How are avijjā and saṅkhāra conditions for viññāṇa?


It seems to me that the turning point for the Buddha-to-be was after his mastery of the attainments with Kalama and Ramaputta, after his immersion in asceticism, when he considered his previous experience under the rose apple tree. He then realized that he had been afraid of joy, rejecting any wholesome happiness and attempting to reach liberation through more conventional methods. By this he was able to see the full spectrum and ramifications of craving which enabled him to see what he had been missing and begin to put the links together. By the three knowledges he saw beyond what he gained from the attainments and realized the true nature of samsara which led him to the influxes of avijja.


Is that true? I thought there were at least a few suttas that combine the two (that is, show ignorance causing sanakharas causing consciousness, while also showing consciousness looped with namarupa).


When I read this, a voice in the back of my head started singing:

She swallowed saṅkhārā to name the form to find the mind, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, I guess she’ll die!


Are we talking about consciousness as the aggregate of clinging or sense organ consciousness? Am I wrong to make a distinction between the two?


I think that vinnana is consistently described as 6-fold sense-consciousness in the suttas.

It’s also described that way in the context of DO.


Thank you.


That’s the magic trick described in SN 22.95…


If the above is true, it seems you still must explain why the compound ‘avijjāsamphassajena’ is used and what it means.

Then please kindly quote these suttas. Thank you


I think I was remembering something from this article by Bucknell. On pages 316, Bucknell cites SN 65-> This sutta starts with the looped version, then ends with a non-looped version starting with sankhara (but no ignorance, except perhaps implicitly as the “origin” of sankhara). Weird. Bucknell also lists an Agama, SA 80, as listing both forms. However, I cannot seem to find a sutta/agama where the 12 links are listed and there is a loop within those 12 links (vs. the looped and 12 links version being listed separately).

So, as far as I can tell, your observation holds.


In SN 35.93, another version of DO is described, in which eye consciousness is described as arising due to the eye and forms (and so on with the other 5 senses). Perhaps the “12 links” is more about the rebirth process, while sn 35.93 is more about what goes on in the moment?


To aid making sense of alternative models of dependent origination as found in EBTs the following mindmap by @jayarava may be of help:

Source: Jayarava - Dependent Arising


I was just thinking about the exact wording of DO in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation (from In the Buddha’s Words):

"And what, monks, is dependent origination? With ignorance as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness[…]

It says ignorance is a condition for the arising of volitional formations. As in, ignorance needs to be present for volitional formations to arise. It doesn’t say that ignorance conditions what volitional formations arise. Although I’m sure ignorance does condition what volitional formations come into existence, but that’s not what the sutta is explicitly pointing out.

This makes more sense when looking at the next step. Which was the step I was originally confused about. With volitional formations as condition (i.e. present), consciousness is able to arise. But it is not saying that volitional formations condition what kind of consciousness arises. As I don’t see how that could make sense if consciousness is simply what cognizes the contact between sense organs and phenomenon. It’s not as if one can have a mischievous consciousness that cognizes sensory impressions incorrectly… right?

Volitional formations being in existence allows consciousness to arise. This is still somewhat of an odd statement. What I think it means is that when there is a volition formation present to act through body, speech, or mind, there needs to be cognized phenomena to exert influence on. Thus consciousness, various mental and physical factors (nama-rupa), and the sense organs come into existence to create a world for one to influence. And in that way first comes ignorance, then volitional formations, then consciousness, then it’s quite straight forward.

This is similar to what @Martin was talking about above. Maybe this is all a bit academic, I don’t know how much of this is practically useful. But I feel like I understand DO a bit better now. :man_shrugging:


Yes. SN 12.65 is the Bodhisatta’s explorations. 1st Gotama concluded: “Then, bhikkhus, it occurred to me: ‘This consciousness turns back; it does not go further than name-and-form’”. But later he traces back to sankhara. When he later traces further back to sankhara, there is no loop.

