Paticcasamuppāda: ‘dependent origination’, is the doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and psychical phenomena, a doctrine which, together with that of impersonality anattā, forms the indispensable condition for the real understanding and realization of the teaching of the Buddha. It shows the conditionality and dependent nature of that uninterrupted flux of many physical and psychical phenomena of existence conventionally called the ego, or man, or animal, etc.

Whereas the doctrine of impersonality, or anattā proceeds analytically, by splitting existence up into the ultimate constituent parts, into mere empty, unsubstantial phenomena or elements, the doctrine of dependent origination, on the other hand, proceeds synthetically, by showing that all these phenomena are, in some way or other, conditionally related with each other. In fact, the entire Abhidhamma Pitaka, as a whole, treats really of nothing but just these two doctrines: phenomenality - implying impersonality and conditionality of all existence. The former or analytical method is applied in Dhammasangani, the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka; the latter or synthetical method, in Patthāna, the last book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. For a synopsis of these two works, see: Guide I and VII.

Though this subject has been very frequently treated by Western authors, by far most of them have completely misunderstood the true meaning and purpose of the doctrine of dependent origination, and even the 12 terms themselves have often been rendered wrongly.

The formula of dependent origination runs as follows:

  1. avijiā - paccayā sankhārā Through ignorance are conditioned the sankhāras,; i.e. the rebirth-producing intentions cetanā or ‘kammic-constructions’.

  2. sankhāra - paccayā viññānam Through the kammic-constructions in the past life is conditioned consciousness in the present life

  3. viññāna - paccayā nāma - rūpam Through consciousness are conditioned the mental and physical phenomena dic3_n.htm#nāma-rūpa nāma-rūpa i.e. that which makes up our so-called individual existence.

  4. nāma - rūpa - paccayā salāyatanam Through the mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the 6 bases,; i.e. the 5 physical sense-organs, and consciousness as the sixth.

  5. salāyatana - paccayā phasso Through the six sense sources is conditioned the sensorial mental contact

  6. phassa - paccayā vedanā Through the contact is conditioned feeling

  7. vedanā - paccayā tanhā Through feeling is conditioned craving

  8. tanhā - paccayā upādānam Through craving is conditioned clinging

  9. upādāna - paccayā bhavo Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming,; consisting in the active and the passive life process, i.e. the rebirth-producing kamma-making kamma-bhava and, as its result, the rebirth-process upapatti-bhava.

10. Bhava-paccayā jāti Through the rebirth-producing kamma-process of becoming is conditioned rebirth

  1. jāti - paccayā jarāmaranam etc.:;Through rebirth are conditioned old age and death sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering again in the future

The following diagram shows the relationship of dependence between three successive lives:


  1. Ignorance avijjā

  2. kammic-constructions sankhārā

kamma-making kammabhava

5 causes: 1,2,8,9,10


  1. Consciousness viññāna

  2. Mind & Matter dic3_n.htm#nāma-rūpa nāma-rūpa

  3. six sense sources āyatana

  4. contact phassa

  5. Feeling vedanā

Rebirth-Process upapattibhava

5 results: 3-7

  1. Craving tanhā

  2. Clinging upādāna

  3. Process of Becoming bhava

kamma-making kammabhava

5 causes: 1,2,8,9,10


  1. Rebirth jāti

  2. Old Age and Death jarā - marana

Rebirth-Process upapattibhava

5 results: 3-7

Before taking up the study of the following exposition, it is suggested that the reader first goes thoroughly through the article on the 24 conditions see: paccaya For a thorough understanding of the paticcasamuppāda he should know the main modes of conditioning, as decisive support, co-nascence, pre-nascence, etc.

For a closer study of the subject should be consulted: Vis.M XVII; Fund. III; Guide Ch. VII and Appendix; Dependent Origination, by Piyadassi Thera WHEEL 15; The Significance of Dependent Origination WHEEL 140.

1: Through ignorance are conditioned the kammic-constructions; avijjā-paccayā sankhārā i.e. all advantageous and disadvantageous actions kamma of body, speech and mind, are conditioned through ignorance. By ‘kammic-constructions’ are meant kammically advantageous and disadvantageous intentions cetanā or intentional activities, in short kamma, and Fund. II.

