Twelve Nidānas

Twelve Nidānas

The Twelve Nidānas (from Pali nidāna "cause, foundation, source or origin") are the best-known application of the Buddhist concept of "pratītyasamutpāda" (dependent origination), identifying the origins of suffering to be in craving and ignorance. [This 12 nidana scheme can be found, for instance, in multiple discourses in the Samyutta Nikaya's chapter 12, "Nidana Vagga" (e.g., see SN 12.2, [ Thanissaro, 1997a)] . Other "applications" of what might be termed "mundane dependent origination" include the nine-nidana scheme of DN 15 (e.g., [ Thanissaro, 1997b)] and the ten-nidana scheme of SN 12.65 (e.g., [ Thanissaro, 1997c).] So-called "transcendental dependent origination" (also involving 12 nidanas) is described in SN 12.23 (e.g., see [ Bodhi, 1995).] In addition, DN 15 describes an eleven-nidana scheme (starting with "feeling") that leads to interpersonal suffering ("the taking up of sticks and knives; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies").] The Twelve Nidānas are employed in the analysis of phenomena according to the principle of Pratītyasamutpāda. The aim of the Twelve Nidānas analysis is to reveal the origins of phenomena, and the feedback loop of conditioning and causation that leads to suffering in current and future lives.

*十二因縁 Cn: "shi2er4yin1yuan2"; Jp: "jūni innen"; Vi: "thập nhị nhân duyên"
*Tibetan: bo|w=Rten-'brel-yan-lag-bcu-gnyis; THDL: tendrel yenlak chunyi


The basic principle of pratītyasamutpāda and the Twelve Nidānas is to see the conditioned causal connection of each state that supports the next in the cycle of our lives as we suffer in Samsara. It is explained in detail in the Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa, the central text of the Mahāvihāra commentarial tradition.

The causal chain of analysis employed in this type of analysis appears to operate from the position that individual phenomena are caused or conditioned by only a single cause. This reflects not a blanket declaration by the Buddha Śākyamuni or the Theravāda commentators that individual phenomena can have only a single cause, but rather a simplifying assumption employed to make the analytical technique more useful to the practitioner.

Like many of the techniques and theories contained in the Visuddhimagga and other commentarial works, the Twelve Nidāna analysis was intended to be used as one of many techniques available to a student of meditation, and its form reflects both the needs and experiences of Buddhist meditation practitioners.

The chain of twelve phenomena leading to future births and suffering was variously presented by the Buddha; Buddhaghosa recounts four methods- working from 'bottom to top', working from the 'middle to the top', working from 'top to bottom', and working from the 'middle to the source' (Buddhaghosa compares the teaching of the Twelve Nidānas to a creeper vine that is seized and removed in one of four different ways). The first method begins with ignorance and proceeds to sickness, old age, and death. The second method begins with attachment and proceeds to birth. The third method begins with birth and proceeds back to ignorance. The fourth method begins with attachment and proceeds to ignorance.

The Twelve Nidānas

* Avidyā (Sanskrit) or Avijjā (Pāli); Tib. "" (marikpa), Eng. "ignorance". :Ignorance of Four Noble Truths, Three marks of existence, Five Skandhas, Karma, and Pratītyasamutpāda. This is the primary cause of IAST|duḥkha (suffering dissatisfaction, pain, unease, etc.):Ignoring the inherently open, spacious and fluid quality. Turning away from the feeling of 'big open space' because it feels threatening.
* IAST|Saṃskāra (Sanskrit) or IAST|Saṅkhāra (Pāli); Tib. "du.byed" (duche), Eng. "(mental) formations":Mental Formations and Volitional Will. Mental constructs, based on a non-existent "I" or "Self".
* Vijñāna (Sanskrit) or Viññāna (Pāli); Tib. "" or "rnam.shes" (namshe), Eng. "(dualistic) consciousness":Various states of consciousness.
* Nāmarūpa (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tib. "ming.gzugs" (mingzuk), Eng. "name and form":"Nāma" the naming activity of the discursive mind and "Rūpa" its attendant form, without which mind cannot exist. Developing an internal representation of external objects.
* IAST|Ṣaḍāyatana (Sanskrit) or IAST|Saḷāyatana (Pāli); Tib. "skye.mched" (kyemche), Eng. "six sense gates": The six senses are eye/seeing, ear/hearing, nose/smelling, tongue/taste, skin/touch, mind/thought. Apart from the five senses which we are familiar with, in Buddhism, the sixth sense is the mind, and the object of mind is thought. Sadayatana refers specifically to the six sense organs.
* Sparśa (Sanskrit) or Phassa (Pāli); Tib. "" (rekpa), Eng. "contact": Contact between the eye and tree, between the ear and drum, nose and perfume, tongue and salt, skin and cut, mind and thought.
*Vedanā (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tib. "" (tsorwa), Eng. "sensation":Sensation refers to the quality of feeling. Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? Swimming on a hot day - pleasant. Sharp stones under a bare foot - unpleasant. Sitting on grass - neutral.
*IAST|Tṛṣṇā (Sanskrit) or IAST|Taṇhā (Pāli); Tib. "" (sepa), Eng. "craving" or "desire" or "thirst":: Desire is sometimes described as the cause of suffering : a constant dissatisfaction, frustration.:One feels compelled by this feeling of desire. Like a thirst compels us to seek water.
*Upādāna (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tib. "" (lenpa), Eng. "attachment": Attachment of all kinds, to persons, to life, material comfort, pleasant sensations, to unpleasant sensations too. There is also attachment to beliefs, thoughts, ideas/ideologies. (Sometimes resulting in clashes, confrontations, fighting, or even wars).: Fixation. We have created a mental version of the object or event, and we fixate on that, preferring our own internal version to external reality.
*Bhava (Sanskrit and Pāli), Tib. "" (sipa), Eng. "becoming": The steps or actions taken to recreate, that which was craved or desired in step eight above IAST|Tṛṣṇā.: The thirst/desire, plus our fixation, has picked up momentum.
*Jāti (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tib. "" (kye wa), Eng. "birth": :Bearing fruit of the previous ten steps. That which was desired and conditioned now comes to be.
*IAST|Jarāmaraṇa (Sanskrit and Pāli); Tib. "rgas.shi" (geshi), Eng. "aging (old age), decay and death" : That which is born, dies. All conditions, all experiences must end.


