Buddhism Articles

Buddha statue

Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Twelve Cause of Suffering

Dependent Origination, Causes and Conditions

The 12 links of dependent arising mandala

Image from dharmanet.org

Geshe Sonam Rinchen's comments on the mandala: [fair use, slightly different from the above mandala]

The wheel is divided into sections of which the three lower ones show the realms of hell beings, hungry spirits, and animals. These segments signify the suffering of pain. There are three upper sections representing the human realm, the abodes of the gods belonging to the desire realm, and those of the gods belonging to the form realm. The first two represent the suffering of change, while the latter represents the pervasive suffering of conditioning.

The different kinds of suffering have been caused by contaminated actions underlain by the disturbing emotions. To show how this happens, the twelve links of dependent arising - ignorance, formative action, consciousness, name and form, the six sources (senses), contact, feeling, craving, grasping, existence, existence, birth, and aging and death-are painted around the rim of the wheel.

The scenes within each section show what living beings experience in that particular kind of rebirth. The fact that the Lord of Death holds the wheel of existence in his mouth signifies impermanence and that everything is subject to transience.

[The following table is easier to read on a wide screen monitor.]

Pali / Skt
Usual Translation
See notes below on numbering
Avijja /
Effect: Sankhara /
Lack of wisdom, which is the root of all evils. Obscuration as to self of persons and self of phenomena.
Sankhara /
Karma formation, formative action
Effect:  Vinnana /
Wholesome or unwholesome thoughts, speech and bodily deeds.
Vinnana /
Concious- ness
Effect:  Namarupa
The 6 consciousnesses; taken as 8 in the Yogacara School.
Name &
Effect:  Salayatana /
Mental & physical existence. The 5 aggregates that make up name and form: Feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention.
Salyatana /
Six bases, six sources
Effect:  Phassa /
Eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mental faculty. These are empty.
Phassa /
Contact, sense impression
Effect:  Vedana
A mental factor and period in which the objects, sense power/ organ and conciousness come together, causing one to distinguish an object as pleasurable, painful or neutral.
Feeling, sensation
Effect:  Tanha /
Posited as a mental factor that experiences pleasure, pain and neutral feeling. Pleasure leads to a strong desire for more while pain generates an avoidance desire.
Tanha /
Craving, attachment
Effect:  Upadana
A mental factor that increases desire but without any satisfaction.
Clinging, grasping
Effect:  Bhava /
A stronger degree of desire. 4 basic varieties: desired objects, views of self, bad system of ethics and conduct, and other bad views.
Bhava /
Process of becoming, existence
Effect:  Jati
A period lasting from the time of fully potentialised karma up to the beginning of next lifetime.
Birth, rebirth
Effect:  Jaramarana /
Birth is any coming-to-be or coming-forth. It refers not just to birth at the beginning of a lifetime.
Jaramarana / Jaramaranam 
Aging & death
Effect:  Jati
The inevitable end-of-life suffering of all beings prior to their rebirth.

[Corrections welcome: selfdefinition.org/contact/ ]

The links are numbered 1-12 to represent the causal relationships. (red=cause, green=result)

  • 1. Ignorance
  • 2. Karma formation
  • 3. Consciousness
  • 4. Name and form
  • 5. Six bases, six sources
  • 6. Contact, sense impression
  • 7. Feeling, sensation
  • 8. Craving, attachment
  • 9. Clinging, grasping
  • 10. Process of becoming
  • 11. Birth, rebirth
  • 12. Aging and death

Links 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10 are the five karmic causes of rebirths. Links 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are the five karmic results in the rounds of rebirths.

The order in which they occur is 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, repositioned in a second list as follows:

  • 1. Ignorance
  • 2. Karma formation
  • 3. Consciousness
  • 8. Craving, attachment
  • 9. Clinging, grasping
  • 10. Process of becoming
  • 4. Name and form
  • 5. Six bases, six sources
  • 6. Contact, sense impression
  • 7. Feeling, sensation
  • 11. Birth, rebirth
  • 12. Aging and death

This doctrine is interpreted in various ways and levels:

The Theravada tradition uses it to explain the arising of sufferings; that all composite existence is without substantiality. This doctrine is then used the basis for the negation of self.

In the Mahayana, conditional arising is further interpreted to validate the unreality of existence by reason of its relativity.

Madhyamika School equates this doctrine with shunyata (emptiness). Conditional arising is taken to show that because of their relativity, appearances have only empirical validity and are ultimately unreal.

In the Yogacara view, only true understanding of this doctrine can overcome the error of taking what does not exist for existent and what does exist for nonexistent.

The Prajnaparamita Sutras stresses that this doctrine does not refer to a temporal succession but rather to the essential interdependence of all things.

Source: www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/snapshot05.htm

Sources of compilation by Tan Swee Eng:

  1. The Meaning of Life; The Dalai Lama, Wisdom Pub.
  2. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen; Shambhala Pub.
  3. Living Dharma; Jack Kornfield, Shambhala Pub.
  4. Buddhist Dictionary; Nyanatiloka, Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre

Also see:


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