12 Links of Dependent Origination

  12 Links of Dependent Origination  
Link Symbols Description Further Notes  
1. Ignorance Blind person (a blind old woman who blunders forward) Ignorance is blindness, not seeing; lack of insight into the reality of things; not knowing the Four Noble Truths.  Many different levels of ignorance exist. Included is ignorance of the more subtle levels of cause and effect, and the ignorance of the view of selflessness.  
2. Karma (volitional formations; volitional actions)  Potter (a potter moulding a pot) From ignorance, thoughts and words produce karmic actions.  Actions create predispositions in the mind.  Of the two types of karma – contaminated and uncontaminated – this refers strictly to contaminated karma.  
3. Consciousness Monkey (a monkey looking out of a window) Karmic actions leave impressions on consciousness. While there are many types of consciousness, this refers mainly to the subtle levels of consciousness that act as a bridge from this life to the next. Also described as a re-linking consciousness or rebirth consciousness.  This re-linking consciousness is a resultant, not something which can be controlled by will. If one has not made karma suitable for becoming a human being, one cannot will, when the time of death comes around, “Now I shall become a human again!” The time for intentional action was when one had the opportunity to practice Dharma.  
4. Name and form (mind-body) People sitting in a boat (with one of them steering)  Consciousness (carrying impressions) joins a sperm and egg, giving rise to an embryo.  The boat symbolizes form; the occupants, the mental aggregates. The mind is a compound of feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness. Name and form refers to conception, when the individual’s consciousness enters the womb, after which form starts to develop. Some types of being do not have the aggregate of form, so for them at this point only the four mental aggregates start developing (hence the division between the two aspects of this link).  Note: Laws govern the workings of both mental states and physical changes, and mind cannot be ordered to be free of defilements, nor body told that it must not grow old and die.  
5. Sense bases (six sense spheres) Empty house with six windows and a door. The bases for the six senses of the foetus develop in the womb. This is the development of our sensory consciousness. The senses are the “portals” whereby we gain our impression of the world. Note: The five outer senses collect data only in the present, but mind, the sixth, where this information is collected and processed, ranges through the three times (past, present, and future).  
6. Contact Embracing couple Foetal development occurs to the point of sensory contact with objects.  After developing our sensory consciousness, there is contact with sensory or mental objects. The psycho-physical organism begins to interact with the world.  
7. Feeling Person with an arrow in an eye (arrow piercing an eye) As a result of sensory contact, feelings result.  In this life, as soon as we develop into body and form aggregates, and our sensory consciousness makes contact with an object, we begin to experience feeling – positivenegative, or neutral.  Note: All feelings are unstable and liable to change, for no mental state can continue in equilibrium.   
8. Attachment/ clinging Person drinking alcohol (a drunken man) Attachment/clinging is desire based on feelings. Liking is involved.  This refers to a strengthening of the previous link, feeling, when the mind moves toward an object with either attachment or aversion. Attachment is a mental factor that increases desire without any satisfaction. Note: What is needed is mindfulness, for without it, no Dharma at all can be practiced while one will be swept away by the force of past habits.    
9. Grasping/ craving Monkey snatching fruit (a monkey plucking fruit)  This is a more intense form of attachment/clinging. Addiction is involved. It means mentally grabbing at an object one desires – and so humans become slaves to passion. The attachment/clinging we feel for an object can become very strong, and this marks the point when the mind wants to possess the object in some sense. Grasping is fourfold: (1) To sensual pleasures; (2) to wrong and evil views; (3) to mere external observances, rites, and rituals, and (4) to self, an erroneous lasting soul entity.     
10. Existence/ becoming Pregnant woman (a woman in late pregnancy) Grasping and craving increase, leading to karmic impression (seed), leading to a new life.  At death, this involves grasping at a new body to replace the one lost.  At the moment of our death, when the previous link of craving or grasping becomes very intense, it moves into the tenth link of existence, bringing the result of the next life.  Note: Just as the woman is about the bring forth a fully developed child, the karma that will produce the next lifetime is fully potentialized though not yet manifest.   
11. Birth Woman giving birth to a child The dying consciousness is propelled toward the next rebirth. Birth means the appearance of the five aggregates (material form, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness) in the mother’s womb.  Strong grasping or craving becomes existence, which creates the result of birth.  Note: If we are not able to bring the wheel to stop in this life, the future life will certainly rise conditioned by the karma made in this life. 
12. Aging and death A dying person or someone carrying a corpse (a corpse being carried to cremation)  After rebirth, the process of development, deterioration, and death occurs.  Immediately after birth, aging begins, which leads ultimately to death. Therefore, aging and death are included in one link. Note: Aging is both progressive, occurring every moment of our lifetime, and degenerative which leads to death. The path of heedlessness leads to lives without end and also to deaths with end. The Dharma path leads directly to Deathlessness – the going beyond birth and death, beyond all dukkha.  
 Sources: Adapted from Geshe Tashi Tsering, The Four Noble Truths: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Vol. 1, with a foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, ed. Gordon McDougall (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 97-99; Jonathan Landaw, Stephan Bodian, and Gudrun Bühnemann, Buddhism for Dummies, 2d ed. (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 260-265; http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/depend.htm  © 2013 by Alexander Michael Peck