Full Moon of the month of Visakha, now more than two thousand
five hundred years ago, the religious wanderer known as Gautama,
formerly Prince Siddhartha and heir to the throne of the Sakiyan
peoples, by his full insight into the Truth called Dharma
which is this mind and body, became the One Perfectly Enlightened
or Awakening, called Sambodhi, abolished in himself unknowing
and craving, destroyed greed, aversion and delusion in his heart,
so that "vision arose, super-knowledge arose, wisdom arose,
discovery arose, light arose a total penetration into
the mind and body, its origin, its cessation and the way to
its cessation which was at the same time complete understanding
of the "world," its origin, its cessation and the
way to its cessation. He penetrated to the Truth underlying
all existence. In meditative concentration throughout one night,
but after years of striving, from being a seeker, He became
"the One-who-Knows, the One-who-Sees."
came to explain His great discovery to others, He did so in
various ways suited to the understanding of those who listened
and suited to help relieve the problems with which they were
with his Great Wisdom exactly what these were even if his listeners
were not aware of them, and out of His Great Compassion taught
Dhamma for those who wished to lay down their burdens. The burdens
which men, indeed all beings, carry round with them are no different
now from the Buddha's time. For then as now men were burdened
with unknowing and craving. They did not know of the Four Noble
Truths nor of Dependent Arising and they craved for fire and
poison and were then as now, consumed by fears. Lord Buddha,
One attained to the Secure has said:
Ananda, is this Dependent Arising, and it appears profound.
It is through not understanding, not penetrating this law
that the world resembles a tangled skein of thread, a woven
nest of birds, a thicket of bamboo and reeds, that man does
not escape from (birth in) the lower realms of existence,
from the states of woe and perdition, and suffers from the
round of rebirth."
of Dependent Arising is the root of all sorrows experienced
by all beings. It is also the most important of the formulations
of Lord Buddhas Enlightenment. For a Buddhist it is therefore
most necessary to see into the heart of this for oneself. This
is done not be reading about it nor by becoming expert in scriptures,
nor by speculations upon ones own and others concepts
but by seeing Dependent Arising in ones own life and by
coming to grips with it through calm and insight in ones
"own" mind and body.
who sees Dependent Arising, sees the Dharma."
by an image of a blind woman who blunders forward, unable to
see where she is going. So ignorance is blindness, not seeing.
It is a lack of insight into the reality of things.
word "avijja" is a negative term meaning "not
knowing completely" but it does not mean "knowing
nothing at all." This kind of unknowing is very special
and not concerned with ordinary ways or subjects of knowledge,
for here what one does not know are the Four Noble Truths, one
does not see them clearly in ones own heart and ones
own life. In past lives, we did not care to see 'dukkha' (1),
so we could not destroy 'the cause of dukkha' (2) or craving
which has impelled us to seek more and more lives, more and
more pleasures. 'The cessation of dukkha' (3) which perhaps
could have been seen by us in past lives, was not realised,
so we come to the present existence inevitably burdened with
dukkha. And in the past we can hardly assume that we set our
feet upon the 'practice-path leading to the cessation of dukkha'
(4) and we did not even discover Stream-entry. We are now paying
for our own negligence in the past.
unknowing is not some kind of first cause in the past, for it
dwells in our hearts now. But due to this unknowing, as we shall
see, we have set in motion this wheel bringing round old age
and death and all other sorts of dukkha. Those past "selves"
in previous lives who are in the stream of my individual continuity
did not check their craving and so could not cut at the root
of unknowing. On the contrary they made kamma, some of the fruits
of which in this present life I, as their causal resultant,
helps us to understand this: a blind old woman (avijja is of
feminine gender) with a stick picks her way through a petrified
forest strewn with bones. It is said that the original picture
here should be an old blind she-camel led by a driver, the beast
being one accustomed to long and weary journeys across inhospitable
country, while its driver could be craving. Whichever simile
is used, the beginninglessness and the darkness of unknowing
are well suggested. We are the blind ones who have staggered
from the past into the present to what sort of future?
on the existence of unknowing in the heart there was volitional
action, kamma or abhisankhara, made in those past lives.
2nd Link: VOLITIONAL
Represented by a potter. Just as a potter forms clay into something
new, an action begins a sequence that leads to new consequences.
