- Dependent Origination
- The Buddhist Law of Conditionality
- P. A. Payutto
- Translated from the Thai by Bruce Evans
The description of Dependent Origination given in the previous chapter is that most
often found in the scriptures and commentaries. It seeks to explain Dependent Origination
in terms of the samsaravatta, the round of rebirth, showing the connections
between three lifetimes -- the past, the present and the future.
Those who do not agree with this interpretation, or who would prefer
something more immediate, can find alternatives not only in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, where
the principle of Dependent Origination is shown occurring in its entirety in one mind
moment, but can also interpret the very same words of the Buddha used to support the
standard model in a different light, giving a very different picture of the principle of
Dependent Origination, one which is supported by teachings and scriptural references from
The arguments used to support such an interpretation are many. For
instance, the immediacy of the end of suffering and the sorrowless life of the Arahant
are states which can arise in this present life. It is not necessary to die before
realizing the cessation of birth, aging and death, and thus sorrow, lamentation, pain,
grief and despair. Those things can be overcome in this very lifetime. The whole of the
Dependent Origination cycle, both in the arising of suffering and in its cessation, is
concerned with this present life. If the cycle can be clearly understood as it operates in
the present, it follows that the past and the future will also be clearly understood,
because they are all part of the one cycle.
For reference, consider these words of the Buddha:
"Udayi, whosoever can recall the khandhas he has previously occupied in great
number, of such a person would it be fitting to question me about past lives, or I could
so question him; that person could satisfy me with an answer thereof, or I him. Whosoever
sees the passing away of beings and their subsequent arisings, of such a person would it
be fitting to ask me about future lives, or I could so question him; that person could
satisfy me with an answer thereof, and I him.
"Enough, Udayi, of former times and future times. I will teach you the essence of
the Dhamma: When there is this, there is that. With the arising of this, that arises. When
there is not this, that cannot be; when this ceases, so does that." [M.II.31]
* * *
The householder, Gandhabhaga, having sat down at a respectful distance, addressed the
Blessed One thus, "May the Blessed One teach me the origin and the cessation of
The Blessed One replied, "Householder, if I were to teach you the origin and the
cessation of suffering by referring to the past thus, 'In the past there was this,' doubt
and perplexity would arise in you thereof. If I were to teach you the origin and the
cessation of suffering by referring to the future thus, 'In the future there will be
this,' doubt and perplexity would arise in you thereof. Householder, I, here and now,
shall teach you, here and now, the origin and the cessation of suffering." [S.IV.327]
* * *
"Sivaka, some feelings arise on account of irregularities in the bile ... some on
account of irregularities in the phlegm ... some on account of wind ... some on account of
the confluence of numerous factors ... some on account of changes in the weather ... some
on account of irregular exercise ... some on account of external dangers ... some on
account of kamma results. That feelings arise dependent on these different causes is
something you can see for yourself and that people everywhere acknowledge. On this
account, any recluse or holy man who claims that 'All feelings that arise, be they
pleasant or unpleasant, are entirely the result of previous kamma,' can be rightly said to
have spoken in excess of what is obvious to people everywhere, and I say that such views
are wrong." [S.IV.230]
* * *
"Monks, when there is intentional, fixed and steady deliberation on any theme,
that theme becomes an object for sustaining consciousness. Where there is an object,
consciousness has an abiding. When consciousness is so firmly established and developed,
birth in a new sphere (bhava) ensues. When there is arising into a new sphere of
existence, birth, old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair follow.
Thus is there the arising of this whole mass of suffering." [S.II.65]
Although this interpretation of the principle of Dependent Origination must be
understood in its own right, we nevertheless do not discard the pattern established by the
standard model. Therefore, before going into its meaning, we should first reiterate the
standard model, adapting the definitions in keeping with this interpretation.
1. Ignorance -- ignorance of the truth, or things as they are; being
deluded by nominal realities; the ignorance behind beliefs; lack of wisdom; failure to
understand cause and effect.
