The teaching of Dependent Origination relates to nothing less than the metaphysics of causation. The Sanskrit term, Pratiyasamutpada, is translated differently by various authors. The term “Dependent Origination” is commonly used.1 2
The twelve links of Dependent Origination are:
Avidyā: Ignorance, unknowing; not understanding the full meaning and implication of the Four Noble Truths.
Samskarā: Kamma-productive mental tendencies or “activities;” habitual activities of the mind that are aligned to self-vew.
Vijñana: Discriminative awareness or consciousness; the activity of the six senses, acting in a dualistic way, defining the subject as distinct from the object.
Nāma-Rūpa: Name-and-form; feeling, perception, contact, volition, attention, and their objects.
Sadātayana: The six senses; eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.
Sparśa: Contact, impression; the mental impression of a thing, which arises dependent on feeling and perception.
Vedanā: Feeling; painful, pleasant, neutral bodily or mental experiences.
Trsnā: Craving, thirst; Instinctive desire–to have, to attain, to get away from experiences.
Upādanā: Grasping, clinging; Leaning or feeding on sensual or mental experiences.
Bhava: Becoming; Solidifying awareness into a fixed state of mind, one that seeks permanence.
Jāti: Birth; the experience of being a separate entity in a temporal context.
Jarā-marana: Aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; the sense of ego-loss, through physical death or the breaking up of the psychological foundations of the self.
The components of Dependent Origination in the can be thought of as a wheel,3 similar to process to the turning of the cycle of samsara. Even more helpfully, he explains the wheel of Dependent Origination in terms of a single human existence–from conception to death (including all the important pre-birth and post-death bits).
Three broad categories contain the twelve links of dependent origination. First is the Five Past Effects. These five effects are five stages of life. First is subconscious mind, which is an unborn being’s blind will toward life. Second is Name-Form. In this context, Name-Form emerges when mind and body first combine. Third, the six sense organs emerge and distinguish themselves. They are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Fourth is the first few years of life. Fifth is perception, which equates to years three through five of childhood. These five stages represent the coming-together of effects from the past and from circumstances uncontrollable to the child.
Next come the Three Causes in the Present. First is Desire. Second is Cleaving. Third is Formation of Being. Through perception a person has feelings (sorrow, happiness, etc.). Desire arises in relation to pleasant feelings. Cleaving is when we attach ourselves to the object of desire. Formation of Being occurs when there is a link between the present feeling and the future. Through desire and cleaving, we create existence (Formation of Being).
The two future stages are perhaps the most crucial of all: Birth and Death. The impressions accumulated throughout life cease at death, but they leave karmic imprints for the next chapter–a new Birth, perpetuating the entire cycle of Dependent Origination again through subconscious mind.
Put more succinctly by a translator4 of the Heart Sutra:
Ignorance causes formative forces. Formative forces cause consciousness. Consciousness causes name-and-form. Name-and-form causes sense fields. Sense fields cause contact. Contact causes feeling. Feeling causes craving. Craving causes grasping. Grasping causes becoming. Becoming causes birth. Birth causes decay and death.
2Sucitto, 2010, 62-63.
3Takakusu, 1947, 30-33.
4Tanahashi, 2014, 13.