In view of the many misconceptions current in the West, it is necessary to repeat here that kamma, as a technical term, never signifies anything but moral or immoral action, i.e. the above mentioned intentional activities, or kammic-constructions, as either causing results in the present life or being the causes of future destiny and rebirth. Thus kamma, as a philosophical term, never means the result of action, as often wrongly conceived by Western authors.

Now, in what way are the kammic-constructions conditioned through ignorance? As concerns the disadvantageous kammaconstructions associated with greed, hate or confusion lobha, dosa, moha these are always and in all circumstances, conditioned through the simultaneous ignorance inseparably associated therewith. Thus, ignorance is for the disadvantageous kammic-constructions a condition by way of conascence sahajāta-paccaya association sampayutta-paccaya presence atthi - paccaya etc. Ignorance further may be for them a condition by way of decisive support or inducement upanissaya-paccaya if, for instance, ignorance coupled with greed induces a man to commit evil deeds, such as killing, stealing, unlawful sexual intercourse, etc. In these cases, therefore, ignorance is a ‘natural decisive suppport’ or ‘direct inducement’ pakati - upanissaya - paccaya It also may become an indirect inducement, by way of object ārammanūpanissaya - paccaya of our thinking. This takes place, if, for example, someone remembers a former state of ignorance combined with sensual enjoyment, and in doing so kammically disadvantageous states spring up, such as sensual desire, grief, etc.

For the advantageous kusala kammic-constructions, ignorance can only be a condition by way of decisive support upanissaya never by way of co-nascence sahajāta etc., since advantageous consciousness at that very moment, of course, cannot be associated with any disadvantageous phenomenon, such as ignorance. Ignorance is a ‘natural decisive support’ or ‘direct inducement’ pakatupanissaya for example, if, induced by ignorance and vanity, one exerts oneself to attain the absorptions, and thus finally, through perseverance, reaches these advantageous states of mind. Ignorance may also be for advantageous kammic-constructions a ‘decisive support’ or ‘inducement by way of object’ ārammanūpanissaya if, for example, one refleets on ignorance as the root of all misery in the world, and thus finally attains insight and entrance into one of the 4 supra-mundane paths of Nobility.

For ignorance, see: avijjā for kammic-constructions, see: sankhāra.

2.;Through the kammic-constructions is conditioned consciousness; sankhāra-paccayā viññānam This proposition teaches that the advantageous and disadvantageous kammic-constructions are the causes of future rebirth in an appropriate sphere gati The kammic-constructions of the previous life condition the budding in a new mother’s womb of a fresh psycho-physical aggregation of the 5 groups of existence see: khandha which here are represented by consciousness viññāna All such kamma-resultant vipāka consciousness, however, such as visual-consciousness seeing, etc., as well as all the mental phenomena associated therewith feeling, etc., are kammically neutral. It should be understood that already from the very first moment of conception in the mother’s womb, this kamma resultant eonsciousness of the embryonic being is functioning.

Against Dr. Paul Dahlke’s misconception of the paticcasamuppāda as;one single kammical moment of personal experience,; and of the ‘simultaneity’ of all the 12 links of this formula, I should like to state here distinctly that the interpretation of the p. given here as comprising 3 successive lives not only agrees with all the different schools of Buddhism and all the ancient commentaries, but also is fully identical with the explanations given already in the canonical suttas. Thus, for example, it is said verbatim in Nidāna-Samyutta S. XII, 51:;Once ignorance 1 and clinging 9 are extinguished, neither kammically meritorious, nor disadvantageous, nor imperturbable kammic-constructions 2=10 are produced, and thus no consciousness 3=11 will spring up again in a new mother’s womb.; And further:;For, if consciousness were not to appear in the mother’s womb, would in that case mentality and materiality 4 arise?; Cf. above diagram.

The purpose of the Buddha in teaching the p. was to show to suffering mankind how, depending on ignorance and confusion, this present existence and suffering has come about, and how through ceasing of ignorance, and of the craving and clinging conditioned thereby, no more rebirth will follow, and thus the standstill of the process of existence will have been realized and therewith the ceasing of all suffering.

3.;Through consciousness are conditioned materiality and mentality; viññāna-paccayā nāma-rūpani This proposition implies that without consciousness there ean be no mental and physical process of existence. By mentality nāma is here to be understood the kamma-resultant vipāka mental phenomena, such as feeling vedanā perception saññā intention cetanā non-kammical intention is here meant, consciousness-contact phassa directing manasikāra M. 9; S. XII, 2. For the basic 7 mental phenomena inseparably associated with every state of consciousness, see: nāma By materiality rūpa is meant the 4 physical elements see: dhātu and the materiality dependent thereon see: khandha I.