2. Volitional Impulses -- mental activities, willful intent, intention
and decision, and their generation of actions; the organization of the thinking process in
accordance with accumulated habits, abilities, preferences, and beliefs; the conditioning
of the mind and the thinking process.
3. Consciousness -- the awareness of sensations, namely: seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and cognizing; the basic climate of the mind from
moment to moment.
4. Body and mind (the animated organism) -- the presence of
corporeality and mentality within awareness; the state of coordination between the body
and the mind to function in line with the stream of consciousness; the bodily and mental
changes as a result of mental states.
5. The six sense bases -- the functioning of the sense bases.
6. Contact -- the point of contact between awareness and the outside
7. Feeling -- of pleasure, pain or indifference.
8. Craving -- the desire to seek pleasurable sense objects and to
escape the unpleasant. Craving is of three kinds: wanting to have and enjoy, wanting to
be, and wanting to destroy or be rid of.
9. Clinging -- attachment and grasping to either pleasant or
unpleasant feelings, to the conditions of life which precipitate such feelings, and the
evaluation of and attitudes toward those things in terms of their potential to satisfy
10. Becoming -- the entire process of behavior
generated to serve craving and clinging (kammabhava -- the active process); also
the conditions of life resulting from such forces (upapattibhava --the passive
11. Birth -- clear recognition of emergence in a state of existence;
identification with states of life or modes of conduct, and the resulting sense of one who
enjoys, occupies or experiences them.
12. Aging and death -- the awareness of separation, or deprivation of
the self from a state of existence or identity; the feeling or threat of annihilation or
separation from such states of being; from there, the resulting experience of sorrow,
lamentation, pain, grief and despair (even in their most subtle forms).
How the links connect
1 => 2. Ignorance as a determinant for volitional impulses: With no
knowledge or awareness of the truth, no clear understanding or wise reflection on
experiences, the result is confused thinking based on conjecture and imagination, and
conditioned by beliefs, fears and accumulated character traits. These consequently
condition any decisions to act, speak or think.
2 => 3. Volitional impulses as determinants for consciousness: With
intention, consciousness is conditioned accordingly. We have a tendency (or are
conditioned) to see, hear and cognize what our background intentions influence us to.
Moreover, the context within which we see, hear or cognize will also be conditioned by
those intentions. Intention will lead the consciousness to repeatedly recollect and
proliferate about certain events. It will also condition the basic state of mind, or
consciousness, to assume either fine and good or base and evil qualities; consciousness is
conditioned in conformity with good or evil intentions.
3 => 4. Consciousness as a determinant for body and mind:
Cognition, sight, hearing and so on, entail physical properties (rupadhamma) and
mental properties (namadhamma) that we know and see. In addition, when
consciousness operates, the relevant physical and mental properties (these being the
'cohorts' of consciousness -- the khandhas of form, feeling, perception and
volitional impulses), must also function accordingly and in coordination with the nature
of that consciousness. For instance, when consciousness is fashioned by anger, perceptions
arising as a result will be correspondingly negative. The body will take on features in
conformity with the hostile intention, such as aggressive facial expressions, tensing of
the muscles, and high blood pressure. Feelings will be unpleasant. When consciousness
takes on any particular feature repeatedly and habitually, the subsequent mental and
physical properties will become the corresponding bodily and mental traits of bearing and
4 => 5. Body and mind as determinants for the six sense bases: When
body and mind function the relevant sense bases will be activated to meet their demand (in
seeking relevant information or in enjoying sensations). Those sense doors will function
in accordance with the bodily and mental states conditioning them.
5 => 6. The six sense bases as determinants for contact: With the
functioning of the various sense doors, contact (phassa), the impingement on
them, or full awareness of sensations, arises, dependent on the sense door functioning at
6 => 7. Contact as a determinant for feeling: Together with the
awareness of sensations there must also be feelings of one kind or another: if not
pleasant or unpleasant, then neutral.
