You are currently viewing The Chain-Reaction of Becoming (or the Law of Dependent Origination)

The Chain-Reaction of Becoming (or the Law of Dependent Origination)

Paticca Samuppāda, often translated as the Law of Dependent Origination1, is perhaps the most famous of Buddhist Laws. Discovered by the Buddha and prescribed by him as one of the most fundamental principles to comprehend, it is a sequence of 12 links, which is spanning the whole of human experience in a cause-effect manner. It thereby describes both, how what is commonly thought of as ‘The Self’, comes about and how it relates to the world at large. That is its metaphysical aspect. But perhaps more importantly, it constitutes the second of the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths2, showing the true origin of all the suffering in the world. 

The Formula

Because of…

  • Avijjā
  • Sankhārā
  • Viññāna
  • Namā- Rūpa
  • Salāyatana
  • Phassa
  • Vedanā
  • Tanhā
  • Upādāna
  • Bhava
  • Jāti
  • Soka, Parideva, Dukkha, Domanassa
  • Ignorance
  • Formation
  • Consciousness
  • Mind and Matter
  • Six Sense Bases
  • Sense Impressions
  • Feeling
  • Thirst
  • Clinging
  • Becoming
  • Birth
  • Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair

Unfathomable like the deep dark depth of the earth, is the deep dark depth of ignorance, out of which in random fashion sprout formation after formation. Those are the kammical seeds of an infinite past, which like little saplings whose planting has been long forgotten pierce through into the field of consciousness. There they grow and prosper, becoming manifest as the things of the world, and the mind that is ensouling them. Slowly becoming manifold as the various spheres of the senses. Through those, consciousness learns to know what is pleasant, what unpleasant and what neutral. Delighting in the one and reviling the other, becoming attached to the one and seeking distance from the other. Thus the experiences of life start modifying the existence that grew out of those kammical seeds whose offspring it has become. Yet, having reached so far into manifestation, it has to follow the laws of manifest life and sooner or later yield to its own disintegration, leaving behind only the seeds, that were in the fruits of its blossom.


Ignorance refers in this case especially to spiritual ignorance, that is, lack of understanding regarding inner things. Due to this lack of understanding, there will arise within, more or less continuous mental formations, that is unconscious delusive thoughts, desires, emotional reactions and so on. These very often will force themselves into consciousness. And having become conscious, a mind will arise, that seeks for fulfilment and answers without, in the material world. For that end, it makes the senses seek contact with that world. And with the arising of contact with the material world, there will arise pleasant feelings within, if that contact is an agreeable one and unpleasant feelings, if disagreeable. Feeling thus pleasure and pain, thirst arises for more pleasure and less pain. Both of which providing thus more fuel for further becoming. And where there is becoming, there will be birth and where there is birth, death has to follow.

Basic comprehension of the Sequence of Becoming

A meditator will usually at first seek to grasp the Sequence of Becoming via the tool of his body. And the diagram below shows how such beginning comprehension may about look like. Thus it may become obvious how the various teachings in the main blog (‘Keys to the Abhidhamma System’) will help to almost infinitely deepen also one’s understanding of the Sequence of Becoming.

Now, what is in the diagram for simplification referred to as ‘Life-experiences’, are actually sense-experiences (that is, Six Sense bases + Contact), feelings, desires or aversions, clinging and thus further becoming. Thus the meditator may understand with further reflection.

But even with the basic understanding shown in the diagram established, further considerations become possible…

The Sequence of Becoming and the Mental Process

As the mind becomes more subtle, it may then equally also gain a subtler comprehension of this law. Thus will a meditator with improvement in skill, be able to comprehend this law not only via the body, but also through the perception of mental phenomena.

Note: For better comprehension of this Diagram one will have to read my main blogKeys to the Abhidhamma System

The Sequence of Becoming – A Self-turning Wheel

The diagram below shows in pictorial form, how the whole sequence of this Law is indeed a self turning wheel, wherein the end, is just the beginning of another turn.