Yes. SN 35.93 is the common short version starting at sense contact, as found in MN 18, MN 38, MN 148 and many other suttas. The short version can also include ‘birth’, such as MN 38:

On seeing a form with the eye, he lusts after it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is unpleasing. He abides with mindfulness of the body unestablished, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it actually is the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Engaged as he is in favouring and opposing, whatever feeling he feels—whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—he delights in that feeling, welcomes it, and remains holding to it. As he does so, delight arises in him. Now delight in feelings is clinging. With his clinging as condition, being comes to be; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition, ageing and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

MN 38

Yes. The above analysis sounds plausable. I personally would not take the ordering of the 12 conditions so literally. It seems consciousness is ‘sparked off’ by the sankharas at the 3rd condition but still needs to operate together with the 5th condition to bring about the 6th condition. I found your analysis provided a clear picture of how consciousness moves from ‘internally’ to ‘externally’.

For example, the thought may arise in the mind: “Let’s check out what is happening at Sutta Central”. That thought might be an example of a sankhara that causes mind-consciousness to arise in relation to it. Then a few seconds later, eye-consciousness is looking at your computer when logging into Sutta Central. So the consciousness moved very quickly from being internal mind-consciousness of an internal thought object to eye-consciousness of a related external object. While the 5th condition (eye and computer) is not required for the arising of mind-consciousness towards the internal sankhara; the 5th condition is required for the arising of eye-consciousness to form an eye-contact with the Sutta Central website.

Regards :slightly_smiling_face:


I think “contact with ignorance” just means being effected (“contacted”) by ignorance. So when ignorance is present, vedana leads to tanha.
I don’t think this relates directly to vinnana, which is just the neutral function of sense-consciousness.
It’s possible though that all the aggregates in DO are clinging aggregates (see the final paragraph of my next post), and if that’s true, then vinnana in DO would be “tainted” by clinging. So consciousness in DO would be clung to.


Interesting, but how would this work with DO in “cessation mode”? With the cessation of ignorance there is the cessation of formations, and then the cessation of consciousness…?
If DO is a process which ceases for the Arahant, then it presumably has a very specific scope.

I think the real challenge with DO is finding a model which also makes sense in cessation mode. Looking at how idapaccayata is described in DO, it seems that in cessation mode all the nidanas just cease to arise. It’s not like some nidanas start working in a different way, or some nidanas cease, and some continue. It’s just a straightforward cessation. “When this isn’t, that isn’t. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.”

And yet it seems that (non-clinging) aggregates are still present for the Arahant, and some nidanas are also aggregates. Maybe the aggregates in DO are all clinging aggregates, and it is those which cease? Note the distinction between (non-clinging) aggregates and clinging aggregates in SN22.48. It implies that only non-clinging aggregates remain for the Arahant.


Hello Martin,

I probably have an over simplistic answer, but I would not look into DO in cessation mode as “without ignorance no volitonal formation, without volitional formation no consciousness”.

Coukd we not loom at DO in right view mode rather?

“With knowledge and vision of things as they really are, comes volitional formations, with …”

Arahant have some volition in the sense that when a arahant is hungry at the end of his alms round he will eat, if an arahant puts is hand on a hot plate, he will remove etc.

Delusion, sense of self is no longer present there, but the 5 khandas do remain, only deviid of clinging.


A straightforward explanation would be that cessation of ignorance leads to absence of a rebirth which is therefore the end of suffering.

Another might be that the absence of ignorance only halts mental states tainted by ignorance. That is the cessation sequence leave the positive and wholesome mental states alone.

A third possible explanation is that it intends to mean the emptiness of enlightenment moments, when nibbana is experientially detected, when there’s no casually arisen, arising and passing away phenomena present.


Thanks for the reference. I had noted the DN33 summary of the same but not looked deeper. It’s a rather terse reference, but highlights what you brought up:

DN33:2.1.4: Five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.
DN33:2.1.6: Five grasping aggregates: form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.

What ceases is the underlying tendency to grasp.

SN22.35:1.5: “Mendicant, you’re defined by what you have an underlying tendency for.
SN22.35:1.6: You’re not defined by what you have no underlying tendency for.”

WIth Right Freedom, consciousness would arise as needed (e.g., “Hello, Martin”) and not as grasped (e.g., “Hello, my son”). The DO chain would be cut off before contact:

AN6.61:12.4: “Contact, mendicants, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to rebirth in this or that state of existence.

The sage abides in the middle, but is not stuck there. The aggregates operate freely, without attachment.