The Buddha has expounded
the Law of Conditioned Co-genesis, Paticca Samuppada, in
his sermons, contained in Sutta Pitaka, Abhisamaya
Samyukthaya, Nidhana collection, in the first sermons
under the Buddha category. These could be referred to
for first hand acquaintance of the Law as stated by The
Lord Buddha himself has stated that conviction
(comprehending fully), of the law, is not an easy task.
When Reverand Ananda, a chief disciple, stated that the
law is easily understood, the Buddha countered, “Say not
so, Ananda, say not so, it is really difficult to
understand. And therefore, humans do not see the way to
liberation from the bondage of the cycle of birth.” This
confirms the difficulty of fully comprehending this Law
in all its ramifications.
In this matter, the difference or the distinction
between knowledge of the Law and conviction or
comprehension of the law should be properly perceived.
Mere knowledge, is not conviction.
The law minutely clarifies the manner, in which the mind
behaves as well as the manner in which, the material
world evolves. Persons who develop the understanding and
complete conviction of the operation of the laws, get a
penetrating vision of the world as it is, and its
evolution through a process of flux. Such a person could
see and comprehend how the material world and the world
of mentality gestates, evolves and ultimately disappears
in disintegration. The mental processes have been
analysed and categorised into compartments, like frames
of a motion picture. In real swift motion, these
separate frames produces a moving picture. But, when the
process is desconstructed, in analysis, the separate
components that produced the motion is clearly seen. The
law of conditioned co-genesis explains the mechanism at
play in the functioning of the mind and the evolution of
It is a common practice for both Bhikkhus and learned
lay persons to directly expound what is stated in the
relevant Sutras, word by word, relating to the
psychological processes, but it is seldom that a clear
analysis is made of how, the law governs material and
social evolutionary processes of the world and the
universe. The non-explanation of this latter part is
unfortunate. This has been commented upon also by two
eminent research scholars of Buddhism, Vishvanath Prasad
Varma of India (Early Buddhism and its Origins) and Sri
Lankan Dr. Nalin Swaris (The Buddha’s Way to Human
This exposition describes how sorrow is birthed (in the
mind) through 12 links of thought processes which is
like an interlinked chain of conditions. The 12 links
are as follows:
1. Ignorance Avijja, 2. Mental constructs, Sankara, 3.
Consciousness, Vinnana, 4. Name form Nama Rupa, 5. Six
sense organs, salayathana, 6. Contact, Phassa, 7.
Feeling, Vedana, 8. Desire/Craving, Tanha, 9. Clinging,
Upadana, 10. Being, Bhava, 11. Birth, 12. Sorrow,
Lamentation, Old age, Death, Dukka, Jathi, Jara, Marana.
The birth of sorrow in the human mind is directly linked
to this 12 processes which are both mental and material
and are conditioned.
These 12 thought processes which are constructs of the
mind are linked one giving rise to the other, when the
conditions are fulfilled. The process is inter-linked in
the following manner.
Avijja is ignorance. It is explained that when one is
ignorant of objective reality, especially the four-fold
Aryan Truths, sorrow, cause of sorrow, elimination of
sorrow and the path leading to elimination of sorrow,
then this ignorance gives rise to mental formations,
Sankara, mostly delusory mental constructs. Sankhara
means mental formation. These are volitional mental
activity, habitual dispositions, and Karmic formations.
It has also been described as sendimentations of past
experiences. These mental formations give rise to
Vinnana is consciousness - capacity to know and the
ability to acquire knowledge is Vinnana. This
consciousness pertains to the six senses, one different
to the other. Accordingly consciousness of the eye, the
consciousness of the ear, the consciousness of the nose,
the consciousness of the tongue, the consciousness of
the body and the consciousness of the mind, are an
amalgam of the human consciousness. This consciousness
gives rise to Name-Form, Nama, Rupa.
Nama-Rupa or name-form denotes the mental component and
the physical component in the human body. The mental
component, Nama, enables a person to Feel, Vedana,
Identify or Distinguish, Sanna, Motivate Volitional
activity, Chethana, Touch/Contact, Phassa all of which
are mentally generated activity. The material component,
Rupa is the physical body comprising of Water, Fire, Air
and Earth, Apo, Thejo, Vayo, Patavi and explained in
modern terms as fluidity, heat, air and material
grossness, four qualities which are present in the human
These two components Nama-Rupa, mental and material
continue to exist, one sustained by the other
interdependent and inseparable, under normal
This Nama-Rupa gives rise to the six Sense-Organs,
Salayatana - are, the six sense bases or organs, Eye,
Nose, Ear, Tongue, Body and mind.
These six sense bases give rise to contact, Phassa.
Phassa is, contact or touch, which could be achieved
through all six sense bases. Contact is completed when
any external object or stimuli comes into contact with
any of the sense bases.
Phassa or contact gives rise to feeling.
Vedana or Feeling is described as pleasant, unpleasant,
and neither pleasant nor unpleasant, being the three
characteristics of feeling.
Tanha is, feeling that gives to Tanha desire or craving.
It has a positive and negative character. Pleasant
feelings generate desire, unpleasant feelings generate
repulsion which is the negative aspect.
Tanha gives rise to Upadana, clinging.
Upadana is, clinging. Clinging to pleasant feelings
happens in various degrees of intensity.
Upadana gives rise to Bhava - being
Bhava or Being, is the conditions completed to come into
existence, as a person. According to this explanation,
the possibility of coming into existence, Bhava is only
when the clinging characteristic is strong.
When the possibility of coming into existence matures to
its full form, birth occurs.
Birth is coming into physical existence. Birth gives
rise to sorrow.
Dukka means sorrow or unsatisfactoriness. Birth
invariably gives rise to or is followed inevitably by
sorrow, degeneration, dissatisfaction and death which
are part and parcel of life.
This is a cyclic process, one leading to the other, and
for clarity it has been deconstructed into 12 different
components to explain the process.
This explains the basic premise that when conditions are
appropriate, a combination of conditions gives rise to
another, combination in a process. This applies both to
the mental as well as the material spheres. And, an
inherent characteristic of this process is birth,
existence and death.
Lord Buddha pointed out, that if a person could
discipline his mind to a higher level, where this
samsaric cycle is clearly observed and the transient
nature of all living things is realised, then such a
person could put an end to this cyclic existence. That
is, by intense endeavour, reverse the process of paticca
The path discovered by the Buddha to eliminate suffering
was through minute examination of the origin of
suffering. Having identified how suffering originates,
he formulated the path to end suffering. The radical
path, to eliminate suffering, he named, the Noble
Eightfold Path, the Arya Ashtangika Marga. This consists
of a system of training, described as Patisothagami - a
going against the current - based on reaching higher
levels of Discipline, (Seela), concentration of mind,
(Samadhi) and moving towards - wisdom (Pragna). The
ascendant path consists of four stages, Sovan,
Sacrudagami, Anagami and Arahath, which is the final
The Law of Conditioned Co-genesis itself is not the way
to the elimination of suffering. It is only an
exposition of how suffering originates in the mind.
Cosmic procession of events
Lord Buddha has pointed out in his discourses that the
cosmic procession of events both material constructions
and the evolution of social conditions are all subject
to this Universal Law of Conditioned Co-genesis. All
phenomena are in a continuous evolving situation where
birth, existence and death continues unabated. Certain
conditions when created give rise to certain effects.
The conditioning of these effects again give rise to
other effects in a non-stop evolving process of mutatis
Nothing remains in the cosmos alone or separately. There
is a continuous flux, different materials and situations
that interact and produce new mutations and new
situations. The processes are inter-connected things
co-producing others. The Buddha applied the method of
deconstruction (to break into the elemental components
and then examine) to examine this process.
The following are a few examples, cited by Lord Buddha
in explaining the Law of Conditioned Co-genesis to his
followers, pertaining to the material world and social