Once put into motion, the potter's wheel continues to spin without
much effort. Likewise, an action creates a predisposition in
actions have the latent power within them to bear fruit in the
future - either in a later part of the life in which they were
performed, in the following life, or in some more distant life,
but their potency is not lost with even the passing of aeons;
and whenever the necessary conditions obtain that past kamma
may bear fruit. Now, in past lives we have made kamma, and due
to our ignorance of the Four Noble Truths we have been "world-upholders"
and so making good and evil kamma we have ensured the continued
experience of this world.
this, obstructed by unknowing in their hearts have been compared
to a potter making pots: he makes successful and beautiful pottery
(skillful kamma) and he is sometimes careless and his pots crack
and break up from various flaws (unskillful kamma). And he gets
his clay fairly well smeared over himself just as purity of
heart is obscured by the mud of kamma. The simile of the potter
is particularly apt because the word 'Sankhara' means "forming,"
"shaping," and "compounding," and therefore
it has often been rendered in English as "Formations."
on the existence of these volitions produced in past lives,
there arises the Consciousness called "relinking"
which becomes the basis of this present life.
Link: CONSCIOUSNESS (vinnana)
rebirth consciousness or "consciousness that links on",
is represented by a monkey going from window to window. This
represents a single consciousness perceiving through the various
sense organs. The monkey represents the very primitive spark
of sense-consciousness which is the first moment in the mental
life of the new being.
consciousness may be of different qualities, according to the
kamma upon which it depends. In the case of all those who read
this, the consciousness "leaping" into a new birth
at the time of conception, was a human relinking consciousness
arising as a result of having practiced at least the Five Precepts,
the basis of "humanness" in past lives. One should
note that this relinking consciousness is a resultant, not something
which can be controlled by will. If one has not made kamma suitable
for becoming a human being, one cannot will, when the time of
death comes round, "Now I shall become a man again!"
The time for intentional action was when one had the opportunity
to practice Dhamma. Although our relinking- consciousness in
this birth is now behind us, it is now that we can practice
Dhamma and make more sure of a favourable relinking consciousness
in future that is, if we wish to go on living in Samsara.
is the third constituent necessary for conception, for even
though it is the mothers period and sperm is deposited
in the womb, if there is no "being" desiring to take
rebirth at that place and time there will be no fertilisation
of the ovum.
upon relinking-consciousness there is the arising of Mind-body.
Link: MIND - BODY
Depicted by people sitting in a boat with one of them steering.
The boat symbolises form, and its occupants, the mental aggregates.
not a very accurate translation but gives the general meaning.
There is more included in rupa that is usually thought of as
body, while mind is a compound of feeling, perception, volition
and consciousness. This mind and body is two interactive continuities
in which there is nothing stable. Although in conventional speech
we talk of "my mind" and "my body," implying
that there is some sort of owner lurking in the background,
the wise understand that laws govern the workings of both mental
states and physical changes and mind cannot be ordered to be
free of defilements, nor body told that it must not grow old,
become sick and die.
But it is
in the mind that a change can be wrought instead of drifting
through life at the mercy of the inherent instability of mind
and body. So in the illustration, mind is doing the work of
punting the boat of psycho-physical states on the river of cravings,
while body is the passive passenger. The Tibetan picture shows
a coracle being rowed over swirling waters with three (? or
four) other passengers, who doubtless represent the other groups
or aggregates (khandha).
the coming into existence of mind-body, there is the arising
of the Six Sense-spheres.
Link: SIX SENSE - SPHERES
by a house with six windows and a door. The senses are the 'portals'
whereby we gain our impression of the world. Each of the senses
is the manifestation of our desire to experience things in a
with six windows is the usual symbol for this link. These six
senses are eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mind, and these
are the bases for the reception of the various sorts of information
which each can gather in the presence of the correct conditions.
This information falls under six headings corresponding to the
six spheres: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles and thoughts.
Beyond these six spheres of sense and their corresponding six
objective spheres, we know nothing. All our experience is limited
by the senses and their objects with the mind counted as the
sixth. The five outer senses collect data only in the present
but mind, the sixth, where this information is collected and
processed, ranges through the three times adding memories from
the past and hopes and fears for the future, as well as thoughts
of various kinds relating to the present. It may also add information
about the spheres of existence which are beyond the range of
the five outer senses, such as the various heavens, the ghosts
and the hell-states. A mind developed through collectedness
(samadhi) is able to perceive these worlds and their inhabitants.
six sense-spheres existing, there is Contact.