7 => 8. Feeling as a determinant for craving: With the experience
of pleasant sensations there follows liking and attachment. This is sense craving (kamatanha).
Sometimes desire is for a position from which it will be possible to control and indulge
in those pleasant feelings. This is craving for being or for states of being (bhavatanha).
Experiences which produce feelings of discomfort or suffering usually cause thoughts of
aversion and the desire to be rid of the source of those feelings. This is craving for
non-being (vibhavatanha). Within neutral feelings, such as indifference or
dullness, there is a subtle attachment, so that indifference is regarded as a subtle form
of pleasant feeling, liable to evolve into desire for more overt forms of pleasure at any
8 => 9. Craving as a determinant for clinging: As desire becomes
stronger it develops into clinging, a kind of mental preoccupation, creating an attitude
toward and evaluation of the object of desire (with vibhavatanha, a negative
evaluation will be formed). A fixed position is adopted towards things: if there is
attraction it precipitates a binding effect, an identification with the object of
attraction. Whatever is connected with that object seems to be good. When there is
repulsion, the object of that repulsion seems to affront the self. Any adopted position
towards these things tends to reinforce clinging, which will be directed toward, and in
turn reinforce the value of:
- Sense objects (kama)
- Ideas and beliefs (ditthi)
- Systems, models, practices and so on (silavatta)
- The belief in a self (attavada) to either attain or be thwarted from its
9 => 10. Clinging as a determinant for becoming: Clinging
conditions bhava, life states, both on the level of behavior (kammabhava),
and as regards character and the physical and mental properties (upapattibhava).
These could, for example, be the pattern of behavior (kammabhava) and character
traits (upapattibhava) of one who aspires to be rich, or who desires power, fame,
beauty, or who hates society, and so on.
10 => 11. Becoming as a determinant for birth: Given a life state
to be occupied and possessed, a being arises to fill it as enjoyer or experiencer. This is
the distinct feeling of occupation or possession of that life state. There is a perception
of one who acts and one who reaps the fruits of actions, one who succeeds and one who
fails, one who gains and one who loses.
11 => 12. Birth as a determinant for aging and death: Birth into a
life state necessarily entails the experiences of prosperity and decline within it. These
include the imminent degeneration of that state, the experiences of adversity and ruin
within it, and the separation from and destruction of it. There is a constant threat of
danger, and a constant need to protect and maintain the self. The inevitability of decline
and dissolution, together with the constant anxiety and effort to protect that state from
them, combine to cause sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, or suffering.
1 => 2. Ignorance ... volitional impulses: Not knowing the truth,
the mind proliferates and imagines accordingly, like a man who, believing in ghosts
(ignorance), is frightened (volitional impulse) by the light reflected from the eyes of an
animal at night; or like a person speculating about something held in another's closed
fist; or like a person who believes that celestial beings can create anything they wish,
and devises ceremonies or mystic phrases to supplicate them; or like one who, unaware of
the true nature of conditioned things as unstable and subject to determinants, sees them
as attractive and desirable, and aspires to obtain and control them. As long as any trace
of ignorance is still present, volitional impulses or proliferation will be produced.
2 => 3. Volitional impulses ... consciousness: With cetana,
intention, along with mental coloration, consciousness, as seeing, hearing and so on, is
conditioned accordingly. Without intention or interest, consciousness may not arise, even
in a situation where it is possible for it to do so. For example, when we are reading an
absorbing book, our attention does not wander, but acknowledges only the matter being read
into consciousness. Even a loud sound or bites from mosquitoes may go unnoticed. When we
are intent on searching for a particular object, we may not notice other objects.
One and the same object looked at in different circumstances, with
different intentions, may be seen differently, depending on the context of the intention.
For example, a vacant plot of land to a child may appear as a great playground; to a man
intending to build a house it may seem like a prospective retirement home; to a farmer,
different features again will seem important, while to an industrialist, still different
features will be prominent.
