri­o­ra­tion and destruc­tion of life. For unawak­ened peo­ple, aging and death are con­stant­ly felt as threat­en­ing and oppres­sive, both overt­ly and sub­con­scious­ly. There­fore, in the life of ordi­nary peo­ple, aging and death are linked to:

Soka-paride­va-dukkha-domanas­sa-upāyāsa (sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, grief, and despair), which col­lec­tive­ly are referred to as ‘suf­fer­ing.’ The con­clud­ing line of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion is thus: ‘Such is the ori­gin of this whole mass of suffering.’

As Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion exists as a cycle, this stage of sor­row, etc. is not the end. In fact, this col­lec­tion of qual­i­ties becomes anoth­er impor­tant fac­tor caus­ing the cycle to rotate fur­ther. Sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, grief, and despair reveal the exis­tence of men­tal impu­ri­ties called āsa­va that fes­ter in the heart.

There are four such impu­ri­ties or ‘taints’: 1) the desire for grat­i­fi­ca­tion by way of the five sens­es and by way of the mind (kāmāsa­va); 2) the hold­ing fast to cer­tain beliefs, like ‘I am the body’ or ‘this body is mine’ (diṭṭhāsa­va); 3) sat­is­fac­tion in a par­tic­u­lar state of exis­tence, con­sid­er­ing it supe­ri­or, pre­cious, and hap­py; the wish that one can abide in such a state and expe­ri­ence joy for­ev­er (bhavāsa­va); and 4) igno­rance of things as they are (avi­jjāsa­va).

Aging and death are the marks of decline and decay, and they run counter to these men­tal impu­ri­ties. For exam­ple, in regard to sen­su­al­i­ty, aging and death lead peo­ple to feel that they will be sep­a­rat­ed from plea­sur­able, desired sense objects. In regard to views, when one iden­ti­fies with the body, one grieves when it changes. In regard to ‘becom­ing,’ one fears that one will miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty to abide in a desired state of exis­tence. And in regard to igno­rance, one lacks basic under­stand­ing, of say the nature of aging and the prop­er course of con­duct in rela­tion to it. When a per­son who lacks prop­er under­stand­ing thinks of or encoun­ters aging and death, he or she expe­ri­ences fear and gloom and behaves in a mis­guid­ed way. The ‘taints’ thus act as fuel, giv­ing rise to sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, grief and despair the moment a per­son con­tacts aging and death.

Sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc., also reveal men­tal obscu­ri­ty. When­ev­er these neg­a­tive emo­tions are present, the mind is dim and dull. When one of these mind states aris­es, it is accom­pa­nied by igno­rance, as con­firmed by the Visud­dhimag­ga: Sor­row, pain, grief and despair are insep­a­ra­ble from igno­rance, and lamen­ta­tion is found in one who is delud­ed. So when these are estab­lished, igno­rance is estab­lished;54 This is how igno­rance should be under­stood to be estab­lished by sor­row and so on;55 As long as these [sor­row, etc.] go on occur­ring so long does igno­rance occur.56 There­fore it is said: With the aris­ing of the taints there is the aris­ing of igno­rance.57 One can con­clude that for unawak­ened per­sons aging and death, with their ret­inue of sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, pain, grief and despair, are a con­di­tion for the aris­ing of igno­rance, pro­vid­ing the next link in the cycle of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion, with­out interruption.

Sev­er­al impor­tant points may be made con­cern­ing the pre­vi­ous explanations:

1. The cycle of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion as explained above is usu­al­ly called the ‘wheel of becom­ing’ (bha­va-cakkha) or the ‘wheel of rebirth’ (saṁsāra-cakkha), and it cov­ers three dis­tinct life­times: igno­rance (avi­jjā) and voli­tion­al for­ma­tions (saṅkhārā) com­prise one lifes­pan; con­scious­ness (viññāṇa) to becom­ing (bha­va) com­prise anoth­er lifes­pan; and birth (jāti) and aging & death (jarā­maraṇa; along with sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc.) com­prise a third lifes­pan. By deter­min­ing the mid­dle inter­val (con­scious­ness to becom­ing) as the present life, the three stages (con­tain­ing twelve fac­tors) can be con­nect­ed to three peri­ods of time:

  1. Past life = igno­rance and voli­tion­al formations.
  2. Present life = con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact, feel­ing, crav­ing, grasp­ing, and becoming.
  3. Future life = birth and aging & death (with sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc.).