Link: CONTACT (phassa)
couple embracing depicts the contact of the sense organs with
there objects. With this link, the psychophysical organism begins
to interact with the world. The sensuous impression is
symbolised by a kiss. This indicates that there is a meeting
with an object and a distinguishing of it prior to the production
the contact between the six senses and the respective objects.
For instance, when the necessary conditions are all fulfilled,
there being an eye, a sight-object, light and the eye being
functional and the person awake and turned toward the object,
there is likely to be eye-contact, the striking of the object
upon the sensitive eye-base. The same is true for each of the
senses and their type of contact. The traditional symbol for
this link shows a man and a woman embracing.
In dependence on sensuous impressions, arises Feeling.
Link: FEELING (vedana)
Symbolised by an eye pierced by an arrow. The arrow represents
sense data impinging on the sense organs, in this case the eye.
In a very vivid way, the image suggests the strong feelings
which sensory experience evokes although
only painful feeling is here implied, both painful and pleasant
are intended. Even a very small condition causes a great deal
of feeling in the eye. Likewise, no matter what kind of feeling
we experience, painful or pleasurable, we are driven by it and
conditioned by it.
have been various sorts of contact through the six senses, feelings
arise which are the emotional response to those contacts. Feelings
are of three sorts: pleasant, painful and neither pleasant nor
painful. The first are welcome and are the basis for happiness,
the second are unwelcome and are the basis for dukkha while
the third are the neutral sort of feelings which we experience
so often but hardly notice.
feelings are unstable and liable to change, for no mental state
can continue in equilibrium. Even moments of the highest happiness
whatever we consider this is, pass away and give place to different
ones. So even happiness which is impermanent based on pleasant
feelings is really dukkha, for how can the true unchanging happiness
be found in the unstable? Thus the picture shows a man with
his eyes pierced by arrows, a strong enough illustration of
feelings arise, Cravings are (usually) produced.
Represented by a person drinking beer. Even though it harms
you, no matter how much you drink, you just keep on drinking.
Also known as attachment, it is a mental factor that increases
desire without any satisfaction.
Up to this
point, the succession of events has been determined by past
kamma. Craving, however, leads to the making of new kamma in
the present and it is possible now, and only now, to practice
Dhamma. What is needed here is mindfulness (sati), for without
it no Dhamma at all can be practiced while one will be swept
away by the force of past habits and let craving and unknowing
increase themselves within ones heart. When one does have
mindfulness one may and can know "this is pleasant feeling,"
"this is unpleasant feeling," "this is neither
pleasant nor unpleasant feeling" and such contemplation
of feelings leads one to understand and beware of greed, aversion
and delusion, which are respectively associated with the three
feelings. With this knowledge one can break out of the Wheel
of Birth and Death. But without this Dhamma-practice it is certain
that feelings will lead on to more cravings and whirl one around
this wheel full of dukkha. As Venerable Nagarjuna has said:
have only surface sweetness,
hardness within and bitterness deceptive as the kimpa-fruit.
Thus says the King of Conquerors.
renounce they bind the world
Within samsaras prison grid.
If your head or dress caught fire
in haste you would extinguish it.
Do likewise with desire.
whirls the wheel of wandering-on
and is the root of suffering.
No better thing to do!"
the word trisna (tanha) means thirst, and by extension implies
"thirst for experience." For this reason, craving
is shown as a toper guzzling intoxicants and in the picture
has been added more bottles representing craving for sensual
sphere existence and the craving for the higher heavens of the
Brahma-worlds which are either of subtle form, or formless.
the kamma of further craving is produced there arises Grasping.
