Research Study

Ignorance And Conditioning
Six Sense Bases / Cognition /
Karma And The Ending Of Karma
'I' And The Ending of 'I'
Cause-Effect (Paticca Samuppada)


Paticcasamuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination) is fundamental to the teaching of the Buddha. Emphasizing its importance, the Buddha said :

Yo paticcasamuppadam passati,
so Dhammam passati.
Yo Dhammam passati,
so paticcasamuppadam passati.

One who sees paticcasamuppada
sees the Dhamma.
One who sees the Dhamma
sees paticcasamuppada..

Paticcasamuppada explains that samsara, the process of repeated existences, is perpetuated by a chain of interconnected links of cause and effect ; it also reveals the way of breaking this chain and putting an end to the process. Man has been continuing in this Samsara since millenia - through countless aeons-millenia upon millenia.

The Buddha said:

Tanhadutiyo puriso,
dighamaddhana samsaram
samsaram nativattati.

The man with craving as his companion has been flowing in the stream of repeated existences from time immemorial. He comes into being, experiences various types of miseries, dies again and again, and does not put an end to this unbroken process of becoming.

This is samsara, the world of suffering, as explained by the Buddha. He further said:

Etamadinavam natva,
tanham dukkhassa sambhavam
Vitatanho anadano,
sato bhikkhu paribbaje.

Rightly understanding the perils of this process, realizing fully craving as its cause, becoming free from craving and attachment, one should mindfully lead the life of detachment.
Such an approach, he said, will have great benefit:

Nandi-samyojano loko,
vitakkassa vicaranam
Tanhaya vippahanena,
nibbanam iti vuccati.

Pleasure is the binding force in the world. Rolling thought processes are its ever-changing base. With the complete eradication of craving, The state called nibbana is attained.

These statements made by the Buddha describe the nature of samsara, the state of suffering, and the nature of Nibbana, the state of final emancipation. But how can detachment be developed, and craving eradicated?

This is the practical aspect of Dhamma discovered by Siddhartha Gotama, the realization that made him a Buddha (enlightened one), and that he in turn revealed to the world by the doctrine of Paticcasamuppada.

According to this doctrine, twelve links form the wheel of becoming (bhava-cakka).

Avijja-paccaya sankhara;
sankhara-paccaya vinnanam;
vinnana-paccaya nama-rupam;
nama-rupa-paccaya salayatanam;
salayatana-paccaya phasso;
phassa-paccaya vedana;
vedana-paccaya tanha;
tanha-paccaya upadanam;
upadana-paccaya bhavo;
bhava-paccaya jati;
jati-paccaya jara-maranam
domanassupayasa sambhavanti;
evametassa kevalassa
dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti. (6)
Avijjaya tveva asesa viraga-
nirodha, sankhara-nirodho;
sankhara-nirodha vinnana-nirodho;
vinnana-nirodha nama-rupa-nirodho;
nama-rupa-nirodha salayatana-nirodho;
salayatana-nirodha phassa-nirodho;
phassa-nirodha vedana-nirodho;
vedana-nirodha tanha-nirodho;
tanha-nirodha upadana-nirodho;
upadana-nirodha bhava-nirodho;
bhava-nirodha jati-nirodho;
jati-nirodha jara-maranam
domanassupayasa nirujjhanti;
evametassa kevalassa
dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti.

Chain of Dependent Origin

Forward Order

Dependent on ignorance, reaction (conditioning) arises;
Dependent on reaction (conditioning), consciousness arises;
Dependent on consciousness, mind-body arise;
Dependent on mind-body, the six senses arise;
Dependent on the six senses, contact arises;
Dependent on contact, sensation arises;
Dependent on sensation craving and aversion arise ;
Dependent on craving and aversion, clinging arises ;
Dependent on clinging, the process of becoming arises ;
Dependent on the process of becoming, birth arises;
Dependent on the base of birth, ageing and death arise,
together with sorrow, lamentation, physical and mental sufferings and tribulations.

Thus arises this entire mass of suffering.

Reverse Order

With the complete eradication and cessation of ignorance, reaction (conditioning) ceases;
with the cessation of reaction (conditioning), consciousness ceases;
with the cessation of consciousness, mind-body cease;
with the cessation of mind-body, the six senses cease;
with the cessation of the six senses, contact ceases;
with the cessation of contact, seansation ceases;
with the cessation of sensation, craving and aversion cease;
with the cessation of craving and aversion, clinging ceases;
with the cessation of clinging, the process of becoming ceases;
with the cessation of the process of becoming, birth ceases;
with the cessation of birth, ageing and death cease, together
with sorrow, lamentation, physical and mental sufferings and tribulations.

Thus this entire mass of suffering ceases.

In other words, the origin of each link depends upon the preceding one. As long as this chain of twelve causal relations operates, the wheel of becoming (bhava-cakka) keeps turning, bringing nothing but suffering. This process of cause and effect is called anuloma-paticcasamuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination in forward order). Every link of anuloma results in misery (dukkha), as a result of avijja which is at the base of every link. Thus the process of anuloma clarifies the first two Noble Truths, dukkha-sacca (suffering), and samudaya-sacca (its origination and multiplication).

We have to emerge from this bhava-cakka of dukkha. Explaining how to do so, the Buddha said that when any one of the links of the chain is broken, the wheel of becoming comes to an end, resulting in the cessation of suffering. This is called patiloma-paticcasamuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination in reverse order) which clarifies the third and fourth Noble Truths, nirodha-sacca (the cessation of suffering), and nirodha-gamini- patipada-sacca (the path that leads to the cessation of suffering). How can that be achieved? Which link of the chain can be broken?