Wheel of Becoming often referred to as “Wheel of Dependent Origination”

The Sequence of Becoming to Comprehend Daily Life Situations

Here I only want to show a more concrete example of how our life experiences arise as a result of our ignorance, and how things gradually build up to greater complexity in a manner that becomes describable with the ‘Sequence of Becoming’. I use in this example the gradual development of an occupation based identity, which grows into, and is based upon a distorted perception of the world and is followed by life-experiences which are thus strongly limited by that identity and distorted perception of things.

Thus, because of…

Avijjā – Ignorance or Non-Understanding (regarding any higher teachings of training and development)

For example a person might have been born, unconscious of himself and without any perceptible choice on his part, into a family of businessmen.

Sankhārā – Kammical Formations

As result there arise in him mental formations, that is, desires, aversions and confusions, related to the life of a businessman.

Viññāna – Consciousness

These will lead his consciousness to perceive an outer world that is tinged by those desires, aversions and unconscious thoughts.

Nāma-Rūpa – Mind and Matter

And what he thus perceives without, further crystallises into a solid world that he engages with.* Together with that, a mind arises, which will involve itself in that world of solid objects.

Salāyatana – Six Senses, Phassa – Contact, Vedanā – Feelings

Thus, his senses, instead of perceiving neutral objects of nature without, become geared to perceive certain pieces of paper as money, certain persons as customers or competitors, etc. And based on that contact with the things of the senses, pleasure arises when that ‘money’ is for him increasing, while painful feelings arise when his ‘competitor’ is doing better than him.

Tanhā – Desire/ Thirst

These feelings of pleasure and pain in turn will lead to further and further desire towards those pleasure bringing objects.

Upādāna – Fuel

These desires for more pleasure and less pain, no less natural, with time, become more lasting than the stimulating impressions and the resulting feelings.

Bhava – Becoming

And thus, that person becomes more and more specialised in a businessman reality of businessmen inclinations.

Jāti – Birth

Which will lead to further birth into a businessman’s reality in the future.

Soka, Parideva, Dukkha-Domanassa – Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair

With all its accompanying worries and sufferings.

* Actions and speech belong in the Abhidhamma system under the category of matter. The technical terms for that are ‘bodily intimation’ and ‘verbal intimation’ (in Pali called kaya-viññatti and vaci-viññatti).

The Cessation of the Sequence

But with the removal of this avijjā (for example through the hearing of teachings that come from a higher mind), sankhārās (that is in the example, kammical formations of being a businessman), start ceasing. With the ceasing of those sankhārās, the field of consciousness ceases to be that limited place of customers and competitors only. With that, life-experiences lead to liberating wisdom. And thus a person’s being gradually moves towards liberation from any form of self-centred becoming. Thus, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair will cease.

Dependent Origination

As this diagram shows, when knowledge is applied to internal processes, avijjā starts ceasing, sankhārās (mental/ kammic formations) become modified or transformed and thus life is lived more and more by Dhamma principles.

Conditioning Freedom

When you learn to cultivate the field of consciousness (through the exercise of mindfulness, inner strength, wisdom, right intending, etc.), …weeding out bad seeds that have started sprouting,…and skillfully plant good seeds,…then the nāma and rūpa that start growing out of this consciousness (the experiences that are to a big extent the result of past kamma, as well as the mind that is engaging with those experiences), no longer are determined entirely by the randomness of nature,…but rather consciousness becomes a field, most of whose fruits are self chosen. Then, your journey through life, instead of being a toilsome battle with sense-impressions and the mind, will become more and more like a walk through a garden of your own liking.

Download Paticca Samuppāda

Note: You can find more animations under the video section:

  1. The reason why I tried to find another term for “Dependent Origination” is that the term “Dependent Origination” does not really capture the whole sequence described. It basically only captures how one link in the chain is related to the previous one. While on the other hand “becoming” implies a process…in this case the process from ignorance to suffering. Hence I feel it is a better pointer to the larger picture of this law.
  2.  1. The Noble Truth of Suffering
      2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering
      3. The Noble Truth of the possibility of an Ending of all Suffering
      4. The Noble Truth of the Path of Liberation  ↩︎

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