The above cycle is frequently seen as relating to "Lifetimes" which they do, but additionally and probably more relevantly they relate to all life experiences on a daily basis. Throughout the day we cycle through the conditioned states. The conditioned states give rise to pleasant and unpleasant, desirable and undesirable experiences. We crave the existence of such states, if they are pleasant or we crave their absence if they are unpleasant.;

Tib. = Tibetan language. The first spelling is the Wylie transliteration, followed by an approximation of the Lhasa pronunciation in parentheses.

Twenty four types of conditions

Conditions, reason, source, are described by the Visuddhimagga as the same. Conditioning an agent means to cause it, being taken as an object by it, to occur in the same time. The full list helps to consider many sorts of conditions as the causal condition is only one of them.Examples are explained to understand these conditions, but they are included in the next section in order not to repeat them.

; Causal : Both a condition and a cause. Each condition responds to this principle to be both a condition and something else. Note that a cause does not transmit any "substance" - see Three marks of existence. ; Object : An agent that helps another one by being its object. All that can be known can be an object condition.; Predominance : An agent that helps another one by mastering it. ; Immediacy : An agent thats helps another one considering its immediacy.; Full immediacy : Same meaning as the immediacy condition.; Simultaneity : An agent that helps another one by appearing on the same time "as the lamp for the light".; Reciprocity : Agents that help themselves and consolidate themselves are one for the others "reciprocity condition". ; Support : An agent that helps another one by being a basement for it.; Strong support : A strong basement.; Anteriority : An agent that helps another one by appearing before it. ; Posteriority : A psychic agent that helps an older and physical one reenforcing it.; Repetition : A state of mind that conditions a following and similar state of mind.; Karma : An action that is an intentional effort.; Result : A serene state of mind helping another one to be serene. ; Intake : The four "foods" : the food helps the body, but "psychic foods" helps associated factors. ; Faculty : For example, the ocular faculty helps the ocular conscience. ; Jhāna : The jhānas are said to be associated with some characteristics : vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha or on the contrary upekkhā and ekaggatā. Jhānas are conditioning these.; Way : The way to leave the IAST|saṃsāra. Some factors are associated with this way. ; Association : The four non-physical skandhas help themselves by being associated to the same object.; Dissociation : Physical and non-physical agents helping themselves by not being associated to the same object. For example, a calm state of mind helping some physical aspects to be - but not always to "appear", as the dissociation condition can be anterior, posterior or simultaneous... ; Existence : An agent helping another, similar one by making it strong.; Inexistence : Non-physical agents, ceasing, help another one to appear. ; Disparition : Same as the inexistence condition. ; Non-disparition : Same as the existence condition.

The whole description

This section considers which conditions apply to which part of the dependent origination.

; Ignorance conditions creations, activities

; Activities condition consciousness

; Consciousness conditions body and mind

; Body and mind condition the twelve domains : During rebirth, the four psychic aggregates condition the sixth domain as simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, result, existence and non-disparition.

; Twelve domains condition contact : The five physical domains condition the five physical contacts as support, anteriority, faculty, dissociation, existence and non-disparition. The mental domain conditions the mental contact as simultaneity, reciprocity, support, result, intake, faculty, association, existence and non-disparition. The visible domain conditions contact with the eye as object, anteriority, existence and non-disparition. The other exterior domains represent the same conditions : for example sound for the contact with the ear.

; Contact conditions sensation : This description considers only the 32 sensations associated to resulting states. Contact with the eye, the nose, the ear, the mouth or the body conditions the sensations which are supported by the associated sensibilities as simultaneity, reciprocity, support, result, intake, association, existence and non-disparition. Contact with the eye, nose, ear, mouth and body also conditions the other sensations as strong support.

; Sensation conditions lust : The only case is the resulting and nice-to-have sensation conditioning craving as a strong support.

; Desire conditions attachment : Sensorial lust conditions as strong support sensorial attachment. Sensorial lust conditions other attachments as simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, existence, non-disparition and causal conditions.

; Attachment condition becoming : Every attachment conditions every becoming. The four attachments condition pure physical becoming and non-physical becoming ( see dhyana and arupajhanas ) as strong support. Attachment conditions beneficial physical becoming as strong support. Attachment conditions pernicious becomings as simultaneity, reciprocity, support, association, existence, non-disparition and causal conditions.

; Becoming conditions birth : Becoming conditions the birth as a karma and strong support condition.

; And birth conditions sickness, old age and death : Birth conditions both old age, sickness, death, sorrow as an "extreme" strong support condition.

ee also

* Pratītyasamutpāda, the concept of dependent origination
* IAST|Saṃsāra, the wheel of life
* Dharma, the Buddha's teaching
* Abhidharma, an analytical part of the IAST|Tripiṭaka, the Buddhist canon



* Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, Bhikkhu IAST|Ñāṇamoli (trans.), "The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga", Seattle: Pariyatti Publishing (Buddhist Publication Society), 1999. ISBN 1-928706-01-0. See Chapter XVII.
* Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). "Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of Dependent Co-arising" (SN 12.2). Retrieved from "Access to Insight" at

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