The twelve factors of dependent arising — the law
of causality in effect
The Buddha did not teach dependent arising merely
as a theory. Rather it is central to the
aim of Dhamma, deliverance from suffering.
The first point to the round of becoming, samsara, cannot
be discovered. No matter how far we go back in time, we always
find a possibility of going back further. However, though samsara
does not have a distinct beginning in time, it does have a
distinct causal structure. It is sustained, kept in motion,
by a precise set of conditions.
These conditions — the twelve factors — make
up the practical side of the Buddha’s teaching on dependent
arising. These twelve factors are:
six sense faculties
ageing and death.
With the arising of this, that arises
The Buddha sets forth these twelve factors of dependent arising
as a series of statements — "With A as condition,
Dependent on ignorance, volitional formations arise.
Dependent on volitional formations, consciousness arises.
Dependent on consciousness, mentality-materiality arises.
Dependent on mentality-materiality, the six sense faculties
Dependent on the the six sense faculties, faculties contact
Dependent on contact, feeling arises.
Dependent on feeling, craving arises.
Dependent on craving, clinging arises.
Dependent on clinging, existence arises.
Dependent on existence, birth arises.
Dependent on existence, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain,
grief and despair arise.
These conditions are the twelve links the chain of causation.
That is, they are the most prominent factors in the series
of causes and results that make up our experience in samsara.
To use another metaphor, they might also be called the twelve
spokes in the wheel of existence, a wheel that turns from birth
to death and from death back to new birth.
We’ll now explore each of the twelve factors and their
The Buddha starts the sequence of factors with ignorance, avijja.
What is ignorance?
is not seeing the Four Noble Truths.
Ignorance, the Buddha says, is not knowing.
Not ignorance in the sense of not knowing anything, but rather
not seeing the Four Noble Truths — the truth
of suffering, its origin, its cessation and the way to
its cessation. Ignorance does not mean the mere lack of conceptual
understanding of these, but spiritual blindness, not understanding
the Four Noble Truths in their full depth and range.
Ignorance is not the 'uncaused' first cause of things. It
too arises through conditions. As a mental
factor it depends on the minds and bodies of beings.
Though it arises through conditions, ignorance is the
most fundamental condition. Therefore the Buddha
takes this as a starting point for links on the chain
ignorance as condition the volitional formations
Dependent on our spiritual blindness we engage
in actions grounded in our wrong views, in illusions.
We activate our will.
Volitional formations are mental formations.
The factor of sankhara is equivalent to kamma, in the
sense of volitional formations or acts of will which are expressed
outwardly through the body and speech.
volitional formations as condition consciousness
From the Buddhist perspective, consciousness is not regarded
as a single persisting entity, a self or a soul which
continues unchanged. Consciousness is rather a series of acts
of consciousness, each one arising and breaking up like the
waves of the ocean. When death occurs the last act of consciousness
in this life arises and passes away. But through the force
of ignorance and volitional formations, the final act of consciousness
generates a new act of consciousness and starts a new existence.
consciousness as condition mentality-materiality
A living being is a compound of five aggregates, the material
factor being form and four mental factors being feeling,
perception, mental formations and consciousness. (See
Lesson 6.) On the mental side,
associated with consciousness, are the other three factors
of feeling, perception and mental formations. These
five aggregates continue all the way to death dependent on
mentality-materiality as condition the six sense
The six sense faculties
The six sense faculties are the five physical sense faculties — the
eye, ear, nose, tongue and body — as well as the
mind faculty. The mind, the organ of thought, coordinates the
other sense data and also cognizes its own objects — ideas,
images, concepts, etc.
These faculties serve as our means for gathering information
about the world. Each faculty can receive the type of
sense data appropriate to itself. The eye receives form,
the ear sounds, nose smells etc. Thus we come to the next link.
the six sense faculties as condition contact
Consciousness comes together with
the sense objects through the sense faculty. For example, the
eye consciousness contacts form through the eye.
contact as condition feeling arises
Feeling is the "effective tone" with which
the mind experiences the object, the feeling being determined
by the organ through which the feeling arises. For example,
there is feeling born of eye contact,
feeling born of ear contact, etc. By way of its effective quality,
feelings are of three types: pleasant, painful and neutral
feeling as condition craving arises
With this link we take a major step forward in the movement
of the wheel of existence. All the factors we have mentioned
so far — consciousness, mentality-materiality,
the six sense faculties, contact and feeling — arise
from volitional formations.
But with the arising of craving, experience moves
from the past to the causes operating in the present, those
causes which generate a new existence in the future.
we experience pleasant feelings we become attached to
When we experience pleasant feelings we become attached
to them. We enjoy them, relish them, crave for a continuation
of them. Thus craving arises. When we experience painful feeling,
this pain awakens an aversion, a desire to eradicate its source,
or to flee from them.
craving as condition clinging arises
Clinging is the intensification of craving. Here we
are dealing with the forward movement of the round.
There are four types of clinging:
clinging to sense pleasures
clinging to views, theories and beliefs
clinging to rituals, rules and observances
cling to the notion of a self within the five aggregates
clinging as condition existence arises
Bhava is the "kammicly" accumulative side
of existence, the phase of life in which we act and accumulate
kamma, in which we generate more volitional formations, in
which we build up these formations, accumulate them in the
flow of consciousness. When these kammas are accumulated after
death they bring about a new existence. (You will learn about
kamma in the next lesson.)
existence as condition birth arises
birth as condition ageing, death, sorrow, lamentation,
pain, grief and despair arise
Because we take birth in the future, we pay the inevitable
price with ageing and death and also sorrow, lamentation,
pain, grief and despair.