How should dependent origination be viewed?

There is this article, which contains a critique of one-life interpretations in general terms, but I thought that it was aimed mainly at Buddhadassa and Nanavira.

On the Meaning of Sanditthika and Akalika

Some modern writers have suggested that the effect must arise simultaneously with its cause, or arise just one moment after, for this to qualify as a Dhamma which can be ‘seen here and now’ and be ‘immediate’. They argue that since the Dhamma is sanditthika and akalika, and Dependent Origination is one of the central features of the Dhamma, therefore Dependent Origination must be sanditthika and akalika. But does ‘sanditthika’ mean ‘seen here and now’? Does ‘akalika’ mean ‘immediate’? As I will now show, these translations can be misleading.


@sujato @mikenz66 Thanks for posting this!

Re: "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. "

Question: Do you have any idea how/why does Ajahn Brahm translates āneñja as “something in-between” meritorious and demeritorious? I always though it meant ‘imperturbable’, so I don’t see how this fits? Am I missing something here?


Dear Mikenz66,

Kataññu for providing the link. Awesome essay for the lack of words :thumbsup:
I like the similes Ajahn Brahm uses.

with añjali and mettā,


an interesting article, and depending on Ajahn Brahm personal standing there’s either irony or a bold statement about himself in his phrase

Therefore it is fair to say that the correct understanding of Dependent Origination can only be known by the Enlightened Ones, that is by the Streamwinners, Once Returners, Non Returners and Arahants.

Thanks I haven’t seen this essay before. It covers much of the same ground as the critique, but doesn’t specifically talk about the Vibhanga’s so-called 1-life variant (which Ajahn Brahm argued was a 2-life variant). The critique was a hand-written letter, I’m not sure if it has been digitized. Perhaps @brahmali knows more.

Incidentally, the Vibhanga passages are discussed in the postscript to our interview with Ven Bodhi for the Kamma and Rebirth course:

I don’t think “in-between” is correct; anenja typically refers to the 4th jhana and beyond. So yes, it is associated with neutral feeling, but in the sense of being more subtle than mere pleasure.

I always understood it in terms of kamma. Puñña has pleasure as its outcome. So you can’t really call 4th jhana and higher puñña, as they result in neutral feeling, not pleasure. Ananja is the term for this kind of kamma. I don’t know how we should translate it, though; “imperturbable” is not exactly ordinary English. Perhaps “still”?

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Thanks Bhante, yes that’s how I understand it too, and that’s why I couldn’t really see it as “something in-between”.

I agree imperturbable isn’t a great translation, but I don’t think ‘still’ captures it either as ‘still’, as used in ordinary language, could also refer to the first three jhanas too (or I guess one could argue also 2 & 3, if not the first). So with ‘still’ for anenja you’d have to explain ‘still without rapture or happiness’, and then explain those words too… I think even in ordinary English, saying something is imperturbable, albeit not a very common word, suggests a deeper state than stillness. Maybe imperturbable stillness (I’m kidding) :slight_smile:

Oh my, this just shows the difficulty of translating. I wish you all the best in your project, as it sure isn’t easy… May you have much inspiration!!!

Also, can you or someone tell me why my typing @sujato isn’t showing up correctly on top right, but rather in the beginning of the message? What am I doing incorrectly?

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You’re probably right. :pensive:

I’m not sure what you mean by this.

I am not able to find a digital version of this. I suspect it is too old. Perhaps it could be scanned …

Thanks for looking. It probably doesn’t matter, except for history buffs: it looks to me like the published essay linked above was more or less a rewritten version, made for public consumption, which the original wasn’t. The bit about the Vibhanga is missing, but we covered that earlier anyway.

This is something that I too have been grappling with for a very long time and recently I heard the following from a reputed Sri Lankan monk.
"The DO is not a one life thing or a three lives thing. It is a principle. The actual DO is the following.
Imasmin sati Idam hoti. Imassu uppada idam uppajjati etc
When this is that is. When this arises that arises etc.

The 12 link formula is only an explanation and whenever we try to connect the links we run into problems that we have all run into. The I life and 3 lives explanations are all results of that attempt to connect the links.
But if you look at DO as a principle, no such problems arise. For example, when ignorance is there there is sanskara(Bodily verbal and mental) and when sanskara is there there is vinnana etc down to the end.
The opposite also is similar. When ignorance is absent there is no sanskara etc."

Imasmin Asati Idam Nahoti - Imassu nirodha Idam Nirujjati
When this is not that is not - When this ceases that ceases Etc

I know this is an old thread but I hope to revive this for the benefit of all.
With Meththa.

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You did exactly that, at the very least, for the benefit of me. Much thanks.

I, too, have been turning over this question recently, particularly in relation to comments made in the first of Ven. Brahmali’s talks on DO linked to in this thread.