Mentality is always conditioned through consciousness; i.e. consciousness viññāna is for mentality nāma a condition by way of conascence sahajāta mutuality aññamañña association sampayutta etc., since the 4 mental groups at all times form an inseparable unit.

Consciousness viññāna is for materiality rūpa a condition by way of co-nascence only at the moment of conception, thereafter a condition by way of post-nascence pacchājāta-paccaya paccaya 11 and nutriment āhāra i.e. as a support. Just as the repeatedly arising hunger is a condition and support for the pre-arisen body, so is the conseiousness arising afterwards a condition and support for the maintenance of this pre-arisen body.

4.;Through mentality and materiality are conditioned the 6 bases nāma-rūpa paccayā salāyatanam The 6 bases are a name for the 5 physical sense-organs and, as 6th, the mind-base manāyatana, i.e. consciousness.

Mentality nāma see: 3 is for the 5 physical bases āyatana or sense-organs, a condition by way of post-nascence. Cf. end of 3.

Mentality nāma i.e. feeling. etc., is for the 6th base, or consciousness - as being always inseparably associated therewith a condition by way of co-nascencc. etc.

Materiality rūpa here the 4 elements, are for the 5 physical bases āyatana or sense-organs, a condition by way of support nissaya

Materiality rūpa here the 5 physical sense-organs, are for the 6th base āyatana, i.e. consciousness, a condition by way of support and pre-nascence purejāta-paccaya.

5.;Through the 6 bases is conditioned the sensorial and mental contact; salāyatana - paccayā phasso for without the 5 physical bases, or sense-organs, there can be no sense-contacts; and without the 6th base, or consciousness, there can be no mental contact.

Thus, the 5 physical bases, eye, etc., are for the corresponding 5 sense-contacts visual contact, etc. a condition by way of support nissaya and pre-nascence purejāta whereas the 6th, the mind-base consciousness, is for the mental contact a condition by way of co-nascence, association, mutuality, etc.

6.;Through contact is conditioned feeling; phassa-paccayā vedanā i.e. the sensorial and the mental contacts are for the feeling associated therewith a condition by way of co-nascence, association, mutuality, etc.

7.;Through feeling is conditioned craving; vedanā - paccayā tanhā Any kamma-resultant feeling, whether pleasant, painful or neutral, bodily or mental, past or expected, may become for craving a condition of decisive support by way of object ārammanūpanissaya Even physically and mentally painful feeling may, through the desire to be released therefrom, become for craving a condition of decisive support by way of object ārammanupanissaya.

8.;Through craving is conditioned clinging; tanhā-paccayā upādānam ‘Clinging’ is explained as an intensified form of craving. It is of 4 kinds: 1 clinging to sensuality, 2 to erroneous views, 3 to rules and ritual, 4 to personality-belief. sense-craving is to 1 a condition of natural decisive support pakatupanissaya. For 2-4, craving is a condition by way of co-nascence, mutuality, root hetu etc. It also may be a condition of natural decisive support. For example, through craving for divine rebirth, etc. people often may be induced to cling to certain rules and rituals, with the hope of reaching thereby the object of their desires.

9.;Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming; upādāna-paccayā bhavo i.e. the advantageous and disadvantageous active kamma-making of becoming kamma-bhava, as well as the kamma-resultant vipāka passive process, the so-called ‘rebirth-process’ upapatti-bhava The kamma-making kammabhava comprises the 5 kammical causes: ignorance, kammic-constructions, craving, clinging, kamma-making see: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, of the diagram; the rebirth-process upapatti-bhava comprises the 5 kamma-results see: 3-7 of the diagram.

The kamma-making is here, correctly speaking, a collective name for generative kammic intention kamma - cetanā and all the mental phenomena associated therewith, whilst the 2nd link kammic-constructions designates only kammic intention see: āyūhana Both, however, i.e. the 2nd and 10th proposition, practically state one and the same thing, namely, that kamma is the cause of rebirth, as we shall see under 10.