2. In this three-life divi­sion, the present life is con­sid­ered the prin­ci­pal peri­od of time. The rela­tion­ship of the past to the present is only viewed in the light of causal fac­tors; the results man­i­fest­ing in the present are traced back to the caus­es in the past (past caus­es → present results). Sim­i­lar­ly, the view to the future per­tains to results; present caus­es are linked to future results (present caus­es → future results). There­fore, only the present con­tains both results and caus­es; this rela­tion­ship of cause and effect can be depict­ed as four stages:58

  1. Past caus­es (atī­ta-hetu) = igno­rance and voli­tion­al formations.
  2. Present results (pacup­pan­na-pha­la) = con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact, and feeling.
  3. Present caus­es (pacup­pan­na-hetu) = crav­ing, grasp­ing, and becoming.
  4. Future results (anā­ga­ta-pha­la) = birth and aging & death (with sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc.).

3. From the expla­na­tions of each fac­tor above, it is evi­dent that some def­i­n­i­tions for these fac­tors over­lap or cor­re­spond with one anoth­er. The fac­tors can thus be grouped as follows:

A. Igno­rance (avi­jjā) with crav­ing & grasp­ing (taṇhā & upādā­na):

In the gen­er­al expla­na­tions of igno­rance above it is clear that crav­ing (taṇhā) and grasp­ing (upādā­na), espe­cial­ly grasp­ing onto a sense of self, are inher­ent in each exam­ple. When a per­son does not under­stand the truth and mis­tak­en­ly iden­ti­fies with a ‘self,’ there will be self­ish desires and attach­ments. In the phrase, ‘With the aris­ing of the taints there is the aris­ing of igno­rance,’ the taints of sense-desire, becom­ing, and views (kāmāsa­va, bhavāsa­va, and diṭṭhāsa­va) are all con­nect­ed to crav­ing and grasp­ing. There­fore, when­ev­er igno­rance is men­tioned, there is always a link to crav­ing and grasping.

Sim­i­lar­ly, in the expla­na­tions of crav­ing and grasp­ing there is always a link to igno­rance. When there is an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with ‘self,’ there is crav­ing and grasp­ing. The many forms of self­ish­ness stem from not know­ing the truth of con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na. The more peo­ple gen­er­ate desire and attach­ment, the more impaired are their crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties. They increas­ing­ly fail to apply mind­ful­ness and wis­dom, and their true dis­cern­ment of things decreases.

There­fore, igno­rance as a past cause and crav­ing & grasp­ing as present caus­es have essen­tial­ly the same mean­ing. The rea­son igno­rance is used in the past and crav­ing & grasp­ing are used in the present is to show the chief deter­min­ing fac­tors in dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the cycle.

B. Voli­tion­al for­ma­tions (saṅkhārā) with becom­ing (bha­va):

The def­i­n­i­tions for saṅkhārā and bha­va are almost iden­ti­cal. The dif­fer­ence lies in the prin­ci­pal agent that is empha­sized or in the range of focus. The def­i­n­i­tion for saṅkhārā empha­sizes inten­tion, which is the prin­ci­pal agent behind action (kam­ma). The def­i­n­i­tion for bha­va is broad­er, dis­tin­guish­ing between the active process of becom­ing (kam­ma-bha­va) and the pas­sive process of becom­ing (uppat­ti-bha­va). The active process of becom­ing also has inten­tion as the prin­ci­pal agent (like saṅkhārā), but the term kam­ma-bha­va has a wider mean­ing than saṅkhārā, encom­pass­ing the entire range of human behav­iour. The pas­sive process of becom­ing refers to the five aggre­gates, aris­ing from the active process of becoming.

C. Con­scious­ness (viññāṇa) to feel­ing (vedanā) with birth and aging & death (jāti & jarā­maraṇa; and sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc.):

The fac­tors of con­scious­ness to feel­ing refer to results in this life. The rea­son these fac­tors are list­ed in detail here is to show how present resul­tant fac­tors inter­act and pro­duce present causal fac­tors, which then lead to future results.

Birth and aging & death, as future results, demon­strate that when present causal fac­tors exist, there will inevitably be future results. Jāti and jarā­maraṇa are here used only as a sum­ma­ry, refer­ring to the aris­ing and ceas­ing of con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact, and feel­ing. And they are used to empha­size the aris­ing of suf­fer­ing, to reveal the point link­ing the process to the begin­ning (at igno­rance). There­fore, the fac­tors of con­scious­ness to feel­ing and the dual fac­tors of birth and aging & death are essen­tial­ly the same and can be used interchangeably.

