Twelve links (situational patterning)

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The twelve links of dependent origination are presented as part of a process of situational patterning by contemporary scholar Steven D. Goodman.

In this context, the links are presented below.

Twelve links as situational patterning

Avidya (ignorance)

Avidya means ignorance of the Four Noble Truths, the Three marks of existence, the Five skandhas, Karma, and Pratītyasamutpāda; it results in a wrong assessment of reality. This narrowness of experience is the primary cause of duḥkha (suffering dissatisfaction, pain, unease, etc.)

Avidyā may be understood as:

A continuous gradient characterizing not so much a particular state of being, but the quality or direction of situational patterning, experienced as a 'falling away from' the modality of pristine awareness.[1]

Saṃskara (formation)

The impulse accumulations of saṃskāra are characterized by the energetic direction of the first motif, manifesting through body, speech, and mind as structuring forces of our being. This relationship forms the basis of our character and our personal karmic patterning.

Vijñāna (consciousness)

Vijñāna represents the partially structured consciousness that results from the action of saṃskāra and the shaping of that energetic activity into a less flexible and more stagnant form.

It is pictured as having a two-fold function: the cognition of objects that arise in our field of awareness and a structured stream that is being continually fed from the reservoir of energetic activity. The interplay between saṃskāra and vijñāna is seen as accounting for all the experiential data associated with the psychological notion of the unconscious, including memory, dreams, and the eruption of emotive complexes.[2]

Nama-rupa (name and form)

Vijñāna has a quick grasping tendency, moving from sensory objects to objects of imagination rapidly. This energy may therefore crystallize and take shape into mental functions, called Nāma, or it may be represented as material forms, called Rūpa.

As a collective idea, the Nāmarūpa motif models the reciprocal relationship of bodily and mental functioning. Nāma is the naming activity of the discursive mind. Rūpa develops an internal representation of external objects, without which mind and body cannot exist.

Nāma refers to three components of mental functioning. There is the sensation or tone-awareness of a mental situation. There is also an ideational or labeling function. And finally there is the component of dispositional orientation, the 'mood-energy' we bring to a situation.[3]

Rūpa refers to the four dynamic structuring operations of solidity, cohesion, heat, and motility. They are represented by the elemental symbols of earth, water, fire, and air. The operation of these elemental modes goes to make up what we experience as our physical world, including our body. Rūpa embraces the static aspects of embodiment such as cellular, tissue, and organ structures, as well as the dynamic aspect of body metabolism--electro-physiological pathways, membrane transport, etc.[3]

Six ayatanas (six sense bases)

The close relationship of bodily and mental functioning is differentiated into the six-fold bases of awareness, which contribute to the arising of all sensory experiences that make up our interpretation of reality. The six-fold bases are divided into an internal grouping (ādhyātmika) with corollary external (bāhya) supports.

The internal grouping refers to the integration of five sensory capabilities (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) and a sixth capability, termed non-sensuous or mental, which refers to the capability of all acts of memory, imagination, visualization, etc. These internal bases are not to be confused with the corresponding physical organs ... They are simply loci of sensitivity structured such that there arises the experience of seeing, hearing, etc.[4]

The six external bases, which always work in conjunction with the corresponding internal base, refer to the six types of possible object awareness. These bases are the means by which the differentiated aspects, which are fleeting stabilizations in the field character of our awareness, stand out long enough to be appropriated as this-or-that specific object. The external and internal bases should be pictured as working together in pairs. In any given moment there is the two-fold working of a particular modality of awareness (eye-sensitivity and color-forms, ear-sensitivity and sounds, etc.).[4]

Sparsa (contact)

The sparśa motif refers to the relationship or rapport between the internal and external āyatana. Impressions of tone arise in conjunction with the specific modality of awareness that is operating.

Vedana (sensation)

There are six types of feeling tone awareness that arise from contact of the āyatana. The feeling tone or sensation of each of the six āyatana is uniquely different. For example, the feeling tone and felt experience of sensations in the body are distinct from the feeling tones generated from experiencing sight or sound.