If we look at the same object at different times, in the context of
different thoughts, different features will appear prominent. When thinking wholesome
thoughts, the mind is influenced by those thoughts, and interprets the object of awareness
in their context. Thinking in a harsh and injurious way, the mind takes note of, turns
toward and interprets the meaning of its associated objects of awareness in the light of
those destructive thoughts. For example, amidst a collection of objects placed together
might be a knife and some flowers. A flower lover might notice only the flowers and none
of the other objects placed nearby. The more intense the interest and attraction to those
flowers, the more intense will be the awareness of them to the exclusion of everything
else. Another person in need of a weapon might notice only the knife. In the case of a
number of people seeing the same knife, for one there might be the perception of a weapon,
while for another there might be the perception of a kitchen utensil, while yet another
might see it as a piece of scrap metal, all depending on the background and intention of
3 => 4. Consciousness ... body and mind: Consciousness and body and
mind are interdependent, as Venerable Sariputta said:
"Like two sheaves of reeds standing, supporting each other, with body and mind as
condition there is consciousness; with consciousness as condition, body and mind. If we
remove the first of those sheaves of reeds, the other falls down. If we remove the other
sheaf, the first will tumble. In the same way, with the cessation of body and mind,
consciousness ceases; with the cessation of consciousness, body and mind cease."
In this context, with the arising of consciousness, body and mind
will arise, and must arise. As volitional impulses condition consciousness, they also
condition body and mind, but because body and mind depend on consciousness for their
existence, being properties of consciousness, it is thus said: "volitional impulses
condition consciousness, and consciousness conditions body and mind." Thus, we could
analyze the way consciousness conditions body and mind in the following way:
1. When the mind is said to cognize any particular sensation, such
as in seeing or hearing, in fact it is simply the cognition of body and mind
(specifically, the khandhas of form, feeling, perception and volitional
impulses). All that exists on an experiential level is what is cognized by consciousness
from moment to moment, the physical and mental properties apparent to the senses. When
there is cognition there are relative mental and physical properties that are experienced.
The existence of a rose, for example, is the cognition by the visual or cognitive sense at
that time. Apart from this, there is no 'rose' as such, other than as a concept in the
mind. The 'rose' is not independent of the feelings, perceptions and concepts occurring at
that time. Thus, when there is consciousness, body and mind will simultaneously and
independently be there.
2. Body and mind, especially mental qualities, dependent on any
instant of consciousness will assume qualities harmonious with that consciousness.
Whenever mental activities, or volitional impulses, are wholesome, the consciousness
resultant on them will be subsequently cheerful and clear, and bodily gestures will be
buoyant. When volitional impulses are unwholesome they lead to the cognition of sensations
from a harsh and harmful perspective. The mental state will be negative, and bodily
gestures and behavior will be influenced accordingly. In this state, the constituent
factors, both mental and physical, are in a state of readiness to act in conformity with
the volitional impulses that condition consciousness. When there is a feeling of love and
affection (volitional impulse) there arises the cognition of pleasing sensations
(consciousness), the mind (nama) is cheerful and bright, as are facial features (rupa).
With anger there is the cognition of unpleasant sensations, the mind is depressed and
facial features are sullen and aggressive.
On the sports field, the footballer focuses his attention and
interest on the game being played. His awareness arises and ceases with an intensity
proportional to the strength of his interest in the game. All the necessary components of
body and mind are primed to function and perform their duties as directed. The
interrelationship in this case refers to and includes the successive arising and ceasing
of body and mind (or physical and mental properties). The active properties of body and
mind converge to form the overall state of being as it is directed by consciousness and
volitional impulses (note the similarity to bhava).
