Paticcasamuppada (Pali) / Pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit) / Dependent Origination
The Meaning of the Twelve Factors, as Defined by The Buddha
It is important for us to understand exactly what The Buddha meant by these twelve terms. Fortunately, when The Buddha taught the Dhamma He also explained in great detail what He meant by what He said. Admittedly, some terms would be used in slightly different contexts in different suttas. The Nidanasamyutta (SN 12), however, is a collection of suttas that are completely concerned with Paticca-samuppada. The second sutta in this collection is called the Vibhanga Sutta. Vibhanga means the explanation of the terms used. As far as Dependent Origination is concerned, in this sutta The Buddha gives the clearest explanation of what each of these terms mean. Using Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Vibhanga Sutta, the meaning of these twelve terms will now be explained. Also, with the aid of some other suttas, the meaning of two of the most controversial terms will be clarified.
First of all, The Buddha said: "What, bhikkhus, is aging-and-death (jara-marana)? The aging of the various beings in the various orders of beings, their growing old, brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of vitality, degeneration of the faculties: this is called aging. The passing away of the various beings from the various orders of beings, their perishing, their break up, disappearance, mortality, death, completion of time, the break up of the aggregates, the laying down of the carcass: this is called death. Thus this aging and this death are together called aging-and-death." It is quite clear here that The Buddha was talking about death in the usual meaning of the term, not a death in a moment (which is a term that some people mistakenly use). It means the death that you call an undertaker to settle.
And what, bhikkhus, is birth (jati)? The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings, their being born, descent (into the womb), production (abhinibbatti= rebirth), the manifestation of the aggregates, the obtaining of the sense bases. This is called birth." The meaning of the term `various orders of beings', is fully brought out by a passage in another sutta specifically dealing with Dependent Origination, the Mahanidana Sutta (DN 15): "With birth as condition there is aging and death. How that is so, Ananda, should be understood in this way. If there were absolutely and utterly no birth of any kind anywhere - that is, of gods into the state of gods, of celestials into the state of celestials, of spirits, demons, human beings, quadrupeds, winged creatures, reptiles, each into their own state - if there were no birth of beings, of any sort into any state, then, in the complete absence of birth, with the cessation of birth, would aging and death be discerned?" "Certainly not, venerable sir." Again, it is quite clear here that birth means what we would normally consider it to be: the arising in the human realm of a being in the womb.
And what, bhikkhus, is existence (bhava)? There are these three kinds of becoming: sense-sphere existence ( kama bhava ), form-sphere existence ( rupa bhava ), formless-sphere existence ( arupa bhava ). This is called existence." Because this term, bhava, is often misunderstood I will explain its meaning in further detail. The above classification of existence into three realms is sometimes called the tiloka, the three worlds. The kamaloka are the worlds dominated by the five senses. They are the human realm, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts, the hell realms and the deva realms up to, but not including the brahmaloka. The rupaloka are the silent worlds wherein one exists in the jhana attainments. They begin with the brahmaloka and include several other realms based on higher jhanas. The arupaloka are the worlds of pure mind, wherein one exists in one of the four immaterial attainments. The rupaloka and arupaloka are the jhana experience attained at the moment of death that continues for vast periods of time, transcending cataclysms of universes and counted in, sometimes, thousands of aeons.
To understand the full meaning of bhava one has to go to the Anguttara Nikaya (3, 76), where Venerable Ananda asks The Buddha, "What is bhava?" The Buddha responds by questioning Ananda: "If there was no kamma ripening in the kamaloka, would there be existence in the realm dominated by the five senses?" He then asks the same about the other two realms: "If there was no kamma ripening in the rupaloka, would there be existence in the rupaloka? If there was no kamma ripening in the arupaloka, would there be existence in the arupaloka?" Accordingly, Ananda replies "certainly not" to each question. The Buddha then further explains: "So, Ananda, you can regard kamma (the actions of body, speech and mind) as the field, you can regard consciousness as the seed, and you can regard craving as the moisture. Thus, for beings who are blinded by ignorance and fettered by craving, there is the establishment of the consciousness in this lower realm, in the hinadhatu (ie. the realms dominated by the five senses), (and so forth for the two higher realms of existence). Thus there is in the future more existence (punabbhava), rebirth (abhinibbatti)". Here The Buddha was giving the simile of plants growing, with kamma as the field, and consciousness as the seed, which is fed by the moisture of craving to explain how bhava is a cause for rebirth (jati).
And what, bhikkhus, is clinging (upadana)/(sometimes translated as `fuel')? There are these four kinds of clinging: clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to (wrong) views, clinging to rules and vows, clinging to a doctrine of self. This is called clinging.
And what, bhikkhus, is craving (tanha)? There are these six classes of craving: craving for forms (sights), craving for sounds, craving for odours, craving for tastes, craving for tactile objects, craving for mental phenomena. This is called craving.
And what, bhikkhus, is feeling (vedana)? There are these six classes of feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, feeling born of ear-contact, feeling born of nose-contact, feeling born of tongue-contact, feeling born of body-contact, feeling born of mind-contact. This is called feeling.
And what, bhikkhus, is contact (phassa)? There are these six classes of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact. This is called contact.
And what, bhikkhus, are the six sense bases (salayatana)? The eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base, the mind base. These are called the six sense bases.
And what, bhikkhus, is mind and form (nama-rupa)? Feeling, perception, volition (cetana), contact (phassa), and attention (manasikara): this is called mind. The four great elements and the form derived from the four great elements: this is called form. Thus this mind and this form are together called mind-and-form.
And what, bhikkhus, is consciousness (vinnana)? There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness. This is called consciousness.
And what, bhikkhus, are the mental formations (sankhara)? There are these three kinds of mental formations: the bodily mental formation, the verbal mental formation, the mind mental formation. These are called the mental formations." The meaning of sankhara is sometimes debated because this is a word that does have many meanings in different places. If one wishes to see the word sankhara used as a cause for rebirth, one can go to the Sankharupapatti Sutta (MN 120). Sankharupapatti means `rebirth according to sankhara'. Here, The Buddha talks about how certain beings arise in different realms according to their planned actions of body, speech or mind. These are actions of body, speech and mind, which are accompanied by will (cetana); and it is this kamma which gives rise to future rebirth. This is called sankhara. In another sutta (SN 12, 51) The Buddha talks about how, if a person who has ignorance (avijjagato, who has gone to ignorance) plans a meritorious sankhara (punnam sankharam abhisankaroti), his consciousness goes to a meritorious place. If he plans a demeritorious sankhara (apunnam sankharam abhisankaroti), his consciousness goes to an apunna place, a demeritorious place. If he plans an anenja sankhara (anenja being something in-between), then his consciousness goes to that place accordingly. Again, this shows that there are three types of sankhara - meritorious, demeritorious and in-between - and that sankhara is the working of kamma. In much the same way that kamma can be made by body, speech and mind, so too there are three types of sankhara - body, speech and mind sankhara.
And what, bhikkhus, is ignorance (avijja / avidya)? Not knowing suffering, not knowing the origin of suffering, not knowing the cessation of suffering, not knowing the way leading to the cessation of suffering. This is called ignorance."