Through deep insight, the Buddha discovered that the crucial link is vedana. In the anuloma-paticcasamuppada, he says "vedana-paccaya tanha'' (with the base of sensation, craving and aversion arise). Vedana is the cause of tanha, which gives rise to dukkha. In order to remove the cause of dukkha or tanha; therefore, one must not allow vedana to connect with tanha; in other words, one must practise Vipassana meditation at this juncture so that avijja becomes vijja or panna (wisdom). One has to observe vedana, to experience and to comprehend the truth of its arising and passing away, i.e., anicca.

Through Vipassana (the observation of the reality 'as it is'), as one experiences vedana properly, one comes out of the delusion of nicca-sanna (perception of permanence) by the development of anicca-bodha or anicca-vijja (the wisdom of impermanence) towards vedana. This is practised by observing with equanimity, the arising and passing away of vedana. With aniccabodha, the habit pattern of the mind changes. Instead of the earlier pattern of vedana-paccaya tanha, through anicca-vijja it becomes vedana paccaya panna (with the base of sensation wisdom arises). As panna becomes stronger and stronger, naturally the sanna and with it tanha, becomes weaker and weaker. The process of the multiplication of suffering with the base of avijja then becomes the process of the cessation of suffering, with vijja as the base. As this process continues, a time comes where there is the complete cessation of vedana as well as tanha: "vedana-nirodha tanha nirodho" (with the cessation of sensation, craving and aversion cease).

This state of emancipation is a state beyond mind-matter ; where both vedana and sanna cease. One can experience this for a few seconds, minutes, hours, or days when according to one's own capacity, one becomes established in nirodha-samapatti by practising Vipassana. After the period of nirodha-samapatti (the attainment of cessation), when one comes back to the sensual field of mind-matter, one again experiences vedana. But now the whole habit pattern of the mind has been changed, and continued observation leads to the stage where one does not generate aversion or craving at all because the anusaya kilesa and the asava (the deep-rooted mental impurities) are eradicated. In this way by the breaking of one link, vedana, the whole process is shattered and the wheel of repeated existence is broken completely.

If we want to advance on the path of liberation, we have to work at the level of vedana because it is here that the rotation of the wheel of misery can be arrested. With vedana starts the turning of the bhava-cakka (wheel of becoming), leading (because of avijja) to vedana-paccaya tanha which causes suffering. This is the path which ignorant persons (puthujjana) follow, since they react to vedana and generate tanha. And from here also the Dhamma-cakka, (wheel of Dhamma) or the wheel of cessation of suffering (dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada) can start to rotate, leading to vedana-nirodha, tanha-nirodho: the end of craving, as a result of anicca-vijja or panna, leading to the cessation of suffering. This is the path which wise persons (sapanna) follow by not reacting to vedana, because they have developed anicca-bodha by the practice of Vipassana.

Many of the contemporaries of the Buddha held the view that craving causes suffering and that to remove suffering one has to abstain from the objects of craving. In order to develop detachment, the Buddha tackled the problem in a different way. Having learned to examine the depths of his own mind, he realized that between the external object and the mental reflex of craving is a missing link: vedana (sensation). Whenever we encounter an object through the five physical senses or the mind, a sensation arises; and based on the sensation, tanha arises. If the sensation is pleasant we crave to prolong it, and if it is unpleasant we crave to be rid of it. It is in the chain of Dependent Origination that the Buddha expressed his profound discovery.

Phassa-paccaya vedana
Vedana-paccaya tanha. (5)

Dependent on contact, sensation arises.
Dependent on sensation, craving arises.

The immediate cause for the arising of craving and of suffering is, therefore, not something outside of us but rather the sensations that occur within us. To free ourselves from craving and suffering we must deal with this inner reality of sensations. Doing so is the practical way to emerge from suffering. By developing anicca-vijja (the wisdom of impermanence) we learn to cut the knots of our misery and witness the true nature of Dhamma. Vedana then is the cause of our bondage when not properly observed, as well as the means of our liberation when properly observed by understanding the Dhamma, the law of paticcasamuppada.

1. Majjhima-nikaya I, Nal. 241, PTS 191.
2. Suttanipata, verse 339, Nal. 383, PTS 139.
3. Ibid.,verse 340, Nal. 383, PTS 140.
4. Samyutta-nikaya I, Nal. 37, PTS 39; Suttanipata, verse 134, Nal. 436, PTS 202.
5. Vinaya, Mahavagga, Nal. 3, PTS 2.
6. Paticca Samuppada Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya, XII (I), 1

-BASED ON a VRI Research article, Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal-VRI (Pg. 254-256)


''The law of patthana'' of the Abhidhamma Pitaka is known as the ''law of relations'' or cause-effect and paticca samuppada can be more accurately translated as ''law of dependent origination''. There are 24 types of relations, as explained in ''the law of ''patthana'', on which cause-effect are based. 'hetu' (condition) and kamma (karma) are 2 of these 24 types. Sayagyi U Ba Khin has said: ''hetu is the condition of the mind at one conscious moment of each karma action whether physical, vocal or mental.

Each karma therefore produces a condition of mind which is either moral, immoral or neutral. (These are mental forces or Dhamma, the content of mind is called dhamma). ... All beings are subject to the law of karma. As the karma comes out of the mind which is everchanging the effects of karma must necessarily also be changing''

-Pg 49-50 sayagyi U Ba Khin journal VRI

Details can be studied from an Abhidhamma book or the discourse given by Sayagyi on this in the Sayagyi Journal-VRI. All this is not for intellectualization but it is 'what is' or self knowledge; This is 'reading the book which is oneself' with insight and ending all misery and sorrow.

(Please refer to the Dhamma teaching as quoted under ''Journey from sensations to sacred-State beyond mind and matter''/''Nibbana-sacred-freedom'' in this study.)

© Buddha Dharma Education Association > home > back