All the events taking place at this stage are important steps in the
generation of kamma and its results. The cycle, or vatta, has completed one small
revolution (ignorance is defilement, or kilesa; volitional impulses are kamma;
consciousness and body and mind are kamma-results, or vipaka) and is preparing to
begin a new cycle. This is a significant stage in the building of habits and
4 => 5. Body and mind ... six sense bases: Body and mind must
function through awareness of the outside world, which, together with previously acquired
experience, is in turn used to serve the intention or volitional impulses. Thus the
components of body and mind which serve as transmitters and receivers of sensations (the
sense bases) are in a state of alertness to function in conformity with their
determinants. For instance, in the case of the football player on the field, the sense
organs responsible for receiving the sensations directly concerned with the sport being
played, such as eye and ear, will be primed to receive those sensations. At the same time,
those senses not immediately concerned, such as taste or smell, will be dormant, or in a
state of suspended activity.
5 => 6. The six sense bases ... contact: Awareness arises through
the sense bases, based on the coordination of three factors: internal sense bases (eye,
ear, nose, tongue, body, mind), external sense objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes,
bodily feelings and mental impressions), and consciousness (through eye, ear, nose,
tongue, body and mind). Awareness arises in conformity with each particular sense base.
6 => 7. Contact ... feeling: Wherever there is contact there must
be the experience of one of the three kinds of feelings: comfort or happiness (sukhavedana),
discomfort or pain (dukkhavedana), or indifference, neither happiness nor pain (upekkha
The third link to the seventh, that is, from consciousness to
feeling, is known as the vipaka, or kamma-resultant, section of the Dependent
Origination cycle. Links 5, 6 and 7, in particular, are neither wholesome nor unwholesome
in themselves, but can be catalysts for the arising of wholesome and unwholesome thoughts
7 => 8. Feeling ... craving: When pleasant feeling is experienced,
desire usually follows. With unpleasant feeling, the reaction is one of stress, a desire
to have the unpleasant object removed or annihilated. There is also a desire to seek
distraction in pleasant feeling. Neutral feelings, or indifference, induce a condition of
dullness or complacency. Both are subtle and deluding forms of pleasant feeling which the
mind tends to attach to. They can also act as catalysts for the generation of desire for
further pleasant feeling.
Craving can be divided into three distinct kinds, thus:
1. Kamatanha -- Craving for
desirable sense objects.
2. Bhavatanha -- 'Craving for
being,' craving for particular life situations; on a deeper level, this includes the life
instinct and the desire to maintain a particular condition or identity.
3. Vibhavatanha --
'Craving for non-being,' the craving to escape from or be free of disliked objects or
situations; this kind of craving usually expresses itself in feelings such as despair,
depression, self-hatred and self-pity.
Craving thus appears in three main forms: as craving for sense
objects, craving for life situations, and craving to be free of unpleasant situations.
This last form of craving is particularly noticeable when desires are thwarted or opposed,
and expresses itself in resentment, anger and aggression.
8 => 9. Craving ... clinging: Objects of desire become objects of
attachment, the more intense the desire, the more intense the attachment. Craving develops
into specific attitudes and values. With unpleasant feeling, clinging manifests as an
obsessive aversion to the object of that feeling and an obsessive desire to seek escape
from it. In this way, there is clinging to objects of the senses, to the life situations
which can provide them, to identities, opinions, theories, and methods for procuring them
and to the concept or image of a self to enjoy or suffer from those situations.
9 => 10. Clinging ... becoming: Clinging naturally affects life
situations in one way or another, and its effects occur on two levels. Firstly, clinging
ties the self to, or causes it to identify with, particular life situations which are
believed to either fulfill desires or provide the means to escape from things not desired.
If there are desired situations, there will naturally be situations not desired. Such
grasped-at life situations are called upapattibhava.
Attachment to any life situation will produce thoughts or intentions
to either become or avoid it. These thoughts will include the machinations to invent ways
and means of effectuating those desires. All of this thinking and activity is molded by
the direction and mode of clinging. That is, they operate under the influence of
accumulated attitudes, beliefs, understandings, values and likes or dislikes. Some simple
- Desire for rebirth in a heavenly realm will cause clinging to teachings, belief systems
or practices which are believed to effectuate such a rebirth, and behavior will be
- Desire for fame will produce clinging to those values and the relevant behavior assumed
to be required to attain fame, and to the self which is going to attain it. Behavior which
results is conditioned by that clinging.
