Dependent origination

Doctrines and rituals

The Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination (Skt. pratityasamutpada) maintains that all mental and physical phenomena arise in dependence upon each other. This is described by the twelve links of dependent origination. Each phenomenon is both cause and effect. It all starts with ignorance, which is the prime cause of all human suffering and drives the eternal cycle of rebirth.

The twelve links of the chain are depicted in the ‘wheel of life’:


1 Ignorance (Skt. avidya): represented as a blind man

2 Disposition (Skt. samskara): represented as a potter

3 Consciousness (Skt. vijnana): represented as a dancing monkey

4 Body and mind (Skt. nama-rupa): represented as a rower and helmsman

5 The six senses (Skt. shadayatana): represented as a house or a group of houses

6 Touch and sensory contact (Skt. sparsha): represented as two lovers

7 Feeling (Skt. vedana): represented as a man hit by an arrow

8 Craving (Skt. trishna): represented as a thirsty drinker

9 Clinging and grasping (Skt. upadana): represented as a monkey climbing a tree

10 Becoming (Skt. bhava): represented as a pregnant woman

11 Birth (Skt. jati): represented as a woman giving birth

12 Ageing and death (Skt. jaramarana): represented as a gravedigger


«Conditioned by ignorance there arise formations, conditioned by formations there arises consciousness, from consciousness arise name and form, from name and form arise the six senses, from the six senses there arises sense-contact, from sense-contact there arises feeling, from feeling there arises craving, from craving there arises grasping, from grasping there arises becoming, from becoming there arises birth, from birth arise old age and death, pain, woe, suffering, sorrow and despair. This is the origination of the entire realm of suffering.»1



1 Nidana Sutta, quoted after Hermann Oldenberg, Buddha: Sein Leben, seine Lehre, seine Gemeinde, München: Goldmann Taschenbuch Verlag, 1961, p. 212-13, translation by NS.