Buddhist Scriptures

E.J. Thomas (1914)

Buddha statue

Chapter V THE CHAIN OF CAUSATION

Gotama, on his retirement, went to Rājagaha, the capital of Magadha, and studied under several teachers. Then for six years he practised severe penance with five disciples. Finally he came to see the vanity of self-mortification as the means of enlightenment, and abandoned it, whereupon his disciples deserted him. It was soon after this, under the Bodhi-tree at Uruvelā near Rājagaha, after a day of doubts and conflicts, represented in the accounts as the temptations of the evil one Māra and his demons, that he attained enlightenment (Bodhi), and became Buddha, "the enlightened."

The Chain of Causation is said to have been his first utterance as Buddha. Its exact interpretation is not a simple matter, especially apart from a discussion of the Indian philosophies in the midst of which Buddhism developed. It should be noticed that the series extends over more than one life. The following is chiefly drawn from Prof. Bern's interpretation:

Grief, suffering, misery, old age, sickness, death, and other such evils exist.

  • Why do they exist? Because birth exists.
  • Birth [i.e. rebirth] is a consequence of becoming.
  • Becoming presupposes matter or effort, which is produced by desire.
  • Desire is a consequence of sensation.
  • Sensation is a consequence of contact (with an object which rouses the sensation).
  • There is contact because there are six senses (the five bodily senses and mind), and because these senses belong to an organized being.
  • Now an organized being consists of name and form [mind and body]; hence consciousness exists.
  • This depends on predispositions [in a previous birth], and the predispositions are the consequence of ignorance.
  • Hence ignorance is the base of that which exists, and in order to put an end to existence which involves death, sickness, and sorrow, it is only necessary to suppress the base.

At that time the Lord Buddha was dwelling at Uruvelā on the banks of the Neranjarā, at the foot of the Bodhi-tree, just after he had attained complete enlightenment. Now the Lord sat cross-legged at the foot of the Bodhi-tree for seven days, experiencing the bliss of emancipation. And the Lord during the first watch of the [first] night meditated on the chain of causation in direct and in reverse order:

  1. From ignorance come predispositions [sankhāras, mental predispositions resulting from actions in previous existences],
  2. from predispositions consciousness,
  3. from consciousness name and form [mind and body],
  4. from name and form the six organs of sense [i.e. the five senses and mind or the inner sense],
  5. from the organs of sense contact,
  6. from contact feeling,
  7. from feeling craving,
  8. from craving clinging to existence,
  9. from clinging to existence becoming,
  10. from becoming rebirth,
  11. from rebirth old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair.

Such is the cause of this whole aggregation of suffering.

  1. Now by the complete and trackless destruction of ignorance the predispositions are destroyed,
  2. by the destruction of the predispositions consciousness is destroyed,
  3. by the destruction of consciousness name and form are destroyed,
  4. by the destruction of name and form the six senses are destroyed,
  5. by the destruction of the six senses contact is destroyed,
  6. by the destruction of contact feeling is destroyed,
  7. by the destruction of feeling craving is destroyed,
  8. by the destruction of craving clinging to existence is destroyed,
  9. by the destruction of clinging to existence becoming is destroyed,
  10. by the destruction of becoming rebirth is destroyed,
  11. by the destruction of rebirth old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair are destroyed.

Such is the destruction of this whole aggregation of suffering.

So the Lord knowing this at that time gave utterance to this solemn verse:

When clear the true nature of things appeareth
To the brahmin ardently meditating,
Then all his doubts vanish, for he perceiveth
Of natural things all the effects and causes.
(Vin. Mahāv. I. 1.)

top of page