The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination:

12 Links of Dependent Origination

By Embracing Nirvana

The wheel of Life is Symbolic of our Cyclical Existence.

The principle of dependent origination is an essential part of Buddhist teachings.

Dependent Origination teaches that all things happen through the Law of Cause and Effect, and are interdependent on each other. Nothing can exist or manifest except as an effect created by a previous cause. Because this is, that will be. Because this has happened, that will happen. It is a universal law.

Each of the twelve links of Dependent Origination is the cause which leads to the effect of the following link on the outer rim of the Wheel of Life. The cause of the twelfth link of course creates the effect of the first link, and it starts all over again.

The wheel of life consists of six main sections representing the six realms of existence called Samsara. Samsara is a word in both Sanskrit, and Pali that refers to the endless cycle of birth, existence, death, and rebirth again.

The outer rim of the wheel of life contains the Pratītyasamutpāda or twelve links of dependent origination, also known as dependent arising, or Nidana’s.

What Are the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination?

  • Ignorance
  • Formation
  • Consciousness
  • Name and Form
  • Six Senses
  • Contact
  • Feeling
  • Clinging or Desire
  • Becoming
  • Rebirth
  • Ageing and Death

1: Ignorance – (Avidya):

The wheel of life, and the system of enlightenment begins with ignorance. There is an ever revolving realm of darkness that you will find yourself in, life after life shortly after your physical death, if you have not learned the lessons that you were supposed to in your past life.

Inside the swirling abyss of darkness lies ignorance. Your ignorance of the truth is why you are back here again in this realm of darkness, starting all over again given yet another chance to learn your lesson through another lifetime of suffering.

Ignorance means not being aware of or understanding the basic truths of Buddhist teachings.

Our lack of Right Understanding, one of the The Eightfold Paths, and the lack of knowledge of the Four Noble Truths is the cause our suffering, also known as Dukkha.

Dukkha means being dissatisfied, discontent with the results, or lack thereof from our decisions.

Our ignorance of Anatta, the doctrine of Non-self from the Three Universal Truths which states that we have no permanent self is another cause of our suffering, and a great hindrance to our enlightenment.

There is no permanent self, but rather there are Five Aggregates of clinging which are also known as Skandhas that make up every individual.

The Wheel of life depicts Ignorance as a blind man, or woman.

Ignorance of the truth creates Mental Formations.

2: Mental Formation – (Samskara)

Mental Formations
Mental Formation stems from our ignorance. Our karma from past lives due to our ignorance of Buddha’s teachings creates our mental formations or samskaras in our current life.

Karma literally translates as “action”. It refers to not only the actions we take, but the thoughts that we think based on our intentions as well. The thoughts deep inside of our heads, inside of our being creates our character.

It is our character that is responsible for guiding our responses to the world around us, and initiating the cause of a future effect.

Ignorance in our past lives creates karma, which is the cause that creates the mental formations also known as Samskaras in our current lives. Samskaras are the effect of our past mistakes that we must overcome in this life.

(We have an article about samskaras to learn more Here....)

The Wheel of Life depicts Mental Formation as Potters making pots.

Our Samskaras continue on into our next life to create our consciousness.

3: Consciousness – (Vijnana)

Our consciousness is developed by the mental formations or samskaras from our past lives. These mental formations come together to create an awareness. It is then that an ego is formed creating a sense of separateness between the “I” within us, and the world around us.

The Wheel of Life depicts Consciousness as a curious monkey swinging from one tree branch to another tree branch, or leaping around restlessly.

(Learn more about The Monkey Mind Here...)

This consciousness will be responsible for creating Name, and Form.

4: Name and form / Mind and matter (Namarupa)

Consciousness is what allows us to develop and grow from a fetus to a newborn baby in our mother’s womb. There is a mutual agreement between the consciousness that is the mother, and the consciousness that is the child to grow together in this lifetime.

The Five Aggregates or Skandhas make up Name and Form.

The aggregate of physical form or Rupa is Form.

The aggregates of feelings, perception, mental formation, and consciousness are Name.

Form is what begins the development of our body, and Name creates an identity for us.

The Wheel of Life depicts Name and Form as people on a boat.

5: The Six Senses (Salayatana)

The six senses than begin to develop within us which are sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thoughts. It is our minds that are our sixth sense.

The Wheel of Life depicts The Six Senses as a house with six windows, or six small houses grouped together.

6: Contact (Phassa)

The development of our six senses by our consciousness will then combine together with our body developing in our mother’s womb this is known as contact.

Contact is the joining together of our Consciousness, Six Senses, and Form which then allows for the development of Sensation or Feeling.

The Wheel of Life depicts Contact as a couple lovingly embracing.

7: Sensation or Feeling (Vedana)

After contact begins to develop our new physical body to experience another life in three dimensional reality, the attribute of feelings and sensations will manifest within us.

