Full Moon of the month of Visakha, now more than two thousand
five hundred years ago, the religious wanderer known as Gotama,
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."
When He 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 burdened.
He knew 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.
sees Dependent Arising, sees the Dharma."
Link: IGNORANCE (avijja)
Represented 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
And this 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, am
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 the
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)
The 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
futurethat 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 (nama-rupa)
Depicted by people sitting in a boat with one of them steering.
The boat symbolises form, and its occupants, the mental aggregates.
This is 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
the coming into existence of mind-body, there is the arising of
the Six Sense-spheres.
Link: SIX SENSE - SPHERES (salayatana)
Depicted 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 particular way.
A house 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)
A 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.
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.
But all 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 this.
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.
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.
Link: GRASPING (upadana)
Represented by a monkey reaching for a fruit. Also known as clinging,
it means mentally grabbing at an object one desires.
This is 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.
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.
This is 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
this grasping is found there Becoming is to be seen.
Link: BECOMING (bhava)
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 yet manifest.
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
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 womb.
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 thenfor
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
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 Truths;
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 this wheel.
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
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, February, 1998.