Clinging upādāna may be an inducement of decisive support upanissaya to many kinds of advantageous and disadvantageous kamma. sense-clinging kāmūpādāna i.e. clinging to sense-objects, for example, may be a direct inducement to murder, theft, unlawful intercourse with the other sex, evil words and thoughts, etc. Clinging to rules and ritual sīlabbatūpādāna may lead to self-complacency, fanaticism, cruelty, etc. Clinging is also for the evil kamma associated therewith, a condition by way of co-nascence, association, etc.

10.;Through the process of becoming is conditioned rebirth; bhava-paccayā jāti i.e. through the advantageous and disadvantageous kamma-making kamma-bhava is conditioned the rebirth-process upapatti-bhava The 2nd and 10th propositions, as already pointed out, practically teach one and the same thing, namely, that kamma is the cause of rebirth; in other words, that the kammical intention cetanā is the seed out of which springs the new life, just as from the mango-seed is generated the new mango-tree.

Hence, the 5 kammical causes ignorance, etc. of the past birth are the condition for the kamma-results of the present birth; and the 5 kammical causes of the present birth are the condition for the 5 kamma-results of the next birth see: diagram. As it is said in Vis.M XVII:

Five causes were there in the past,
Five fruits we find in present life;
Five causes do we now produce,
Five fruits we reap in future life

Now, just as in this process of continually changing mental and bodily phenomena, nothing can be found that would pass from one moment to the next moment, so also there is no enduring entity, ego, or personality, within this process of existence that would transmigrate from one life to the next see: dic3_n.htm#nāma-rūpa nāma-rūpa, anattā, patisandhi, khandha No being and no living soul passed from the former life to this life, and yet this present embryo could not have entered into existence without the preceding causes; Vis.M XVII.;Many things may serve to illustrate this fact, as for example the echo, the light of a lamp, the contact of a seal, or the image produced by a mirror; ib..

Whosoever is in the dark with regard to the conditionally arisen things, and does not understand that kamma originates from ignorance, etc., he thinks that it must be his ego that knows or does not know, acts and causes to act, and that arises at rebirth. Or he thinks that the atoms, or a creator, with the help of this embryonic process, must have formed this body, or that it is the ego endowed with abilities that has contacts, feels, desires, clings, continues and enters again into existence in a new birth. Or he thinks that all beings have been born through fate, or fortuitously; Vis.M XVII.

Now, on hearing that Buddhism teaches that everything whatever in the world is determined by conditions some might come to the conclusion that Buddhism teaches some sort of fatalism, and that man has no free will, or that will is not free.

The problem ‘whether man has a free will’ does not exist for, the Buddhist, since he knows that, apart from these everchanging mental and physical phenomena, no such entity as ‘man’ can be found, and that ‘man’ is merely a name not relating to any reality. And the question, ‘whether will is free’, must be rejected for the reason that ‘will’, or intention, is a mental phenomenon flashing forth only for a moment, and that as such it had not any existence at the preceding moment. For of a thing which is not, or is not yet, one cannot, properly speaking, ask whether it is free or unfree. The only admissible question would be whether the arising of ‘will’ is independent of conditions, or whether it is conditioned. But the same question would equally apply also to all the other mental phenomena, as well as to all physical phenomena, in other words: to everything and every occurrence whatever. And the answer would be: whether will arises, or whether feeling arises, or whether any other mental or any physical phenomenon arises, the arising of anything whatsoever is dependent on conditions, and without conditions nothing ever can arise or enter into existence.

According to Buddhism, everything mental or physical happens in accordance with laws and conditions; and if it were otherwise, chaos and blind chance would reign. But such a thing is impossible and contradicts all laws of thinking. Cf. Fund. III end.

11.;Through rebirth are conditioned old age and death; jātipaccayā jarā-maranam Without birth there can be no old age and death, no suffering and misery. Thus rebirth is to old age and death, etc. a condition by way of decisive support upanissaya.

The Buddha has said D. 15:;Profound, Ananda. is this dependent origination, and profound does it appear. It is through not understanding, not penetrating, this law that this world resembles a tangled ball of thread, a bird’s nest, a thicket of sedge or reed, and that man does not escape from the lower states of existence, from the course of woe and perdition, suffering from the round of rebirth.; And further M. 28: ’Whoso understands the dependent origination understands the Dhamma; and whoso understands the Dhamma understands the dependent origination.