Each modality is experientially separable on the basis of (a) the place of sensitivity (internal base), (b) the corresponding structure of its field (external base), (c) the manner of articulation or relatedness between (a) and (b), termed rapport, and (d) the resulting distinctive tone.[4]

Trishna (craving)

Following the arising of tone-awareness is an unconditioned or habitually patterned experience of craving or attachment. The type of craving or attachment that follows depends upon which of the six āyatanas is involved, and which of the following three "motivations" is present.

The motivation of sensual gratification (kāma-tṛṣṇā) is perhaps the most common. It results in simple attachment to whatever arises in one's field of awareness. It is not an overt appropriation, one that we consciously activate. It refers rather to the habitual structuring of experience such that one is compulsively caught up in one situation after another through a process of identification and clinging.

One can also be motivated with regard to the desire for 'eternals' (bhava-tṛṣṇā). It is the habitual structuring of any sensory impression, any momentary awareness, such that it might be the occasion for securing an eternal realm of peace and contentment.
Finally there is the annihilatory motivation (vibhava-tṛṣṇā). It is the automatic structuring of experience such that any sensory activation might be the cause of a compulsive thirst to annihilate and destroy. What is commonly regarded as psychopathic behavior might be linked particularly with this type of motivation.[5]

Upadana (attachment)

If the object of one's desires comes to fruition, then these craving desires of tṛṣṇā may solidify and manifest as the quality of attachment, or upādāna. This condition of fulfilled desires and attachment is always fleeting and momentary, as new cravings arise once old cravings are satisfied.

Attachment may take many forms, for example, emotional attachment to persons, to life, material comfort, routines, pleasant or unpleasant sensations, beliefs, thoughts, judgements, etc. We may not have attachment to things like wealth or success in society, but we are typically very strongly attached to our feelings and constructed identity of the self.

One may become fixated on a mental "story" or representation of reality, or a mental version of an object or event, preferring and craving for an unrealized internal version of external reality. Once this fixation shapes behavior in a way that internal desires are satiated, then the craving of tṛṣṇā may be said to have shifted to the attachment of upādāna.

Bhava (becoming)

"Once the direction of situational patterning has proceeded to the point of overt clinging, a process of becoming, termed bhava, is initiated. It refers to the new formation of karmic tendencies."[6]

This creation of new habits and karmic tendencies, called bhava, will come to fruition through future experiences. Bhava, therefore, differs from Saṃskāra in temporal nature. "Saṃskāra refers to tendencies from past situational patternings (lives) which act on the present situation.[6]

Jati (birth)

The jāti motif refers to the process of karmic tendencies of bhava coming to fruition, through the birth of new patternings. That which was desired and conditioned now comes to be.

In a psycho-biological model, jāti refers to the birth or emergence of a newborn being, appearing, according to the specific history of patterning, in one of six 'lifestyles'. These lifestyles indicate the general character of experience. They are symbolized by the terms gods, titans, hungry ghosts, animals, denizens of hell, and human. These embrace all the general ways of being-in-a-situation.[6]

Jara-marana (aging, decay and death)

Once a new situation or a new being has emerged, it is inevitable that the conditions which brought about its appearance will change. This, the last of the twelve motifs, points to the inevitability of decay and death. Decay affects all structures, which are but fleeting stabilizations fed by the energy flow of habitual patterning. When the cessation of the continuity of experience occurs, we speak of death. It is the total breakdown and dissolution of experience and experiencer.

The process of disintegration, destructuring, and entropic scattering yields a nexus of vibratory murkiness which is the condition of avidyā, the first motif. Thus the entire structure of patterning feeds back on itself, and is often pictured as a circle of twelve sections, called the Wheel of Life (bhavacakra, srid-pa'i-'khor-lo).[7]


  1. Goodman 1992, p. 225.
  2. Goodman 1992, p. 225-227.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Goodman 1992, p. 227.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Goodman 1992, p. 228.
  5. Goodman 1992, p. 229.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Goodman 1992, p. 230.
  7. Goodman 1992, p. 230-231.


  • Goodman, Steven D. (1992), "Situational Patterning: Pratītyasamutpāda", Footsteps on the Diamond Path (Crystal Mirror Series; v. 1-3), Dharma Publishing