By inte­grat­ing these match­ing def­i­n­i­tions, each stage in the group of four caus­es and results (see above) com­pris­es five factors:

  1. Five past caus­es: igno­rance, voli­tion­al for­ma­tions, crav­ing, grasp­ing, and becoming.
  2. Five present results: con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact and feel­ing (= birth and aging & death).
  3. Five present caus­es: igno­rance, voli­tion­al for­ma­tions, crav­ing, grasp­ing, and becoming.
  4. Five future results: con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact and feel­ing (= birth and aging & death).

Com­piled in this way, these fac­tors are known as the twen­ty ‘con­di­tions’ (ākāra).

4. In accord with the pre­ced­ing def­i­n­i­tions, it is pos­si­ble to clas­si­fy the twelve fac­tors of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion into three groups, which are called the three ‘rounds’ (vaṭṭa):

  1. Igno­rance, crav­ing, grasp­ing are defile­ments (kile­sa). They are the caus­es behind think­ing and act­ing. This group is called the ‘round of defile­ment’ (kile­sa-vaṭṭa).
  2. Voli­tion­al for­ma­tions and becom­ing (i.e., the active process of becom­ing—kam­ma-bha­va) refer to actions (kam­ma) that shape the course of life. They are known as the ‘round of inten­tion­al action’ (kam­ma-vaṭṭa).
  3. Con­scious­ness, mind & body, the six sense bases, con­tact and feel­ing are results (vipā­ka). They are the fruits of kam­ma, and become the con­di­tions for pro­duc­ing sub­se­quent defile­ments. Col­lec­tive­ly, they are known as the ‘round of results’ (vipā­ka-vaṭṭa).

The rela­tion­ship between these three rounds can be illus­trat­ed in the fol­low­ing way:59

(see pdf file)

5. As men­tal defile­ments are the source of var­i­ous forms of kam­ma, shap­ing the course of life, defile­ments are thus des­ig­nat­ed as the begin­ning of the cycle. Fol­low­ing this des­ig­na­tion, there are two start­ing points to the cycle, known as the two ‘roots’ (mūla) of the ‘wheel of becom­ing’ (bha­va-cak­ka):

  1. Igno­rance is the start­ing point from the past, influ­enc­ing the present up to feeling.
  2. Crav­ing is the start­ing point in the present, result­ing from feel­ing and influ­enc­ing the future up to aging and death.

As men­tioned ear­li­er, these two fac­tors are the promi­nent defile­ments in each respec­tive stage: igno­rance fol­lows from sor­row, lamen­ta­tion, etc., while crav­ing fol­lows from feeling.60

In ref­er­ence to rebirth, the ortho­dox expla­na­tion dis­tin­guish­es between the case where­in igno­rance is promi­nent and that where­in crav­ing is promi­nent, as follows:

Igno­rance is a pri­ma­ry agent caus­ing beings to be reborn in a bad des­ti­na­tion (dug­gati). When igno­rance dom­i­nates the mind, peo­ple are unable to dis­tin­guish between good and evil, right and wrong, help­ful and harm­ful. They tend to act in a delud­ed and unprin­ci­pled way, open­ing the door to seri­ous misconduct.

The crav­ing for exis­tence (bha­va-taṇhā), on the oth­er hand, induces peo­ple to be born in good des­ti­na­tions (sugati). When such crav­ing leads the way, peo­ple tend to focus on the good qual­i­ties of life. When think­ing of the future, they want to be born in heav­en or to be reborn as a Brah­ma. In this life they seek wealth, hon­our, and fame.

Prompt­ed by such desire dri­ven by a crav­ing for exis­tence, they cal­cu­late and act to achieve their goal. In order to become a Brah­ma they devel­op jhā­na, in order to go to heav­en they are gen­er­ous and moral­ly upright, in order to be wealthy they dili­gent­ly earn mon­ey, or in order to seek hon­our they are char­i­ta­ble. With this care and effort they are able to per­form good deeds bet­ter than some­one dwelling in ignorance.