Represented by a monkey reaching for a fruit. Also known as
clinging, it means mentally grabbing at an object one desires.
the mental state that clings to or grasps the object. Because
of this clinging which is described as craving in a high degree,
man becomes a slave to passion.
is fourfold: 1. Attachment to sensual pleasures; 2. Attachment
to wrong and evil views; 3. Attachment to mere external observances,
rites and rituals; and 4. Attachment to self, an erroneous lasting
soul entity. Man entertains thoughts of craving, and in proportion
as he fails to ignore them, they grow till they get intensified
to the degree of tenacious clinging.
an intensification and diversification of craving which is directed
to four ends: sensual pleasures, views which lead astray from
Dhamma, external religious rites and vows, and attachment to
the view of soul or self as being permanent. When these become
strong in people they cannot even become interested in Dhamma,
for their efforts are directed away from Dhamma and towards
dukkha. The common reaction is to redouble efforts to find peace
and happiness among the objects which are grasped at. Hence
both pictures show a man reaching up to pick more fruit although
his basket is full already.
this grasping is found there Becoming is to be seen.
Represented by a woman in late pregnancy. Just as she is about
to bring forth a fully developed child, the karma that will
produce the next lifetime is fully potentialized though not
boiling with craving and grasping, people ensure for themselves
more and more of various sorts of life, and pile up the fuel
upon the fire of dukkha. The ordinary person, not knowing about
dukkha, wants to stoke up the blaze, but the Buddhist way of
doing things is to let the fires go out for want of fuel by
stopping the process of craving and grasping and thus cutting
off Ignorance at its root. If we want to stay in samsara we
must be diligent and see that our 'becoming', which is happening
all the time shaped by our kamma, is 'becoming' in the right
direction. This means 'becoming' in the direction of purity
and following the white path of Dhamma-practice. This will contribute
to whatever we become, or do not become, at the end of this
life when the pathways to the various realms stand open and
we 'become' according to our practice and to our death-consciousness.
the presence of Becoming there is arising in a new birth.
Link: BIRTH (jati)
This link is represented by the very explicit image of a woman
giving birth to a child.
the appearance of the five aggregates (material form, feeling,
perception, formation and consciousness)in the mothers
one might expect, is shown as a mother in the process of childbirth,
a painful business and a reminder of how dukkha cannot be avoided
in any life. Whatever the future life is to be, if we are not
able to bring the wheel to a stop in this life, certainly that
future will arise conditioned by the kamma made in this life.
But it is no use thinking that since there are going to be future
births, one may as well put off Dhamma practice until then
for it is not sure what those future births will be like. And
when they come around, they are just the present moment as well.
So no use waiting!
Nagarjuna shows that it is better to extricate oneself:
birth takes place,
quite naturally are fear,
old age and misery,
disease, desire and death,
a mass of other ills.
When births no longer brought about.
All the links are ever stopped."
where there is Birth, is also Old-age and Death.
Link: AGEING AND DEATH
The final link is represented by a dying person. Ageing is both
progressive, occurring every moment of our lifetime, and degenerative
which leads to death.
one is assured, given enough of Unknowing and Craving, of lives
without end but also of deaths with end. The one appeals to
greed but the other arouses aversion. One without the other
is impossible. But this is the path of heedlessness. The Dhamma-path
leads directly to Deathlessness, the going beyond birth and
death, beyond all dukkha.
We are well
exhorted by the words of Acharya Nagarjuna:
you therefore exert yourself:
At all times try to penetrate Into the heart of these Four
For even those who dwell at home,
they will, by understanding them ford the river of (mental)
is a very brief outline of the workings of this wheel which
we cling to for our own harm and the hurt of others. We are
the makers of this wheel and the turners of this wheel, but
if we wish it and work for it, we are the ones who can stop
of Life teaches us and reminds us of many important features
of the Dhamma as it was intended to by the teachers of old.
Contemplating all its features frequently helps to give us true
insight into the nature of Samsara. With its help and our own
practice we come to see Dependent Arising in ourselves. When
this has been done thoroughly all the riches of Dhamma will
be available to us, not from books or discussions, nor from
listening to others explanations...
Buddha has said:
sees Dependent Arising, he sees Dhamma;
Whoever sees Dhamma, he sees Dependent Arising."
tesam vupasamo sukho.
truly they are transient
With the nature to arise and cease
Having arisen, then they pass away
Their calming, cessation is happiness.
by Bhikkhu Khantipalo. Rewritten from an article in "Visakha
Puja" (251), the Annual of the Buddhist Association of
Thailand. Graphics adapted from H.H. The Dalai Lama's The
Meaning of Life, a Wisdom publication. Prepared at BuddhaNet
for Electronic Distribution by Ven. Pannyavaro.