- Desire to acquire possessions belonging to another will condition the thought processes
accordingly. Clinging habitualizes the thought pattern, which may eventually, for one
lacking circumspection and moral conscience, lead to theft. The original aim of becoming
an owner becomes the actuality of being a thief. In this way, through seeking to attain
objects of desire, people will either create unskillful actions and develop bad habits, or
create skillful actions and develop virtue, depending on the nature of their beliefs and
The specific pattern of behavior resulting from the
influence of clinging, including the nature of events so conditioned, is called kammabhava
(actions conditioning rebirth). The life situations resulting from such modes of
behavior, be they desired or not, are called upapattibhava (states of rebirth).
This stage of the Dependent Origination cycle is pivotal in the
creation of kamma and its results, and on a long term basis plays a crucial role in the
development of habit and character traits.
10 => 11. Becoming ... birth: At this point there arises the
distinct feeling of a self, an identification with a certain situation or condition,
either desired or undesired. In Dhamma language we might say that a being has arisen
within that state (bhava), resulting in the feeling of one who is a thief, an
owner, a success, a failure, a nobody and so on. In the case of the ordinary person,
birth, or the arising of the sense of self, can be most easily observed in times of
discord, when clinging tends to arise in very extreme ways. In arguments, even
intellectual debates, if defilements are used instead of wisdom, a distinct sense of self
will arise in the form of such thoughts as 'I am superior,' 'I am the boss,' 'he is my
subordinate,' 'he is inferior,' 'this is my view,' 'my view is being contested,' 'my
authority is being questioned' and so on. These are all instances where the identity is
being discredited or threatened. Birth is therefore most obvious at times of jaramarana,
decay and death.
11=> 12. Birth ... aging and death: Given a self which occupies or
assumes a certain position, it follows that this self will sooner or later be deprived of
or separated from that position. The self is threatened by alienation, frustration,
misfortune, conflict and failure. Although it seeks to maintain its position indefinitely,
all that arises must inevitably experience decay and dissolution. Even before dissolution
sets in, the self is surrounded by the threat of impending doom. This intensifies clinging
to life situations. Fear of death arises from the awareness of danger. The fear of death
and dissolution is embedded deeply within the mind and is always influencing human
behavior, causing neuroses, insecurity, the intense and desperate struggle for desired
life situations, and despair in the face of suffering and loss. Thus for the ordinary
person, the fear of death haunts all happiness.
In this context, when the self appears in any undesired life
situation, is deprived of a desired situation, or is threatened with the possibility
thereof, it is left with disappointment and frustration, or, in the Pali language, soka
(sorrow), parideva (lamentation), dukkha (pain), domanassa
(grief) and upayasa (despair). Surrounded by all this suffering, the result is
distraction and confusion, which are functions of ignorance. Most efforts to relieve
suffering are thus directed by ignorance, and so the cycle continues.
A simple example: For the average person living in a competitive
world, success does not stop at merely the social phenomenon of success, with all its
trappings, but includes clinging to the identity of being a successful person, which is a
'becoming,' or life state (bhava). Occasionally the feeling of self will manifest
as thoughts of "I am a success," which in effect means "I have been born (jati)
as a successful person." However, such success, in its fullest sense, is dependent on
external conditions, such as fame, praise, attainment of special privileges, admiration
and recognition. Birth as a "success," or "being successful," depends
not only on recognition and admiration from others, but the presence of a loser, someone
to succeed over. As soon as a successful being is born, he or she is threatened with
fading, obscurity and loss. In this situation, all the feelings of depression, worry and
disappointment which have not been properly dealt with by mindfulness and clear
comprehension will become accumulated in the subconscious, and they will exert an
influence on subsequent behavior in accordance with the Dependent Origination cycle.