Although igno­rance and crav­ing are des­ig­nat­ed as ‘start­ing points,’ they are not a ‘first cause’:

Bhikkhus, the begin­ning point of igno­rance is not appar­ent, so that one may say: ‘Igno­rance was not before; it has since come to be.’ Con­cern­ing this mat­ter, I say: ‘Indeed, with this as con­di­tion, igno­rance is appar­ent.’61

There is an iden­ti­cal pas­sage con­cern­ing crav­ing for existence:

Bhikkhus, the begin­ning point of crav­ing for exis­tence is not appar­ent, so that one may say: ‘Crav­ing for exis­tence was not before; it has since come to be.’ Con­cern­ing this mat­ter, I say: ‘Indeed, with this as con­di­tion, crav­ing for exis­tence is appar­ent.’62

The fol­low­ing pas­sage address­es both igno­rance and crav­ing as ‘root causes’:

Bhikkhus, for the fool, obstruct­ed by igno­rance and bound by crav­ing, this body has there­by orig­i­nat­ed. As a result, there is this pair of con­di­tions, of body and exter­nal name-and-form. Depen­dent on this pair there is con­tact by way of only six sense bases. The fool con­tacts by way of these sense bases, or by way of one among them, and thus expe­ri­ences plea­sure and pain.63

6. The inter­con­nec­tion between the fac­tors of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion cor­re­sponds to the con­nec­tions col­lec­tive­ly known as the twen­ty-four ‘sup­ports’ (pac­caya), fol­low­ing the expla­na­tion in the Abhidhamma.64

More­over, each fac­tor can be expand­ed upon. For exam­ple, con­scious­ness (or the mind) can be ana­lyzed accord­ing to its qual­i­ty (as whole­some or unwhole­some), its lev­el, and its des­ti­na­tion in a par­tic­u­lar state of exis­tence. Sim­i­lar­ly, form (rūpa) can be ana­lyzed accord­ing to dif­fer­ent types, prop­er­ties, and states of existence.

It does not seem nec­es­sary here to present these twen­ty-four sup­ports or the elab­o­rate details for each fac­tor. Read­ers who take a spe­cial inter­est may inves­ti­gate these mat­ters direct­ly in the Abhid­ham­ma texts.

The pre­ced­ing expla­na­tions can be illus­trat­ed in the fol­low­ing way:

(see pdf file)


(see pdf file)

Note: The sec­tion on causal fac­tors cor­re­sponds to ‘ori­gin’ (samu­daya) in the Four Noble Truths, because these fac­tors are the agents of suf­fer­ing. The sec­tion on results cor­re­sponds with ‘suf­fer­ing’ (dukkha) in the Four Noble Truths.

Alter­na­tive­ly, the sec­tion on caus­es is called ‘active-process becom­ing’ (kam­ma-bha­va), because this process gen­er­ates caus­es. The sec­tion on results is called the pas­sive process of becom­ing (uppat­ti-bha­va), because this process con­tains results.

There are three ‘links’ (sand­hi) between cause (hetu) and effect (pha­la): 1) (the first) cause-effect link (hetu-pha­la-sand­hi); 2) the effect-cause link (pha­la-hetu-sand­hi); and 3) (the sec­ond) cause-effect link (hetu-pha­la-sand­hi).


1 See the Pac­cayākāra-Vib­haṅ­ga: Vbh. 135–92; Vism. 517–86; VbhA. 129–213; Comp.: Paccayaparicchedo.

2 For these def­i­n­i­tions, see, e.g.: S. II. 2–4; Vbh. 135–8. For fur­ther expla­na­tions, see the ref­er­ences in the Visud­dhimag­ga and the Vibaṅ­ga-Aṭṭhakathā quot­ed above.

3 Pub­ban­ta, aparan­ta, and pub­ban­tā­paran­ta (the past, the future, and the past and future), see: Dhs. 195–6.

4 Kāya-saṅkhāra = bod­i­ly voli­tion (kāya-sañc­etanā); the twen­ty voli­tion­al for­ma­tions by way of the body (the eight whole­some voli­tions of the sen­su­ous sphere and the twelve unwhole­some voli­tions). Vacī-saṅkhāra = ver­bal voli­tion (vacī-sañc­etanā); the twen­ty voli­tion­al for­ma­tions by way of speech (as above). Cit­ta-saṅkhāra = men­tal voli­tion (mano-sañc­etanā); the twen­ty-nine voli­tion­al for­ma­tions of the ‘mind door’ (mano-dvāra), which have not yet man­i­fest­ed as a bod­i­ly or ver­bal ‘medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion’ (viññat­ti).

5 Puññāb­hisaṅkhāra (whole­some­ness that ‘shapes’ the course of life) = the thir­teen whole­some inten­tions (eight inten­tions of the sen­su­ous sphere—kāmā­vacara—and five inten­tions of the sphere of form—rūpā­vacara). Apuññāb­hisaṅkhāra (unwhole­some­ness that shapes the course of life) = the twelve unwhole­some inten­tions of the sen­su­ous sphere. Āneñjāb­hisaṅkhāra (state of sta­bil­i­ty that shapes the course of life) = the four whole­some inten­tions of the four form­less spheres (arūpā­vacara).