These sensations can be positive or negative, and are accessed through our six senses.

We will associate pleasure with that which we find pleasing and try to get more of it, and associate discontent with that which we find undesirable, and develop an aversion to it.

(Aversion is one of the Three Poisons)

These sensations will then be responsible for the creation of Craving or Desire within us.

The Wheel of Life depicts Sensation as a person with an arrow protruding from their eye.

8: Craving or Desire (Tanha)

After feelings have burned their imprint into our mindset, our cravings, and desires based on our Mental Formations or Samskaras from our past lives will develop into what will soon be our personality. We will then be driven by what we found to be pleasurable in the past, and we will instinctively avoid what brought us pain in our past life.

Buddha taught in his Four Noble Truths that desire is the cause of all suffering.

Our cravings will continue to grow until they become clinging.

The Wheel of Life depicts Craving or Desire as a person drinking, or being offered something to drink.

9: Clinging (Upadana)

When our desires increase in intensity they become grasping, and clinging. We will grasp and cling to that which we find desirable so strongly that the mere thought of not having it will bring us Dukkha which is suffering.

It is our Ignorance of The Law of Impermanence that allows us to become so single mindedly obsessed like the hungry ghost depicted in Buddha’s teachings of The Ten Fetters, with that which we desire.

We will through our mental formations from past lives pursue that which we cling to until we learn the truth and eliminate Ignorance from our existence.

Our passion for Clinging to our Desires leads to Becoming.

The Wheel of Life depicts Clinging as a man picking fruit from a tree.

10: Becoming (Bhava)

Becoming 12 links of dependent origination
Embracing our insatiable obsession to cling to our desires leads to the beginning of a new life for us. Our desire to continue to pursue that which we find pleasurable will cause us to be born into another life so that we may continue to grasp at what brings us pleasure.

We will find ourselves born into a life that has a high degree of probability of allowing us to continue to pursue what we cling to the most while at the same time bringing situations and events into our lives to teach us how to let go.

Learning to let go of our attachments will help us to remove the link of ignorance from the 12 Links of Dependent Origination thereby ending the cycle of reincarnation, and ending our suffering.

As long as we continue to pursue our desires Becoming results in our Rebirth.

The Wheel of Life depicts Becoming as a pregnant woman, or a couple engaged in intimacy which is symbolic of conception.

11: Rebirth (Jati)

The process of birth from our mother’s womb is a natural act from a human point of view, but it is a rebirth for most of us due to our ignorance. The spiritual agreement made between our mother and ourselves will not be remembered, nor is the reason for our rebirth remembered so that we may have a fresh start to learn our lessons.

Our Samskaras within us will contain our desires and passions causing us to instinctively pursue them, but with our new life we will have the choice to follow our mental formations, or let them go.

We can choose to learn about the nature of reality and Buddha’s teachings, or blindly ignore them as we pursue our desires like a hungry ghost.

For those who cannot overcome their desires, a rebirth as a hungry ghost in Samsara's wheel of existence may be the only way to learn to let them go.

There will be some first timers entering into Samsara’s human realm of existence, and others who are enlightened such as Sakadagami, or Bodhisattva who choose to come back and teach others.

The path you choose during your rebirth is up to you. Choose wisely, or you will be bound to the wheel for many lifetimes.

The Wheel of Life depicts Rebirth as a woman giving birth.

12: Aging and Death (Jaramarana)

Aging and Death Dependent Origination
Impermanence is true of all things, human beings included. We will all grow old and die, there is no way to avoid it.

The cause of death is always the same for everyone. There can only be one cause of death, and that cause is birth.

As we grow old, and less agile the use of our Six Senses will deteriorate, as will the Five Aggregates that make up our being in this lifetime.

We will look back upon our life as an elder with a different perspective than we did in our youth. Some of us will be a bit wiser, while others will continue to dwell in ignorance.

Our lack of wisdom about the truth will lead us back to the link of ignorance, where the process starts all over again. We can end this cycle of rebirth through our understanding of Buddha’s teachings.

The Wheel of Life depicts Aging and Death as bearers carrying a corpse.

We have many articles about Buddha’s teaching on our page The Basics of Buddhism

Release yourself from ignorance, and break the cycle of Dependent Origination.

Through your understanding of the Ten Fetters, and releasing yourself from the chains that bind you to the cycle of Samsara you can release yourself from the 12 links of Dependent Origination as well.

According to the Ten Fetters we can become a once returner or Sakadagami by severing the first three fetters, and letting go our attachment to the fourth, and fifth fetter. If we sever the first five chains completely we will become a non-returner or Anagami. Learn more about how to free yourself by severing the chains of The Ten Fetters Here....

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12 Links of Dependent Origination

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