Whenever there is the arising of the self-concept, there is an
occupation of space; when there is occupation of space, there must be a boundary or
limitation; when there is limitation, there must be separation; when there is separation
there must be the dualism of 'self' and 'not self.' The self will grow and extend outwards
through the desire to attain, to act and to impress others. However, it is not possible
for self to grow indefinitely according to its desires. The expanding self will inevitably
meet with obstruction in some form or other, and desires will be thwarted, if not
externally then from within. If one has any sensitivity to the esteem of others,
opposition will arise in the form of one's own sense of conscience. If there is no
suppression of these desires and they are allowed to express themselves fully, opposition
will appear from external sources. Even if it were possible to indulge every desire to the
full, such activity is weakening. It only serves to increase the power of craving itself,
together with its attendant feeling of lack. Not only does it increase dependence on
externals, but it increases internal conflict. When desires are unfulfilled, tension,
conflict and despair are the natural result.
An example of Dependent Origination in
Let us take a simple example of how the principle of Dependent Origination operates in
everyday life. Suppose there are two school chums, named 'John' and 'Ian.' Whenever they
meet at school they smile and say "Hello" to each other. One day John sees Ian,
and approaches him with a friendly greeting ready, only to be answered with silence and a
sour expression. John is peeved by this, and stops talking to Ian. In this case, the chain
of reactions might proceed in the following way:
1. Ignorance (avijja): John is ignorant of
the true reason for Ian's grim face and sullenness. He fails to reflect on the matter
wisely and to ascertain the real reasons for Ian's behavior, which may have nothing at all
to do with his feelings for John.
2. Volitional Impulses (sankhara): As a
result, John proceeds to think and formulate theories in his mind, conditioned by his
temperament, and these give rise to doubt, anger, and resentment, once again dependent on
his particular temperament.
3. Consciousness (vi˝˝ana): Under the
influence of these defilements, John broods. He takes note of and interprets Ian's
behavior and actions in accordance with those previous impressions; the more he thinks
about it, the surer he gets; Ian's every gesture seems offensive.
4. Body and mind (namarupa): John's
feelings, thoughts, moods, facial expressions and gestures, that is, the body and mind
together, begin to take on the overall features of an angry or offended person, primed to
function in accordance with that consciousness.
5. Sense bases (salayatana): John's sense
organs are primed to receive information that is related to and conditioned by the
body-mind organism's state of anger or hurt.
6. Contact (phassa): The impingement on
the sense organs will be of the activities or attributes of Ian which seem particularly
relative to the case, such as frowning expressions, unfriendly gestures, and so on.
7. Feeling (vedana): Feelings, conditioned
by sense contact, are of the unpleasant kind.
8. Craving (tanha): Vibhavatanha,
craving for non-being, arises, the dislike or aversion for that offensive image, the
desire for it to go away or to be destroyed.
9. Clinging (upadana): Clinging and
obsessive thinking in relation to Ian's behavior follows. Ian's behavior is interpreted as
a direct challenge; he is seen as a disputant, and the whole situation demands some kind
of remedial action.
10. Becoming (bhava): John's subsequent
behavior falls under the influence of clinging and his actions become those of an
11. Birth (jati): As the feeling of enmity
becomes more distinct, it is assumed as an identity. The distinction between 'me' and
'him' becomes more distinct, and there is a self which is obliged to somehow respond to
12. Aging and death (jaramarana): This
'self,' or condition of enmity, exists and flourishes dependent on certain conditions,
such as the desire to appear tough, to preserve honor and pride, and to be the victor,
which all have their respective opposites, such as feelings of worthlessness, inferiority,
and failure. As soon as that self arises, it is confronted with the absence of any
guarantee of victory. Even if he does attain the victory he desires, there is no guarantee
that John will be able to preserve his supremacy for any length of time. He may not, in
fact, be the 'tough victor' he wants to be, but rather the loser, the weakling, the one
who loses face. These possibilities of suffering play with John's moods and produce
stress, insecurity, and worry. They in turn feed ignorance, thus beginning a new round of
the cycle. Such negative states are like festering wounds which have not been treated, and
so continue to release their 'poisoning' effect on John's consciousness, influencing all
of his behavior, and causing problems both for himself and for others. In John's case, he
may feel unhappy for the whole of that day, speaking gruffly to whoever he comes into
contact with, and so increasing the likelihood of more unpleasant incidents.