@ roughly 01:13:00 Ven. Brahmali explains:

people argue about whether dependent origination includes things like rebirth. Is it about rebirth? Is it about one life? Is it about what happens in one moment? People have all these different theories about dependent origination. … I, personally, don’t have any doubt that it refers to rebirth.

Coming at it with my simpleton ways, I can’t help but be a bit confused over what the issue is. I fully accept the compelling, sutta-based argument that the DO teaching explains rebirth. However, as a model, it’s really rather neat and seems to have practical application in explaining the processes underpinning rebirth, one life, multiple lives, one moment, one afternoon and basically, all of experience.

From a pragmatic point of view, I’d be drawn to applying the DO model wherever there is a ‘DO shaped hole’. However, in light of the discussion in this thread, and in light of Ven. Brahmali’s point quoted above, I do wonder if I’m really missing something if I’m not inclined to view the DO teaching strictly as an explanation of rebirth.

I think that the twelve links of DO is a highly formalised presentation of Lord Buddhas teachings on anatta. In my view, the essence is that there is this body, and everything that is experienced is to be viewed as originating from this body. DO, the five khandhas, the four satipatthanas, all of these teachings is about this view.

Before the Buddhas time, everyone with a spiritual view of life believed that there is something behind this changing body that is the True Self. The Buddha summarised these views in the five khandhas - body, perceptions, feelings, sankharas and conciousness. So one view could be that a highly pleasent feeling was the True Self. The Buddha, however, said that all of the khandhas are to be viewed as originating from this body, and that this is the end of dukkha.

Look at this body and see that it is impermanent. You know that it is going to die and cease to exist as this body. Based on this insight you view the body as something alien, it doesn’t belong to your true nature. Right now there is a human body in the middle of your experience, and another time it can be an animal. So, you push away the body-nature - “body-nature isn’t me”. Now the other sects look for what IS the self - can it be feelings, conciousness or something else? But the Buddha said that whatever is experienced, that is to be viewed as originating from this body. And because the body is alien, everything that originates from the body is to be seen as alien too. It is like a process where you first push the body out of the “I”, or “me”, you view it as alien to your self. Then you push everything else out from the “I”, or “me”, based on the view that everything is connected with the body. When there is nothing left for the “I” or “me” to be based on, the only thing that remains is emptiness.

So, you no longer identify with the khandhas, but because you don’t identify with something new that you have found behind the changing things in the world, that is apart from the khandas, you don’t say that you are something that is apart from the khandhas. You are neither the khandas, nor anything outside the khandas, nor anything between. In the Buddhas words, “when there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.” (SN 35.95)

In some suttas the Buddha says that there is the sense organs, the sense objects, the sense conciousness and the contact between these three. When there is an ignorance-element in this contact then there is sankharas too, and so on. You see that this is DO, but not explained as a sequence where one factor follows another in line. This 12 factors explanation is not as nature works, it is a list, and a list doesn’t explain the complexity of nature. This is just a way of formalising the teaching in a form that is easy to remember. The factors of DO happens all of them right now, but not in a twelve link sequence. You experience the world with ignorance and based on that there is craving connected with the body which you ignorantly view as “I” or “me”, and based on that craving there is performence of actions. When there is actions there is future birth, suffering and so on.

Meditate and you’ll see the link of dependent origination. Then, you can look into the sutta MN9 Sammaditthi Sutta and talk to other people and you’ll be surprise how awesome the dhamma is.


Anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of DO must read the books on this subject by Venerable Katukurunde Nanananda. This is the link to that web site where you can download the 2 books and read.


Bhante, do you know about any reasearch on the matter and its posssible practical and / or doctrinal implications? This Sutta is oddly enough one of the Buddhist texts that deeply moved me on the emotional level, it literally gave my goosebumps when I read it for the first time. Now, analysing how this Sutta was compiled and what exactly gave me goosebumps, the Buddha’s words or something else, could be a great thing.

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There are some things around, but I can’t recall at the moment. I’ll post if I come up with something.

I am not sure if the question can be answered without pointing oneself to his own path of study, practice and fruition of the Path.

The more I read the suttas the more I believe that only through the attainment deepest levels of samadhi - with the right view in mind - a true knowledge and vision of dependent origination can arise in one’s mind.

However, I think it is worth posting here a link to a nice way to visualize dependent origination, in both its world-perpetuating and world-transcending forms:

By the way, this brilliant piece of work was done by Jayarava and is available for download at his website. And I think this should be on the wall of every serious meditation center / temple to remind us all that the Buddha left us is a clear map for the Path for us to invest ourselves into! :slight_smile:


maybe nowadays that’s true, yet at the time of the Buddha to some the Dhamma eye would open by just listening to his sermon, although it’s of course unknown how developed by that moment was their samadhi practised in previous lives


Wow, that mindmap is insane!!!

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