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Buddhism in a Nutshell by Narada Mahathera

Chapter VIII

Paticca Samuppada

Paticca means because of, or dependent upon: Samuppada "arising or origination." Paticca Samuppada, therefore, literally means -- "Dependent Arising" or "Dependent Origination."

It must be borne in mind that Paticca Samuppada is only a discourse on the process of birth and death and not a theory of the ultimate origin of life. It deals with the cause of rebirth and suffering, but it does not in the least attempt to show the evolution of the world from primordial matter.

Ignorance (Avijja) is the first link or cause of the wheel of life. It clouds all right understanding.

Dependent on ignorance of the Four Noble Truths arise activities (Sankhara) -- both moral and immoral. The activities whether good or bad rooted in ignorance which must necessarily have their due effects, only tend to prolong life's wandering. Nevertheless, good actions are essential to get rid of the ills of life.

Dependent on activities arise rebirth-consciousness (Vinnana). This links the past with the present.

Simultaneous with the arising of rebirth-consciousness there come into being mind and body (Nama-rupa).

The six senses (Salayatana) are the inevitable consequences of mind and body.

Because of the six senses contact (Phassa) sets in. Contact leads to feeling (Vedana).

These five -- viz., consciousness, mind and matter, six senses, contact and feeling -- are the effects of past actions and are called the passive side of life.

Dependent on feeling arises craving (Tanha). Craving results in grasping (Upadana). Grasping is the cause of Kamma (Bhava) which in its turn, conditions future birth (Jati). Birth is the inevitable cause of old age and death (Jara-marana).

If on account of cause effect comes to be, then if the cause ceases, the effect also must cease.

The reverse order of the Paticca Samuppada will make the matter clear.

Old age and death are possible in and with a psychophysical organism. Such an organism must be born; therefore it pre-supposes birth. But birth is the inevitable result of past deeds or Kamma. Kamma is conditioned by grasping which is due to craving. Such craving can appear only where feeling exists. Feeling is the outcome of contact between the senses and objects. Therefore it presupposes organs of senses which cannot exist without mind and body. Where there is a mind there is consciousness. It is the result of past good and evil. The acquisition of good and evil is due to ignorance of things as they truly are.

The whole formula may be summed up thus:

Dependent on Ignorance arise Activities (Moral and Immoral)
" " Activities arises Consciousness (Re-birth Consciousness)
" " Consciousness arise Mind and Matter
" " Mind and Matter arise the six Spheres of Sense
" " the Six Spheres of Sense arises Contact
" " Contact arises Feeling
" " Feeling arises Craving
" " Craving arises Grasping
" " Grasping arise Actions (Kamma)
" " Actions arises Rebirth
" " Birth arise Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair.

Thus does the entire aggregate of suffering arise. The first two of these twelve pertain to the past, the middle eight to the present, and the last two to the future.

The complete cessation of Ignorance leads to the cessation of Activities.

The cessation of Activities leads to the cessation of Consciousness.
" " " Consciousness leads to the cessation of mind and matter.
" " " Mind and Matter leads to the cessation of the six Spheres of Sense.
" " " the six Spheres of Sense leads to the cessation of Contact,
" " " Contact leads to the cessation of Feeling.
" " " Feeling leads to the cessation of Craving.
" " " Craving leads to the cessation of Grasping.
" " " Grasping leads to the cessation of Actions.
" " " Actions leads to the cessation of Re-birth.
" " " Re-birth leads to the cessation of Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair.

Thus does the cessation of this entire aggregate of suffering result.

This process of cause and effect continues ad infinitum. The beginning of this process cannot be determined as it is impossible to say whence this life-flux was encompassed by nescience. But when this nescience is turned into knowledge, and the life-flux is diverted into Nibbanadhatu, then the end of the life process of Samsara comes about.

next: Chapter IX

Dhamma Essay:
Pathways to Power by Ayya Khema


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