6 For a more detailed descrip­tion see Appen­dix 9.

7 See the appen­dix to chap­ter 1, on the five aggregates.

8 Phas­sa is the con­tact between the inter­nal sense base, the exter­nal sense object, and the con­scious­ness of that par­tic­u­lar sense faculty.

9 Feel­ing can be divid­ed into three kinds: pleas­ant, painful, and nei­ther-painful-nor-pleas­ant, or into five kinds: pleas­ant bod­i­ly feel­ing, painful bod­i­ly feel­ing, pleas­ant men­tal feel­ing, painful men­tal feel­ing, and equa­nim­i­ty—upekkhā.

10 Crav­ing can be divid­ed into three kinds: kāma-taṇhā (crav­ing for grat­i­fi­ca­tion by way of the five sens­es; delight in sen­su­al­i­ty); bha­va-taṇhā (crav­ing for eter­nal life; desire asso­ci­at­ed with an eter­nal­ist view); and vib­ha­va-taṇhā (crav­ing for extinc­tion; desire asso­ci­at­ed with an anni­hi­la­tion­ist view). Mul­ti­ply­ing these three kinds of crav­ing with the six kinds men­tioned above yields eigh­teen kinds; mul­ti­ply­ing these eigh­teen with the pair of exter­nal and inter­nal fields yields thir­ty-six; mul­ti­ply­ing these thir­ty-six with the three peri­ods of time (past, present & future) yields one hun­dred and eight (A. II. 212–13).

11 Trans.: also known as ‘rebirth-process becoming.’

12 Uppat­ti-bha­va is a term from the Abhid­ham­ma (e.g., Vbh. 137); in the lat­er sut­tas the term used is paṭisand­hi-puna-bha­va (see: Nd. II. 17, 50).

13 The last of these def­i­n­i­tions, ‘the aris­ing of these var­i­ous phe­nom­e­na,’ is used to explain Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion in the con­text of a sin­gle mind moment, fol­low­ing the teach­ings at: Vbh. 145, 159, 191.

14 For this alter­na­tive def­i­n­i­tion, see the pre­ced­ing endnote.

15 Vism. 576.

16 Vism. 577.

17 Vism. 529.

18 M. I. 54.

19 These are called the four ‘clas­si­fi­ca­tions’ (saṅ­ga­ha) or the four ‘groups’ (saṅkhepa).

20 These three rounds are depict­ed in the com­men­taries. They are a sim­ple, down-to-earth way of explain­ing Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion and the round of rebirth. For exam­ple, a per­son may act prompt­ed by defile­ment in order to acquire a desired object. If the result of this action is a plea­sur­able feel­ing, desire is increased, lead­ing to fur­ther actions and results. If, how­ev­er, a person’s actions do not lead to the desired object, the result is an unpleas­ant feel­ing; a defile­ment in the form of anger aris­es, which becomes an addi­tion­al result of the person’s actions.

21 The com­men­taries state the dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es for dis­tin­guish­ing and explain­ing these two ‘roots’: avi­jjā refers to peo­ple who are opin­ion­at­ed (diṭṭhi-cari­ta); taṇhā refers to peo­ple who are greedy (taṇhā-cari­ta). Alter­na­tive­ly, the sec­tion with igno­rance as root is used to elim­i­nate an anni­hi­la­tion­ist view, where­as the sec­tion with crav­ing as root is used to elim­i­nate the eter­nal­ist view; or, the for­mer sec­tion refers to beings who dwell in the womb, while the lat­ter refers to spon­ta­neous­ly born beings. See: Vism. 578.

22 A. V. 113; Vism. 525. Fol­low­ing from this pas­sage, igno­rance is said to have the five hin­drances (nivaraṇa) as ‘nour­ish­ment.’ [See the sec­tion: ‘Break­ing the Cycle.’]

23 A. V. 116; Vism. 525; the nour­ish­ment for bha­va-taṇhā is ignorance.

24 S. II. 23–4. [Bhikkhu Bod­hi posits that ‘exter­nal name-and-form’ here rep­re­sents the entire field of expe­ri­ence avail­able to con­scious­ness; see n. 48, p. 740, ‘The Con­nect­ed Dis­cours­es of the Bud­dha,’ Wis­dom Press.]

25 Paṭṭhā­na (Pali Canon vol­umes 40–45); the expla­na­tion is called the Paṭṭhā­na-naya. See also Comp.: Pac­caya­paricche­do, Paṭṭhānanayo.