In this case, if John were to practice correctly he would be advised
to start off on the right foot. Seeing his friend's sullenness, he could use his
intelligence (yoniso-manasikara: considering in accordance with causes and
conditions) and reflect that Ian may have some problem on his mind -- he may have been
scolded by his mother, he may be in need of money, or he may simply be depressed. If John
reflected in this way no incident would arise, his mind would be untroubled, and he might
even be moved toward compassionate action and understanding.
Once the negative chain of events has been set in motion, however,
it can still be cut off with mindfulness at any point. For instance, if it had continued
on up to sense contact, where Ian's actions were perceived in a negative way, John could
still set up mindfulness right there: instead of falling under the power of craving for
non-being, he could instead consider the facts of the situation and thereby gain a fresh
understanding of Ian's behavior. He could then reflect wisely in regard to both his own
and his friend's actions, so that his mind would no longer be weighed down by negative
emotional reactions, but instead respond in a clearer and more positive way. Such
reflection, in addition to causing no problems for himself, could also serve to encourage
the arising of compassion.
Before leaving this example, it might be useful to reiterate some
- In real life, the complete cycles or chains of events, such as that mentioned in this
example, take place very rapidly. A student finding out that he has failed an exam,
someone receiving bad news, such as the death of a loved one, or a man who sees his wife
with a lover, for example, may all feel intense sorrow or shock, even going weak at the
knees, screaming or fainting. The more intense the attachment and clinging, the more
intense the reaction will be.
- It should be stressed once again that the inter-determination within this chain of
events does not necessarily have to be in sequential order, just as chalk, a blackboard,
and writing are all indispensable determinants for the white letters on a blackboard's
surface, but do not have to appear in sequential order.
- The teaching of Dependent Origination attempts to clarify the workings of nature, to
analyze the unfolding of events as they actually occur, so that the causes can be more
easily identified and corrected. As for the details of how that correction can be
effectuated, they are not the concern of the teaching of Dependent Origination, but are
rather the domain of magga (the Path), or the Middle Way.
In any case, the examples given here are very simplified and may
seem somewhat superficial. They are not sufficiently detailed to convey the full subtlety
of the principle of Dependent Origination, especially such sections as ignorance as a
determinant for volitional impulses, and sorrow, lamentation and despair conditioning the
further turning of the cycle. Looking at our example, it may appear that the cycle only
arises occasionally, that ignorance is a sporadic phenomena, and that the ordinary person
may spend large periods of his or her life without the arising of ignorance at all. In
fact, for the unenlightened being, ignorance of varying degrees is behind every thought,
action and word. The most basic level of this ignorance is simply the perception that
there is a self which is thinking, speaking and acting. If this is not borne in mind, the
true relevance of the teaching to everyday life may be overlooked. For this reason some of
the more profound aspects of this chain of events will now be examined in more detail.
14. The term upapattibhava comes from the
Abhidhamma. In the later Suttas, the term is patisandhipunnabhava (see Nd2 569).
[Back to text]
15. Scholars are divided over interpretations of bhavatanha
and vibhavatanha. Two or three groups of definitions of the term are given in the
Tipitaka and Comentaries (Vbh.365; Vism.567) Some scholars compare bhavatanha
with Freud's life instinct or life wish, and vibhavatanha to the death instinct
or death wish. (See M. O'c. Walshe, Buddhism for Today, Allen and Unwin, London,
1962, pp. 37-40.) There is a particularly lucid definition in the Itivuttaka (It.43-44). [Back to text]
Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix