Difference between revisions of "Pratityasamutpada"

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search
Line 15: Line 15:
| si=පටිච්චසමුප්පාද}}
| si=පටිච්චසමුප්පාද}}
'''Pratityasamutpada''' ([[Sanskrit]]: ''pratītyasamutpāda''; [[Pāli]]: ''paṭiccasamuppāda'') is commonly translated as '''dependent origination''' or '''dependent arising''', is the principle that all things arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity. The term is used in the Buddhist teachings in two senses:  
'''Pratityasamutpada''' ([[Sanskrit]]: ''pratītyasamutpāda''; [[Pāli]]: ''paṭiccasamuppāda''), commonly translated as '''dependent origination''' or '''dependent arising''', is the principle that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity. The term is used in the Buddhist teachings in two senses:  
* On a general level, it refers to one of the central concepts in the [[Buddhism|Buddhist]] tradition—that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions.
* On a general level, it refers to one of the central concepts in the [[Buddhism|Buddhist]] tradition—that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions.
* On a specific level, the term is used to refer to a specific application of this general principle—namely the [[twelve links of dependent origination]].
* On a specific level, the term is used to refer to a specific application of this general principle—namely the [[twelve links of dependent origination]].
Line 204: Line 204:
;Relation to metaphysics:
;Relation to metaphysics:
The concept of ''pratītyasamutpāda'' has also been compared to the Western philosophy of ''[[metaphysics]]'' (the study of the nature of being and the world). Bhikkhu Thanissaro explains that the Buddha did not intend to put forth a system of metaphysics:{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|p=29}}
The concept of ''pratītyasamutpāda'' has also been compared to the Western philosophy of ''[[
:The Buddha was very clear on the point that he did not mean for his teachings to become a metaphysical system or for them to be adhered to simply for the sake of their truth value. He discussed metaphysical topics only when they could play a role in skillful behavior. Many metaphysical questions—such as whether or not there is a soul or self, whether or not the world is eternal, whether or not it is infinite, etc.—he refused to answer, on the grounds that they were either counterproductive or irrelevant to the task at hand: that of gaining escape from the stress and suffering inherent in time and the present.
However, scholars have noted the similarities between ''pratītyasamutpāda'' and ''metaphysics''.{{refn|group=lower-alpha|Schilbrack states: "Is the doctrine of interdependent origination a metaphysical teaching? The answer depends on one's definition of metaphysics. In this paper, metaphysics describes the character that anything has insofar as it is anything at all. Interdependent origination seems to fit this description."{{sfn|Schilbrack|2002}} }} One source (Hoffman, 1996) asserts that pratītyasamutpāda should not be considered a metaphysical doctrine in the strictest sense, since it does confirm or deny specific entities or realities.{{refn|group=lower-alpha|Hoffman states: "Suffice it to emphasize that the doctrine of dependent origination is not a metaphysical doctrine, in the sense that it does not affirm or deny some super-sensible entities or realities; rather, it is a proposition arrived at through an examination and analysis of the world of phenomena ..."{{sfn|Hoffman|1996|p=177}} }}{{refn|group=lower-alpha|This suggests that pratītyasamutpāda might be considered a ''metaphysic of [[Volition (psychology)|volitions]] (or [[karma]])''. A small part of metaphysics deals with the apparent contradiction, or paradox, between free will, and the position that worldly phenomena are solely a consequence of natural causal factors. [[Determinism|Determinists]] argue that everything is completely deterministic, based on natural causal laws that can never be changed; [[Libertarianism (metaphysics)|Libertarians]] argue that everything is totally up to one's free will, and [[Compatibilism|compatibilists]] posit a compatibility of these two positions.}} Noa Ronkin notes that while the Buddha suspends all views regarding certain metaphysical questions, he does not deny the significance of the questions.{{refn|group=lower-alpha|Noa Ronkin states: "Nevertheless, while it is true that the Buddha suspends all views regarding certain metaphysical questions, he is not an antimetaphysician: nothing in the texts suggests that metaphysical questions are completely meaningless, or that the Buddha denies the soundness of metaphysics per se [...] A framework of thought that hinges on the idea that sentient experience is dependently originated and that whatever is dependently originated is conditioned (sankhata), impermanent, subject to change, and lacking independent selfhood"{{sfn|Ronkin|2009}} }}
;Radical phenomenology:
Bhikkhu Thanissaro relates the Buddhist concept of karma to the modern philosophy of ''radical phenomenology''; he states:{{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2010|p=45}}
:To avoid the drawbacks of the narrative and cosmological mind-sets, the Buddha pursued an entirely different tack—what he called “entry into emptiness,” and what modern philosophy calls radical phenomenology: a focus on the events of present consciousness, in and of themselves, without reference to questions of whether there are any entities underlying those events. In the Buddha’s case, he focused simply on the process of kammic cause and result as it played itself out in the immediate present, in the process of developing the skillfulness of the mind, without reference to who or what lay behind those processes. On the most basic level of this mode of awareness, there was no sense even of “existence” or “nonexistence”..., but simply the events of stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, arising and passing away.
===Deep ecology===
[[Joanna Macy]] has emphasized that the Buddhist view of interdependence provides an intellectual foundation for the "deep ecology" movement.
==Alternate translations==
The term ''pratītyasamutpāda'' been translated into English as follows:
* Auspicious coincidence
* Causal interdependence (Christina Feldman)<ref group=web name=feldman1/>
* Conditioned arising (Peter Harvey){{sfn|Harvey|1990|p=54}}
* Conditioned genesis (Walpola Rahula){{sfn|Walpola Rahula|2007|loc=Kindel Locations 791-809}}
* Dependent arising (Jay Garfield){{sfn|Garfield|1994}}
* Dependent co-arising (Bhikkhu Thanissaro, Dhammananda Maha Thera){{sfn|Bhikkhu Thanissaro|2008}}{{sfn|Dhammananda Maha Thera|2010}}
* Dependent occurrence
* Dependent origination (Christina Feldman, Peter D. Santina, Encyclopædia Britannica)<ref group=web name=feldman1/><ref group=web name=edu1/><ref group=web name=brit1/>
* Interdependent arising
* Interdependent co-arising (Thich Nhat Hanh)
* Interdependent origination
* Mutual causality (Joanna Macy)
==See also==
* [[Wheel of Life]]
* [[Five skandhas]]
* [[Three marks of existence]]
===Printed sources===
* {{Citation| last = Anyen Rinpoche| year =2012 | title =Journey to Certainty | publisher =Wisdom Publications }}
* {{Citation| last = Bhikkhu Bodhi| year =2005 | title =In the Buddha's Words | publisher =Wisdom Publications }}
* {{Citation| last = Bhikkhu Bodhi (translator) | year =2000 | title =The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya | publisher =Wisdom Publications | place =Boston | isbn=0-86171-331-1}}
* {{Citation| last = Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translator) | year =1995 | title =The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya |place =Boston | publisher =Wisdom Publications | isbn =0-86171-072-X}}
* {{Citation| last =Bhikkhu Thanissaro (translator) | year =1997 | title =Tittha Sutta: Sectarians (AN 3.61) | url =http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.061.than.html | accessdate =2007-11-12}}
* {{Citation|last =Bhikkhu Thanissaro|title=Samsara Divided by Zero|url=http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/resonance.html|work=Essays|publisher=Access To Insight|accessdate=July 26, 2010}}
* {{Citation|last =Bhikkhu Thanissaro|title=The Shape of Suffering: A study of Dependent Co-arising|year=2008|publisher=Metta Forest Monastery|url=http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/DependentCo-arising.pdf}}
* {{Citation|last =Bhikkhu Thanissaro|title=Wings to Awakening: Part I|year=2010|publisher=Metta Forest Monastery, Valley Center, CA|url=http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings.pdf}}
* {{Citation| editor-last =Bowker | editor-first =John | year =1997 |title =The [[Oxford Dictionary of World Religions]] | publisher =Oxford}}
* {{Citation| last =Chogyam Trungpa | year =2009 | title =The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation |editor-last=Leif|editor-first=Judy | publisher =Shambhala }}
* {{Citation| last =Dalai Lama| year =1998| title =The Four Noble Truths| publisher =Thorsons}}
* {{Citation| last =Dalai Lama| year =1992| title =The Meaning of Life, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins| publisher =Wisdom}}
* {{Citation|last=Dhammananda Maha Thera|title=The Origin of the World|url=http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/whatbudbeliev/297.htm|work=What Buddhists Believe|publisher=Buddhatnet.net|accessdate=July 24, 2010|year=2010}}
* {{Citation| last =Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse| year =2003| title =Introduction to the Middle Way| publisher =Khyentse Foundation}}
* {{Citation| last =Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse| year =2011| title =What Makes You Not a Buddhist| publisher =Shambhala, Kindle Edition}}
* {{Citation|last=Edelglass|first=William|title=Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings|year=2009|isbn=978-0-19-532817-2|url=http://books.google.com/?id=HjVQB03cVMMC|publisher=Oxford University Press}}
* {{Citation| last =Garfield| first =  Jay L.| year=1994 | title= Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness: Why did Nagarjuna start with Causation?| url=http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Nagarjuna/Dependent_Arising.htm| publisher=''Philosophy East and West'', Volume 44, Number 2 April 1994}}
* {{Citation| last =Geshe Sonam Rinchen| year =2006| title =How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising| publisher =Snow Lion}}
* {{Citation| last =Gethin | first = Rupert | year =1998 | title =Foundations of Buddhism | publisher =Oxford University Press}}
* {{Citation| last =Goldstein | first = Joseph | year =2002 | title =One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism | publisher =HarperCollins}}
* {{Citation| last =Harvey | first =Peter | year =1990 |title =An Introduction to Buddhism | publisher =Cambridge University Press}}
* {{Citation| last =Hoffman | first =Frank J. | year =1996 |title =Pāli Buddhism| publisher =Routledge|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=WkgdeAx_oMoC&pg=PA177&dq=dependent+origination+metaphysical#PPA177,M1}}
* {{Citation | last =Hopkins | first =Jeffrey | year =2014 | title =Meditation on Emptiness | publisher =Simon and Schuster}}
* {{Citation| last= Lama Zopa Rinpoche | year=2009| title= How Things Exist: Teachings on Emptiness | publisher=Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Kindle Edition}}
* {{Citation| last =Lopez | first =Donald S.| year =2001 | title =The Story of Buddhism | publisher =HarperCollins }}
* {{Citation| last =Mabja Tsondru | year =2011 | title =Ornament of Reason | publisher =Snow Lion }}
* {{Citation| last =Macy | first=Joanna | year =1991 | title =Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems | publisher =SUNY }}
* {{Citation| last =Mattis-Namgyel| year =2010 | title =The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha's Path to Freedom | publisher =Shambhala }}
* {{Citation| last =Mingyur Rinpoche| year =2007 | title =The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness| publisher = Harmony Kindle Edition}}
* {{Citation| last =Nan Huai-Chin | first =J.C. Cleary (trans.)| year =1994 |title =To Realize Enlightenment: Practice of the Cultivation Path | publisher =Weiser Books}}
* {{Citation|last=Ronkin|first=Noa| year=2009|title=Theravada Metaphysics and Ontology|work=Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings (Edelglass, et al, editors) |publisher=Oxford University Press|isbn=978-0-19-532817-2}}
* {{Citation| last =Schilbrack| first =Kevin| year =2002 |title =Thinking through Myths: Philosophical Perspectives | publisher =Routledge | isbn=0-415-25461-2}}
* {{Citation| last1 =Smith| first1=Huston|last2=Novak|first2=Philip| year=2009| title= Buddhism: A Concise Introduction | publisher=HarperOne, Kindle Edition}}
* {{Citation| last= Thich Nhat Hanh | year =1991 | title =Old Path White Clouds| publisher = Parallax Press}}
* {{Citation| last= Thich Nhat Hanh | year =1999 | title =The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching | publisher = Three River Press}}
* {{Citation| last= Williams |first=Paul | year =2002 | title =Buddhist Thought | publisher = Taylor & Francis, Kindle Edition}}
* {{Citation| last= Walpola Rahula | year =2007| title =What the Buddha Taught| publisher = Grove Press, Kindle Edition}}
== Further reading ==
* [[Thanissaro Bhikkhu|Bhikkhu Thanissaro]] (2008), ''The Shape of Suffering: A study of Dependent Co-arising'', Metta Forest Monastery [http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/DependentCo-arising.pdf]
* [[Dalai Lama]] (1992). ''The Meaning of Life'', translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins. Wisdom.
* [[Sonam Rinchen (Buddhist geshe)|Geshe Sonam Rinchen]] (2006). ''How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising''. Snow Lion
* [[Rupert Gethin|Gethin, Rupert]] (1998). ''Foundations of Buddhism''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Chapter 6, pp.&nbsp;133–162)
* [[Khandro Rinpoche]] (2003). ''This Precious Life''. Shambala
* Mattiss-Namgyel, Elizabeth (2018). ''The Logic of Faith''. Shambala
* [[Thich Nhat Hanh]] (1999). ''The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching''. Three Rivers Press. (pp.&nbsp;221–249)
* [[Thrangu Rinpoche]] (2001). ''The Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination''. Nama Buddha Publications.
* [[Walpola Rahula]] (1974). ''What the Buddha Taught''. Grove Press.
==External links==
* [http://philpapers.org/rec/KOHPIE Pratityasamutpada in Eastern and Western Modes of Thought]
* [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/digha/dn15.html Maha-nidana Sutta]
* [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/modern/thanissaro/wings/1b.html#dependent1 Kamma & the Ending of Kamma]
* [http://wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/the-doctrine-of-paticcasamuppada/index.html The Doctrine of Paticcasamuppada by U Than Daing]
* [http://wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/a-discourse-on-paticcasamuppada/index.html A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw]
* [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/samyutta/sn12-002.html Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta]
* [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/samyutta/sn12-023.html Upanisa Sutta translation by Bhikkhu Thanissaro]
* [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/bps/wheels/wheel277.html A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi]
* [http://www.vipassati.ch/ebooks/paticcasamuppada Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa]
* [http://www.buddhism-dict.net/ddb/ Digital Dictionary of Buddhism]
{{Indian philosophy}}
{{WP content|Pratītyasamutpāda}}
[[Category:Basic concepts]]
[[Category:Buddhist philosophical concepts]]
[[Category:Buddhist terminology]]

Revision as of 19:30, 10 December 2018

Translations of
English dependent origination,
dependent arising,
interdependent co-arising,
conditioned arising,
Pali paṭiccasamuppāda
(Dev: पटिच्चसमुप्पाद)
Sanskrit pratītyasamutpāda
(Dev: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद)
Bengali prôtityôsômutpadô
Burmese ပဋိစ္စ သမုပ္ပါဒ်
IPA: [bədeiʔsa̰ θəmouʔpaʔ]
Chinese 緣起
Japanese 縁起
(rōmaji: engi)
Sinhalese පටිච්චසමුප්පාද
Tibetan རྟེན་ཅིང་འབྲེལ་བར་འབྱུང་བ་
(Wylie: rten cing 'brel bar
'byung ba
THL: ten-ching drelwar

Pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit: pratītyasamutpāda; Pāli: paṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination or dependent arising, is the principle that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity. The term is used in the Buddhist teachings in two senses:

  • On a general level, it refers to one of the central concepts in the Buddhist tradition—that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions.
  • On a specific level, the term is used to refer to a specific application of this general principle—namely the twelve links of dependent origination.

The concept of pratityasamutpada is the basis for other key concepts in Buddhism, such as the four noble truths, karma and rebirth. The general principle of pratityasamutpada is complementary to the concept of sunyata (emptiness).


Pratityasamutpada consists of two terms:

  • pratitya: "having depended"[1]
  • samutpada: "arising",[1] "rise, production, origin"[web 1]

The term has been translated into English variously as dependent origination, dependent arising, interdependent co-arising, conditioned arising, and conditioned genesis. The term could be translated somewhat more literally as arising in dependence upon conditions.[2]

The Dalai Lama explains:

In Sanskrit the word for dependent-arising is pratityasamutpada. The word pratitya has three different meanings–meeting, relying, and depending–but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpada means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratityasamutpada is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions.[2]

The term is used in the Buddhist tradition in a general and a specific sense, namely the general principle of interdependent causation and its application in the twelve nidanas.[lower-alpha 1] Generally speaking, in the Mahayana tradition, pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit) is used to refer to the general principle of interdependent causation, whereas in the Theravada tradition, paticcasamuppāda (Pali) is used to refer to the twelve nidanas.

The principle of interdependent causation


The general or universal definition of pratityasamutpada (or "dependent origination" or "dependent arising" or "interdependent co-arising") is that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity.[lower-alpha 2][lower-alpha 3] A traditional example used in Buddhist texts is of three sticks standing upright and leaning against each other and supporting each other. If one stick is taken away, the other two will fall to the ground. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:[9]

Pratitya samutpada is sometimes called the teaching of cause and effect, but that can be misleading, because we usually think of cause and effect as separate entities, with cause always preceding effect, and one cause leading to one effect. According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions... In the sutras, this image is given: "Three cut reeds can stand only by leaning on one another. If you take one away, the other two will fall." For a table to exist, we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness, and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain, and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast, fresh air, and so on. And each of those things, in turn, has to be brought about by other causes and conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we'll see that nothing has been left out. Everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table. Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree, and the clouds, we can see the table. The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one. One cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else. Cause and effect inter-are. The idea of first and only cause, something that does not itself need a cause, cannot be applied.[lower-alpha 4]

This is, because that is

A simple formulation of the principle of pratityasamutpada is translated by Thich Nhat Hanh as follows:[9]

This is, because that is.
This is not, because that is not.
This ceases to be, because that ceases to be.

This key formula is referred to as specific conditionality or this/that conditionality (Pali: idappaccayatā; Sanskrit: idaṃpratyayatā). The formula is repeated hundreds of times throughout the sutras, and there are many translations of the formula by contemporary scholars and translators.[lower-alpha 5] For example, contemporary translator Thanissaro Bikkhu provides the following translation:[web 4]

When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.

Rupert Gethin explains "..the succinct formula state[s] baldly that the secret of the universe lies in the nature of causality—the way one thing leads to another."[11]

Multiple causes and conditions

A key aspect of the principle of pratityasamutpada is that every result is dependent upon multiple causes and conditions. Rupert Gethin explains:[12]

...the Theravāda tradition records...as a fundamental axiom the principle that a single cause does not give rise to either a single result or several results; nor do several causes give rise to just one result; but rather several causes give rise to several results.[lower-alpha 6][lower-alpha 7][lower-alpha 8]

Relation to other Buddhist concepts

The Four Noble Truths

The principle of dependent origination is closely related to the Four Noble Truths.[lower-alpha 9] Contemporary scholar Peter D. Santina explains:[web 5]

What is it that the Four Noble Truths and dependent origination have in common? The principle that both have in common is the principle of causality—the law of cause and effect, of action and consequence. ...we have mentioned that the Four Noble Truths are divided into two groups. The first two—suffering and the causes of suffering, and the last two—the end of suffering and the path to the end of suffering. In both of these groups, it is the law of cause and effect that governs the relationship between the two. In other words, suffering is the effect of the cause of suffering; and similarly, the end of suffering is the effect of the path to the end of suffering. Here too in regard to dependent origination, the fundamental principle at work is that of cause and effect. In dependent origination, we have a more detailed description of what actually takes place in the causal process.


The principle of dependent origination underpins the concept of karma, which is an application of this principle to individual actions and their fruition. The Dalai Lama explains the relation between dependent origination and karma as follows:[17]

Karma is one particular instance of the natural causal laws that operate throughout the universe where, according to Buddhism, things and events come into being purely as a result of the combination of causes and conditions.
Karma, then, is an instance of the general law of causality. What makes karma unique is that it involves intentional action, and therefore an agent. The natural causal processes operating in the world cannot be termed karmic where there is no agent involved. In order for a causal process to be a karmic one, it must involve an individual whose intention would lead to a particular action. It is this specific type of causal mechanism which is known as karma.

As in the principle of dependent origination, within the functioning of karma, every fruition is said to depend upon multiple causes and conditions. Bhikkhu Thanissaro states:

...one of the many things the Buddha discovered in the course of his awakening was that causality is not linear. The experience of the present is shaped both by actions in the present and by actions in the past. Actions in the present shape both the present and the future. The results of past and present actions continually interact. Thus there is always room for new input into the system, which gives scope for free will.[lower-alpha 10]

No-self (anatman)

The principle of dependent origination also applies to the concept of no-self (anatman).[lower-alpha 11] The concept of no-self or anatman or emptiness of self is that it is not possible to identify an independent, inherently existing self; that the self only exists in dependence upon causes and conditions. This theory can be broken down as follows:[20]

  • If you look for the self within the body, you can not find it there, since the body itself is dependent upon its parts.
  • If you look for the self within the mind, you can not find it there, since the mind can only be said to exist in relation to external objects; therefore the mind is also dependent upon causes and conditions outside of itself.
  • Hence, since the self can not be said to exist within the body or mind, it is said to be "empty of inherent existence".

Emptiness (sunyata)

In the Mahayana tradition, the principle of pratītyasamutpāda is said to complement the concept of emptiness (sunyata). It is said that because all things arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, they are empty of inherent existence.[lower-alpha 12]

A classic expression of this relationship was provided by the renowned Indian scholar Nagarjuna in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Treatise on the Middle Way; Nagarjuna stated:[22]

Whatever arises dependently
Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.

Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.

Geshe Sonam Rinchen explains the above quote as follows: "Here Nagarjuna states the Madhyamika or middle way position. Everything that exists does so dependently and everything that is dependently existent necessarily lacks independent objective existence."[22]

Twelve links of dependent origination

The Twelve Nidanas are a series of causal links that explain the process of samsaric rebirth and hence the arising dukkha, as well as the possibility to reverse this process, and hence liberate oneself from samsara.[lower-alpha 13] Within the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the twelve nidanas are considered to be the most significant application of the principle of dependent origination.

The relationship between links (nidanas) is not considered to be a linear causal process, in which each link gives rise to the next link. Rather, each link in the process arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions.[23] For example, whenever there is ignorance, craving and clinging invariably follow, and craving and clinging themselves indicate ignorance.[24]

The thrust of the formula is such that when certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions and the cyclical nature of life in samsara can be seen. This is graphically illustrated in the bhavacakra (wheel of life).

Understanding within the Buddhist traditions

A modern Theravada presentation of the Wheel of Life. The twelve links are shown in the outer rim.


Within the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the twelve nidanas are considered to be the most significant application of the principle of dependent origination.[lower-alpha 14]

Also in the Theravada tradition, the following key teachings on the principle of dependent origination are found in the Pali suttas:[11]

  • Śāriputra was introduced to the teachings of the Buddha by the following verse that was recited to him by the monk Aśvajit: "Of those dharmas which arise from a cause, the Tathāgata has stated the cause, and also the cessation; such is the teaching of the Great Ascetic."
  • Idappaccayatā (translated as specific conditionality, this/that conditionality, etc.) is identified as a key expression of the doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda. Idappaccayatā is expressed through the following formula: ‘this existing, that exists; this arising, that arises; this not existing, that does not exist; this ceasing, that ceases’ (Majjhima Nikāya 115,[25] Samyutta Nikāya 55.27,[26] etc.)



In the Madhyamaka, to say that an object is "empty" is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. Nāgārjuna equates emptiness with dependent origination in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:18.[27] In his analysis, any enduring essential nature (svabhāva) would prevent the process of dependent origination, would prevent any kind of origination at all, for things would simply always have been and will always continue to be, i.e. as existents (bhāva). Madhyamaka suggests that impermanent collections of causes and conditions are designated by mere conceptual labels, which also applies to the causes and conditions themselves and even the principle of causality itself since everything is dependently originated (i.e. empty).[28] If unaware of this, things may seem to arise as existents, remain for a time and then subsequently perish.

Hua Yen school

The Hua Yen school taught the doctrine of the mutual containment and interpenetration of all phenomena, as expressed in Indra's net. One thing contains all other existing things, and all existing things contain that one thing. This philosophy is based in the tradition of the great Madhyamaka scholar Nagarjuna and, more specifically, on the Avatamsaka Sutra. Regarded by D.T. Suzuki as the crowning achievement of Buddhist philosophy, the Avatamsaka Sutra elaborates in great detail on the principal of dependent origination. This sutra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another.

Tibetan Buddhism

In Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of dependent origination is considered to be complementary to the concept of emptiness. Specifically, this tradition emphasizes the indivisibility of appearance and emptiness—also known as the relative and absolute aspects of reality.[29] In this context:

  • Appearance (relative truth) refers to the concept that all appearances are dependently originated
  • Emptiness (absolute or ultimate truth) refers to the concept that the ‘’nature” of all phenomena is emptiness—lacking inherent existence.

In Mipham Rinpoche’s Beacon of Certainty, this relationship is explained using the metaphor of the reflection of the moon in water.[29] According to this metaphor:

  • The nature of all phenomena is like the reflection of the moon in water—completely lacking inherent existence. However,
  • The appearance of the moon in the water is an expression of dependent origination—the appearance is completely dependent upon causes and conditions.[29]

Anyen Rinpoche explains the significance of this understanding for a Dzogchen practitioner:

We gain personal experience through meditation practice and becoming accustomed to naturally seeing appearance and emptiness in union. If we develop confidence in the nature of dependent arising, this will greatly support our personal experience of actual meditation. We could say that it is through our understanding of dependent arising that appearance and emptiness become equal.[30]

One of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, emphasized his respect for this relationship as follows:

One’s view should be as vast as the sky,
and one’s action should be as subtle and fine as grains of flour.[31]

Comparative studies

Quantum mechanics

The Mahayana presentation of pratītyasamutpāda (and shunyata) has been compared to the scientific theory of quantum mechanics (also known as quantum physics)—the contemporary branch of physics that examines matter on atomic and subatomic levels. For example, contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche states:[32]

In my conversations with modern scientists, I’ve been struck by a number of similarities between the principles of quantum mechanics and the Buddhist understanding of the relationship between emptiness and appearance. Because the words we used were different, it took me quite a while to recognize that we were talking about the same thing—phenomena unfolding moment by moment, caused and conditioned by an almost infinite number and variety of events.

And contemporary Western philosopher Christian Thomas Kohl states:[web 10]

There is a surprising parallelism between the philosophical concept of reality articulated by Nagarjuna and the physical concept of reality implied by quantum physics. For neither is there a fundamental core to reality, rather reality consists of systems of interacting objects. Such concepts of reality cannot be reconciled with the substantial, subjective, holistic or instrumentalistic concepts of reality which underlie modern modes of thought.

Systems theory

The doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda has been compared to modern systems theory. For example, in her text Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory, contemporary scholar Joanna Macy states:[33]

The systems view of reality as process, its perception of self-organizing patterns of physical and mental events, and the principals it discerned in the dynamics of these natural systems struck me as remarkably consonant with the Buddha's teachings. Like the doctrine of paticca samuppāda, systems theory sees causality as reciprocal, arising from interweaving circuits of contingency. [...] Despite the obvious contrasts in their origins and purposes, each of them—early Buddhism and contemporary systems theory—can clarify what the other is saying.

Chaos theory

Bhikkhu Thanissaro relates the Buddhist concept of causality to modern deterministic chaos theory; he states:[34]

There are many parallels between Buddhist theories of causation and modern deterministic chaos theory. Examples and terminology drawn from the latter — such as feedback, scale invariance, resonance, and fluid turbulence — are very useful in explaining the former. Again, in using these parallels I am not trying to equate Buddhist teachings with chaos theory or to engage in pseudo-science. Fashions in science change so rapidly that we do the Buddha’s teachings no favor in trying to “prove” them in light of current scientific paradigms. Here I am simply pointing out similarities as a way of helping to make those teachings intelligible in modern terms. Deterministic chaos theory is the only modern body of knowledge that has worked out a vocabulary for the patterns of behavior described in Buddhist explanations of causality, and so it seems a natural source to draw on, both to describe those patterns and to point out some of their less obvious implications.

Western theories of the origin of the universe

The principle of pratītyasamutpāda is the basis for the Buddhist view that it is not possible to identify a beginning or origin of the world or universe. According to the Buddhist view, since all phenomena are dependent upon multiple causes and conditions, it can not be said that there was a first cause or event that sparked the creation of the universe. Thus Buddhist philosophy refutes the concepts of either a creator god or an initial event as posited in the "big bang theory". Dhammananda Maha Thera explains:[35]

Modern science says that some millions of years ago, the newly cooled earth was lifeless and that life originated in the ocean. Buddhism never claimed that the world, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god or by a Buddha. Buddhists believe that the world was not created once upon a time, but that the world has been created millions of times every second and will continue to do so by itself and will break away by itself. According to Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe.

Western philosophy


Jay Garfield points out the similarities between pratītyasamutpāda and the philosophies of Hume, Kant, and others. Garfield states:[36]

The analysis of causation can often look like a highly technical aside in philosophy. It might not seem at first glance to be one of the really "big" questions, like those concerning what entities there are, what the nature of mind is, what the highest good is. By contrast, causation often appears to the outsider or to the beginner like one of those recherche corners of philosophy that one has to work one's way into. But of course even in the history of Western metaphysics and epistemology it has always been central. One has only to think of the role of a theory of causation for Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, or Wittgenstein to see this. This study of the Mulamadhyamikakarika shows why: a clear understanding of the nature of the causal relation is the key to understanding the nature of reality itself and of our relation to it. For causation is, as Hume, Kant, and Schopenhauer as well as Nagarjuna emphasize, at the heart of our individuation of objects, of our ordering of our experience of the world, and of our understanding of our own agency in the world. Without a clear view of causation, we can have no clear view of anything.
Relation to metaphysics

The concept of pratītyasamutpāda has also been compared to the Western philosophy of [[

Cite error: <ref> tags exist for a group named "web", but no corresponding <references group="web"/> tag was found, or a closing </ref> is missing
Cite error: <ref> tags exist for a group named "lower-alpha", but no corresponding <references group="lower-alpha"/> tag was found, or a closing </ref> is missing